Bouncing Back (by Gillian Sanders)
As a professional sportswoman and avid sports fan myself, I’ve been watching a lot of the Winter Olympics the past few days. The sports are all totally foreign to me having grown up in a hot weather country, however, they are nonetheless extremely exciting and inspiring. I came across a quote yesterday from US Olympic Marathon runner Des Linden where she tweeted “If you want to learn a thing or two about handling failure, turn on the #Olympics. You’d be hard pressed to find people who’ve failed more, but the greats keep showing up. It takes 10 years, and countless setbacks, to become an overnight success.” This resonated with me and my own personal experiences and I was inspired to use this subject as my blog post.
I am a double Olympian. I am a 6 x African Champion, Commonwealth Games medallist and World Cup medallist. Yet I am a failure too. I am not invincible and I fail often. I failed just last week in a World Cup race that was my season opener, in my own country where I was hoping to start with a bang and a great result. I, however, finished 18th out of 27 finishers having been seeded 4th going into the race. I made a rookie error and couldn’t get my wetsuit off after the swim leg of the triathlon. I’d practised with this new wetsuit 7 or 8 times before the race successfully but when the race came around, the wetsuit got stuck on the timing chip on my ankle and I battled to get it off losing valuable time. I could’ve given up there and then but I didn’t. My objective for the race was to go out and get a hard race in my legs no matter the circumstances. I soldiered on and did just that. I was of course disappointed after the race. I’ve encountered this feeling often before. Things don’t always go according to plan in a race. However, I was happy with the way I’d felt in the remainder of the race. I chose to focus on the positives. I felt really solid and strong on the bike and run and can now go into my next race with a positive mindset knowing that I’m in good shape.
You have to be extremely resilient as a professional athlete. I know from personal experience that failure and adversity do happen. It’s how you deal with that failure and adversity that makes a big difference. Failing is hard. It can invoke feelings of anger, hopelessness, sadness and disappointment as well as being a blow to the ego. It’s not a nice place to be. However, we get up, dust ourselves off and keep on fighting. That’s what makes champions and what makes it so worthwhile at the end of the day.
This is not only true for pro athletes. This is true for everything in life. If you work hard and put in the required effort, you are bound to succeed at the end of the day. Yes, you might fail some exams along the way, not get that job you really wanted, get injured leading up to your first triathlon or whatever it may be. It’s how you deal with those setbacks and what you learn along the way that will ultimately get you to where you want to be. If it were easy, would it really be worth it in the end? Instant gratification is no fun, the journey and the failures along the way make the ultimate reward in the end so much sweeter. As the saying goes, “It’s not about the destination, but about the journey getting there.”
So, please be rest assured that us pro athletes are not perfect. We are normal people and we fail all the time. Failure is normal. There are some tools I use for dealing with failure and bouncing back. I like to set ‘non outcome’ based goals and rather ‘process’ goals. For example, in my race above, yes I wanted to finish in the top 3. However, instead of focussing all my energy on that, I focussed on getting a hard race out of myself which would then also help my preparation for my bigger races in Abu Dhabi and the Commonwealth Games later this year. Keeping perspective is also extremely helpful for me. I have amazing family and friends who love me unconditionally no matter the outcome of a race. The world is not going to end because I have a bad race, I have so many other positive things in my life to be thankful for.
So, in conclusion, whatever it is that you are aiming toward and whatever your goals are, aim high and shoot for the stars and certainly do not be afraid to fail.