Team USA member Maggie Steffens tells PEOPLE that the 2020 Olympics delay "felt like a grieving period" — but she powered through it thanks to the support of her teammates

By Eric Todisco
May 13, 2021 02:37 PM
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Maggie Steffens
Maggie Steffens
| Credit: Harry How/Getty

Maggie Steffens, a star member of the U.S. Olympic women's water polo team, found solace in her teammates when they learned the devastating news last year that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games would be delayed.

The 27-year-old athlete, who is prepping to hopefully win another gold medal in Japan this summer, recently spoke to PEOPLE about how her all-star team bonded amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pushing back the Olympics by an entire year.

"In that moment, when obviously the Games were postponed, and there's so much uncertainty, it was really important for all of us to know that we have the backbone of the team to lean on," says Steffens, the second all-time water polo scorer in Olympic history.

"But at the same time," the Olympian adds, "we were all going to be going through our own individual journey, emotionally, mentally, even physically through that time. And being okay to give each other space. And I think our team did a really good job of knowing that we had our teammates, we had our mission to lean back on."

Steffens, who took home the gold medal with Team USA at the 2012 Summer Olympics, admits that she "felt very numb" when she tried to cope with the Olympic delay solo.

"It almost felt like a grieving period," she tells PEOPLE. "And once I was able to fully accept it, and I think that was really important to go through the sadness, the anger, and all these different emotions."

Margaret Steffens (L) of the United States poses with the winner's trophy alongside her teammates during the medal ceremony for the Women's Water Polo
Team USA women's water polo
| Credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty

The long journey to accepting the circumstances, as Steffens tells PEOPLE, was not an easy one. But eventually, she and her teammates managed to adapt accordingly and support each other unconditionally.

"Our whole team stayed fully committed to each other," says Steffens. "Whether that looked the same, that's kind of our journey. I was very impressed with the way that we are able to handle this adversity and still be able to adapt and be here today."

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Now, after five years of training, Steffens is ready for the Summer Games — as is teammate Ashleigh Johnson, who tells PEOPLE that she's awaiting being among the athletes from around the world united to compete in Tokyo this summer.

Ashleigh Johnson and Maggie Steffens
Ashleigh Johnson and Maggie Steffens
| Credit: Joe Scarnici/Getty

"We've been through so much together," says 26-year-old Johnson, goalkeeper for Team USA and the first Black woman to make the U.S. Olympic water polo team. "We've been through so much adversity together as a team, as a world, as athletes. And it's just a great opportunity to show the world how strong we can come back, how together we can be, even when we're opponents, even when we're competing against each other and somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, we can all show how strong we are."

"I almost think that it'll be a celebration," adds Steffens of the Tokyo Games. "A celebration of our resilience, of our inspired journey that we have through this adversity. Not just for our team, not just for USA, but as a world."