Misfortune stacked up like spent shotgun shells in the four years since Kim Rhode won her third Olympic gold medal.
A brutally difficult pregnancy. A debilitating recovery, one that’s still ongoing. Emergency gall bladder surgery. A five-day hospital stay for mosquito-borne illness. Her husband’s own health issues. Her father’s broken leg. The deaths of six friends.
Bitterness was readily available. All Rhode had to do was let it in.
Perspective prevented that door from swinging open.
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For all that’s been thrown at her, Rhode still has a healthy son, has herself on the slow road to recovery and will be joined by her family as she attempts to make history at the Rio Olympics next month.
“You just have to be thankful for what you have and know that there are people out there that have it worse, that are going through tougher times and just look at the positives in it,” said Rhode, who turns 37 on Saturday. “I feel very, very thankful of where I’m at.”
Rhode is one of the greatest athletes not just in Olympic shooting, but any sport.
She won double-trap gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as a 17-year-old senior from El Monte (Calif.) Arroyo High School. Bronze followed at Sydney in 2000, another gold in Athens four years later. Rhode took silver in skeet at the 2008 Beijing Games and gold again, this time in skeet, at London in 2012.
Rhode is the first American athlete in an individual sport to earn a medal in five straight Olympics. She is the only woman to win three Olympic golds in shooting.
At Rio, she will be the first American to qualify for Olympics on five different continents and has a chance to join Italian luger Armin Zoeggeler as the only athletes to earn a medal in six straight Olympics. She also has 14 national championships and 28 World Cup medals, most all-time.
But Rhode’s road hasn’t always been easy.
Heading into the 2012 London Games, Rhode had two major setbacks: A breast cancer scare and the theft of her $15,000 shotgun, “Old Faithful,” which she had used in her first four Olympics.
Oh, and her dog ate her plane ticket less than a week before Opening Ceremonies. Her husband lost his passport.
No matter. Rhode has an innate ability to shut out distractions and had a singular focus in London.
Using her new gun despite the return of her old one – authorities found it while searching the home of a parolee – she tied a world record by hitting 99 of 100 skeet targets in qualifying and cruised to her third Olympic gold. She also finished ninth in trap and became the first shotgun shooter to compete in all three disciplines at the Olympics.
Adding a degree or two of difficulty, Rhode was pregnant in London and didn’t know it.
Rhode and her husband, Mike Harryman, were thrilled to learn they were expecting, but joy became tinged with pain as the pregnancy progressed.
As part of the pregnancy process, a woman’s pelvic bones separate to allow space for the baby to be born. In about 2 percent of women, the pelvic bones spread too much, causing intense pain, making it difficult to walk, climb stairs or even roll over in bed.
Rhode was in that 2 percent.
“Unfortunately, I drew the short straw,” she said.
Rhode was nearly bedridden for the final four months of her pregnancy and even after Carter was born May 13, 2013, she continued to have pelvic-bone issues, compounded by numerous other complications.
Six weeks later, Rhode needed emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. Doctors told her not to lift anything over 5 pounds, putting her son – he was 8 pounds, 15 ounces – and her gun off-limits.
Gradually, she began to recover and shoot again.
But the potholes kept coming.
Her husband was hospitalized twice with a condition that affects the colon called diverticulitis, becoming septic during one episode, and her father broke his leg right before the world championships. A stretch of shooting events that included stops in Acapulco, Dubai and Cyprus led to a five-day stay in the hospital for a burst ovarian cyst and what doctors believe was a mosquito-borne illness.
Sprinkled among those medical ailments were the unexpected and emotionally-debilitating deaths of a half-dozen friends.
“I’ve had a hell of a three years. No joke,” she said.
Rhode is still recovering.
She continues to have issues with her bones, suffers from nerve damage and the muscles on the right side of her abdomen don’t work properly. Endurance is a problem. She wasn’t cleared to walk more than a block until this February and has slowly built up her practice sessions to around 500 shots per day; 800 when she’s feeling good. Her regular regimen was around 1,000 shots per day.
Although slow, progress is being made. Rhode’s perspective also remains in place, making her a favorite to win a fourth gold medal in Rio.
“When you go through all that stuff, you just have to say – and I’m almost afraid to say it – that it can’t get any worse. It can only get better,” she said. “You just kind of laugh it off and say the next day is going to be better.”