Katherine Reutter-Adamek calls herself the “Comeback Queen.”
The Champaign native, 29, is a two-time 2010 Olympic medalist and was once at the top of the speed-skating world. But chronic pain and injuries forced an early retirement in 2013.
“I just loved to skate,” Reutter-Adamek said. “I just wanted to be back at doing what I loved.”
Reutter-Adamek was 5 years old when she put on her first pair of ice skates.
“I did figure skating for a bit, but I had no interest in dresses or jumps and routines. I just wanted to go fast,” Reutter-Adamek said. “All the coaches would say, ‘You skate like a figure skater. You dress like a figure skater. You look like a figure skater.’ And I remember on day one, five years old, thinking ‘I’ll show you.’”
And did she ever.
At 21 years old, she made the 2010 U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating team and brought home silver and bronze medals from Vancouver. At the time, Reutter-Adamek ended a 16-year Olympic medal drought for U.S. women in short track speed skating.
Looking back today, Reutter-Adamek said she didn’t achieve everything she wanted to in 2010.
“I had a goal of coming out of Vancouver with three medals. I had a bad run in my 1500 (meters). It was totally my fault. I made silly mistakes that a veteran athlete shouldn’t make, but a rookie Olympian, who at that level on that stage at the moment it matter most, I faltered.”
With that fueling her, Reutter-Adamek went on to have what she described as her best season ever in 2010-2011.
She dominated the World Cup circuit, becoming the first American woman to win a short track world title since 1986 and finishing second overall at the 2011 World Championships. Reutter-Adamek was looking toward the 2014 Sochi Olympics to finish what she had started.
But that was also the season that everything changed. She fell during a race, and Reutter-Adamek recalls “that was the day my back never got better.”
She underwent three hip surgeries, a herniated disc and countless cortisone shots.
“I was in so much pain and no doctor could give me a solution,” Reutter-Adamek said. “My emotional capacity for pain was completely tapped out.”
She retired in 2013 and shifted gears to coaching. Reutter-Adamek moved to Milwaukee to guide athletes training at the Pettit National Ice Center.
“I wasn’t really a happy person. What I wanted had been taken away from me, and I didn’t cope well with that,” said Reutter-Adamek.
Three years into coaching, Reutter-Adamek noticed that the constant pain was gone.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I miss this. I can do this.’”
She slowly started to train competitively again by January 2016 in the same arena she coached.
A lot has changed for Reutter-Adamek since then on and off the ice. She got married in July 2017 and earned her college degree in business management. She also found a new passion: sports psychology.
“I feel completely different (as a person from 2010). I was such a kid. I was 21 and I just didn’t have this concept of how what I did mattered to the world,” said Reutter-Adamek. “It’s totally different. It’s much less results-oriented and it’s flipped on its head to being process-oriented.”
Part of her journey back to skating, Reutter-Adamek said, was to discover happiness again – something she says she’s found.
“Speed skating is my favorite thing to do. Being with my husband is the only that could compare to how much fun I have when I’m speed skating,” Reutter-Adamek said.
Making another Olympic team would not only prove to her that the hard work was worth it but would be her opportunity to say thank you.
“Being able to look at the people who are as committed to my success as I am and saying ‘We did it. We achieved the goal and thank you for being a part of that,’” Reutter-Adamek said.
Reutter-Adamek will compete in the U.S. Short Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City on Dec. 15-17.