Showing Her Mettle: Olympic Hopeful Goes Full Speed as Marine, Bobsledder

By: Kipp Hanley

By the time Captain Riley Tejcek was 7 years old, her father, John, knew he was raising a tough kid.

Tejcek sported a Power Rangers watch at the time, and like many children her age, was learning how to ride a bicycle. After her first fall onto the pavement, Riley said something that left her dad incredulous.

“She looks at me and says, ‘Dad, would the Power Rangers quit?’ I’m not quitting,” John recalled. “She gets back up on her bike and says, ‘let’s go.’ I am laughing inside, and I’m like, ‘oh my God, what kind of reaction was that?’ ”

Two decades later, the 2021 Female Marine Athlete of the Year and U.S. national team bobsledder is using that determination to try and accomplish what no other active-duty female Marine has done: qualify for the U.S. Winter Olym­pics team. Capt Tejcek wants to show the next generation of leathernecks that it’s possible to use your athleticism, desire and skill for something bigger while still serving your country.

“Being the first in anything is cool, but I want to normalize that,” Tejcek said of her dream of qualifying for the 2026 Winter Games. “Every Marine is a tactical athlete. Every Marine is an athlete, period, in the way we train.”

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Riley Tejcek, a supply officer with the Amphibious Warfare School, a native of Carmel, Indiana, signs autographs and talks with others about her experiences during her careers at the Commissary on Marine Corps Base Quantico. Tejcek will be the first female Marine to participate in the Olympics for bobsledding. Her Olympic debut is set to be in the 2023-2024 season. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jeffery Stevens)

While she is training for the Games, Tejcek hopes to use her charisma and success on the sled and turn it into a future billet with the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. Along the way, she hopes to inspire more females to become Marines—and eventually officers. Since donning the red, white and blue of Team USA, Tejcek has documented her life as an Olympic hopeful and as a Marine on social media. That includes producing a variety of short videos on Instagram, where she has garnered nearly 50,000 followers.

“I don’t know of a better example for young females to emulate than Riley,” wrote Colonel Jason Graul, the deputy director of the Expeditionary Warfare School and Tejcek’s commanding officer at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. “We are proud to have her in our ranks and serve beside her. She is serving her country, and we are excited to see her [possibly] represent our country in the Olympics.”

Toughness Taking Root
Growing up in suburban Indianapolis, Ind., Tejcek was not always the most talented kid on her athletic teams but worked extremely hard to achieve suc­cess in every sport she played, said John, who played minor league baseball.

And Tejcek’s parents did their best to engender her competitive streak, whether it was epic games of Uno with the family or weekly spelling tests.
Tejcek eventually earned a softball scholarship to George Washington Uni­ver­sity, helping the Colonials to their first-ever Atlantic-10 Conference title in 2019. At the same time she was scooping up ground balls, she was training to be­come a Marine through the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course program. It took meeting a Marine recruiter during her fresh­man year to consider a career in the Corps.

Marines are “tactical athletes” according to Capt Tejcek, who changes up her training during the fall and winter months to meet the rigorous physical demands of competitive bobsledding. (Courtesy of Capt Riley Tejcek, USMC)

“I loved everything he had to say,” said Tejcek, whose grandfathers served in the Corps and Army, respectively. “I was like a kid in a candy shop, my eyes were wide open. [He said], you can be a leader. And not only that, you can be a female leader … You can be part of the fewer, the prouder. You can do that and make a difference for people.”

And John saw his daughter’s toughness continue to blossom while she was in college. While the two were participating in a 13-mile overnight Go-Ruck event in Washington, D.C., John broke his ankle when he accidentally stepped in a hole in the sand near the Potomac River. Tejcek was leading her group and started crying when she saw her dad’s condition, knowing he couldn’t finish.
Her cadre of Marines saw her reaction and began questioning whether she had what it took to be in charge, said John. But she wiped the tears away and led her team to the finish line early that morning. Seeing her finish at the Pentagon was a relationship-changing moment for John and his daughter and a glimpse into what Tejcek would become as a Marine.

“She’s worn out to s–t but she’s still going,” John said. “… If that wasn’t the best analogy, [that] you don’t need your dad to push you or motivate you. You’re on your own. In fact, you’re motivating me now.”

Riley Tejcek, pictured with her parents, was commissioned in 2019 after graduating from George Washington Uni­versity in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of John Tejcek)

After graduating from college, Tejcek was commissioned in 2019 and was as­signed to Camp Pendleton as a logistics officer with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Like many of her peers, she was hoping to get deployed. However, her billet kept her out of any overseas action. And due to COVID-19 restrictions, she couldn’t satisfy her com­petitive urge by playing on the Marine Corps softball team.

“I said, ‘what am I waking up for? What am I training for?’” said Tejcek after learning she would not be deployed. “The PFT and CFT twice a year wasn’t enough for me, especially as a competitor.”

Meeting Olympic bobsledding medal­ist Elana Meyers Taylor, who also played softball at George Washington, quickly quelled Tejcek’s restlessness. Soon after­wards, Tejcek made a tape of her athletic resume for the U.S. National Team selec­tion committee. That led to a tryout in Colorado in the fall of 2020 as the pilot of a two-woman bobsled.

John volunteered to be her brakeman for her tryout since she didn’t have a part­ner yet. On her second trip down the course, they flipped the sled, leaving John bruised and a little wobbly. Instead of calling it quits, Tejcek found a new brake­man from the track crew assembled there and was able to complete her third and final run in flawless fashion, said John.

Living Her Dream
Once she made the U.S. team, Tejcek knew she needed to get stronger if she wanted to be successful on the inter­national stage. When she first began train­ing three years ago, Tejcek weighed just 150 pounds, significantly lighter than most of her counterparts. In order to muscle the nearly 300-pound sled, she bulks up 20 pounds each winter and then cuts weight in the spring to fulfill her PFT and CFT requirements as a Marine.

Tejcek also has to juggle her year-round commitments at Quantico in order to find time to train. That includes traveling up to Lake Placid, N.Y., for training and competition and flying across North America and Europe to compete in the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation series.

(Courtesy of Capt Riley Tejcek, USMC)

Since the Marine Corps does not sponsor prospective Olympic athletes, Tejcek is always looking for ways to pay for her training. In 2022, she was fortunate enough to come into some unexpected funding after landing a spot on the game­show “Lingo.” In typical Tejcek fashion, she and her mother, Ann-Marie, decided to take on the challenge, practicing for hours online from their respective homes. Their hard work paid off as they took home more than $90,000 in prize money, which covered her training and travel costs for 2023. Last fall, she acquired a new sponsor AMETEK, an American-based international designer and manu­facturer of electronic instruments and electromechanical devices.

“No organization in the United States is more revered for excellence than the United States Marine Corps and no com­petition has a more longstanding legacy than the Olympics,” said Jason Marshall, AMETEK Director of Business Development for its Fluid Analysis Com­panies. “As an organization who has de­manded results for its investors for over 94 years, AMETEK couldn’t conceive of a more flesh-and-blood example of ex­cellence than Riley Tejcek.”

Thanks to a successful 2023-2024 cam­paign, Tejcek has qualified for the two-woman bobsled competition in this month’s World Cup at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run in Lake Placid. Last November, Tejcek finished third in the North American Cup event at Lake Placid with teammate Emily Renna and placed fourth at Park City, Utah, a month later with teammate Macy Tarlton.

Tejcek has also found time in 2023 to stump for the Marine Corps. Last May, she participated in the WeCoach conven­tion in Denver thanks to the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. MCRC formed a partnership with WeCoach in hopes that coaches from around the country can influence their athletes to join the Corps when their playing days are over. The partnership also encourages more inclusion in the military, including promoting more females into leadership positions.

“Our demographic, we aren’t hitting that mark,” Tejcek said. “We have women I’ve met in the Marine Corps that are some of the most solid people I have ever met. But I know that there are more. I know that we are not getting some of that talent. Personally, I don’t think these people know [about the Corps].”
In addition to her engagement with WeCoach, Tejcek spent some of her free time in Park City last December visiting with Marine poolees as well as at a Christian school where she and her teammate spoke about bobsledding and her Christian faith. A few weeks later, she served as the Grand Marshal of the Military Bowl, held annually in Annapolis, Md.

With more than two years until the Games, Tejcek recognizes a lot can hap­pen that can get her off track. She has already fought through a foot fracture from overuse that left her unable to train for three weeks last fall. She also knows her competitors will always have more time to devote to the sport because of her commitment to the Corps. But these are just obstacles, not excuses to quit, said Riley, who is writing a book entitled “If You Can Dream It, Be It.”

“The book is about a little girl with the task of figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up,” Tejcek said. “She inter­views key people in her life, to include her grandfather who was a Ma­rine, and is pressured from outside society to pick one career. In the end, she realizes you can do and be whatever you want, so she decides to be a Marine, professional athlete, pageant winner and author.”

“[Tejcek] has accomplished more in the past couple years than most will do in a lifetime,” said Col Graul. “She has done this on top of her normal assigned duties.”

Author’s bio: Kipp Hanley is the deputy editor for Leatherneck. The award-win­ning journalist has covered a variety of topics in his career including the military, government, edu­cation, business and sports.