I love the lead up to the Olympics. Every time you turn on the TV, flip through a paper or look at a Cherrio box you are bombarded with inspiring stories of Olympians from all over the world. Every story is different but they all have one thing in common, they are positive and motivating. I love reading these stories and getting goosebumps as I watch commercials. However, one story caught my eye, an article about the struggles female athletes face when it comes to body image.
I’ve written about this before and it’s one of my favourite topics to discuss. In the spotlight we see the ripped, skinny, track stars with their amazing abs, tiny shoulders and muscular legs. You think they’re confident and proud of their amazing bodies. I can bet that they don’t always love their reflection. On the other side you have weight lifters who are heavier set and walking down the street you would have no idea that they are an Olympic level athlete. Are their skills any less impressive because they don’t have a tiny waist? No, of course not.
To paint a mental picture, I’m almost six feet tall, I have a slender but muscular build which leaves me looking like an awkward and lanky amazon woman. I am powerful, strong and I can move a boat pretty fast. I also carry my weight in my stomach and my long arms look noodlish no matter how many curls I do. In the gym I love every inch of my body and what it allows me to do, it pays the bills (in the least hooker way possible) I’m paid to make my boat go fast. So why do I spend time in the mirror looking at my stomach or feel sickeningly guilty about enjoying ice cream? Maybe it’s because I spend too much time looking at fitness models on instagram, who I know I could run circles around but they have millions of adoring fans admiring their abs. Or maybe its a coping mechanism to avoid the stress of training every day. I can’t always control my idiot coach or the weather or how sluggish I am on the water but I can control how much I eat and how I feel about my body. Some athletes find comfort in running an extra mile or staying on the water a bit longer than their teammates. For me, I take refuge in the fact that I eat healthier. I will say that my body image has improved tremendously in the last year, but I’m not at my happiest yet. That leaves me with the nagging question, is this a journey without a destination?
As I watch the Olympics at home this year, yearning to be there myself I will try to find motivation not from the amazing bodies of the women on the podium but from their impressive feats as athletes. After all, comparison is the death of joy.
It’s so comforting knowing you have time. Whether its you’re training for a marathon, nationals, or you’re applying for a job. Really any time you leave your comfort zone and go after a big goal. You will eventually be looking the moment between you and achieving your goal in the eye. How do you stay calm? For me it’s national team trials. In the sport of canoe you train 6 days a week all year round for a racing season that last two months and maybe consists of 10 big races if you’re lucky. I say if you’re lucky because if you miss a stroke it can be the end of your season. How do you stay calm and steady your hands in order to give yourself the best chance to succeed? Confidence in everything you’ve done to prepare.
The moment before a race or the moment before you get the call that you got the job or made the team or the band is like christmas morning. Anything can happen, the box you’re opening could contain anything. You could be world champion or you could fall and come dead last. The key for me after racing at a world class level for 4 years is doing everything for myself. If I line up knowing I did everything in my power to be the best I can be then I can enjoy a calm moment of clarity before I race. I know that no matter what happens this is my best. Even if my best isn’t good enough there is always something to learn.
If there is one piece of advice I can give whether you’re just starting to compete or you’re struggling with defeat it’s this, there is always something to learn. It’s never going to sting as much as it does in the moments after a “failure”. Think back to the moments before the start horn, think of how proud you are of the work you put in, make a plan and get ready to attack the next competition. You know more now than you did before you started.
I hope you found this helpful whatever obstacles you may be facing! Please excuse the lack of posts in the coming weeks as I will be racing at Olympic trials!
Staying true to yourself when trying to achieve a huge goal such as, the Olympics can be so difficult. The Olympics is the end goal for many athletes, it’s “the dream”. There have been thousands of Olympians and therefore thousands of different approaches to success. There is no formula for how to make an Olympian or world champion. If you get to the Olympics but haven’t stayed true to yourself have you really won?
The inspiration for my thoughts today came to me while I was listening to Finding Mastery an amazing podcast about sports psychology. I fled my house here at training camp where I live with five other paddlers and went to the beach to zone out. In listening to this podcast I started to reflect on my upbringing in sport. I wasn’t raised by Olympians or star athletes. What I did have was in my opinion, more valuable. My parents were (and are) wildly supportive. They would have been cheering me on at pottery lessons if it meant I was happy and fulfilled. They put me and my brother in paddling not to make future Olympians but to keep us out of trouble in the summer. I was only four when I began my journey but at that point the journey was to catch frogs not medals.
My parents never miss a race, they follow me around the world to cheer me on. On my home course I can only ever hear my Dad’s voice over the buzz of the crowd. They never forced me to train but they did hold me accountable. They knew if I wanted to succeed I needed to get up at 5:00am but they also knew that as a teenager I wouldn’t want to get up at 5:00am. They got me out of bed but wouldn’t fight it. However, at the dinner table I wasn’t a paddler, I was a person who paddled. It wasn’t my whole identity so we kept the paddling talk to a minimum after 5:00pm. There was never an obsession. As I get older this is more and more valuable. My ability to turn off my brain after practice and relax i owe completely to my parents. I know constantly reflecting on video and watching other athletes on their off time is a strategy of many champions. It’s not something I do and I don’t pretend to find it interesting. Does this make me less of an athlete? I seem to still be going fast without doing this and I’m way happier.
I have always been a great racer, I will have an infinite amount to write about that topic another time. For now, I’ll stay on the theme of staying true to me. I’m not the person on the start line with the laser focus. I am generally making jokes with fellow competitors or giggling to myself. I’m able to stay calm. In the tent during my warm up I’m hopping around chatting with people or even dancing. This works for me and I’ll be doing this at the Olympics if the time comes. If I’m acting like a robot on race day I wont be myself.
It’s so easy to get caught up in training camp drama but as I get older and more confident in who I am I’m finding it easier to stay authentic to myself. Sometimes that means leaving the house to do pointless stuff on the beach…
I didn’t even realize how calm I was while I was doing this silly task until I was done. Find a way to bring everything back to your core values. Remember to stay true to yourself on the journey to YOUR Olympics, whatever that may be.