Could the next great Olympian come from Houston? If Simone Biles' recent sweep at the U.S. Championships—she won every gold medal, naturally—is any indication, our odds are pretty good.
Katy native David Heffernan hopes that's true. On a journey to become the next Olympic hopeful, the 19-year-old Division I club rugby player and A&M engineering student is part of the elite athlete roster to be evaluated at the U.S. Olympic Training Center during a week of intensive screening and sport-specific training. In partnership with 24 Hour Fitness, the U.S. Olympic Committee is searching for local athletes like Heffernan in an effort to build a pipeline of future Olympic hopefuls. You can watch the journey in USOC Production's two-part documentary Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful, airing November 24-25 on NBC. Houstonia caught up with Heffernan on his journey to the big leagues.
How did you react when you found out you were invited to the Olympic Training Center?
When I got the email [I was a finalist] ... I was sitting in my car at work getting ready for training. It had been several weeks since I tried out at the 24 Hour Fitness club in Katy, so it definitely came as a surprise. I called my parents immediately, who were visiting family in Michigan. My parents happened to be with several of my relatives at the time and I was able to tell all of them over the phone of my acceptance. It was very exciting!
What's your motivation for trying out?
The Olympics are seen as a gathering of the most elite athletes from around the world to compete for the gold medal. To be able to have a shot at being one of those few that get to represent Team USA among the best of the best athletes is something I have been in awe of for years, especially since rugby was reintroduced in 2016.
This invitation means you'll work with Olympic-level coaches. What do you think they're looking for?
The biggest thing the coaches look for is not necessarily strength in numbers of pounds you rack or your speed. It’s more important to be mentally prepared to do your best and push yourself physically beyond your limits. It’s exhausting, but to be the best in competition, it shows that your will is far greater than your own athleticism.
What is your current training regimen like?
I train five days a week, with weekends being active rest days. I will do strength work three times a week and cardio and rugby skill training two times a week if I do not have a game. My weekends are for either climbing, pickup soccer, or ultimate Frisbee. I eat about 4-5 eggs every morning with oats, toast, spinach, tomatoes, etc. Lunch is typically chicken or a type of fish with lots of grains, and dinner is whatever my mom cooks at home. She usually prepares chicken with greens and brown rice. My favorite food is by far almond butter and milk, which goes a long way when trying to gain mass for the season. I do yin yoga at work when I can, just to loosen up my muscles after a long day of training.
What are your favorite—and least favorite—exercises?
I like all exercises. I honestly do not have a least favorite, but my most favorite exercises to do are squats. Rugby is a very explosive sport involving a lot of leg drive and power, so having your core and legs strengthened is crucial. Squats are one of many exercises that do just that. It even gives me an edge on all the big guys we play who skip leg day—it pays to work on your legs!
Why did you choose to try out for Next Olympic Hopeful in a 24 Hour Fitness?
I did not even know what the Next Olympic Hopeful was until two days before the tryouts. My rugby coach shared or liked a post on Facebook that had to do with it, so I clicked on it, was very interested, then applied and tried out at the 24 Hour Fitness Katy Bella Terra club two days later.
What were tryouts like?
The entire tryout process was great and seamless. The officials tested my 30-meter dash, vertical jump, and pull-ups.
What advice would you give to others?
It's all about dedication and how much you want something. When it comes to performing, you need to fully commit yourself physically and mentally. It's one thing to be extremely athletic and know your sport inside and out. But if the time comes where you have to put your shoulder in and drive someone twice your size into the ground and you back away, then the reality is that you will not reach your athletic goals unless you change how you play.
Who has inspired you most in your life?
I would say my middle school and high school rugby coaches have inspired me to be the best version of myself. Although at the time when I was being coached by them I did not perform as well as I wished, looking back at what they taught me, I now put into play what they would repeat to us every day on the field, and that has been key to my improvement in rugby.