The Truth Behind Elite Athletes

The Truth Behind Elite Athletes

Winning isn't everything
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With the Olympics coming to a close, it’s hard for me not to think about how the athletes are feeling now that it’s time to come home. I recently read this article which talks about life for athletes once the games are over and the challenge of building a new identity after athletes have finished competing. Immediately following my return to school after competing in the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games, I vividly remember one of my high school teachers talking to me about my experiences and asking me how I felt about “having peaked before leaving high school.” I know she didn’t mean any harm, but to be honest at the time this comment was kind of a slap in the face. I had just gotten into Dartmouth; I was ready for the next chapter of my life to be just as exciting as the past one.

Prepping for the Olympic or Paralympic games is a long, uphill battle and it’s incredibly easy to become hyper focused. Once the games are finished, it’s understandable that many athletes find it challenging to create an identity for themselves that doesn’t center around their athletic careers. Luckily for me, starting school at Dartmouth just months after competing in my first Paralympics forced me to build my identity around things other than skiing. In some ways this realization was actually a little refreshing. For the first time in my life, my peers knew me because of the classes I was taking, the extracurricular activities I was involved in, and probably because I’m the only legally blind student at Dartmouth if we are being really honest, instead of the skier who always seemed to miss school.

When I decided I wanted to continue competing shortly after coming to Dartmouth it forced me to reestablish myself as an elite athlete while still carefully balancing my life as a full time Dartmouth student. I often feel like I am living two completely separate lives and I find myself having to choose between one or the other. I chose to come to Dartmouth because I felt as though the D-plan, where students can take off from school at various points throughout the year, would be a great opportunity to allow me to commit 100% to skiing over the winter and 100% to school the rest of the time. Every athlete knows that there is always more work to be done, and unfortunately every Ivy League premed student also knows the same. When is it appropriate to spend the extra hour in the gym instead of studying for my organic chemistry final? It is impossible to prioritize one of my two completely separate lives over the other.

Like any athlete, the ultimate goal is to be the best in the world. Every day I try to do everything I possibly can to make that a realistic goal. However, I also know that I cannot ski race forever. Sometimes I find it disappointing that I can’t fully commit to my ski career like most of the athletes I am competing against, and I have to remind myself of the bigger picture. It’s easy to get caught up in that one big moment, and blame yourself for things that might have gone differently. For me, my first Paralympics made me realize that skiing is so much more than the medals I win. In athletics, competition tends to be presented as a single destination. It is very easy to forget that what's truly important are the obstacles that lead up to that destination, and how those experiences play a role in shaping an athlete's character. Skiing has shaped my character in ways that are reflected in all aspects of my life. I have learned to be independent, manage my time well, forgive myself when I fall short of my own expectations, and above all strive to be better than I was yesterday.

It is so important for athletes to enjoy their moment and to take in everything that competing at an elite level has to offer. However, it is arguably more important for athletes to understand that those moments are fleeting. Win or lose, medals are forgotten but acting honorably at times when it would be easy to get caught in the hyper-competitive nature that every world class athlete shares is what really separates respectable athletes from respectable people. Every athlete is a person first. There are core character traits that come along with being an elite athlete and those traits are evident in all aspects of an athlete’s life, even after they are done competing. Character is a culmination of all of someone's life experiences both on and off the playing field. When I compete in the next Paralympics in 2018 I will not be the exact same me who competed in the 2014 Paralympic Games, but I will be the best me that I can be in that given moment. And as for peaking, I’m usually pretty comfortable hurling myself downhill, but for some reason I kind of feel like it’s only up from here.

Cover Image Credit: Finn DeBaun

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The Coach That Killed My Passion

An open letter to the coach that made me hate a sport I once loved.
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I fell in love with the game in second grade. I lived for every practice and every game. I lived for the countless hours in the gym or my driveway perfecting every shot, every pass and every move I could think of. Every night after dinner, I would go shoot and would not allow myself to go inside until I hit a hundred shots. I had a desire to play, to get better and to be the best basketball player I could possibly be.

I had many coaches between church leagues, rec leagues, personal coaches, basketball camps, middle school and high school. Most of the coaches I had the opportunity to play for had a passion for the game like I did. They inspired me to never stop working. They would tell me I had a natural ability. I took pride in knowing that I worked hard and I took pride in the compliments that I got from my coaches and other parents. I always looked forward to the drills and, believe it or not, I even looked forward to the running. These coaches had a desire to teach, and I had a desire to learn through every good and bad thing that happened during many seasons. Thank you to the coaches that coached and supported me through the years.

SEE ALSO: My Regrets From My Time As A College Softball Player

Along with the good coaches, are a few bad coaches. These are the coaches that focused on favorites instead of the good of the entire team. I had coaches that no matter how hard I worked, it would never be good enough for them. I had coaches that would take insults too far on the court and in the classroom.

I had coaches that killed my passion and love for the game of basketball.

When a passion dies, it is quite possibly the most heartbreaking thing ever. A desire you once had to play every second of the day is gone; it turns into dreading every practice and game. It turns into leaving every game with earphones in so other parents don't talk to you about it. It meant dreading school the next day due to everyone talking about the previous game. My passion was destroyed when a coach looked at me in the eyes and said, "You could go to any other school and start varsity, but you just can't play for me."

SEE ALSO: Should College Athletes Be Limited To One Sport?

Looking back now at the amount of tears shed after practices and games, I just want to say to this coach: Making me feel bad about myself doesn't make me want to play and work hard for you, whether in the classroom or on the court. Telling me that, "Hard work always pays off" and not keeping that word doesn't make me want to work hard either. I spent every minute of the day focusing on making sure you didn't see the pain that I felt, and all of my energy was put towards that fake smile when I said I was OK with how you treated me. There are not words for the feeling I got when parents of teammates asked why I didn't play more or why I got pulled after one mistake; I simply didn't have an answer. The way you made me feel about myself and my ability to play ball made me hate myself; not only did you make me doubt my ability to play, you turned my teammates against me to where they didn't trust my abilities. I would not wish the pain you caused me on my greatest enemy. I pray that one day, eventually, when all of your players quit coming back that you realize that it isn't all about winning records. It’s about the players. You can have winning records without a good coach if you have a good team, but you won’t have a team if you can't treat players with the respect they deserve.

SEE ALSO: To The Little Girl Picking Up A Basketball For The First Time


Cover Image Credit: Equality Charter School

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From The High School Athlete Who Walked Away, But Walked Away With So Much

From pep rallies to clutch game situations, we miss every second of it. But we walked away with a lot more than we could've ever asked for.

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High school was our prime time. Walking through the hall wearing your jersey or warm-ups on game day. Teachers telling you "good luck tonight, bring home the win." Getting to leave class early for away games. Going to pep rallies and being the center of attention. Practicing day in and day out. Eating, sleeping, and breathing your sport.

The endless hours of practices, the early mornings and late nights, the study groups and trying to keep up with your academics on top of prioritizing your physical shape and talent. It's what we lived for.

Two minutes left in the rivalry game at home court. Your team is up by two and it's crunch time. Coach puts you and the four kids you've grown insanely close with over the last 10 years into the game. You're told to run a man to man defense and not let number three get the ball, because if they do they're going to run the play you've studied at practice for the last week and try to score from the paint; tying the game. The ball gets passed to number three and you're guarding them harder than you've ever played defense before, a screen gets set so you have to switch with your trusty best friend, who you know has the best defense on the team. Your heart is pounding as number three goes up to take the buzzer-beating shot... but they get an offensive foul called on them, and that's the game. The crowd goes wild as the buzzer goes off and you and your teammates rush the center of the gym yelling, screaming, and rejoicing. The feeling you have in your heart is fuller than you've ever felt it before.

It's what we lived for.

It's the bottom of the 7th inning, and you're down by two runs. You've got a man on first and a man on third, with two outs. You're on deck waiting to go up to bat as your power hitter is fighting tooth and nail to get the ball on the ground. They've got two strikes and three balls. Your heart is beating out of your chest, and part of you is hoping they hit it over the fence so the pressure isn't so tough on you. The coach signals to lay a bunt down and all you can think is "why would he do that? Kiana never bunts." But you have no other choice but to trust in your coaches decisions, so when Kiana shockingly lays the bunt down you're in awe as the catcher can't get her face mask off quick enough to throw it to first base.

No runs were scored, and you know that it's up to you to win this game. You walk up to the plate and strike one flies by your face before you even have time to process it. You step out of the batter's box to try to calm your nerves, and your dad looks at you and tells you "You got this, just breathe." So you take one more practice swing and a deep breath, then you step back into the batter's box. You couldn't slow your heart rate down so now you're just running off of pride and focus. The next pitch comes and it's a ball. You knock your cleats off with your bat as the rain starts to pour down, and you're in a position to eye the next pitch.

At that moment, everything turns into slow motion.

You see coach standing at third base, giving no sign. You look back and see your dad in the bleachers, hoping and praying you can hit the base runners in. You've reminded yourself that this is one of your last high school ball games; it's your time to shine. As tingles trickle down your spine, the chaotic screams from the crowd and your teammates turn into distant sound. You smack the ball and before you realize it, you're hitting the inner corner of third base with your right foot yelling at the person in front of you to run faster because you have no idea where the ball went, and coach was just telling you to run. Everyone is waiting for you at home plate because you had just won the game. They're slapping the top of your helmet and screaming your name, while the crowd is banging on the fence.

It's what we lived for.

We lived for the three-hour long Saturday practices. We lived for two-hour bus rides. We lived for team breakfast and dinner. It fueled us to get through high school, and we loved every second of it.

Often, we reminisce. We think back to those buzzer beaters, home runs, and football games. We miss it more than you could ever imagine.

But we walked away. Not because we didn't want to continue playing, but because it was time. It was time to start our lives, but we will never forget the moments, the memories, and some of the best times we have ever had.

Being an athlete is so much more than being strong, athletic, and quick on your feet. To us, being an athlete shaped our personalities. It helped us build characteristics that we still use to this day... and sometime in the future, we will build families and use the traits we learned as athletes to build a strong, successful career, and someday raise a little ballplayer of our own.

A big thanks go out to all my coaches and mentors that I was blessed with over the years. You shaped me, my future, and the rest of the generations that will come after me.

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