June 15, 2018

What Are You Made Of?

By Carrie Tollefson

Carrie Tollefson


2004 Olympian, 5XNCAA Champion while at Villanova, and 13X Minnesota State High School cross country and track champion. Wife, mother of 3. Host of Ctollerun podcast

When I was in seventh grade, I decided to try a new sport, running. I was so nervous about messing things up. All I was hoping for was to be on a team with one of my two older sisters.

I was awkward. I had mall bangs that were three inches high, shoes that were two sizes too big and teeth that crossed the finish line well ahead of anything else. Even with this look, I had heart.

I wanted to be good, but I had no idea what I was doing.  All my coaches told me was, “Have fun and run hard.” Little did I know, I would run so hard that I would end up right on my older sister Kammie’s shoulder with a mile left in my very first race.

My sister, Kammie, was a senior and an outstanding athlete. She was “that” athlete.  The one everyone looked up to, and the one everyone wanted to be like. I wanted to be just like both of my older sisters. They were so special to me, but with them being five and seven years older, I was always trying to play catch up.

My first race was in Morris, Minnesota. Boy, was I excited! I got to race with my sisters. This was AWESOME.  I started that first distance race in the middle of the pack, and when I finally made my way up to the top of the hill at the golf course, I saw Kammie. I was actually so close I could just sit on her shoulder. I remember thinking long and hard, well, maybe for like two seconds, “What should I do next? Do I pass her? Will I get in trouble? Do I pass her and have her get super excited? Do I have enough in me to keep it going?”

Again, I had no idea what I was doing at 12 years old running varsity, but I did know that my team needed me, and that I felt good. I think Kammie might have seen the shadow of my big bangs, or maybe she heard the loud thumping of my shoes, but regardless, she took a glance over her shoulder and said, “Get going and get the girls in front of me.”

I did just that and finished third in that race. I owe a lot to my big sister. At that moment, she wasn’t thinking about herself, she never did. She thought about me kicking butt and running fast. Still, to this day, I often wonder why I was scared to pass her. I should have known better. She was my number one fan then, and still is today.

What I learned as an athlete

I can never be afraid to “see what I am made of.”  Sometimes, the hardest person to get around is yourself. I have raced for many years, and the one memory I keep coming back to is that seventh-grade race; that moment in time when I made the decision to use the advice of my older sister. “Go get those girls,” is all she had to say. I have been trying to do just that ever since.

How I try to apply what I learned in business, coaching and life

I was blessed in life to have two older sisters, parents, teammates and coaches who gave me that nudge I needed at times. I was lucky they always gave me the support to believe in myself and dream big. Using the lessons the sport of running has taught me, I challenge myself to see what I am made of as a mother, wife, businesswoman, coach and commentator.  Sometimes, I fall short, but a lot of the time, I surprise myself. I don’t know what I’m capable of until I try. Challenging yourself is what makes you great and shows you what you are made of!




Join the movement, sign up for our stories

You have Successfully Subscribed!