Amanda Carr at the Rio Olympics this past summer.

Olympic athlete to attend USF Sarasota-Manatee in the spring

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: November 17, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. (Nov. 17, 2016) USF Sarasota-Manatee is welcoming an Olympian for the second time.

Amanda Carr, a BMX cyclist who competed in the Rio Olympics this past summer, will be among the class of incoming students at USFSM when the spring semester starts in January. Carr, 26, who reached the semi-finals at the Rio games, will pursue a business degree, entering USFSM as a junior.

“USF is established nationally and its business program [at USF Sarasota-Manatee] is recognized at a high level,” she said of why she chose USFSM. “Another is that the campus is close to home.”

Carr is president of Charlotte BMX and coach of the girls’ soccer team at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda. Initially, she planned to pursue an education degree but felt business was a better fit.

“I think I have more of a mind for business,” she said, adding that a business education will help as she operates Charlotte BMX, an off-road cycling course known nationally.

Carr isn’t the first Olympian to choose USFSM. Amanda Evora, a pairs figure skater who competed at the Vancouver winter games in 2010, graduated with a business degree in 2012.

“We look forward to welcoming Amanda into the College of Business,” Dr. James Curran, dean of the college, said. “Amanda will bring a unique discipline and experience from her training and competition that will not only serve her well as she pursues her degree, but also benefit other students who will be able to learn from the perspective she will be able to share with them.”

Carr previously attended two other universities before enrolling at USFSM. A product of Charlotte High, she earned a scholarship to play soccer at North Carolina State before transferring to Florida State where she trained in the heptathlon as a walk-on.

Watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics on TV one night, she recognized many of the competitors and realized she could compete at their level. BMX was just debuting at the summer games and Carr had excelled in the sport since childhood. Within days, she resolved to leave school to train full-time for the U.S. national team.

The decision surprised Carr’s parents, who nonetheless supported her, but it provoked a request that would reverberate years later: they asked her to finish her degree once her Olympic career was over. She agreed and set out to train full-time in women’s BMX. Her goal: London 2012.

As Carr pursued her Olympic dreams, she progressed steadily through the rankings. She was an odds-on favorite to qualify for the U.S. team until two months before the games when the unthinkable occurred. A collision involving several riders at a qualifying race in Birmingham, England, ensnared Carr and knocked her out of contention.

In an instant, her London dreams were over. Until that moment, she had been riding well enough to make the team. Carr was shaken, and the disappointing episode might also have dashed her hopes of ever competing in the Olympics if not for a coach on Thailand’s national team, who had seen her compete.

He suggested Carr train for the Rio games as a Thai athlete. Carr thought hard about the offer, which made sense the longer she thought about it. Though she was born in Port Charlotte and grew up there, she carries dual U.S.-Thailand citizenship. Her mother, Lamoon Carr, comes from northeast Thailand, and as a child Carr traveled there numerous times to visit relatives. She had always remained close to her Thai heritage.

Also, changing allegiances isn’t uncommon in Olympic circles where many athletes make the switch to extend their athletic careers. Joining the Thai national team posed practical benefits as well. Carr would be more likely to earn a spot on Thailand’s Olympic squad than on the more challenging U.S. team.

A few months after receiving the offer, she accepted. The decision turned out to be fortuitous. Two years after the devastation of England, she enjoyed sweet vindication on the international stage. In 2014, Carr won gold in women’s BMX racing at the Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea.

Her stock in the cycling world soared. In Thailand, she was transported to celebrity status, featured on magazine covers and stopped in the street for pictures and autographs.

Olympic athlete to attend USF Sarasota-Manatee in the spring

Amanda Carr getting ready for a qualifying heat in Rio.

Two years after that, Carr was among the athletes to enter Maracanã Stadium in Rio – her Olympic dream finally coming true. Walking in the parade of nations, she opted for traditional Thai clothing out of respect for her mother and the country that embraced her.

Although ultimately she didn’t advance past the semi-finals, Carr said she cherishes the accomplishment of having reached the games to compete as an Olympian. “I remember at the starting gate looking over and seeing my parents. It was surreal. It was the kind of thing where I wanted to soak in every moment,” she said.

“On the final night, during the closing ceremony, it started to rain and they were handing out ponchos to the athletes, and I remember thinking that nobody cared it was raining,” she said. “Everybody was so happy. It didn’t matter that it was raining. It was this magical feeling.”

Carr said she hopes to take a mix of on-campus and online courses when the spring semester starts Jan. 9.

Fulfilling that promise to her parents to return to school, she said she intends to immerse herself in her studies as she did during her athletic career, with total dedication. However, when it comes to the long-term, Carr prefers to keep her options open, at least for now. She said she has no immediate plans post-college. That includes Tokyo in 2020.

“What happens next is I’ll finish my degree and after that I want to see where life takes me,” she said.

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