COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Modern pentathlon is rooted in deep tradition. It is an event created by Pierre De Cooperton, who mirrored the events after a soldier delivering a message.
Team USA’s Samantha Achterberg would come to embody the full meaning of pentathlete.
“I grew up doing a lot of sports,” Achterberg said. “My dad had me on skis before I was 2.”
Her love for sports did not always translate at a high level.
“I didn’t excel in one versus another [sport],” she said. “I was kind of mediocre in a lot of things.”
After a series of injuries throughout her high school career, a trusted trainer and new mindset would set her up for a journey of a lifetime.
“I really realized that I do have that gift to be able to work hard and push my body in different ways,” Achterberg said.
After being recruited by a family friend to try pentathlon, as a natural-born competitor, Achterberg jumped at the chance to qualify for an Olympic Training program. But that was the easy part.
“I had events I was good at,” Achterberg said. “I had events that were challenging to me. That really pushed me in different ways. I was like ‘hey, this could be a potential for an Olympic opportunity.'”
The Littleton native took her focus south on I-25. She lived and trained at the Olympic Training Center from 2012 to 2017. There, she earned several wins, but failed to earn a spot on the 2016 Olympic Team. Instead, she was slotted as an alternate. But for Achterberg, that was not good enough.
“It crushed me for a while,” Achterberg said. “I cannot keep living in this hole. Things happen for a reason. I think I was meant to grow from that, and grow from that experience.”
Just as the pentathlon embodies the journey of a soldier, she joined the United States Army in 2017 and became a solider herself in the World Class Athlete Program.
“Just to be able to represent my country and go out and compete not just for Team USA but also for the Army,” Achterberg said. “It’s been really eye-opening. Just going through basic training and it’s just a sense of pride. It’s not easy to go through that, even as an athlete. Our motto for WCAP is soldiers first. So, if we get called, that is our duty and we will have to go serve.”
Right now her duty includes focusing on fencing, riding, swimming, running, and shooting.
“There are so many different aspects of the sports that test not just the physical but the mental aspect,” Achterberg said. “I can run and swim all day, but to me, running and swimming is rhythmic.”
Even with the rank of Specialist, the fighter instinct for fencing does not come as naturally as some of her other skills.
“When I put the mask on, finding that inner warrior, but when I take the mask off I’m still me,” she said. “I am still Sammy. I’m still a nice, sweet person. But when I get on the strip, I am here to win.”
In the coming months, Artcherberg will compete for a place on the 2020 Olympic team. After Rio, her outlook is a little different.
“Stay humble and hungry,” Achterberg said. “There are always going to be someone who is better than you. You need to have confidence, but staying hungry allows you to stay humble for that next thing.”
Next up is her first chance to qualify for the summer Olympics in Tokyo, the Pan American Championships.
“Just remember that little girl inside that loved just going straight down the ski slopes,” Achterberg said. “I want to enjoy the moment and take it all in. I think sometimes I forget about that.”