Three Olympic gold medals. Three World Cup titles. Four World Championship gold medals. Captain of her nation.
- Maggie Steffens, 29, has won three Olympic water polo gold medals
- She has scored 56 Olympic goals, more than any other woman
- She is in Perth hoping to inspire the next generation of talent
Maggie Steffens has reached the pinnacle of international water polo, and has plenty of time to add more wins to her legacy.
But for Steffens, currently in Perth for Team USA’s tri-series with Australia and Japan, creating a pathway for future stars is just as big a motivator.
“That’s something that I take very seriously. I love this sport and I want it to grow,” she said.
“[I want to see] how far we can take women in water polo and push the ceiling.
“We are not there yet.”
The 29-year-old was last year recognised for her efforts in and out of the pool, with the US-based Women’s Sport Foundation naming her the Team Sportswoman of the Year.
She has worked to use that honour to increase the profile of female athletes, particularly in water polo.
Steffens says she drew on her own experiences, having been brought into the US squad at just 16.
“Just having access to those people, the exposure to speak with your role models is so important,” she said.
It is those memories that drive Steffens to make herself available to the young athletes at the Australian Youth Championships in Perth, which is running in conjunction with the tri-series.
With 141 teams competing, more than 2,000 young athletes will have a chance to watch the elite seniors in action.
Steffens says the value of that exposure cannot be over stated.
“I think it’s great that we’re playing here at this venue while the youth is playing, because it’s it’s not a far-off goal,” she said.
“You can see them, you know. They can see Zoe (Australian women’s captain Zoe Arancini) — they can watch her play and say, ‘I can be her.'”
“Just having that exposure and the opportunity to see your role model and say, ‘Hey, I can do that.’
“That is something that’s so important that I was really lucky to have as a young athlete as well.”
Despite the success of Team USA, water polo remains on the periphery of the American — and Australian — sporting landscape, with most men’s and women’s players opting to compete in the more lucrative European leagues.
Steffens concedes it could take years to grow the sport to similar heights.
But even as she prepares for the World Cup in March, and beyond that to Paris 2024, she has her eyes on a more long-term goal.
“How can we work together as a group of women to figure out what to do next to be successful?” she said.
“Are we willing to take a few failures to then be resilient and come out stronger?
“If I could leave the sport in a better place than when I joined I feel like I’ve done my job.”