“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau
Or less eloquently,
“Life’s timing is really f****** weird.” – Caroline Ehrhardt
It’s been a while. I thought I would be a blogging machine once I graduated. Not only did I think I would have more time, but I thought I would be more motivated to write once I wasn’t doing obligatory written work for my classes. But then life got hard and I decided the last thing I wanted to do was share my struggles with the world. In hindsight, I do wish I would have been more willing to be open about what was going on last season because I think a lot of people would have been able to relate to where I was at mentally. But I truly couldn’t make sense of [what seemed like] my train-wreck of a life, so the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and try to collect my thoughts.
My first year as a post-collegiate athlete.. Where do I begin? It was nothing like what I imagined it would be. I was working a lot - probably too much. The position required me to travel so I spent a lot of time on the road. I was usually out the door by 7am. I would work a full day, go straight to practice, and get home around 7pm. And the days that I worked were my easy days.
Shortly after Pan Ams in 2015, I started to feel like I was at a make-or-break point in my athletic career. I wasn’t just a student-athlete anymore - this couldn't just be for fun. Yes, I am an athlete because I love the sport of track and field - but that love doesn’t pay the bills. For every day that I am an athlete, I am putting off advancement in other areas of my life. If I was going to continue as an athlete, it needed to make sense. I knew that if I wanted to make national teams or receive funding, I needed to start improving by greater margins and at a faster rate. After 5 years in London, my training environment and routine was very comfortable to me, but I started to think that perhaps I needed to risk making a change. With the support of my coaches, I made the decision to commute outside of London for my technical practices twice a week to get a fresh set of eyes on things. It was a tough decision, because I never wanted my coaches to feel like I had lost hope in them. I simply felt like I needed to explore all avenues to ensure that I was untapping my full athletic potential. Two and a half hour drive, 4 hours of practice, two and a half hours home – all in hopes of a few more centimeters.
Between working and commuting for practice, I was constantly on the go. I know this isn’t a unique situation for an athlete, but it was something I was totally unprepared for. I thought I would graduate and have more time, less stress. But reality wasted no time in setting me straight. Some days I would get home and just cry out of exhaustion. What was I doing to myself? Was this even worth it? I was working my butt off to make money to fund a dream that frankly, I was starting to feel too tired to keep chasing.
It’s not surprising then, that by February I had sustained my first serious injury in years. A strained spring ligament in my right foot. As someone who has been extremely lucky in dodging injuries, the ordeal was scary. But at first it was also a strange relief - a legitimate excuse to take a step back and reevaluate my situation, my life, my so called dream. The truth is I was not happy. I had to admit to myself that my new training situation was not working for me. This was a tough pill to swallow. I so badly wanted for this change to be the solution. The quick fix to my athletic career. It took a lot of deliberation and courage for me to make the change in the first place – it was tough to admit to myself it wasn’t going to have the outcome I had hoped. To add to this disappointment, after a few weeks of injury I was starting to feel a sense of urgency and panic. Would this put me out for the season? More frighteningly, did I still even want a season?
In March I was presented with the opportunity to participate in RBC’s Training Ground – strength, speed and endurance testing for athletes across a wide range of sports. I saw this as a potential opportunity to qualify for some funding – a way out of my chaotic lifestyle that was beating me down - so I taped up my foot, loaded up on painkillers and hoped for the best.
Fast forward a few weeks after Training Ground. My foot was beginning to heal and I was gradually getting back into physical activity – but mentally, I was still injured beyond belief. I was sick of the lifestyle - the constant hustle. I felt done with it all. I continued to go through the motions, because that felt easier than summoning the courage to have an honest conversation with myself and reflect on whether or not I really wanted to continue like this. The feeling wasn't totally new - I'd been here before. In my third year of university I contemplated walking away when my lack of athletic progress began to affect my mental health. But this was different. I was coming off my most successful athletic season yet and I was still feeling this way. Total apathy. How did I get here again?
This is when things got weird. One day I received an email from the national women’s rugby team. They were impressed with my Training Ground results and invited me out to Victoria, BC to undergo further testing and see if I could have a future in rugby. Wait – what?
It should be noted that I didn’t know a damn thing about rugby (still don’t). Yet – the opportunity revitalized me. I excitedly accepted the opportunity, and my mind raced with possibilities. Naively, I saw it as a way out of the sport that I was very quickly beginning to resent. The thought of a fresh start gave me so much excitement. I started watching YouTube videos (“rugby 101”). I borrowed some cleats and a ball. With the help of the internet, Taylor helped me learn a thing or two. This excitement, however, was coupled with an overwhelming sense of guilt. I felt like I was cheating on my sport. I wondered, what does this say about me if I can just drop everything I have worked for in the past 10 years in hopes of pursuing a sport I had to read the Wikipedia page for? Sigh. The mental struggles just kept coming.
Ten days after receiving that email, I was standing on a field with the very women who went on to win bronze in rugby at the Olympics. I was being instructed on how to properly tackle someone, and wondering what the f*** I was doing. Hell no, I thought. Hell. No. Abort plan. I didn’t want to hit anyone, and I sure as hell didn’t want to get hit. I remember thinking, “I wish I could just run and jump.” Seconds later, “Oh yeah..”. Right – that’s what I do. That’s what I thought I was sick of.
I boarded my red-eye back to London disappointed that my plan to become a rugby star didn’t quite work out. At the same time, I felt a sense of clarity I hadn’t experienced all year. In those moments, trying to learn how to rugby (verb), I missed track and field with all my heart. It was almost a relief to feel like I didn’t belong, or didn’t want to belong anywhere else other than in the sand. That showed me quite clearly that my time wasn’t up.
My foot was healed, my mind was at peace, and I finally felt ready to get back into the swing of things. It was April now - the season was starting. I made the decision that it was in my best interest to return to my London coaches, who welcomed me back with open arms. We wasted no time getting back to work. With just a few weeks of training under my belt, I opened up the season with a short approach personal best of 12.59m – usually a distance I am content to open up with from full approach. Two weeks later I moved back to full approach – 13.01m. My mind was blown. In the years past I had to hustle my butt off to get over 13m. The next competition – 13.12m. I was inching closer to my personal best of 13.16m. A distance that I achieved when every single aspect of the universe came together in perfect harmony for me. The fact that I was almost at that distance after the sh*t show of a few months I had was almost comical to me.
The next meet I jumped 13.29m – a sizable new personal best that I felt like I achieved with ease. I was 20m away from 13.50m, a mark that only 4 other Canadian women have surpassed. I felt unstoppable – more encouraged than ever before. Every practice was a good practice. I certainly wasn't the fittest I'd ever been, but my refreshed outlook trumped where I was at physically. For the first time in my life, 14 meters didn’t seem like this huge, unattainable monster of a number. Going into the Canadian Olympic Trials, I was exuding confidence. I was ready to make a statement. Unfortunately, the Trials did not go according to plan. I was grateful to walk away with the win, but I was unhappy with the distance I jumped. It’s never fun to under-perform, especially at the biggest competition of the season. I didn’t like the thought of ending the season on a sour note. I knew I needed to finish this damn thing feeling hopeful so that I didn’t spend my time off bitter and frustrated. In the two weeks after the Trials, I competed in 2 twilight meets and jumped 13.12m at both. That I could live with.
To be honest, I don’t think I have really truly reflected on this past season up until now. Less than a week after my season ended Taylor had to go and propose (so selfish!)– so I was preoccupied thinking about anything other than track. I think it was good for me – as when I returned to training in October I felt more than ready to go.
I’m still not totally sure what I should take away from the season. The universe’s timing is strange – but I already knew that. Perhaps I learned that opportunities are always salvageable, and things often come together much quicker than you think. If upon graduation someone had put on paper the series of unfortunate events that would be my first year as a post-collegiate athlete and say, “but THEN you will jump a personal best,” I simply wouldn’t have believed it. As mentioned earlier, the last time I achieved a personal best (13.16m at my final CIS championships in March 2015), everything was perfect. I was the fittest, strongest, healthiest, happiest, most determined person I had ever been. The competition was at my favourite facility. The people I cared about most were watching. It meant a lot to me – my final competition as a Mustang. The competition was capping off my smoothest and best season of training ever. Everything aligned. And I guess that only added to my preexisting belief that the road leading immediately to a personal best needs to be smooth.