As professional or semi professional athletes living out a version of their childhood dream, we are all extremely lucky. Which is why we all need to be the first ones stepping up to take a step back during this pandemic. I get it, you are upset that competition has effectively dried up for the year. The sport you have poured all your energy into for the majority of your life, is seemingly being yanked away from us for the remainder of the year. Being upset is normal. We all want nothing more than to continue to do what we love. But that just isn't safe or smart right now. And probably won't be for at least 6-8 months. Fighting to override or change this decision by World Athletics makes us look petty. Look I want to tear down these institutions as much as the next athlete. I feel they have done far more harm than good over the last 30 years, but this might be the single best decision they have ever collectively made. For once they have put the health of athletes and the integrity of the sport in front of their bottom line as an organization. It's the right move to save lives. While many of us might be willing to continue to push the boundaries of what is safe and still train hard, holding competitions doesn't just effect us alone. What about the safety of your family. Or your community? What about the safety of venue workers, hotel, and travel industries? Or meet referees or volunteers? Forcing people back too soon buts people at risk. This thing might get snubbed out in our country in July or August, but what about the rest of the world? That could be September or November. There are health care workers, grocery store clerks, and other essential personnel around the world that are dying on the front lines of this battle. I'm sorry but it makes us look petty because we can't play in our sand box with our friends. Right now the health of our communities and the world are far more important than any sporting event. I know many of us, just like millions of Americans, are worried about their ability to make money, but instead of fighting World Athletics to change a competition rule, why don't we organize to fight for more collective bargaining rights. Now is the perfect time to mobilize and have effective change that could bring our financial opportunities in line with other individual sports like golf or tennis. Personally I think it's the wrong fight to bring. But what do I know?
So how do we deal with having the season ripped away so unexpectedly? Well luckily for you I have vast experience in this realm. I've had this sport indefinitely torn away from me four times in the last 12 years due to a rare auto-immune disease called Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis. From my initial battle with it in 2008, through relapses in 2012, 2013, and 2017, I never knew if I'd be able to return to the sport that had consumed my life since I was 10 years old. Through all these tumultuous times I developed a set of skills that have come in handy recently and some lessons that all of us can learn from. Below you will find five lessons that can help you through this time of uncertainty. Most of us are stubborn (it's why we are good at sports) and can't listen to these lessons until it is forced upon us. So now that we are forced into a holding pattern here are some things that can help you navigate this time!
Sounds simple right. Well judging from many people's reaction to the Olympic postponement and to the standard blackout dates, a lot of us need to take a deep breath. It's the first step in every meditation, self awareness, mindfulness or enlightenment training for a reason. Study after study has shown the positive benefits that these type practices have on overall health. Now you can't say that you don't have time in your busy schedule. And unless you want to start to develop some really self destructive mental habits, now is a great time to invest in your mental training. Find an article, a book, an app, or a youtube video to help you. In 2020 there are literally thousands of places you can learn from. Practicing mindfulness and gratitude will go a long way towards easing the pain of this lost year. It can ground you and help you see the bigger picture of life. One of the reason so many of us are anxious about this setback is we all understand far too well the expiration date on our career. Being a professional Olympic athlete isn't a whole career. We all live with the fear that the next year could very well be our last. Having a result oriented approach can be destructive during periods of inactivity or injury. There aren't all those ridiculous cliches about the journey being ultimately what matters, for no reason. Starting mindfulness training can help you put all these puzzle pieces in the right place, so we don't lose sight of what matters the most.
2. Develop a routine
As athletes we live and die by our routines. Most of us have achieved success in sport because we are good at listening and following directions. The ability to execute in practice week in and week out is what separates the good from the great. Routines are how we achieve this consistent result. Now that our competitions for the year have been put on hold, it's easy to just turn into a lazy slob. The hours you spent training and recovering now turn into Netflix binges, video game marathons, and beer chugging and lots of junk food.It's easy to waste days and weeks at a time giving into all the temptations of a sedentary lifestyle. But if you want to get better as a human during this time, it's better for you to stick to a routine. Whether your routine includes some type of exercise is up to you and your coach, but considering the CDC and WHO have recommended exercise for health during the pandemic, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it'd probably be smart to include some sort of exercise in your routine. I'm not saying the routine can't include Netflix time or relaxation time, but set boundaries. If you have to write down your routine like you write down your training, so be it. Post it on the fridge or on the ceiling above your bed. Make a schedule for each day and stick to it. You can use that same principles that have guided you to athletic success, to keeping you moving and productive until your regular training can resume.
3. Redirect your energy
Training hard takes a lot of energy. When you are deep into a training cycle, just getting out the door for an easy day or recovery run can feel like climbing a mountain. The stress and pressure from the Olympic year has seemingly evaporated overnight. The need to be competition ready in the coming weeks is gone. And training hard and compromising your immune system is not very wise. A reduction in training volume and intensity will perk you back up and it won't be long before you will be staring at the wall wondering what in the hell you are supposed to do with it. The only way to get out the other side of this with your body and mind in tack still is redirecting that energy to something productive. If you are like me and so many other athletes, often times running/training/competition is a mask for many bad habits or self destructive behavior. I've had a front seat view (both driver and passenger) of injuries or down periods turning athletes inside out. It's imperative to find something else that can at least stimulate your brain in a productive or engaging way. Whether it's cross training, home improvement projects, music, blogging, writing, painting, or upping your selfie game, find something that you enjoy and want to be better at and attack it like you would training. Heck if you're lucky you might even be able to make some side hustle money or start taking steps for your post athlete career.
As athletes and public figures we have a louder voice than your everyday Instagramer. I believe it's our duty during this time to encourage people to do the right things. Sharing our experiences, both good and bad, during this time can be powerful. Everyone is having to make adjustments to their lives. Showing people how we've adjusted our lives to the current climate can help others in their endeavors. Whether it's home workout videos, blogs on mental health, or Q&A live chats on Instagram, find ways to connect with fans, inspire them to make the right changes in their lives. Being honest and open is powerful. During a time of inactivity on the competition calendar, you can still find ways to connect and perform for the people!
5. Be healthy
Right now the best thing that all athletes can do to prolong your life and ultimately your athletic careers, is take care of yourself. Look I'm as guilty as the next person about smashing unhealthy food and beverages when I'm not in training mode. At times I've tackled my off time as hard as I've tackled my training. But if we are all going to hit the ground ready to rock and roll when this passes, then we have to stay on top of the things that keep us healthy. That means maintaining good sleep patterns. Drink lots of water (a little booze is of course necessary right now). We need to live as if we are training, and relax like we aren't, doing our best to lower stress levels and find homeostasis. If we do this, we might just find that our bodies will be in a much better and healthier place than they ever are during training, and could actually prolong our career. Keep focusing on the little things.
If you found these lessons helpful, I do have a book with more of these type lessons. Going the Distance, The Journey of a Vasculitis Patient on the Road to Olympic Glory is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats. Plus I have a podcast Going the Distance where I highlight stories of other incredible humans that have overcome some ridiculous odds to still be alive and chase their dreams. It's available on iTunes, Spotify, Youtube, etc...