Her mother, Lana, died of breast cancer in November 2010. Then came the painful injuries to her ribs that affected her training late last year and at the start of 2012, taking a long time to heal.
Last week, she received the devastating news of a deadly shooting in a movie theatre in her hometown of Aurora, Colo., in which 12 people were killed and 58 injured.
"I was actually sitting in the dining hall here at the Rowing Olympic Village when I saw that Colorado had made international news," she said Wednesday though a team spokesman. "The tagline was, "Colorado Shooting" and immediately I thought, 'Hasn't Colorado been through enough with all the forest fires?'"
When she heard about the shooting during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie, Ritzel got in touch with her father to make sure he was fine.
She said she wasn't overly worried about the safety of her family because they live further south than Aurora, in a town called Larkspur. But it took an agonizing couple of days to find out whether the list of victims contained any names she knew.
"I'm very grateful I didn't," Ritzel said.
"I get chills when reading the several stories of individual heroism during the shooting. It's amazing how people stand up for themselves and protect those they love while in mortal danger."
Ritzel, part of the defending champion women's eight crew, arrived for the Olympics on July 17 — three days before the shooting. She is one of two athletes in the U.S. Olympic squad — along with swimmer Missy Franklin — who count Aurora as their hometown.
The 23-year-old Ritzel has taken part in practice every day at Dorney Lake — the venue for Olympic rowing — since Saturday. She appeared in good spirits Wednesday when she took to the water for an early afternoon run-out on a second straight warm day.
The heats for the women's eight begin Sunday and the U.S. remains the favourite, having last lost a race in 2006.
"I am devastated by the recent tragedy in Colorado and have the victims and their families in my thoughts," said Ritzel, who is making her first appearance in the Olympics. "I grew up in Aurora and am proud to call it home.
"Now more than ever, as I prepare to compete here in London, I will do everything in my power to make Colorado proud."Suggest a correction