Olympian Maggie Steffens Prioritizes Inclusion and Mindset As She Goes for Gold (Again)

by Parker Piscitello-Faye

Maggie Steffens, a two time Olympic Gold Medalist, US Women’s Water Polo team captain, and Navigator has been waking up at 6:00am recently. In preparation for the 2021 Tokyo games, she practiced six and a half hours a day, competing, conditioning, and strength training. But, her hard work doesn’t stop there.

When I sat down to chat with her recently, she explained how she’s been fighting for equal pay in tournaments and to manage her stress. Her comments were an important reminder of how much the Olympics means, beyond the medal count, glory, and celebrations. There’s a financial element every athlete contends with.

Managing Stress by Navigating Finances

Maggie has been training mentally and physically. She’s also taken the time to get her finances in order.

She explained why: “You want to be able as an athlete to focus on what you need to do. You need to play well, you need to train well, you mentally need to be prepared. You need to be a teammate. You need to be a good listener. Whatever it is. And if you’re stressed about your finances or don’t have things in order, or like trying to figure something out that you need to do for your mortgage or your rent or whatever it is, you’re not able to focus on those things.” To perform her best and show up for the team, Maggie has paid close attention to her money before heading to Japan.

Luckily, the Nav.it money tracking app has been able to help. Maggie noted how Nav.it helps her reduce her financial stress through its focus on:

  • Empowerment 
    • She stated that Nav.it “empowers women and allows women to have the resources to empower themselves. So it’s not just somebody doing it for you. It’s giving you the tools and the resources for you, yourself, to figure out what you need financially… giving me the confidence and giving me the pride in knowing that, all right, I know what I’m doing here.” 
  • Women and Inclusion
    • Maggie also appreciates that Nav.it is “all women and for women. She noted that she’s “about women empowerment and being able to, you know, take control of your life in a way… to empower somebody like me to say, all right, you know what? I’ve always wanted to invest in a home, or I’ve wanted to create my own company. Let me check in on my finances and see if this is possible and now I’m going to go do it.”
  • The Big Picture 
    • She also noted how important it is for her “to have my expenses and different incomes on one platform. So I’m not like checking four or five different things or credit cards or whatever it is… It’s kinda nice to be able to see the big picture. I think that’s something else as an athlete. And especially as an Olympic athlete, we’re constantly thinking of the bigger picture and then the little steps to make those happen.” Nav.it is helping Maggie recognize and take the little steps she needs in order to succeed.
  • Check-Ins 
    • Maggie also pinpointed how much Nav.it has encouraged her to ask “Can I check on how I’m doing? Whether it’s my budget, whether it’s my savings, whether it’s my investments, how am I doing? Can I check in on them? Whether good or bad, at least I know the information. And from there I can move forward.” 

The Importance of Inclusion and Equal Pay

Stress, finances, and mindset aren’t the only things on Maggie’s mind as the Olympics quickly approach. We also discussed how her training for the Olympics has been informed by her (and her team’s) interest in inclusion and equal pay. In general, it is taking steps in the right direction. However, she was quick to note how water polo, and aquatics in general, has a lot to improve on.

Not just making History, but reflecting on it

“I think for most people, they probably don’t know the history of aquatics when it comes to the people who are in swimming pools a lot, and there’s a lot of history there,” she explains. “There wasn’t as much opportunity when it comes to people of color… people of color weren’t even allowed in pools… so for us, I think it was really important to have that acknowledgement of that history and realize that we really need to step up and make some changes… There’s a lot of opportunity for more inclusion and that’s really important to us.” Learning the history of her sport and sports like it, and that history’s impact on the present, Maggie hopes water polo is more inclusive in the future.

Making progress in water polo and beyond

We also discussed the importance of inclusion as it relates to American Olympic athletes more broadly. In light of the Even Playing Field Act being re-introduced recently, I asked her about the impact equal pay would have on her and her sport. She then shared a recent experience with fighting for equal pay, where, after posting about receiving equal pay as the men’s team at a recent FINA tournament, a water polo alumni messaged her, “What? You guys make money now?”

Maggie notes that this interaction “brought it full circle because that means that we’re really pushing the sport forward for women…. it kind of gives you the sense of, of even greater gratitude [and] perspective.” She discussed how “it kind of made me think about, well, what might people say in 16 years? And let’s make sure that it’s even better and even more positive.”

Excited at Tokyo

My conversation with Maggie this week was an important reminder of the early mornings, essential conversations, and hard work that we don’t see on NBC every four years. That being an Olympic athlete isn’t just about the sport. It’s about who’s playing the sport (and how to make it more inclusive), how you’re managing your stress (financial or otherwise), and, of course, taking the time, whether its with a financial well-being writer, before an early practice with your teammates, or on an app, to check-in.

We’re wishing Maggie Steffens the best of luck in Tokyo. We are very proud to have her on our team of Navigators!

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