The Road to Rio 2016

For these hometown hopefuls, the countdown to the Olympics
has already begun.


By Julianne Hale


They’re working hard. They’re dreaming big. And they’re already at the top of their game. The 11 athletes profiled here – all with hometown ties to the Tennessee Valley – are setting their sights on the pinnacle of athletic achievement, the Olympic Games. If they stay on target to meet their goals, we just might get to witness their dreams coming true in the pool, on the track, and in the ring at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.


Lanni Marchant (above)

Photo by Fred Fraser
Motto: “Make your legs go fast.”
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, ‘07 | Age: 30 | Olympic Event: Marathon

“I like living in the U.S. but I love living in Chattanooga.’

This is how Lanni Marchant responds when her Canadian friends ask her if she likes living in the states.

A Canadian citizen now working as an attorney at the local law offices of Speek, Webb, Turner, & Newkirk, Marchant came to the Scenic City in 2002 to attend UTC. After graduation, she left to attend law school in Michigan and Ottawa, but managed to make it back during the summers to intern at a local firm before choosing Chattanooga as her permanent home.


Marchant says she ran distance events while at UTC, but never felt compelled to run a marathon until she finished law school and started looking for a job. “I thought completing the 26.2-mile race would look good on my resume,’’ she says, laughing.

When she clocked a decent finish, she decided to train for a second marathon in Chicago where she not only had a second impressive performance, but earned the opportunity to train in Kenya. She took the offer, and when she returned her time had dropped to 2 hours and 31 minutes – the ninth fastest female marathon time in Canada’s history.

Marchant will no doubt make it to Rio in 2016, considering that she’s running 100-110 miles per week to prepare. When asked how she finds time to do this as a full-time working attorney, she credits her firm’s flexibility. “They have been incredibly supportive,’’ she says. “I go to the office and to court when I need to but I can do the bulk of my work from home.’’

Marchant says she’s overcome by the enthusiastic embrace she’s received here. “It doesn’t seem to matter that I am competing for Canada, Chattanooga has been so supportive of my efforts, proving that you don’t have to be from the United States to be supported by your community!’’



Photo by U-M Photography

Photo by U-M Photography

Sean Ryan

Motto: “It’s not every four years. It’s every day.”
McCallie School, ’10 | Age: 22 | Olympic Event: 10K Open Water Swim and 1500-Meter Freestyle

Sean Ryan swims 10-kilometer races in open water and it would be an understatement to say he’s great at it. He is currently on the U.S. National A-Team and in the top six in his event.

Open water swimming is not the kind most of us watched in 2008 – there’s no diving into a climate-controlled, chemically-treated, modern pool. Instead, swimmers take to an ocean, river, or lake amidst countless variables that can interfere with performance like water temperature, current, waves, visibility, and wildlife.

Ryan’s swimming career began at age five when his parents signed him up for the Scenic City Aquatics Club. That’s where he first met McCallie’s Stan Corcoran. “He was the one who saw I was distance-oriented and first got me to try open water,’’ Ryan says.


It was full-speed ahead from there. At the age of 15, Ryan qualified for the USA Swimming National Team. He has been on it ever since, making his first Olympic trials cut in 2010 and winning the 5K pursuit team at the 2011 World Championships in China.

Ryan is slated to graduate this December from the University of Michigan where he keeps busy studying mechanical engineering and training with the swim team. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in engineering while training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.


Photo by Clayton Hotze (Mizzou Athletics)

Photo by Clayton Hotze (Mizzou Athletics)

LaQuisha Jackson 

Motto: “It’s the journey that brings us happiness, not the destination.”
Howard School, ‘11 | Age: 20 | Olympic Event: 100, 200, & 400 Meter & Relays

LaQuisha Jackson has been running towards the Olympic games her whole life. And while her goal is lofty, her coach Carjay Lyles will tell you her talent is real. Like her hero, Florence Griffith Joyner, she was built for speed.

The most decorated track star in Tennessee High School history, Jackson possesses a quiet, unassuming determination. “Every day when I wake up I think about how every decision I make has the potential to get me closer to my goal,” she says. Her rigorous training regimen includes a careful diet, a daily practice schedule, and one-on-one work with her coach.

Her hard work paid off when she won the Mountain West Conference Championships in the 100- and 200-meter dashes last year while running for San Diego State University. Now she’s at the University of Missouri, where she transferred last year in order to stay under the coaching of Coach Carjay. “He’s one of the most important people in my life,” she explains. “He helps me, motivates me, and prays for and with me.”

Jackson is now competing in the Southeastern Conference and is ready to take on the running world. Her rare combination of raw talent, unshakable faith, and sheer determination might be all she needs to fulfill her Olympic dream.


Photo by Med Dement

Photo by Med Dement

Roger Hilley, Anvious Griffin & Slade Corvin

Motto: “When you do the right things in and out of the gym, success will follow.”
Age: 20, 20, and 17, respectively | Olympic Event: Boxing 

Roger Hilley, Anvious Griffin, and Slade Corvin are three star athletes and Olympic contenders coming out of Chattanooga’s Youth Community Action Project (YCAP) Boxing Club.

Hilley, a 20-year-old Chattanooga native, started visiting YCAP when he was 10 years old. His talent was apparent early on, but three years ago, he started having exceptional performances in the lightweight division at 132 pounds. He won the 2014 Ringside World Championships and came in second at the National Junior Olympics two years ago.

Weighing in at 152 pounds, Griffin is the biggest boxer in the YCAP Boxing Club’s current list of Olympic contenders. The 20-year-old has been boxing since he was 10 and was a football star at East Ridge High School. His resume is impressive with wins at the 2004 and 2005 Junior Golden Glove Nationals and the 2006-2007 Ringside National Championship.

Also from Chattanooga, Corvin is only 17 years old but is already taking the boxing world by storm, finishing second twice in the Light Flyweight division at the National Junior Olympics. Weighing in at a lean 108 pounds, Corvin packs a mean punch and has the steady support of his parents. His father is a constant presence in the gym, and his homeschool education gives him the flexability to focus more time on training.


Rio.PrestonPreston Elwell 

Motto: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
Signal Mountain High School, ‘14 | Age: 18 | Olympic Event: Javelin

Preston Elwell’s reason for giving the javelin a try was simple—he liked to throw things. “When I was 7, I started throwing the turbo javelin at track meets,” he explains. “By the time I was 9, I was finishing first or second at most of them.” Elwell was also 9 when he set the meet record for turbo javelin at the Blunt Invitational at Duke University and set his sights on the Olympic Games.

Elwell grew up in Nebraska and North Carolina but moved to the Chattanooga area his junior year of high school and graduated from Signal Mountain Middle High School. Inspired by his father, a runner, and his other track coaches, he has made major progress over the years and continues to improve.

Currently a freshman at Winthrop University, Elwell can already tell a difference in his body after his fall collegiate strength training and conditioning. While his Olympic dream is to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2016 (he’ll have to rank in the top 24 in the country), Elwell acknowledges that if Rio doesn’t work out, he’ll have his eye on Tokyo 2020.


Photo by Michael Scott

Photo by Michael Scott

Cameron Bean 

Motto: “Do you want to be good, or do you want to be great?”
Baylor School, ‘05 | Age: 27 | Olympic Event: 3,000-Meter Steeplechase

“Frankly, you’ve got to be a little crazy to do it.” That’s what Cameron Bean has to say about the 3,000-meter steeplechase. An intense track and field event consisting of a circuit with four 36-inch barriers and one water jump, it requires athletes to complete the circuit seven times, clearing the barriers 28 times and completing seven water jumps.

The 27-year-old Baylor graduate got started in the steeplechase late in his collegiate career. “I tried it a couple times early on but it absolutely beat me to shreds,” says Bean. After a breakthrough during his senior year when “it started clicking,” Cameron made steady progress and has been working ever since to improve his time.

Cameron’s career highlight came in 2013 when he made the finals at the U.S. Track and Field Championships. It was at that point that the young athlete set his sights on the 2016 Olympics.

Now a professional runner with ZAP Fitness, Cameron is focusing his life on his athletic training, which includes between 85 and 90 miles of running a week, along with strength and conditioning, balance training, and hurdle drills.


Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

Phoebe Wright

Motto: “Keep it simple.”
Red Bank High School, ‘06 | Age: 26 | Olympic Event: 800-Meter Run

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Phoebe Wright was an accidental track star. “After I missed soccer tryouts my freshman year of high school, I realized I didn’t want to ride the bus home so I decided to try out for track,” she says.

During her time at Red Bank High School, she was introduced to two coaches who would serve as her inspiration throughout her running career: Rodney Stoker and Col. Hugh Enicks. After graduation, she went to UT where she was a walk-on for Coach J.J. Clark.

“I thought I was really good in high school and then I walked on at UT and realized I wasn’t,” Phoebe says of her experience as a freshman. “It was a reality check so I put my head down and began chipping away at little improvements.” Her hard work was rewarded when she found herself on the line at the national championships the very next year. Her career highlights now include winning the national championship five times during her college career, winning three distance relays two years in a row, and winning one USA Indoor Championship race.

Phoebe is currently attending pharmacy school at the University of Washington. She says the school is allowing her to take a lighter load so she can focus on training for her Olympic dream.


Rio.AugustAugust Wherry 

Motto: “Be the best man you can be.”
McCallie School, ‘12 | Age: 20 | Olympic Event: Men’s Rowing

August Wherry’s introduction to rowing was a bit of a fluke. He intended to play tennis when he entered McCallie as a sophomore, but was also looking for a sport to play in the fall. A guy in the admissions office suggested rowing for the tall, lanky teenager, so Wherry decided to give it a try. It was a good match, and he spent the remaining three years of his high school career on the team.

Wherry credits his high school coach, Prentice Stabler, and now his coach at Hobart College, Paul Bugenhagen, for inspiring him to work as hard as possible. “I get to spend 30 plus hours a week rowing and every day I am challenged to better myself not only as an athlete, but as a member of the community and an accountable friend,” he explains.

His successes so far include making the U23 United States National Team and winning the ECAC National Championship this past spring. He says his experience at the World Championships, in particular, gave his rowing career a huge push. “Not only did it motivate me to continue working to get to the top of the rowing world [The Olympics], it put into perspective how much work is required to get there,” he says.

Still a full time student, Wherry has to find balance between class work and training. Right now, he is working with Coach Bugenhagen to develop a focused training schedule and, with his help, hopes to row his way to success at the Olympic trials.


Rio.JohannaJohanna Gartman 

Motto: “It’s what we do in the hard times that make us who we are and defines our character.”
Girls Preparatory School, ‘11 | Age: 21 | Olympic Event: Triathlon

The daughter of two triathletes, Johanna Gartman was introduced to the sport at an early age – but with no success. “My parents signed me up for my first triathlon when I was 7 and  I cried the whole time.” Her triathlon career on hold, the young athlete focused on her first love—swimming—and competed on swim teams for many years.

Gartman took up running again while in high school and eventually developed a love for the triathlon after performing well in race after race. Upon graduation,  she was invited to be a part of the United States Olympic Committee’s Elite Triathlon Academy in Colorado Springs. The intense training program provides the United States’ top up-and-coming triathletes with full-time coaching and top-notch resources while they pursue their education at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

Though still very young, Gartman has already made great strides, placing third at the U23 Elite Nationals last year and 10th at the U23 World Championships in Canada. “When I first came to this team last year, I didn’t know if it would really happen when I started racing women who were already Olympians,” she says. “But now, I don’t know if it will be 2016, 2020, or 2024, but I believe I will get there.”


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