For two years, Kaillie Humphries, the world’s most successful female bobsled racer, fought to become a U.S. citizen in time to compete in February’s Beijing Olympics. But with generally a three-year wait for such requests to be processed, it started to seem like an impossible hope.

Then came an invitation a few days ago for a Thursday meeting at the immigration office in San Diego, 30 miles from her Carlsbad, Calif., home — and suddenly Humphries had to scramble: rushing to make sure her documents were right, dashing away from her American teammates at a World Cup race week in Germany to fly all day Wednesday so she could be at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building by 8 a.m. A few hours later, she got the news she had been longing to hear.

Her application had been approved. She was now an American.

Sitting in a room at the immigration office, Humphries didn’t know what to think.

“I wasn’t prepared for how overwhelming it would feel,” she said during a phone interview a few minutes after being sworn in as a citizen. “The only thing I can equate it to is what it feels like to win an Olympic gold medal.”

Humphries, 36, won two gold medals and a bronze in three Olympics while competing for her native Canada but left that country for the United States in 2019, a year after she filed mental and physical abuse claims against that country’s bobsled coach, Todd Hays — allegations Hays has denied to investigators and in legal filings. Since she already lived in Carlsbad with her then-fiance and now-husband, Travis Armbruster, the decision to join the U.S. team when things fell apart in Canada was an easy one.

While she has been able to compete for the U.S. team in international competition for the past two years, the Olympics were a different story. Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter states all athletes must be a “national” of the country they represent, meaning Humphries had to have a U.S. passport by the end of this year or she would not be able to compete in Beijing. She applied for American citizenship in late 2019, not long after she and Armbruster married, but had been told by immigration officials that her request might not be approved until 2023 — long after the Beijing Games.

Executives from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and USA Bobsled/Skeleton lobbied hard for Humphries, pushing Congress to find a way to get her citizenship after the IOC indicated it would not give her an exemption. Getting her citizenship became a priority; as the reigning world champion in the two-man bobsled and monobob (a new sport for these Olympics), Humphries would give the U.S. team an excellent chance at two medals.

She tried to remain optimistic as she trained this summer in Carlsbad, then went to Beijing for a test event at the Olympic bobsled track this fall, determined to learn the course in case her citizenship came through. She kept that hope through the European racing season despite the uncertainty. She prepared as if she was going to the Olympics, even if she didn’t know.

Humphries said she was nervous when she arrived at the immigration office Thursday. Right away she was given the citizenship test, which requires six correct answers out of 10 questions. Her questions, randomly generated from a list of 100, seemed hard: “What are the first three words in the Constitution?” “What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?” But she kept getting them right, including the layup — “Name one state that borders Canada” — finishing with six correct answers on the first six questions.

She remained unsure through the next few hours of paperwork and interviews until finally the immigration official who had been interviewing her walked into the room where she was waiting and said her application was approved.

“I didn’t expect how much relief I would feel or just how emotional I would feel just knowing that I was becoming a citizen and that it all worked out,” Humphries said. “There were times when you don’t think it’s going to. You feel like everything’s stacked against you and it isn’t going to happen — and not just for sport but with the application, with the process. My fate is in someone else’s hands.”

Normally, new citizens are given a day to come back for a swearing-in ceremony with several others whose applications had been approved. But Humphries had to go back to Germany — immediately. She has a race Saturday to meet international qualifying standards for the Olympics. So the immigration official swore her in right in the office. Then Humphries raced out the door. She had a plane to catch.

First, though, an errand: She had to go to a shoe store. In her rush to get to the immigration hearing, she had left her tennis shoes at home, leaving her with only the high-heeled boots she wore to her interview. No way she could wear those for hours of flights and walks through airports — not if she wanted to race well Saturday. So the first thing she did as an American citizen was go shoe shopping.

“There are days that it’s disheartening. There are days you just want to give up and go, ‘Why am I killing myself in the gym, why am I working so hard to be the best version of myself when it could be for nothing?’ ” Humphries said of her past two years. “And sometimes it does get a bit defeating. It’s definitely overwhelming.”

She was in a car, scurrying to the airport as she spoke. Her voice was a mix of excitement, relief and desperation. The flight would leave soon; she was cutting it close.

“I am very excited to go [to Beijing], and I’m more motivated to go understanding [not only] what I’ve gone though but also whom I’m representing,” she said as the car pulled up to the airport. “It’s not just myself and my journey. It’s representing the United States … a country that’s chosen me as well as a country that I’ve chosen to represent, and I have a very different connection with this Games than with any other.”

Then Humphries hung up. There was a plane to catch. She had new shoes, a new country and new hope for an Olympics that almost weren’t going to happen for her.