At the Olympics I finished 10th. It wasn’t the result I had hoped for. I wanted to give that podium moment to Canada so bad - it’s what I dreamed of and what had motivated me for four years leading up to that one day. Yet walking back to the dressing room, gratitude and humility trumped my feelings of frustration. I got back to the dressing room, changed into my street clothes, debriefed the race with my coach and sport psychologist, and left the Adler Arena to send a text message…but that’s another story.
If this had happened to me four years prior, the walk back to dressing room likely would have been vastly different. It would have been full of disappointment, resentment and anger and would have likely ended with me breaking my hand…again.
A lot happened during the four years leading up to the 2014 Olympics, but the best thing to happen to me was learning to be comfortable making mistakes.
I could go from high fives to punching a wall within one race; from the jubilation of success to the depths of disappointment...
When I first started training with the National Team, I was a 19-year-old rookie, excitable and reckless. Competitions would be an emotional roller coaster. I could go from high fives to punching a wall within one race; from the jubilation of success to the depths of disappointment, I would go through all of it. It was something that my coach and sport psychologist recognized and made me aware of. They preached this idea of being invested in the process and staying even-keeled, but it was something I didn’t fully grasp until I regularly started doing yoga that off-season.
My first yoga class was a humbling experience. I was supposed to be an elite athlete, but halfway through the class I was sweating bullets, shaking in Warrior II position and stumbling in and out of poses. You can imagine my disbelief when I looked to my left and saw a 65-year-old woman – let’s call her Betty – making it look easy, gliding in and out of movements that I thought were not humanly possible. My pride was shattered. I gritted my teeth, embraced the pain and sunk deeper into the pose; it was my natural instinct as a high performance athlete. I left that class destroyed. Not only was my body crushed, but my ego was, too – embarrassed for how I must have looked. The following week I returned, looking for redemption and motivated to “beat” Betty. And so began another class…she got me again.
My pride was shattered. I gritted my teeth, embraced the pain and sunk deeper into the pose; it was my natural instinct as a high performance athlete.
I viewed yoga as just another training session – do what coach says, work hard and reap the physical benefits. I also had developed quite the rivalry with Betty… even if she didn’t know it. It was shaping to be another battle when the teacher said something so simple, yet profound, “This class is for you.” I don’t know what it was about those five words, but it flipped a switch that created a sense of calm and presence. The teacher was right. I was there for self-improvement and I was in full control of my thoughts, feelings and movements. Betty certainly did not care, nor did she probably know, what I was doing or thinking next to her.
I came back again, but this time I stopped comparing myself to others in the class because the class was for me. I started listening to my body more and stopped forcing movements because the class was for me. I started to appreciate the class beyond the physical aspect because the class allowed me to explore my process. In that, I became more comfortable with making mistakes because it was another opportunity to learn and grow. After all, the class was for me.
It was a mindset that I would carry over to my training and enabled my growth as an athlete and as a person. I still hate losing but as the old cliché goes, “you only lose if you fail to learn from your mistakes.” Class is in session and this class is for you.