Winning for the Water

Betsey Armstrong is a 29-year-old goalkeeper on the U.S. Water Polo team who’s headed to her second Olympic Games—the 2012 Games in London—this July. Since attending the University of Michigan, Armstrong not only became serious about water polo, she developed an interest in all things environmental. Below, she talks to E about her commitment to green causes, her training and looking forward to the Summer Olympics. 

E Magazine: Tell me about your involvement in environmental causes.

Betsey Armstrong: When we were part-time training a couple years ago, I worked for Patagonia. I would say I’ve always been a green person, but that was when I got the most exposure. At that time, through the store, we were always having community events. We volunteered with Save the Waves Coalition—a lot of it revolved around the ocean, the watersheds in L.A.

E: Are you seeing greater environmental awareness among athletes on your team?

B.A.: We have a water sponsor, so we are provided water for training and competition and it all arrives in plastic bottles. We have a group we work with to make sure all the bottles get recycled. We take turns once a week taking them to the recycling center. When you go to the Olympic Games there is a huge focus [on sustainability] in the Village. You’re eating in the cafeteria with thousands of people, there’s a big focus on separating compost versus recyclable plasticware that you’re provided with.

E: That seems like a big selling point of the Olympics today—making the Games low on waste and energy-efficient.

B.A.: Even in terms of building new structures—how usable those will be once the Games are over.

E: Did you always know that water polo was something you wanted to pursue seriously?

B.A.: Yes and no. I was naturally talented from the get-go and I knew I wanted to pursue it at the collegiate level. It’s a little different for me coming from Michigan and being a little outside of the loop. As soon as I played in college and got more exposure and was able to travel nationally that’s when I fell in love with it.

E: Now that you’re in California are you at the beaches a lot? Has that made you more aware of water issues?

B.A.: There’s a group on the scene that surfs when they get the opportunity and everyone’s aware—especially places where you do surf in California. One of the big places is Seal Beach River Jetty, and you see a lot of garbage, a lot of litter there and on the beach. It’s definitely an eye-opener. When you’re swimming in it, it really drives the point home, not only for your personal level of comfort but how important it is to get that stuff cleaned up.

E: You competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Is there anything different about your approach heading into London this summer?

B.A.: Being the young player that I was going into the 2008 Games and having only been on the national team for two years, it was an incredibly scary thing to go in and play at the Olympic Games. What I’m looking forward to this time is maintaining that focus but also taking in the greater experience—not closing myself off quite so much.

BRITA BELLI is editor of E.