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Former Kansas City area Olympians reflect on life after the Games

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Posted at 5:51 AM, Aug 08, 2021

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — When the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games end Sunday, thousands of athletes will have to adjust to lives far removed from the world’s largest stage. Gone is the pressure, the competitiveness, the glory, or chance at redemption.

“Continue to have fun, don’t let it stress you out,” Muna Lee offered advice to those athletes.

Lee, a graduate of Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri, competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games as a sprinter in track events. She did not medal in either appearance.

“You go down and then come back up on that emotional roller coaster,” Lee admitted. “I knew coming into the next year [2009] I’d run faster. I didn’t end [the 2008 season] with injuries, I ended my season healthy.”

Lee continued to race competitively after each of her Olympic appearances.

Swimmer Shannon Vreeland from Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, agreed with Lee that one key for athletes to find success after the Olympics is to stay busy and have a plan.

After winning gold in 2012, Vreeland continued swimming in college. By the time injuries kept her from qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Vreeland had already decided to attend law school.

“The Olympics, while it certainly was a high, what it was for me was more of a confidence builder,” Vreeland explained. “I didn't go into [2012] Olympic Trials thinking I was going to make the team, but then I was able to kind of take that experience, feel that I did actually kind of belong there, and then turn that into a lot more confidence coming into my next year at the University of Georgia and beyond that too.”

Vreeland continues to use that confidence as an environmental law attorney in Atlanta. She said swimming also taught her how to handle pressure-packed scenarios.

“I loved relays. That was my favorite thing. I loved feeling like what I was doing was for other people on the team,” Vreeland said. “That's a different kind of pressure in and of itself. I feel like I thrive on it in the work environment and I enjoyed law school for that reason.”

Both Vreeland and Lee remain engaged in their former sports. Vreeland watched almost every event in the Olympic Trails and Olympic Games this year. Lee watched Track and Field events and offered analysis for KSHB 41.

Lee now runs Top Tier Speed and Performance where she trains athletes at Hy-Vee Arena. She will help coach basketball and track at Central High School this year.