Ghana born; Virginia raised speed skater Maame Biney is competing for Team USA in her second Olympic Games.
Advertisement
Maame Biney
Credit: David Ramos / Staff/Getty Images

Four U.S. female speed skaters approach the red starting line. Their strong bodies wrapped in black rubber skinsuits and poised for takeoff.  The starting gun goes off and within seconds, one skater explodes into the lead position. Her long braids and baby pink extensions flow behind her while the tips of her white gloves caress the ice through every turn of the 500-meter race. Her powerful legs push her through the final lap and she crosses the checkered line for the win. An infectious smile spreads wide across her face. Maame Afua Biney has just secured her spot for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. As she comes off the ice the reporter asks her, "Can you put into words what this moment means to you?" Head in her hands, Biney cannot keep the tears from flowing. "I'm so sorry," she apologizes. "It's been a rough couple of years. And so being able to be here and win the five is just amazing because, oh my gosh, I've worked so hard and been through so much mentally."

Biney first stepped onto the ice in Reston, Virginia at the tender age of six. The year prior, she had traveled more than 5 thousand miles from her birthplace in Ghana to come live with her father in the United States. The young girl took to the ice like a natural. She started out figure skating, but it didn't take long for a wise coach to notice that Biney's speed stood out from the rest. He suggested she switch her focus to speed skating and she's never looked back.

While still in high school, Biney made history as the first black woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic speed skating team and also made her Olympic debut at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Now, having just celebrated her 22nd birthday, Biney is competing in her second Olympic Games in Beijing. And while there's no denying her love of the sport, Biney told Southern Living it was those around her that made the years of hard work and sacrifice worth it. "I think the thing that made me want to keep skating was just the people there, making me feel safe and comfortable," Biney recalled. "Just having those lifelong friends and relationships is definitely what kept me in skating and what's going to keep me skating."

Someone else that keeps Biney skating is Anna Digger.  This is Biney's alter ego that the skater has channeled during past competitions to help melt away the nerves and anxieties. Unlike her self-proclaimed shy and awkward persona, Biney said Anna is fierce, focused and only cares about crossing the finish line first. "I really hope that she's able to like burst out during the Olympics! And I definitely do see that during practice, I see that she's still there which is very, very exciting."

In recent years, Biney has tackled another challenge: depression and anxiety. With the help of a therapist, she said she has come to realize that life doesn't just revolve around skating and finding a balance is vital to her mental health.  "There are so many athletes who go through this, and I think that we all feel like we were alone in our struggles," explained Biney. "But in reality, the person next to us is struggling with whatever they are struggling with, and probably the same thing as me."

Biney said she applauds professional athletes such as Simone Biles who have talked openly and honestly about their mental health. "I definitely think it's about time and I hope this momentum keeps going and that people really start to understand that athletes do have a mind and a personality, and it's not just about go, go, go.  It's about how can I go with a good mindset, you know?"

WATCH: Olympic Sprinter Gabby Thomas Inspires on and off the Track

In addition to a new mindset, Biney said she's headed to her second Olympic Games with a new set of goals. "This time around I am only going to be skating for myself and not for anyone else. I've worked too hard, I've cried too much, and I've sacrifice way too much to try to make everyone proud," Biney declared. "And so, I'm going to go into these games just being myself, just racing my race and not thinking about anyone else other than myself. And proudly being selfish!"