Who is Katherine Reutter-Adamek?
After winning two medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, short track skater Katherine Reutter-Adamek (who previously competed under just her maiden name, Reutter) retired at age 24 due to persistent injuries. She spent a few years coaching, then decided to come back to competition in hopes of adding to her medal haul at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Speed skating beginnings
When Reutter-Adamek got her first pair of skates at four years old, her parents enrolled her in a learn-to-skate class—for figure skating. While Reutter-Adamek immediately loved speeding around on the ice, she wasn’t interested in being “girly and looking cute and the smiling the jumping and all that,” she said. She preferred racing the other kids to skating to music, so her mom switched her to a speed skating class.
The five-year-old quickly found the motivation to excel at her new sport.
“There were coaches there that kept telling me, ‘Oh, you came from figure skating, you must be a figure skater,’” she remembered. “And I would say, ‘How do you know?’ And they'd say, ‘Well, you skate like one.’ And I remember at my first practice, thinking to myself, like, ‘I am gonna show you. I am gonna skate like a speed skater.’”
Reutter-Adamek said her breakout competition was the 2007 University Games, because it “gave me the confidence boost I needed to make my first world championship team.”
The next year, Reutter-Adamek used her newfound self-assurance to claim her first world medal. She won a bronze in the 3000m at the 2008 World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, which were held in Gangneung, South Korea—the same city that will host short track competition at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Reutter-Adamek made her Olympic debut in impressive fashion at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where she won a silver medal in the 1000m. It was the first short track Olympic medal for a U.S. woman since 1994.
Reutter-Adamek also helped the U.S. women to bronze in the 3000m relay, and finished just off the podium in fourth place in the 1500m.
Off the ice in Vancouver, Reutter-Adamek appeared on "The Colbert Report" to thank host Stephen Colbert and his "Colbert Nation" for raising money to help support the U.S. Olympic short track team. She said that having the show's logo made her skate faster, and asked Colbert to sign her thigh to give her an extra boost in races.
After Vancouver, Reutter-Adamek had what she described as “by far my best season” in 2010 and 2011. She dominated the 1000m and 1500m races on the World Cup circuit, earning the overall gold medals in both distances. At the 2011 World Championships, Reutter-Adamek won gold in the 1500m, becoming the first American woman to win a short track world title since Bonnie Blair—who competed in short track before becoming famous for her Olympic victories in long track speed skating—won in 1986.
“I was just so hungry and felt so capable of getting the overall World Championship win,” Reutter-Adamek said of the 2011 Worlds, where she also won silver in the 3000m and bronze in the 1000m. “And I fell in my best distance.”
While Reutter-Adamek had already been struggling with injuries, “that fall triggered the worst back pain of my life. And I never really recovered after that fall.”
Reutter-Adamek did finish second overall at the 2011 Worlds to receive a silver medal, but then had to deal with “years of injury” as a result. She underwent three hip surgeries but still couldn’t find relief from the pain.
In 2013, at age 24, Reutter-Adamek decided to retire. She left her training base of Salt Lake City to work as a coach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“And that struggle is what turned me away from skating into coaching… And coaching and being in Milwaukee is the reason that I'm able to come back for the 2018 Games. So, even the biggest struggle that I can imagine in my skating career is also the starting point for this second chance that I'm getting right now.”
In 2015, Reutter-Adamek noticed that she was no longer feeling constant pain and slowly got back onto the ice. She returned to competition in the fall of 2016, where she logged four top-10 finishes at World Cup competitions. However, her season was cut short after she suffered a concussion in early 2017, and she had to sit out the pre-Olympic world championships.
Despite the 24-year age gap, legendary speed skater Bonnie Blair has repeatedly played a significant role in Reutter-Adamek’s Olympic journey. The skaters attended the same high school in Champaign, Illinois, and now both are in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. When Reutter-Adamek was 16, she was a promising skater who felt serious hesitation about moving away from home to pursue top-level training. That same year, the five-time Olympic champion returned to the school to give a speech to the student-athletes, which inspired Reutter-Adamek to overcome her fears and move to Marquette, Michigan.
After Reutter-Adamek’s retirement, the two crossed paths again: both currently live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Reutter-Adamek’s husband coaches Blair’s son’s hockey team.
“There's a difference between leading and pulling. Leading is easy... it's staying in control of the race and letting other move when they want to move. Pulling is hard. It will make you tired and you when the other skaters want to go you won't be able to stop them. Life is the same. Controlling the controllable is relatively easy. Forcing things to be a certain way is hard and doesn't lead to outcome you want every time anyway.” – Katherine Reutter-Adamek
Off the ice
Reutter-Adamek married Mark Adamek, a former hockey player, in the summer of 2017, after dating for over five years.
"We met at the rink out in Salt Lake," Reutter-Adamek said. "He was a hockey coach. And I was training for speed skating. And I thought he was so cute."
After repeatedly pointing out Adamek to her teammates, they encouraged her to finally go introduce herself.
"And so, one day, I saw him walk in. And I ran up. And I said, 'Excuse me.' And he turned around. And he said, 'Can I help you?' And I said, "Hi. I'm Katherine. I think you're really cute. I see you around the rink all the time. I'd love to get to know you. Can we go get coffee?' And he looked around bewildered for a second and then said, 'That would be great.' And that was five-and-a-half years ago."
Shortly after returning to competition, Reutter-Adamek also earned another honor: her college degree. She earned a Bachelor’s in Small Business and Entrepreneurship from DeVry University in late 2016.
In her free time, Reutter-Adamek often practices yoga. "When I need to relax and unwind," she said, "yoga is a huge part of my life." She uses yoga as part of her recovery workouts and on race days as "something that'll calm and center me and make me remember to be here now. That's a big thing that I work on when I'm skating."