Monday, August 23, 2010

Mere Mortal Athlete (ACHTUNG BABY!)

Yesterday, I jumped in Dubnica, Slovakia a disappointing 1.84m narrowly missing the proceeding height. Under normal conditions I would be upset, angry possibly even embarrassed. However, in that situation I was miserably ill, progressively feeling worse as the competition commenced. As it turned out, my blood pressure was obscenely low, possibly attributed to allergies. I’m not sure what the cause was I just know I felt like a mere mortal instead of my normal superhero self. While I do agree my allergies were in full gear, the true test will be how I will feel within the next 24hrs while being in France.

The problem with poor performances is often people want an explanation. What happened? And even if others don’t ask, athletes are conditioned to give an explanation before being asked. In fact, the first question we’ll usually ask each other after a competition is “how did it go?”…. If it’s a poor performance the excuses will start to poor in – “Man, I didn’t hear the gun” or “I warmed up excellent, even jumped 1.90m in the warm-up no problem” or “my hamstring wasn't feeling great” or “the official messed up.” We’ve all done it.

The truth of the matter is that the only opinion that should matter is our own. And in truth we’re only human. The true concern should be when an athlete doesn’t seem to have a bad day… or a bad season ever. In life, non-athletes are constantly confronted with challenges fluctuating their mood and performance in daily activities. How unrealistic is it to expect athletes, especially in the sport of athletics where a maximal effort is measured against a clock, distance or height to never show lesser performances occasionally.

Sometimes, I believe we as athletes forget that it’s ok to have a bad day or season, unless we can physically see a reason (i.e. a lacerated shin or broken bone). Although, I felt horrible yesterday and the evening before, it wasn’t until I had medical assess and diagnose me, that I accepted my condition as an example of being a mere mortal. Yes, in my imaginary world I like to believe I hold superhuman abilities making me immune to setbacks.

One last thing I should say on this topic, is it seems the older one gets the smaller the window for lesser performances is allowed. Without repeating what I have already discussed in an earlier blog concerning AGEISM IN SPORT – it must be said that often lesser performances of older athletes are naturally attributed to one’s age. While that’s unfortunate, the true sadness in this attribution is when athletes begin to believe this explanation. They might as well pack it up, because their inadvertently giving birth to a self-fullfiling prophecy.

I’m sure my less brilliant performances thus far this season, to an outsider may be attributed to my age of 33 years young. And perhaps if going into this season, I didn’t knowingly prioritize my PhD studies, pursue completing my dissertation and graduation this year, I may be naïve enough to fall for that reasoning. Instead, I’ve been able to look back and see some remarkable performances so far, under some seriously less ideal conditions. There have been many nights this season, I’ve been up late in my hotel room working on a chapter in my dissertation, reading a research study or pondering a psychological theory the night before a competition, and even hours before… I’ve managed to write 3 chapters of my dissertation, take & proctor classes and propose my dissertation throughout this competitive season, all the while training & competing… Mere mortal… maybe I’m not after all???

At the end of the day, we all want to perform amazing. Why else would any athlete willingly embrace the pain of many training sessions… training sessions where you were on deaths door… But, sometimes we need to be realistic and keep things in perspective… and maybe take it easy on ourselves. There is no shame in being only human.

Recovering Mere Mortal,

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