Gainesville newcomer and Summer Olympics hopeful Shaye Hatchette is chasing her dreams one step at a time.
Right now, that means balancing a part-time job and getting her times in the kayak to an elite level.
The Oklahoma native took her first big step, qualifying for the US Nationals in the sprint kayak, which will be hosted on Aug. 7-10 at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
Hatchette's introduction to sprint kayaking came in 2018 when she won the NBC Sports reality show ‘Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.’
Now hundreds of miles from home, she’s giving it everything she has to represent the red, white and blue.
Win or lose, Hatchette wants the best women to make it to the Summer Games next year in Tokyo.
“Kayaking has a different atmosphere than I’ve ever experienced in a sport,” Hatchette said. “They’re encouraging with each other. I’m friends with every single national team member, even the people that didn’t make the national team.
“On the water, yes, we’re going to be competitive, we’re going to all strive to do our best, but none of us have malicious intent. If our friend beats us, we’re going to be like, ‘Aye, good job,’ because it’s only going to make us better.
“Ultimately, we want what’s best for the United States, and we want the fastest girls to go and represent at that level.”
Another big hurdle for Hatchette is the financial obligations to train and cover travel expenses.
To do so, she’s set up a GoFundMe page, so far raising $1,000 since January.
“It came at a time when I really, really needed it, and I think that God is at work with that whole process,” she said.
Her athletics merry-go-round began at age 3 when she performed her first gymnastics routine. Quickly, she fell in love with the grace and strength the sport required, ultimately driving her lifelong ambition to become an Olympian.
At age 11, she quit gymnastics and began a fluid relationship with multiple sports. She attended three different colleges with stints as a soccer player, rower and cheerleader, before graduating in May 2018 with a degree in criminal justice at the University of Central Oklahoma.
“My dad is a firefighter, so I grew up looking up to the job he did for civilians,” Hatchette said of her degree. “I just like the duties that came along with the jobs, and the fact that you get to help people no matter what position you chose.”
The backup plan fed her innate desire to helps others, but the fiery spectacle of the Olympics never left her sight.
“I just remember (growing up) seeing those big Olympic rings with the fire on them and all of these girls pushing their hardest,” Hatchette said. “I just thought the mental aspect of it all and the dedication and the background stories to how they got there was all very cool.
“It brings a nation together. There’s a unity between all those athletes — a camaraderie that I really admire.”
So Hatchette hopped onto the merry-go-round one final time, eyes transfixed on sprint kayaking.
The sport possessed its difficulties, but from the very beginning, the motions seemed natural to Hatchette.
Hatchette’s brush with television, however, explored the extent of a person’s physical capability — the apex of athletic training.
Like most talent shows, subjects are forced to test the longevity of their skill, and through that, assess the strength of their dreams.
Hatchette believed her athletic career was over after college, and yet the show ignited newfound faith, changing her life entirely.
“I thought that after graduating college, I’d have to get a job and start my life that way, and it ended up being that God had different plans,” she said.
Now, one year after graduating college, she finds herself in Gainesville, several hundred miles from her Oklahoma home, sitting upon Lake Lanier.
“Lake Lanier, that Olympic venue, is like home whenever I’m there” she said.