Samantha Achterberg
Samantha Achterberg
Samantha Achterberg
Samantha Achterberg
Samantha Achterberg

Samantha Achterberg

The Beginning

I started skiing the day before I turned two and I always had a dream of being in the Olympics for skiing or swimming. I also wanted to be a vet when I was little since I love animals. Eventually, that changed to wanting to be a nurse when I was in high school then when I started to learn about Pentathlon in 2010 I set my dreams on making an Olympic team for the sport of modern pentathlon. I’m still not quite sure what I want to be at this point, but I love helping to inspire and work with people to live healthier lives and stay active.

I started doing Pentathlon in 2010 and did my first national competition that year in Colorado as well as my first International competition, Youth World Championships in Sweden.  I had done four out of the five events (running, swimming, shooting, and equestrian) leading up to 2010, but it wasn’t until I learned about pentathlon that I started to learn how to fence and shoot an air pistol.

The Realization of A Dream

I heard of pentathlon when I was about 14 and my dad had heard a story about it for the upcoming Olympics. At that time I was playing soccer, swimming, riding horses, and hunting with my family so I knew quite a few of the different disciplines in the sport. I didn’t start getting into the sport until I was 18.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I could pursue it professionally because of the financial needs of the sport and the physical demands as well. The equipment needed for five events was a lot and I was also just graduating from high school so was at a point in life where I wanted to go to college to run cross country and track. I made the decision to move to Colorado Springs to train at the Olympic Training Center in August of 2010. I trained full time with the National team to see if the sport was right or if I had enough potential to make an Olympic team. I loved the sport and was hooked when I started. Although it wasn’t a smooth road to improve and gain the experience I needed to; I have been very lucky to be able to pursue a sport that includes so many events that I am passionate about and love to do all in one. I also am able to continue working towards accomplishing a goal of being on an Olympic team and winning a medal for team USA.

The Meaning of Pentathlon

Pentathlon is a challenge as a sport due to the diversity of the different events and the way it tests an athlete not just physically, but mentally. The different events all have a way of challenging me in new ways and I think that made me fall in love with the sport so much. I am able to do so many of the things I love all in one sport. Even though being a multi-sport athlete can have challenges I feel that it allows me to have more diversity and stay well rounded.  Each sport challenges me in a different way and puts new demands on my body and mind. The uniqueness of the sport makes it something that not every person can do.

Pentathlon has a lot of culture and history as well. Now that I am in the military and am competing as a part of the World Class Athlete I feel that there is even more meaning in competing in my sport because of the strong military background. Not just representing team USA, but the US Army is a huge honor and privilege to be a part of.

Top 2 Out of 5 Events  

I love running and shooting, but also really enjoy horseback riding. Running can be challenging physically and mentally, but I enjoy being outdoors and running on the trails in Colorado. When I run I can listen to music, audio books, nature and anything really. When I train for combined I have to have more focus and mentally work on transitions between running and shooting. The combined event makes shooting a little more fun and adds a challenging element to running. I feel that even though running can be monotonous the combination with shooting or where I run helps to keep me engaged and enjoying the training. Horseback riding is a close second for me. It is so much fun and such an exhilarating feeling. Having so much power underneath you and being able to jump a horse is an amazing experience, but it can be scary at times. It’s always a new challenge to ride different horses in foreign countries for competition.

5 Events = 5 Coaches?

I have two main coaches that I work with on a daily basis and then some coaches that I work with that have a specialty on specific events. One of my main coaches focuses primarily on fencing and swimming while the other focuses more on running and shooting. They both coach me in the riding, but I also have a coach that I work with in Colorado Springs that has worked with me in riding since I started in 2010 which is her specialty. Both of my main coaches were athletes that competed at the Olympics in Modern Pentathlon. Having experience in all the events gives them a better idea of how to put together a program for not just a swimmer or runner, but an athlete that does five events. They work well together which is very important with so many events to train for. Together they build a good training plan that can be flexible based on how my body feels and what part of the season I am in.

Nerves Mean You Care

I get just as nervous for all of the events. I may have more confidence in some events over others, but each competition is a little different. Being nervous isn’t a bad thing and I feel it means that you care about what you are doing. I try to use my nerves as energy to motivate and drive myself when I compete. I am working more on the mental side of training to see where I can transfer the nervous energy into a positive. Versus letting it get the best of me and allowing my performance to suffer. I have had competitions where I let the pressure get to me and didn’t do well. I think there is a lot more I can do for my mental training. I want to be more mindful and aware of how I am feeling and controlling the things I can control so that I can help my performance, not hinder it.

Pentathlon Training Breakdown

It is a lot of time and work to train for pentathlon. I run 6 days a week and swim 5 to 6 days a week. I fence three days a week with a mix of footwork, drills, and bouting. I will also do individual fencing lessons with my coach about three times a week or more depending on how much I am running that week. I do lifting/strength and conditioning at least two times a week along with one other day that is lighter and more rehab based/body weight exercises. I try to do about one to three yoga sessions a week and one riding session a week. For shooting, I will do one to two combined (running and shooting workouts) along with one or two precision or dry fire workout to focus on my technique.

I do feel like I am training all the time or a lot of the time, but with all the sports there is a variety and it keeps me engaged. I do have to plan out my schedule well so I am not doing too much every day and allow for my body to recover between sessions and throughout the week. I am constantly trying to tweak how I train to see what works better and what helps to get better results. Even after doing pentathlon for about 8-9 years I am still trying to train smarter and more efficiently every day to make the gains I need towards Tokyo 2020.

Here is what a few of my training days look like

Every day is a little different, but a typical day would have at least 3 – 5 training sessions. Some days will be lighter or vary with intensity to recover a bit more or push hard. Sunday is usually an off day or I will do yoga or an easy run.

A typical Wednesday
  • 7.00-8.30 Swimming
  • 9.30-11.30 Fencing
  • 14.30 Running
  • 16.00-17.00 Shooting
  • 19.00-20.30 Yoga/recovery or rehab drills
A typical Tuesday
  • 8.30-10.00 Track/combined (running and shooting)
  • 11.00-12.00 Swimming
  • 14.30-16.00 Gym lift/strength
  • 17.00 Riding

Recovery Tools and Methods

I notice that I cannot train the same way I did when I was 18. I am by no means old, but I do have to be smarter about the way I train and how I plan out my daily and weekly schedule. I try to balance out my hard efforts in running on different days as a hard fence or hard swim. There are days that are harder than others and may have a lot of hard workouts, but then usually the next day is a bit lighter or I have a massage scheduled in. I get massages every week to help my muscles and body with recovery. I also at times will do cupping, chiropractic, acupuncture, dry needling, and other forms of therapy to help. I feel like it is a constant work in progress to stay on top of keeping my body healthy. There is a lot of extra work and time that I put into warming up and cooling down well to make sure that my muscles are firing correctly to avoid injuries. I foam roll and stretch a lot after hard training sessions and make it a part of my routine to go to yoga at least one to two times a week. I find that yoga helps me focus on breathing and stretching deeper muscles in my hips and back primarily. I have also found that doing strength and conditioning has helped to keep me injury free. Focusing on full body exercises with lower weight and balance I am able to keep stabilizer muscles strong and work on strengthening any unbalances I have.  Every athlete is different and there are so many recovery tools out there that I am continuing to learn about.

I am also a huge advocate for healthy and clean eating. Fueling myself with clean and whole food will help me to stay energized during the day and that will aid in recovery. There is always room for sweets or cheat meals here and there, but moderation is key. I find that eating healthy for me is just a lifestyle, not a diet.

Advice for Those to Come

Two main pieces of advice that I have would be:
Comparison is the thief of joy. I get caught up at times comparing myself to other people and other athletes. This has led me to feeling insufficient or like a failure at times. It is important to remember that we all start from somewhere and need to make our own goals and benchmarks based on ourselves. Learning how to focus on what you can control can help with this and to remain focused on your success whatever that may look like to you, not comparing to someone else.

Focus on what you can control and look at a setback or “failure” as a learning tool. There are so many things that go on that I cannot control that I have let wear me down or get to me emotionally and physically. Focusing on what I can control and how I react to it is advice that has helped me a lot. Also finding ways that I can grow and learn from setbacks and failures instead of dwelling on them and letting them tear down my confidence.

Fun Facts

  • Age: 27
  • Nickname: Sammy
  • Favorite hobbies: Cooking, wine tasting, travelling, yoga, spending time with friends and family, skiing
  • Dream Vacation Spots: Hawaii, Australia, Switzerland, or Japan
  • Family pets: My parents have a chocolate lab named Colt!

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