The funny thing about fear is the more you try to deny its existence, the more present it becomes. After a season long of denying what I feared most, I knew I had to face my fear. In 13 hours I would be facing my last opportunity to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games, and what I feared most, was failing to qualify. So as I sat at my desk and penned “What if I don’t make the team?” I realized that that wouldn’t make me less of who I was. I would still be loved and I would still be a good person… And I think in that moment I defeated my fear. The next day, not only did I qualify, but I set a stadium and trials record and narrowly missed clearing 2.00m, a Canadian record. If you had told me a week earlier this would occur, I’m not sure I would have believed you!
That’s the funny thing about the mind. Sometimes when we get out of our own way, things become a lot easier.
Recently, I’ve had to relearn the lesson.
With the Canadian Olympic Trials quickly approaching, I was beginning to feel as if the weight of the world was descending upon me.
To qualify, I must I jump 1.95m and finish top 3 at Nationals. Not so bad but, I’m returning from a serious foot injury and due to failed technique changes my indoor season was lackluster. In many ways, I felt like I was reliving 2008.
I cannot deny that my confidence was shaken this year and in some ways has made me feel as though I was robbed. Robbed because I took for granted my ability to jump and my confidence in my ability to meet whatever challenge was placed before me. And in the high jump there is no room for doubt!
When I fractured my foot and ruptured my posterior tibilalis tendon (analogous with rupturing an Achilles tendon) last year, my greatest concern was whether I would ever be able to jump again. Ironically, I underestimated the psychological battle that awaited. The foot miraculously healed, sans surgery, but my mind was left back to May 6, 2011 – the day my injury occurred.
I guess I was so blinded by my sheer will and determination to recover from this injury, I didn’t account for the fear I had developed of actually jumping. How the injury occurred was so gruesome and sudden that it became an image that would be replayed in my mind. It literally became an image I would see each time before I would jump. It has taken me almost a year to confront this fear and embrace it, and alas now I’m starting to feel like my old self. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to erase that memory, but I am finally able to run and attack the bar without fear…. And now we’re talking!
This year has been a journey on many fronts. I’ve learned who believes in me and who the doubters are. I remember when I was first diagnosed with my injury I had one therapist, who was also a friend, tell me, “Well, you’re getting up there anyway, so you know Nicole if you don’t recover from this injury, at least you’ve had a good career anyways.” Needless to say I had to POOF! him. Really, if he was writing me off and doubting my ability to recover from my injury, how committed would he have been to the treatment my foot required? Fortunately, I’ve also gained a lot of strength from the shoulders I’ve cried on, and the supporters I’ve been fortunate to have had. Honestly, no athlete can achieve greatness without the shoulders of “giants” (aka supporters) we stand on.
The unfortunate thing about this year is that there have been times where I found myself concerned with the opinions of others. I hate that feeling! That is not me! I strive so hard not to care about the opinions of others, because trying to control what others think will drive you crazy. It’s easy to discard all the compliments you may receive and latch onto that one negative comment and that will drive you crazy.
I felt an expectation to jump an incredible height, and if I didn’t, I might lose the support of those that I did have or that I would prove those who doubted my recovery, right. But, really who cares what someone else thinks? They are just thoughts after all and it is not like they can harm me. The real harm comes when we allow someone else’s negative thoughts and opinions to become our own.
Perhaps the stress of the looming Olympic Games can makes us change our actions and become less of ourselves as we seek the approval of others. I don’t want to let my sponsors and supporters down. But, at the same time that feeling is like trying to jump with a backpack of bricks. And in the end I had to give myself a break. As much as I’d like believe otherwise, I really am only human. It was unrealistic to assume it would be a smooth path to returning to my normal jumping form.
But, most importantly I realized I needed to jump for me! Being a high jumper does not define me and I don’t want my identity to be confused with it. High jumping is something I do and enjoy, but it doesn’t make me a better person, or a horrible person. It is simply an extension of the many things I can do.
I owe it to myself to jump the way I know I can, sans fear. At the end of the day, I want to walk away from this event, knowing I did my very best. And the irony is that in doing that, I am certain my very best will see me in the finals at London competing hard… And that realization makes all the difference. It was certainly an “Aha” moment.
This next month ahead will be a grind for me. Most athletes prefer to take care of the Olympic standards well in advance and leave the trials as the final and only step to the Olympic Games. In my case I’ve had to delay my return to competition until June, with the trials close at hand. These kinds of nail biting, less-than-ideal situations seem to be the hallmark of my career. I’m way too familiar with crunch time. It is my strength, but boy does it feel like it ages me by 20 years! Whether, jumping with 20 brain lesions to win gold at the Commonwealth Games, or with a torn hamstring to win the silver medal jump at the Pan Am Games with a 1.95m jump, or leaving it to the very last minute at the 2008 Olympic trials to qualify - this is the common thread shared amongst my best performances throughout my career. I seem to flourish in unconventional circumstances and I’m depending on that for this season.
It honestly is a miracle that I have completely regained my ability to jump (and I did I mention without ever having had surgery). And with that hurdle and my permission to be human dealt with, the load has suddenly become a lot lighter.
As for fear… Fear can take a hike! POOF! Be Gone! I have no room for doubt.
In the words of David Guetta:“I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose Fire away, fire away Ricochet, you take your aim Fire away, fire away You shoot me down, but I won’t fall I am TITANIUM!”
I truly hope that in my brutal honesty, somewhere this blog has positively influenced someone.
2012 London Bound,