I just finished watching a documentary that a lot of athletes have been talking about lately. “The Price of Gold” shares the story of some of Sweden’s top track and field athletes, and in this story we learn of the injuries that have plagued them and the ‘price they have paid’ to achieve the success that they have.
This documentary is not what I was expecting. To be honest, I really didn’t like it. I was hoping to feel inspired and uplifted afterwards. When I wasn’t covering my eyes from the gruesome shots of very serious injuries, I was shaking my head at the message that this film gave. This message was appalling at worst and confusing at best. This documentary basically gives the message that all elite athletes sustain serious injuries. Perhaps this is true, but it also gave the message that if you want to make it to the top you train through that injury, you keep pushing your body even though it’s screaming at you to stop. This documentary says that to be the best, you must sacrifice your physical health and quality of life (both present and future). With the title of the documentary being “The Price of Gold”, and the entire film being about injuries, the message comes across loud and clear: if you want to be the best you must relinquish your health.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this documentary is that people are taking inspiration from it when they should be seriously considering their training and learning from these athlete’s stories. Injuries do NOT often lead to success. Most of the successful athletes in this documentary were injured after they already achieved success and were unable to get back to the level that they were at. The film showed young Swedish athletes, as young as 13 years old with serious injuries, seemingly looking at the top athletes in their country and getting the message that they must keep training through their injuries to make it to the top.
Here is my take on injuries: rehab the injury fully, and when your body is ready, return to training. I can’t imagine ever having a tweaked hamstring and training through it, simply because I would hate for that injury to come back and haunt me at a later time. I can’t imagine still loving what I do everyday when each time I train, something is hurting. All athlete’s suffer injuries, but not all try desperately to push through it. It’s all about being smart, and I wish that that is the message the film would have conveyed.
There could have been many alternative messages to this documentary. Treasure your health while you have it, because the feeling of being on top of the world is what made the journey worth it to those who later sustained injuries. Listen to your body – don’t push it when it has nothing more to give or you will be pushed into retirement before you’re ready to let go. Canada has so many great examples of athletes who are in their 30’s and still better than ever. I can say with confidence that these athletes would not still be achieving what they are had they trained through the injuries I’m sure they sustained at some point in their career.
When I was in highschool I spoke at a fundraiser luncheon and a reporter asked me if my sacrifices as a teenager were worth it in order to be an elite athlete. “What sacrifices?” I said. “Nothing is a sacrifice when I get to wake up every morning and do what I love.” The film had one thing right, the life of an athlete is not easy. It’s exhausting, it’s painful, it’s heartbreaking. But it’s not hell. It’s not torture. And the price of gold isn’t putting your body into physical ruin. So what is the price of gold? If you love what you’re doing and you’re training smart, it’s priceless.
PS. Thanks to Jen Cotten for helping me put some of these opinions into words! Her reaction when she learned that most athletes enjoyed this documentary, “WHAT? ARE WE REALLY THAT MUCH DIFFERENT THAN EVERYONE ELSE?”