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In new book, former UVa rower Shoop tackles struggles with depression to help encourage athletes
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In new book, former UVa rower Shoop tackles struggles with depression to help encourage athletes

"Better Great Than Never"

Lindsay Shoop’s competitive spirit culminated in an Olympic gold medal in rowing at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and later garnered an induction into the National Rowing Hall of Fame.

The 39-year-old Charlottesville native turned coach and pubic speaker added another accolade to her portfolio recently: book author.

“Better Great Than Never” outlines Shoop’s struggles with depression and encourages athletes to pursue their dreams.

“I have written the book to encourage others to discover their own possibility of greatness and to inspire their confidence in their possibility to grow,” Shoop said. “I hope that others might learn many life lessons from reading this story. It is a testament to the power of positive coaching, the value of teamwork, the way our small steps in life add up to great things, one day at a time. I firmly believe that we are all capable of greatness and being proud of the person we can become every day, one step at a time.”

Since retiring from rowing in 2010, Shoop has coached athletes at every level, from middle school to college, Olympic to Paralympic, where she would often use her own story to inspire athletes.

The idea for the book came to fruition following a conversation with a talented female athlete during a practice.

“Apparently, she had looked up to me, but thought that I had some special power that she did not, and that was why I was able to do the things I did, which meant that she could not,” Shoop said. “Her words struck me, because she could not see what the rest of us could see, what I could see. Her confidence was just not there. In that moment, my thoughts were, ‘If only she knew how much we have in common.’ That’s when I knew I had to write this book, and write it now.”

Sports were a big part of Shoop’s childhood.

She participated in nearly a dozen sports growing up, including gymnastics, horseback riding, swimming, diving, baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey and volleyball. Although Shoop’s main sport was basketball, volleyball was always her favorite. She played both sports at The Covenant School.

“Sports were part of who I was growing up,” Shoop said. “They were deeply embedded in my identity. Despite winning quite a few games and awards by the time I graduated from high school though, particularly in basketball and volleyball, I did not develop enough confidence to believe I was good enough to play sports in college. So, I left sports behind when I graduated from Covenant.”

Shoop went on to the University of Virginia and spent the first couple of years trying to find something she enjoyed beyond sports. She struggled to fill that void. Shoop gained nearly 30 pounds and her academics suffered as she tried to transition from high school to college.

That’s when she realized that sports weren’t just a competitive outlet, but served a much higher purpose internally.

Success ...

“At the time, I did not realize how much sports and teams kept me on track,” Shoop said. “They kept me organized, healthy and happy. They helped me focus in school and gave me a purpose, a reason to be productive. Even when I technically had less time available for schoolwork because of the amount of time that practices and games required, the way I became more efficient and productive while playing sports enabled me to be more efficient and productive in school.”

Shoop’s introduction to rowing happened by chance after bumping into UVa rowing coach Kevin Sauer during a swim meet. He encouraged her to try out for the team.

“I was incredibly nervous and nearly ran away from the tryout on my first day,” she said. “But because I overcame that fear, the sport helped me get back on track again. My grades went back to the best they had been. I lost all the weight I had gained and eventually became a two-time NCAA All-American while at UVa.”

Shoop’s success in rowing continued after college.

She went on to compete with the U.S. National Rowing Team for six years. During that time, she was part of the women’s 8 team that captured gold at the 2006, 2007 and 2009 World championships and added another two gold medals at the World Rowing Cup regattas.

In 2008, Shoop captured the sport’s highest honor when she helped the U.S. women’s 8-plus team win the gold medal at the Olympics.

“The whole story is uncanny and to this day feels like a twist of fate, as if the universe wanted me to row,” Shoop said. “I started at the bottom, then gradually worked my way to the top of the team by aiming to become a little better each day.”

After the Olympics, Shoop faced another challenge as she returned to training after a two-month hiatus. She didn’t understand the implications of becoming unfit and then jumping back into vigorous training, which resulted in bulging discs and vertebral stress fractures surrounding those discs.

For the next nine months, she struggled to understand why rowing was less motivating than it had been, which eventually resulted in a bout with depression.

... then struggles

“Rowing had always been so positive for me, it was heartbreaking to discover that it could hurt me in any way,” Shoop said. “I began to mentally struggle and lost my focus, and my sense of naïve optimism no longer felt supported by those around me. I knew it was time to ask for help.”

Her answers came one day while sitting in a doctor’s office during a routine checkup. To kill some time, Shoop started reading a depression checklist poster on the exam room wall and made a mental note of the symptoms she experienced. She said she experienced all but one.

“In time, I came to realize that everything I was feeling were my body’s red flags for stress that I was putting it under,” Shoop said. “It knew something was wrong, so [my body was] showing me in every way it knew how, which is why I backed off from training and regained a bit of balance.”

Recently, Shoop put her athletic career in perspective. She “loosely” calculated the odds of winning Olympic gold and placed it at 0.0000045% during a given Olympic year. The reason she did this was because she still cannot fully explain how it felt to have won.

“To think of myself as capable of something that such a tiny subset of the population might ever do is unfathomable,” she said. “I have always felt that I am just me, and if someone like me can do something like win the Olympics, I feel that anyone can become great at what they choose to wholeheartedly focus on and pursue. It starts with believing that improvement is possible, then taking it one step at a time from there.”

Shoop, who now lives in Miami and is an assistant coach at Barry University, said writing the book also has helped her to strike a balance in life beyond sports.

“Having felt the consequences of physical overtraining, I am far more attuned to how this feels in life outside of sports, as well,” she said. “So, it seems the more physically fit and healthy I am, the more equipped I am to manage stress of any kind and thus why I aim to prioritize my physical health for the rest of my life.”

The book was released in November and is available worldwide at most booksellers. Shoop said the response has been overwhelming.

“I have always been a storyteller who has used fine detail in my conversations ever since I was a tiny child. So, it seems as though writing is an appropriate outlet,” she said. “I wrote the story to deeply resonate with high school and college athletes, with them as the primary audience. This also means the book resonates with those who were athletes, who know young athletes or who could use a little encouragement through an inspiring sports story.”

Shoop is excited to share her story and hopes it helps high school and college athletes who could use a little encouragement.

“I am happy to say that I cannot tell you the number of times that the very act of recounting the stories of the highs and lows of my Olympic rowing career have helped me write this book,” she said. “The very same strategies I employed to improve in my rowing skills and to manage the ups and downs of it all are the very ones that helped me write this book. One day, one page, one word at a time, with loads of patience, positivity and determination.”

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