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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To The Parent Who Chose Addiction

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

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When I was younger I resented you, I hated every ounce of you, and I used to question why God would give me a parent like you. Not now. Now I see the beauty and the blessings behind having an addict for a parent. If you're reading this, it isn't meant to hurt you, but rather to thank you.

Thank you for choosing your addiction over me.

Throughout my life, you have always chosen the addiction over my programs, my swim meets or even a simple movie night. You joke about it now or act as if I never questioned if you would wake up the next morning from your pill and alcohol-induced sleep, but I thank you for this. I thank you because I gained a relationship with God. The amount of time I spent praying for you strengthened our relationship in ways I could never explain.

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Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

The amount of hurt and disappointment our family has gone through has brought us closer together. I have a relationship with Nanny and Pop that would never be as strong as it is today if you had been in the picture from day one. That in itself is a blessing.

Thank you for showing me how to love.

From your absence, I have learned how to love unconditionally. I want you to know that even though you weren't here, I love you most of all. No matter the amount of heartbreak, tears, and pain I've felt, you will always be my greatest love.

Thank you for making me strong.

Thank you for leaving and for showing me how to be independent. From you, I have learned that I do not need anyone else to prove to me that I am worthy of being loved. From you, I have learned that life is always hard, but you shouldn't give into the things that make you feel good for a short while, but should search for the real happiness in life.

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Cover Image Credit: http://crashingintolove.tumblr.com/post/62246881826/pieffysessanta-tumblr-com

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Sports And Religion

Why are so many athletes religious?

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I recently just made it on to the USC Track and Field team, and it is easily the biggest accomplishment I have ever made in my entire life. I worked so hard to physically and mentally prepare to try out for the team, let alone actually make it. I thank God for allowing me to have the chance to be a part of this team, as well as giving me that physical and mental strength required to do so, and I express this whenever someone congratulates me for making the team or even asks if I made it or not. However, I noticed that when I did this, some of the responses were a bit dismissive when I brought religion into the picture. When I said I thank God for it, I would be met with responses like "Yea well even aside from God..." or another response that drew the conversation away from my faith, away from the concept of a god.

In fact, I've noticed that many athletes are religious in some form-- more so collectively than other student bodies aside from religious groups themselves. I thought about why this may be, aside from the obvious answer such as growing up religious at home, because that does not answer the question; many people grew up in a religious household and are not religious themselves. So, I began to think personally. Why do I thank God for my athletic performance? There's a certain level of uncertainty within every sport. All athletes train their hardest to minimize this level of uncertainty, in order to maximize their chances of success. However, you can only train so hard. To me, no matter how hard you train, there's always some type of level of uncertainty to every level of performance: the chances of you getting injured, the chances of you winning your game or race, the chances of the opponent's performance, etc. This is where I think God intervenes, and perhaps other athletes would agree. There have been countless times where I ran well and had absolutely no idea how I did it. Yes, I worked hard to improve my times, but when you are in the moment of a race, or a game, that fades into the background, especially when everyone else has been working just as hard. It's just you, your race (or game), and God. That's it.

I could have not made the team. As a walk-on, there is more pressure for you to perform since the coaches did not seek you out; you sought them out. You are proving your abilities. Thus, I was nervous about my chances of actually making the team, especially considering the fact that the USC track team is arguably the best collegiate track team in the United States. I performed well during my try out and finished all the workouts, however I wasn't as fast as the other girls. In addition, I was 3 minutes late to my last day of tryouts and got chewed out by the coach for it. I was convinced that I blew my chances. And yet, somehow, I made it. I worked so hard for it, yes, but I thank God for keeping my body healthy so I could train to the best of my ability. I thank Him for allowing the coaches to have the time to try me out. I thank Him for allowing them to see my potential. I thank Him for giving me the best high school track coach possible who prepared me mentally and physically, as well as supported me throughout all the highs and all the lows. I thank Him for giving me this chance to continue my track career at the most prestigious collegiate team. My gratitude for all this, is simply infinite.

There is good reason why many athletes are religious; being an athlete requires you to be more than yourself. It requires you to dig deeper, into places that you didn't even think were possible, and really aren't without the belief of a higher power. The belief in a higher power, in whatever form or name that takes, means the belief in infinite possibility. And for an athlete to have that, means nothing can stop them from chasing their dreams.

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