Mariah Duran Says Team USA Skateboarding Members Have Been Friends for Years: 'We're Really Close'
When the time comes for Mariah Duran to compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics later this month, the skateboarding pro says that getting acquainted with her teammates won't be necessary, as the group has already been friends for years.
While recently chatting with PEOPLE about her partnership with Always for their #KeepHerPlaying campaign, Duran, 24, also spoke about the dynamic between her teammates, which includes fellow women's street competitors Alana Smith and Alexis Sablone.
Noting that she and the other skaters are all "really close," Duran tells PEOPLE exclusively, "The crazy thing is that we were all friends before the Olympics was even happening. We would visit each other in different places and stay with each other, we would sleep on each other's couches to go skate where they lived at."
"We were all really close before this and to be on a team is just really cool because now we get to travel and experience a moment like this together," she continues.
Duran adds, "I feel like we just have a really cool support system ... And now, being labeled as a team and having uniforms and stuff, is pretty cool. Maybe it'll bring a whole different energy for when we arrive, so I'm really excited for that. ... [But] at the end of the day, we're really close."
For Duran, a self-described "tomboy," skateboarding became a passion at an early age, when she was first introduced to it by her brother. "My older brother picked up a board, because he saw some kids around the neighborhood skating, and I kind of did what he did," she says.
"I really genuinely love skating and just the idea of, like, how do they get it to stick to their feet? And how does it not go away? And how far you can go?" she adds.
Though she admits that she didn't fall in love with the activity right away, she does now call it "an obsession" that piqued her interest as an athlete. "With skateboarding, the first thing you're introduced to is failure," Duran explains. "You get on the board, you fall, and you have a choice. And I guess just that aspect is just, like, I'm getting back up and I'm learning how to not fall and I'm figuring it out."
"I guess that satisfaction of even just that was just so satisfying to work towards and to build off of, that it just became an obsession and I loved it," she adds. "I love that idea of just constantly working for something because it keeps my attention going, and it's just always nice to just keep progressing and working for something."
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Looking ahead now, as she prepares to head to Tokyo to compete, Duran says the experience so far has been an emotional one. "My eyes teared up and everything like that," she says of the moment she learned that she would be competing on the Olympic team.
"Someone in the crowd was like, 'Hey, what would you tell your 10-year-old self?' and I was like, 'Oh my god!' I started tearing up because I never got into skating thinking it was going to be in the Olympics," Duran adds. "I got into skating because I loved it and I pursued it. And I'm super blessed for the way the cards have fallen, that I can be a part of this moment."
Duran does have some hesitations, however, like many of her competing colleagues, about what to expect. "I'm so nervous," she says. "[I'm] just trying to stay as present as possible and not let my mind run on the build-up to when we leave for Tokyo. I feel like that's the main goal."
"Coming from New Mexico and having this outcome, it just seemed impossible," Duran continues. "And now that it's not impossible, like who knows where it can go now. You know? It's crazy."
Duran also hopes that her time competing in the Olympics will help inspire other young girls watching from home, which is where her partnership with Always comes in.
The menstrual hygiene product brand's #KeepHerPlaying campaign encourages young girls to stick with sports during puberty, a time when nearly half of girls opt-out.
"I hope this message finds a young girl who's in that moment of being not too sure whether to give up or not," Duran tells PEOPLE of the partnership. "Because I feel like we take big steps by taking the small ones."
To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23rd and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning August 24th on NBC.
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