Chantae McMillan is determined. The 27-year-old heptathlete placed third at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials to secure a bid to the London Games just months after tearing a patellar tendon in her left knee. While prepping to make the team headed for Rio, she sat down with ESPN for the 2015 Body Issue to talk about training, nutrition and keeping her hamstrings happy.
McMillan trains in Ohio, but travels to Pittsburgh to visit trainer Lyneil Mitchell at Revolution Physical Therapy for off-the-track physical therapy: "Just going back to basics and making sure that all my muscles are firing the way they are supposed to, and then I can get back on the track and feel confident everything is firing when they are supposed to."
"I'll do everything barefoot when I get there, all of my warm-ups to the whole workout. I'm barefoot just because my feet are my foundation. I'm grounded when I'm barefoot, and getting all of those muscles working to trigger all the other muscles."
Some of McMillan's Favorite PT Exercises
Wobblers: McMillan's favorite for firing up all her leg muscles. "It's like a disk and it's got foam on it and the backside is smooth so on the floor it moves easy," she says. "You put your feet on the outside edges and it's wobbling side to side across the floor."
BOSU ball: "I'll put the round part down and stand on the black part." She'll use weights, sometimes holding them straight out, "and then I'll do single-leg squats like that."
Hanging double eagle: "I have to hang from the pull-up bar and take both my legs up, lift them to the side and touch one hand, and bring both my legs back down and touch the other hand, and so on." Based on where she is in her training cycle, McMillan will do one to three sets of 10 in her weights program.
Tearing her tendon in 2011 served as a wake-up call for McMillan that she needed to listen to her body. "I had tendinitis and I should have taken care of it better. I didn't have as clean of a diet back then as well," she says. "I have a cleaner diet now, so I'm really aware of inflammation in any part of my body. I'm able to listen."
Fighting injury: She's added herbs into her diet -- turmeric tea is a favorite -- to combat recent Achilles inflammation. Going to the chiropractor is key for McMillan, as well: "Getting worked on and making sure everything is lined up."
Cooling down: After workouts, she'll do at least a lap around the track of alternate skipping and jogging: "Then I roll out, with 10 to 20 passes over each area. Then stretch, and follow with ice, whether that be an ice bath or just icing specific areas. Can't forget my recovery drink with my vitamins to help my body recover on the inside!"
Eating right: McMillan says she stays disciplined, but can find it difficult to get enough calories because of her heavy training load. "I like food. I like meat and fruits and I'll sneak in some ice cream here and there," she says. "But I'm probably working out so much that it all burns off."
Keeping her hamstrings loose is actually a favorite pastime for McMillan: "I think the way that it feels when I'm working them is really cool."
She'll lie on the ground and do leg curls, or kneel and have someone hold her ankles, then lean forward as far as she can go. She calls them yogi leans, and "my coach will always make me push to that limit on my last one!" Within a workout, she'll do one or two sets of 10.
"It just gives me security knowing that my hamstrings are strong enough where they are going to work well with my quads, and I'm not at risk of injuring them," she says.
Right before a race or sometimes even in practice, McMillan will hear her theme song. "You know the song 'Bulls on Parade' by Rage Against the Machine? Yea, that song will start playing in my head. And then I scream in my head as well when I need to go. It's crazy what goes on in there."
The internal screams help McMillan stay composed on the outside, she says. "It's just a super-loud 'AHHHH!' taking place in my head. ... When the gun goes off, it's just like 'scream,' get to that first hurdle and continue it."
Cut Her Some Slack
Balance is key in McMillan's sport, so it stands to reason that she's a fan of slackline, where you hang a thick line somewhat loosely between two objects and balance across the expanse. "It's like tightrope walking. You can put the line as high as you want it. I put it probably five feet up in the air, but it sags some when I get on it," she says.
"I just like to walk across it and walk backwards on it, then I'll try to jump on it. I love trying to do a pistol squat [single-leg squat] on it on both of my legs. And it's good because my trainer can't get mad at me because I'm working on my balance and they encourage that."
McMillan's other favorite off-track athletic pursuits
Unicycle: "I had a unicycle that I used to always practice on, until my mom sold it, but I can still get on and get back into the groove of riding when I'm around one." Her balance from all her other training comes in handy, she says. McMillan can pedal a unicycle, but that's pretty much it. "I don't do any tricks," she says. "It's enough to ride it, isn't it?"
Basketball, soccer, gymnastics, softball, volleyball, surfing ... "I can pretty much pick up anything and it's fine."
Flag football: "I was good at rushing the quarterback. I love football. Whenever I have the opportunity to play catch with someone nowadays, I run routes and pretend I'm dusting some imaginary safety then make a sick catch!"
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