Originally published in Dufferin Total Sports by: Erin FitzGibbon
As I sit here watching the Olympics I’m always awed by the skills of all these athletes. They are truly amazing. I loved Bill Murray’s tweet the other night. They make their sports look easy and effortless.
In other words, it’s hard to judge just how good these athletes really are when they compete against others who are incredibly talented. We have no way of judging the average.
In this article, I want to pay homage to the talents of our elite athletes. They all deserve praise and acknowledgement regardless of whether they win a medal. The dream and the sacrifice these athletes make are incredible. I know that sounds cliché. We’ve heard that same statement from CBC announcers countless times but I’m not sure we really understand what it means.
I watch parents push their children to compete at elite levels. Kids attend sports camp after sports camp and private coaching sessions every week. Their parents spend thousands each year trying to help their children attain a dream. It’s all well intentioned. In fact, I think it’s money well spent but I do think that parents need to be better educated on what this dream really means.
Elite athletes live and breath their sport. They establish their confidence and their identity from their sport. It is who they are the heart, mind, and soul. In a recent interview, Adam Van Koeverden described his kayak as his “girlfriend.” He debated his future and how racing gives him his confidence. He stated that if he retired and he chose to become a lawyer or a business man he probably wouldn’t be the best in the world. This prospect frightened him. He’s used to being the best and he’s scared how he will feel if he is not the best. It’s a terrifying fact for many athletes.
As a coach, I’ve watched countless young athletes face this reality. Some day they will have to retire… Then what?
Is this really and truly a struggle you want your child to face? Are you prepared to help your child reinvent themselves afterwards? Being an elite athlete has it’s glamorous moments think of Usain Bolt and his iconic poses but athletics has far more heartbreak that we don’t see. It’s quite simple. You don’t get to be that good without incredible drive, dedication, and sacrifice. You give up just about everything for your sport. It consumes you. They love every minute of their time competing but it is all encompassing.
Are you prepared to give up an awful lot as well? It’s not just your child’s sacrifice. It’s your sacrifice too! Vacations, money, time with loved ones and so much more is pushed to the wayside as you drive your child to yet another training session.
It’s so hard to watch too. As a parent, you are there for the successes but then you also have to be there for the failures. Imagine consoling a child who has worked doggedly for a win and something goes wrong; it doesn’t happen. They are heart broken. You have to pick up the pieces because everything they have lived for has come crashing down around their ears. For these athletes, it seems like the end of the world. Parents of elite athletes are true warriors. They are soul healers.
Despite all these questions it’s still worth it . A year after the London Olympics Rosie MacLennan had this to say.
“Stepping on the podium showed me that every experience we have – good, bad, challenging – is necessary and worthwhile. It showed me that each time we fall down, each time we make a mistake, it is not a failure but an opportunity to learn and to grow. It is important to embrace each challenge we face for what it can teach us. It proved to me that as long as I breathe, I have the strength to make it through. It reminded me of the value of the people around me- my anchors – because no matter what happens in life, these anchors never change. To me, this thought was a powerful grounding notion that helped me more than anything else in my journey.
Stepping onto the podium proved to me the importance of working with those around me because nobody can do it on their own. It represented every ounce of energy that an entire network of people contributed to get me there. The journey leading into London, I struggled with believing that anything was possible with hard work and perseverance but stepping onto the podium showed me the importance of always believing in the possibility. Even though there is no guarantee when you start down any path, having the courage and willingness to try in a situation where there is no guarantee is worthwhile because along the way, finding and following your passion and loving the journey hold more value than any potential outcome. You never know where a journey will take you but if you enjoy what you do, each and every day, the value of that journey is worth it.”
Now that she’s won another gold medal I would be curious to see what she has to say. Actually, I’d be curious to see what her mom has to say. What’s her perspective on the whirlwind that is her daughter's athletic career?