Chantae McMillan has achieved what seemed impossible. She went from competing in the 2012 Olympics as a heptathlete to qualifying for the upcoming 2021 Olympic Trials in javelin! In addition to her athletic accomplishments, she’s also an Army wife and mom to an adorable toddler, Otto.
How does Chantae balance all of these personal priorities, strive toward her goals as a professional athlete and still maintain a peaceful spirit and balanced life? Today, she’s sharing her story with you, as well as some fitness secrets and advice on staying present-focused when big dreams lie ahead.
With parents in the United States Army, Chantae McMillan grew up moving often. She was born in Tennessee and spent a couple of years in Texas but her track and field journey began when her family moved to Rolla, Missouri when Chantae was in sixth grade.
“I was an outsider when I moved to Missouri but from 6th grade to 12th grade, I had friends,” Chantae says. “I was very thankful for the two friends that I’m still friends with today who took me into their friend group. That started my sports career.” Chantae had played soccer in Texas but in Missouri, she began exploring other sports. “My group of friends played soccer, and when they weren’t doing soccer they did basketball so from that point on I was included with all those sports with those friends. In eighth grade we couldn't do soccer so we all did track together. I found events that I was good at and I'm still doing track to this day. I’m still doing it because I still find things that I can learn and things I’m still improving upon and I enjoy that aspect.”
Those who aren’t professional athletes often assume that the goal-focused mindset must be what drives Chantae to achieve so much in her career, but she shared that she has focused on the moment and taken each step in her journey as it comes. “The past ten years of my life have been day-by-day, year-by-year, go with that flow, and I’d say that I’m at a point now where I think about the future and plan for my life, then I get a little distracted from the present and focusing on things like the Olympic Trials at the end of this month.
“I never planned on being an Olympian. It just happened. I never thought I would be doing track and field in college, or doing track and field as a professional and I just keep getting better and better at it every year and that’s why I’m still here. It’s very special that I’m an Olympian and that I can still train and qualify for the Olympic Trials for the third time in my life. A lot of people cannot say that! And, it’s for a totally different event, not the heptathlon now. So, it's special. I just always believe that I’m where I’m supposed to be in the moment.
Chantae first competed as a heptathlete but now she is 100% focused on javelin. “I felt that I was happy with my heptathlon career. 2016 was my last heptathlon and I dabbled in bobsled but I realized it wasn’t for me, and I also got pregnant in 2018. During that time, I didn’t think I was done with track and field so I decided to focus on javelin which was my best event within the heptathlon. I wanted to see what I could do just focusing on one event and not on seven events as a whole.
“I thought I knew everything about javelin but I knew nothing about javelin, basically. I knew enough to throw far but then I had a coaching change in February of this year. It is crazy to just change coaches in the middle of an Olympic year, but I did it and I trusted him. He told me, ‘Scratch everything you know about javelin, we’re starting over.’ That was hard. I cried weekly throughout the first month probably, learning so much at a fast pace because we had to. I changed coaches in February and my first meet was at the end of March so it was ‘Focus, you have to do this now.’
“That’s why I’m still doing track and field, it’s a challenge to me mentally and physically. My coach will tell me ‘You can throw this far, it’s just a matter of us getting there.’ I believe him, I trust him, and I’m still in it. It’s so fun! That’s why I’m still here.”
Chantae’s intense focus on the specific event of javelin requires a lot of heavy training. “I throw every Tuesday and Thursday, and then compete on the weekends. On a throw day, I probably throw for an hour and a half or two hours. Wednesdays are my active recovery days so it’s more movement. I feel out which parts of my body are sore and work through those. I also work on mobility for my shoulders, like a gymnastics ring machine. Monday is a drill day so we’re throwing but not hard, like throwing a ball that is the same weight as a javelin and just going through those patterns, repeating those patterns so that on throw days they show up again. Fridays are a pre-meet type of setup so we just move, warm up, and then go over any extra drills we need to hit before we have our meet that weekend.
“Mobility is important because I’m now 33. I have my program for me at my age, at my level. My training partner is a collegiate athlete so she is on a different program than me. She lifts before a meet. I’m like, ‘No, I’m ok. I’m not going to lift the day before a track meet.’ I need to just move and feel my body out and I’ll be good to go for the next day.”
As a professional athlete, a quality diet is essential. For Chantae, that looks like eating (and drinking) a lot of protein.
“Every morning I wake up and I drink salt water through an electrolyte packet. I also drink my creatine in the morning and then have my breakfast and my coffee and hit the track. I have to have a certain amount of carbs and protein for my breakfast and then I usually get to a training session and get hungry in the middle of that so I have my bars and other snacks, trail mix. After training, I immediately need to eat lunch or I crash. I’m consistently drinking water throughout the day and maybe another salt pack just to keep my pH balanced.”
While the average adult has to watch portions, Chantae has to work hard to get enough protein into her diet. “I drink protein at least twice a day, just to get the extra protein because I find myself not eating a lot of meat itself. It’s just not my thing. I’d rather drink my calories. As an athlete, you eat a lot. I drink 2-3 protein drinks a day, just protein that I put in milk for the extra calories. I’ll make smoothies if I need another snack or meal or whatever, and then I’ll put protein in that, too.
I really do enjoy making dinner. I eat dinner all the time. I eat my appropriate meals, it’s just like I know I need calories so let me drink a protein shake, basically."
Since the Olympics were postponed in 2020, this year has a lot of people wondering if they will be postponed again. Chantae says that she doesn’t let her mind go there. “The only way I’ve ever been taught to train, is train as if it is happening no matter what for every single meet. At this point I’ve only had official emails that say this is still happening and that’s how I train. I have my emails, I wait for the United States Olympics Committee to tell me otherwise but right now, I just keep training as if it is happening."
“Honestly, I definitely would not have been in the running to make the team in 2020. I’m very thankful for this extra year. I wouldn’t have had a new coach going into last year. I would have just been throwing javelin as I thought I knew everything about it and not being successful and here I am with so much more knowledge and still more to even come I know. A lot of athletes aren’t thankful for this extra year but I am. But there are also problems, like some of my good friends in the track community have been injured and won’t make the 2021 team because of injury, and they would have won gold. So that’s crazy. They would have been very successful last year but not this year.”
Chantae is looking forward to her third Olympic Trials with a whole new focus. “Field events are amazing,” she says. “Field events are so much better than sprinting events! You heard it from me. There’s so much cool technique to see within every single field event and that’s why I have so much respect for field athletes.”
Chantae is driven to seek out gratefulness and peace in the present moment, no matter what competition or dream lies ahead. She shared that she doesn’t want to sacrifice the present moment in the pursuit of future glory.
“I definitely have goals for my future but you get so stuck on those goals far away, you’re not going to achieve them the way you want to because you’re not enjoying the journey to get there. If you get there and you didn’t enjoy the journey, then you’re just there. You’re like ‘Okay, I did that. Now what?’ Instead, you could say ‘I did that, now let me cry and celebrate this moment because I can look back at how I enjoyed every single day to get here.’”
Small daily choices to reflect are the moments that Chantae finds that joy in everyday life. “Day to day, I step out of my body and look at my life, my own life, my son’s life, my husband’s life, and evaluate it from an outside perspective and say ‘What are we doing today to be present in today’s goals and be better at life, better at people and living, and have that project us to be better for the future, or if not, how do we change that course today?”
“The hardest part for people is sticking with that particular thing that they’re trying to accomplish and for me it’s very visual. Everyone likes to see their progress but to see your progress you have to start somewhere every single day. I have an encouragement wall, a vision board. It’s my wall in my living space. I just went for it this year. I hung up my Olympic flag with the rings on it and a little American flag and then a picture of an inspiring person in my life and words that I live by.”
“For me, it’s also writing the goals down every day. I journal every single day. I would encourage people to journal every day about where they’re improving and where they still need to improve, good things and bad things that they can encourage themselves on. Like, ‘Okay, I did this today. I still need to do this.’ They’ll find that ‘Okay, I’m still getting better at this good thing so I can feel good about myself.’
In a surprising contrast to her athletic career, Chantae loves to create art, garden, and work on crafts when she has the time.
“I have the degree to be an art teacher. I’ll never teach in a public school or any type of school setting, but I do really enjoy art. Probably after my track and field career is over I will get back into painting. My favorite medium is oil but oil is one of the messiest things to lay out and then clean up so that’s where the time comes in. I really enjoy painting and just being crafty. I like making stuff. I have so many tools like a miter saw, my air compression machine with a nail gun, I just like making stuff. I can’t wait to make stuff again and paint! I also like being outside and gardening, just being self-sufficient.”
Chantae wears a Groove Ring and Groove Watch Band because they are comfortable, practical, and have some sentimental value as well.
“I’m married. I like wearing a ring to know that I’m married. With the Groove Ring, I don’t have to worry about it being scratched or legit snagging in and out of my bag. I have a javelin bag that I go to practice with every day and it doesn’t get in the way of that! When you’re wearing your real wedding bands, you’re more aware of them because you don’t want to scratch them, and it hurts your hands when you’re doing pull-ups with real wedding bands on. When I have my Groove Ring on, it’s not a thought. I can just do my workout at the gym and not worry about my hand hurting where my finger meets my palm.”
“I really like the watch band because it adds creativity and individuality into my life. I don’t have a regular ugly black band, I can switch it out! Right now I still have the sunflower band on because it’s bright and it makes me happy getting ready for summer! I have the galaxy one, too, that’s one of my top favorites. There aren’t too many ways I can share my personality when I’m at a track meet. One of my go-tos is my hair, it’s one of those things I can change and can control but I’m wearing a uniform and I’m wearing spikes. So, my watch band and my hair changes up to match whatever I’m feeling for that meet or that day.”
If you’d like to cheer Chantae on and support her as she heads into Olympic Trials on June 25th and 26th, or follow her along her journey, be sure to connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! Or, you can visit her website here.
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