If having both parents in the Army taught Chantae McMillan Langhorst anything, it was how to be flexible.
“I loved how I learned to adapt as a person anywhere I go, any situation I’m in,” the 31-year-old said. “I feel like from moving around with my parents and having to make new friends, but keep my old friends, I just learned to be adaptable.”
Good thing, too, because McMillan is getting ready for some intense adaptation: switching from being an Olympic athlete in the heptathlon — a sport consisting of seven track and field events — to hopefully being an Olympic athlete in the javelin.
“I believe I’m athletic enough to pick up more potential in [the javelin],” McMillan said. “I chose javelin because it was one of my stronger events within the heptathlon, and I wanted to give it a shot, to focus on it and grow in it.”
As the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo approach, “focus” and “growth” may be the best words to describe McMillan’s journey from military kid to Olympian, mom and Army wife.
McMillan was born in Tennessee to career soldiers and stationed throughout the South, though she calls Rolla, Missouri her home. The feeling is mutual, too, as Rolla still loves its hometown girl who won two high school state long jump championships in 2004 and 2005 and was selected as a Nike All-American.
From there, she attended the University of Nebraska as an outdoor heptathlete and indoor pentathlete. McMillan graduated not only with an art-focused education degree, but also as a five-time All-American and four-time Big 12 conference champion while breaking school records to boot.
Yes, at 5’8 and 156 pounds, she’s that athletic. Her muscles are so prominent that she admits to her lats occasionally ripping sleeves.
“It’s amazing to see how one body looks from one sport to another,” she said. “Just the muscle development of it all.”
That muscle development, along her with competitive nature, qualified McMillan for the London Olympics in 2012 in the heptathlon. But she caught the flu before the 800-meter race and finished a disappointing 29th.
“I wish I could have been like Michael Jordan in game five [of the 1997 NBA finals],” she says wistfully, “but I finished my heptathlon in the 2012 Olympics and that’s what I take from it overall.”
Switching it up
McMillan’s life has changed significantly since London. Her 64-year-old father — always present at her track meets — died in August 2015 from appendectomy complications. She then failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Two bright spots, however, came when the athlete married Devon Langhorst in the spring of 2018 and baby Otto arrived that October. Just a year later, her husband graduated Army warrant officer training and is now a helicopter pilot at Fort Rucker, Alabama, near where the Langhorsts now live.
But before all of that came ESPN’s famous Body Issue in 2015. When McMillan first read the email asking her to participate in the photoshoot — in which world-class athletes pose nude while performing their sport — she thought it was fake.
“It was crazy, because that’s always been on my bucket list!” she admits. “I called my parents to get their approval right away. It was a no-brainer for me, but I wanted to have their support.”
She got both the support and artsy shots of her high-jumping naked in the Southern California desert. But by the end of 2016, McMillan felt burnt out on the heptathlon and made the switch to javelin.
“[The javelin] is so technically difficult; you can throw a great throw and the next time is like, whoa, you missed a degree when you released and it took two meters off your throw,” she said. “I like those little details, the perfection of it.”
McMillan is “always” rehabbing a blown patellar tendon in her plant leg but says focusing on developing quadricep strength has helped. Her biggest test arrives in June, when she needs to throw 61.5 meters at the Olympic trials to qualify for Tokyo.
New trials, new event, new Olympics? No worries. McMillan’s already tackled the challenges of new mom and Army wife. She and Devon have designated Sunday check-ins where they discuss her workouts, his training and Otto’s latest achievements.
“It’s a balance,” she said. “It’s making sure I’m committed, that I know I can do it all. You’ve got to be a strong warrior throughout this process.”
And as all military members know, warriors have multiple weapons with which they can rise victorious.