By Theresa Gonzalez
Valerie Adams recalls a pivotal moment early in her athletic career that changed the course of her life. She was at home in New Zealand, just 15 years old, watching the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games as she awaited news of her mother, who lay dying from cancer in a nearby hospital. Her mother was her rock, she says, and encouraged her to become a shot-putter. “I was watching the Opening Ceremony in Sydney, thinking one day I want to be there,” she remembers.
“The next day my mom passed away and I promised myself that I would try to be the best in the world.” The following year, Adams went on to win the World Youth Championships in Debrecen, Hungary and the year after that, in 2002, she won the World Junior Championship in Kingston, Jamaica.
By the time she was 18 she found herself walking the Opening Ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games as a member of the New Zealand team—a photo of her mother by her side. “She’s with me, in my heart, all the time. Every Sunday, after church, my partner and I visit her at the grave,” she says. This past spring, Adams married her childhood friend, Gabriel Price, in a Mormon ceremony in Auckland, New Zealand. Her faith is as important to her as her sport.
Having undergone surgery for appendicitis just one month before her first Olympic Games, Adams placed eighth in Athens. But the loss didn’t discourage her. Instead, “it gave me the drive more than anything else to go to the next Olympic Games and do better,” she says.
At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Adams won gold, breaking a New Zealand and Oceania record of 20.56m. It was also her first event as a member of Team Visa, a group of world-class Olympic and Paralympic athletes who embody Visa’s values of acceptance, partnership and innovation. “Visa was able to bring my family to Beijing and really took care of them so I could focus on training,” she says. “We climbed the Great Wall of China, which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life—one of those things you cross of your bucket list.”
Four years later, Adams won gold again at the London 2012 Olympic Games. In addition to being a two-time Olympic Games gold medalist, Adams is also a four-time World Champion, three-time World Indoor Champion and two-time Commonwealth Games Champion. Her promise to her herself, you could say, has been fulfilled.
Adams comes from an athletic family—her half-brother, Steve Adams, is a professional basketball player for Oklahoma City. At seven feet tall, he takes after their late father Sydney “Sid” Adams, who moved to New Zealand after serving in the Royal Navy in England and later married Valerie’s mother, who was Tongan (a Polynesian culture).
This summer, Adams heads into her third Olympic Games in Rio as a veteran Team Visa member. “I’m very fortunate to be with Visa,” she says. “They value you as a person as well as an athlete.” What advice does she have for athletes, like U.S. Track and Field Champion and fellow Team Visa athlete English Gardner, who are entering their first Olympic Games? “It’s easy to be distracted by all of the free stuff, all of the food, all of the excitement,” she advises. “But remember what you’re there for and that’s to perform. The last thing you want is to have no mark, no throw, no jump. Stay focused and do your best. After that, you can go visit the food court,” she laughs.
Theresa Gonzalez is a senior writer for Visa and the author of two Chronicle Books titles. She lives in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @theresagonzalez.
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