“I’m going to teach you a bit about rowing,” American four-rower Olympic rower Kendall Chase told her 50,000 TikTok subscribers in a video posted last weekend. “Because there’s a good chance you probably don’t know anything.”
Chase, 26, regularly posts videos on the app, including those that educate people about rowing – as “not many people in the United States know the sport” – on LGBTQ-focused content and even on light trends from TikTok.
She is one of many Gen Z athletes and millennials just weeks away from competing in the Olympics or Paralympics who have amassed a large following on TikTok – many of whom use the platform to showcase their sport. to new audiences. Some of these athletes are also using their platform to serve as role models for emerging athletes, especially girls, LGBTQ youth and athletes with disabilities.
Chase first found a home on TikTok in early 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic prompted quarantines and housekeeping measures. She connected with a growing gay community on the platform and slowly gained popularity. She eventually added rowing content to her repertoire and began to feature her teammates in her videos.
In one of his most popular videos, Chase points to one of his teammates as the audio says “that girl straight” – then to herself when he says “and that girl doesn’t” – and turns off the camera. to five more of his teammates as the audio keeps repeating “and that girl doesn’t”.
“If you weren’t interested in rowing before… let me introduce you to our OlympiGays,” she wrote in the video caption. The video has been viewed over a million times and has over 180,000 likes.
“I think that’s my sign to start rowing,” one user wrote in one of the more than 700 comments in the video. “Target audience reached,” wrote another.
Reaching out to TikTok’s LGBTQ community is important to Chase, who said the platform can help create an environment in which athletes feel comfortable going out.
“What I really love and what melts my heart is when the high school rowers send me a message and say things like, ‘I see you out there and comfortable, it gives me the feeling like I can be comfortable in my boathouse. You are such an inspiration, a role model, thank you for being comfortable with yourself in the sport and for making it just feel like being authentic, ”she said.
US women’s rugby team member Ilona Maher also uses her TikTok account to draw attention to her sport and female athletes. She started posting rugby content regularly in February and said she tries to post at least twice a day to connect with her over 86,000 subscribers.
She said she wanted to use TikTok to spread the word and teach Americans rugby.
“I was looking through my TikToks, people were like, ‘Wait a minute, do we have a USA rugby team? What is rugby? And then it started a conversation, which is exactly what we want, because I want rugby to grow in this country, ”said Maher, 24.
She makes videos of her workout and even did a series of TikToks during her stopover en route to Tokyo.
Maher posted a video earlier this month explaining how she spends hours doing TikToks to promote her teammates – tuned to a viral audio from reality TV star Kim Kardashian West saying, “It’s a job. full time, and it’s extremely time consuming, and it’s not as easy as it might seem to some people.
“I want to rise, but I also want my team to also rise with me and show the world how amazing they are,” Maher said.
Making a name for herself and her teammates through TikTok is especially important to Maher as a female athlete. She has taken the promotion of the women’s rugby team in hand, using her platform to try to reach a large audience, connect and inspire young athletes.
“It’s very difficult as female athletes,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of resources or even a lot of attention.”
Paralympic athletes are also active on TikTok, committed to raising awareness of the Paralympic Games and inspiring young athletes with disabilities.
Paralympic javelin thrower Justin Phongsavanh, who posts under the account name @paralympicthrower, often shares videos of his workouts, several of which have gone viral.
Phongsavanh, 24, got nearly 6 million views for a video posted in May of him throwing his javelin – then immediately saying “that was horrible”.
“When you know, you know,” he captioned the video.
“Practice makes perfect,” he captioned another video from November, showing his fans an impressive javelin throw. The video has totaled 15 million views.
Phongsavanh, who was paralyzed in 2015 after being shot and will play in his first matches this summer, said he found support and motivation through TikTok, but added that he had also faced some negative feedback.
“Everyone always asks me why I sit throwing the javelin. They ask me, ‘Why don’t you get up?’ “, he said. “That’s a good question, don’t get me wrong, if you haven’t seen the other videos or explanations or even if you don’t know what it is. Rather, it’s because people have no idea what the Paralympic Games are like.
Phongsavanh’s roommate, Paralympic track and field athlete Trenten Merrill who will compete in the long jump and 200-meter events, also uses TikTok to draw attention to the Paralympics.
Earlier this year, Merrill, 31, wondered what he would do if he only had one year to live. He decided he wanted to inspire and influence people, and took this mission to TikTok where he felt he could reach the most people.
“For me, TikTok has become a place where I can show what I can do with a prosthesis,” he said. He often posts videos he takes during training, including one posted in March that has racked up over 4.7 million views.
“So many people have commented on how inspired they were,” he said. “I was like, wow. That’s the most people I’ve ever reached, these millions of people.
Merrill, who is heading towards his second Paralympic Games, suffered a below knee amputation after being hit by a car at the age of 14.
He uses TikTok to raise awareness and promote equality for Paralympic athletes, adding that one day he wants to see Olympians and Paralympians train and compete on the same stage.
Young athletes often comment on his videos, and Merrill said he enjoyed being able to answer them and educate people about his experience, including how his prosthesis works and his athletic journey.
“I like all the people who sign up because it’s fun to answer questions,” he said. “I’m happy to post there, and it was really fun being on TikTok and giving people a glimpse into my life as an athlete.”