Rising track star Sydney McLaughlin from Scotch Plains, New Jersey didn’t just beat out the six other female athletes at Gatorade’s Player of the Year Award—she just became the youngest female athlete to quality for the Olympics at age 16. She’ll be headed to Rio this summer.
We caught up with McLaughlin for some insight into what started her running career, how she stays focused, and what’s she’s most excited for in Rio.
MEN’S FITNESS: How did you find running?
SYDNEY MCLAUGHLIN: My parents—I think. It’s something they’ve done their whole lives and passed on—my sister did it, my brother(s) did it, I did it. You know, my first race was a 100 and my dad said, “if you win, you’ll get a chocolate bar.” So I ran as fast as I could and I got the chocolate bar. And I think that’s what sparked everything.
MEN’S FITNESS: Your biggest challenge so far?
SYDNEY MCLAUGHLIN: I think the Olympic Trials. I think every kid’s dream is to go and make the Olympics. It’s crazy—once you get there, it’s not what you expect, it’s cameras and crowds of thousands of people. Of course, it’s the same track, the same race, and everything you’ve been doing your whole life, but it’s a lot more pressure, and I think the mental aspect of it has been the hardest obstacle for me. Somehow, I made it through.
MEN’S FITNESS: How do you stay focused and clear-headed?
SYDNEY MCLAUGHLIN: Lots of music. I try and zone out the hype, and when I go away to places like Oregon or Cali I stay in contact with people from Jersey like my mom. My mom knows. I try and keep in contact with what I know and zone everything else out.
MEN’S FITNESS: What are you looking forward to the most about Rio?
SYDNEY MCLAUGHLIN: Seeing Rio. Yeah, I go to run, it’s a business trip, but I think going to see the culture, and getting to meet new people, and getting the whole experience of the Olympics. Whatever happens, happens.
MEN’S FITNESS: Where do you see yourself in five years?
SYDNEY MCLAUGHLIN: College… Maybe. Still running. Trying to work towards a career.
More from the Gatorade Athlete of the Year Awards: