I first heard of Sheila Taormina when I was a freshman at Stevenson High School in Livonia, Michigan. A few years prior, she had walked the same halls of the same high school as I, but Sheila wasn’t just any alumnus, she was an Olympic champion—a legend. Sheila won a gold medal in swimming in the 1996 Atlanta games—her and her teammates finished first in the 4×200 relay. This would be the only time Sheila would appear on the medals stand during an Olympic games, but it was far from the end of Sheila’s Olympic career.
In 2000 and 2004 Sheila returned to the Olympics to compete in the triathlon, and yesterday, at the age of 39, she became the first woman in history to compete in three different Olympic events, completing the pentathlon with a 19th place finish—not bad. Not bad considering Sheila will soon be 40-years-old. Not bad considering this is the first time she has competed in the event. Not bad considering the pentathlon is considered, by many, to be the most challenging of all Olympic events—a series of swimming, horseback riding, pistol shooting, fencing and running. Equally as impressive, she was the first to do what she did—ever. The first in 112 years of the modern Olympic games. The first of over 100,000 athletes to compete in the Olympics. The first and only. That’s epic.
It hasn’t been an easy road for Sheila to make history, but she did it. She found herself in deep financial trouble, and even had to sacrifice her house in order to continue training for her latest event. She’s endured the pain and stress that comes with grueling Olympic training—day after day, year after year. But she did it, and she’s the only one—ever. Congratulations, Sheila.