Michelle Carter is an Olympic gold medalist. An American record holder. A Nike-sponsored athlete. She’s the first American woman to earn gold in shot put—she won in Rio in 2016—and only the second to medal in the sport. So it’s surprising that she has a story about her high school coach singling her out on the track and field team.
“I was always last,” Michelle said, reflecting on running in high school. “I was last on purpose. So the coach was like, ‘If Michelle wins—if she beats everybody—we’re done.’ She just knew that I wasn’t going to beat the fastest girl on the team. But when I took off, I was half a court ahead of everybody. I can run. Don’t underestimate me.”
Michelle loves a challenge.
She’s also proof that athletes don’t fit into a single mold.
She hates running, but she’s a three-time track and field Olympian. She’s spent most of her life competing in a sport frequently associated with the term “brute strength,” but she’s known as the Shot Diva. (Michelle is also a professional makeup artist, and she does not forego the glam for competition.) She gives young athletes pointers on form, and she donates the food and supplies they need to compete at the highest level.
Shot put glory runs in the Carter family, though Michelle didn’t learn that until she gravitated to the sport in middle school. Her father and coach, Michael, won silver in shot put at the 1984 Olympics, but Michelle grew up thinking of him as a three-time Super Bowl-winning nose tackle. “My dad never brought it up because he didn’t want us to pick [a sport] because of what he did.”
Unaware of the family legacy, Michelle was drawn to the athleticism of shot put. “I could use all of who and what I am. In a lot of different sports, especially when you’re a different-sized athlete, people tell you what you can and cannot do. They kind of limit you and put you in a box.”
That’s a pattern Michelle is trying to break both through the example she sets as an Olympic athlete, and her charitable work through her non-profit organization, One Golden Shot, which supports young athletes.
“Moving to me is important because I feel like that’s what the human body is made for. We are made to move. We’re made to go for a walk and just try different things with our bodies because our bodies enjoy it,” Michelle said.
But movement and sports among school-age athletes isn’t just a matter of picking up a ball or lacing up sneakers. Many kids lack the necessary fuel, equipment, supplies and mentorship to excel in sports. Michelle is filling that void.
Michelle’s You Throw Girl Scholarship Fund provides female athletes in sixth through twelfth grades with camp tuition scholarships to attend her You Throw Girl Sports Confidence Camp. Through Fuel Up, Michelle is providing track teams in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area with healthy meals and snacks for competition day. And through I’m Supported, Michelle is supplying female athletes with proper sports bras and feminine hygiene products like pads for days when they’re caught off guard.
In addition to her work supporting young athletes in their pursuit of movement—and running her business and philanthropy efforts—Michelle is also preparing for the Tokyo Olympic games. Training as a world-class athlete during a pandemic isn’t easy, but Michelle has made it work by adding a small gym in her home.
“I never wanted a home gym,” she admits. “I want to go to the gym. And then this happens and I’m like, ‘Oh man, like I’m stuck like Chuck. What am I going to do?’ So I had to figure it out and find things and try to build up something.”
As she prepares for what will hopefully be her fourth Olympic appearance, Michelle is focused on weightlifting, agility, and plyometrics. Her physical therapist introduced the TRX Suspension Trainer into her routine, and Michelle uses it for warmups, shoulder exercises and stability exercises.
“I’m feeling pretty good. Whatever happens this year is what’s supposed to happen, and that’s how I really approach every year. I look at it as these are just moments that are gonna test me. How bad do I really want it? Am I going to keep pushing for it?” she said.
Like most of us, Michelle says she’s been mentally and physically stretched over the last year, but the slower pace of 2020 and 2021 have allowed her an opportunity for reflection on her life in general and her career as an athlete. Regardless of whether she adds another gold to her collection this year, Michelle will never stop moving or encouraging other people to find their power through movement.