Maggie Steffens just won her third gold medal in women's water polo at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this month


The Steffens family has added to their medal collection.

Olympian Maggie Steffens just became a three-time gold medalist, as the U.S. women's water polo team won the title in Tokyo after defeating Spain 14 to 5. Maggie, 28, is a seasoned pro on the world stage: she played for the team as they also won gold in London and in Rio.

And though her family wasn't able to be in Japan to share this Games' experience with her, they know exactly what it feels like to be in the Olympic stands — and, for her sister, in the water.

Maggie's older sister, Jessica Steffens, competed alongside her in 2012 in London as a member of Team USA water polo. And at the 2008 Games in Beijing, Jessica, now 34, also won silver with the team.

"My sister is not only an amazing older sister, but she is an Olympic gold medalist and silver medalist," Maggie told PEOPLE before leaving Tokyo earlier this month. "And I actually had my first kind of Olympic experience watching her as a fan. So I went in 2008 to be a fangirl for my older sister, where she won the silver medal. And that for me was where I think the Olympic dream felt like it could be a reality."

Maggie and Jessica Steffens
Maggie and Jessica Steffens in 2012
| Credit: Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

There was a particularly sweet moment during her sister's team's final match in 2008, when her dad, also a water polo player, looked at Maggie — then just 15 — and said, "All right, now it's your turn."

She took it as a call to action. The next summer, she joined the women's national team, and in 2012, was competing in her first Games with Jessica. Reflected Maggie, "If I didn't have her to show me what I could do, if I didn't have her to pave that path really, as an older sister, and show me the values it takes, show me not just the physical attributes, but the character you need to get to this Olympic stage, there is no way I'm even here in this room."

In a way, Jessica was another parent of sorts for Maggie, guiding her in water polo and in life, she explained: "She went to Stanford, I went to Stanford. She went to grad school, I went to grad school. She went to the Olympics, I went to the Olympics."

Gold medalists Team United States pose after receiving their medals during the Women's Gold Medal match between Spain and the United States on day fifteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre on August 07, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan
The Tokyo Olympics' Team USA women's water polo team
| Credit: Atsushi Tomura/Getty

And Jessica continued to guide her, even from afar during the Olympics, sending Maggie off to Japan with personal notes to push her through. One included a picture of Jessica's daughter Kara, with motivational messages inspired by the little girl.

Maggie said she read one of the notes "before every game."

"She knows exactly what I need to get through these big moments. She knows exactly how to challenge me, but also knows exactly how to support me," explained Maggie. "Sometimes you need somebody to remind you like, 'Hey, you've done this, you've prepared. You're ready, and now just go enjoy, we're here. No matter what, we love you. We're a part of this with you. Your team is with you,' and that was something that was kind of nice to just read and check-in."