The Olympics are filled with inspirational stories that bring the country together in celebration of exceptional accomplishment and national pride. And we at VA are very proud to share an inspiring story from one of our own, Natalie Dell—a Bronze Medal winner at the Summer Olympics.
Natalie conducts mental health research at the VA Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusetts. Every day, she studies how to help Veterans with depression and mental health issues. “I came in contact with Veterans every day,” she said in a VA interview this week. “Part of my job would be…to get a little more in-depth information on how exactly VA can help them.”
Beyond caring for Veterans, her other passion is rowing, a passion so developed that it led Natalie to compete in the 30th Olympiad in London, winning bronze for Team USA this week with her team in women’s quadruple sculls, which ended a 28 year medal drought in the sport.
And this is where Natalie’s success story gets truly inspiring. Growing up in a working class family, Natalie did not start rowing until her undergraduate years at Penn State University in an unfunded rowing club. Unlike her Ivy-league counterparts, she said, “I was not fast enough. I wasn’t even close to being fast enough to make the national team,” after graduation. Natalie realized that to make the team she would have to put in long hours of training, while also balancing a professional career. A professor suggested she try applying at VA as a research scientist, where she eventually landed a job caring for Veterans.
As a VA employee, Natalie attributes part of her rowing successes to the flexibility VA provided her. “I had to find a job that would allow me to have a really fulfilling professional career,” she said, “but also be flexible enough that I could train.” During her first year at the VA Medical Center, Natalie would wake up at 4:30 each morning to train, commute to her nine-to-five job, and then continue training in the evenings. Her work at VA taught her the importance of detail, which she brings to her rowing. “I try to be thorough with every stroke I take and I try to approach [rowing] with the same mindset I [use in my research].”After a year of intense training, the support of co-workers, and the will to keep going, Natalie was invited to the national team in 2010.
Natalie told us she draws inspiration every day from the Veterans she works with whose sacrifices for country humble and motivate us all. She has dedicated her career to helping America’s Veterans get their lives back when they return home from war. And her training has reaffirmed the importance of teamwork and community.
“I know that a lot of our Veterans face challenges in and out of the line of duty, where things just seem like they’re not going to happen, it does not seem possible,” Natalie said. But regardless of the situation, Natalie advises Veterans to never underestimate the power of support from those around you. “You may not realize it, but it can take you a really long way.”