Michelle Carter crouches low with the 8.8-pound ball nestled against her neck. A shot put champion representing Team USA, she has one final throw before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games are over. She swings a leg out before she springs up, whips around, hurls the ball and watches it fly.
“Carter saved her best for last,” the announcer calls as the ball lands 20.63 meters away. Michelle has beaten her own personal best, set a national record and won the gold medal in Women’s Shot Put.
“It was like I had this build up over time,” Michelle recalls when we talk one year later. She is fresh from a typical bout of training—because there is no rest for the winners. “I knew I was due for another big throw. I hadn’t had a personal best in a few years. I knew it would come one day.” She laughs and adds, “I’m just glad it showed up during the Olympics.” Shot put is a track-and-field event that dates back to the Trojan War. It involves throwing—putting—a heavy ball—shot—as far as possible.
If you’re looking to spot Michelle in the crowd of competitors, here’s a tip: she’s the one with lashes and lipstick, because she’s also a certified professional makeup artist.
Michelle, raised in a suburb outside Dallas, is close to Olympic royalty. Her coach is her father, 1984 Olympic Silver Medalist and San Francisco 49ers nose guard, Michael Carter, the only athlete to win an Olympic medal and a Super Bowl ring in the same year. When she decided she wanted to try track and field, she went straight to him.
“He was like ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ And I said I just wanted to try it. From that day forward he was my coach. To be a dual sport athlete took a lot of hard work and dedication. But he’s shown us that hard work pays off.”
Michelle is at once following in his footsteps and forging a new path. She’s coined the name the Shot Diva and has fostered a career as an advocate for female empowerment, body positivity and self-confidence.
“Going through life, you get mixed messages on who you are, and it chips away at your confidence,” she says. “You may not even realize it.” As a result, she founded You Throw Girl Sports Confidence Camp for young female athletes, a place where both professional and aspiring athletes can come together, learn to love a sport and and more importantly, love themselves. Michelle, both an athlete and a diva, knows what she’s talking about. Self-esteem for young girls is an issue that is particularly close to her heart.
“People have stereotypes about women in certain sports,” Michelle admits. “In 10th grade, I met this guy and we were talking and he wanted my number. He learned my name and was like ‘Wait, you’re that shot put girl! Wow, you actually look like a girl! I thought you’d look like someone named Helga.’” She laughs, recounting a story that’s clearly a favorite of hers. “In that moment I realized that people don’t look at my sport as something feminine or girly. And there’s this idea that if you’re too feminine, you can’t be good [at sports]. But I always embrace both sides of myself. I like throwing this heavy ball into the dirt—and I’m going to wear lipstick and lashes while I’m doing it.”
Michelle has always enjoyed hair and makeup but had put aside aspirations to go to beauty school to do other important things—like train for the Olympics. After she made Team USA in 2008, she took a few classes and then founded a business, Shot Diva Makeup. She doesn’t let anyone tell her that she can’t accomplish whatever she sets out to do, and You Throw Girl is her chance to teach young girls her philosophy.
After a lifetime in the sports world, Michelle has seen young athletes struggle in the midst of heavy competition, faced with conflicting ideas on what they should wear, how they should look and who they should be in order to rise above the rest. Michelle hopes that by sharing her story and success with fellow female athletes, she can teach them to love what makes them unique, no matter what anyone else says.
“It’s who you are, and you can’t change who you are and what you believe in,” she explains. “When I compete, I want to look good. It helps me know that I’m about to crush this. It makes me feel confident.” Her motto is: you look good, you feel good, you do good.
A picture taken during the medal ceremony captures her on the podium with a gold medal around her neck, decked out in Team USA garb with a radiant smile. “All I could think was that it took me 20 years to get to that point,” she says. “Those 20 years that I worked for this, it all paid off. It was worth missing all that fun stuff I missed.”
Not every Olympian uses their platform to reach out to their fans, hoping not just to inspire them, but to come alongside them. Michelle’s own confidence has given her many opportunities to touch lives for the better. Long after her track and field days are over, Michelle will still be hard at work.
“Empowerment is helping women break down barriers,” she adds near the end of our conversation. “To be empowered is to open doors knowing we have no limits. Not because we’re women, but because we have the power to overcome anything. When times are hard, that’s when you need to press forward the most. It pays off.”
Michelle Carter’s makeup game is always flawless and she can throw a 9-pound shot farther than most people could toss a marble. Look out for her at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. She’ll be the one wearing lipstick.