A Changed World
On March 9, AWC held our inaugural event, Endurance Athlete Health & Wellness Workshop.
The following week, all hell seemed to break loose as COVID-19 case counts sharply escalated in more states than just Washington. New Rochelle, NY was declared a hotspot. California’s case counts were escalating quickly. Here at home in Montana, the first four cases were announced on March 13. That was just 17 days ago. As of this writing, we now have 62 confirmed cases.
So what does all this have to do with athletics, athletes and wellness?
Obviously, A LOT.
For committed athletes of just about any type, it may feel like life has come to a screeching halt. There are no events to train for in the foreseeable future. High school athletes’ seasons have been suspended for now. Community races and competitions of various sorts have been cancelled for the up-coming couple of months. Gyms are closed, classes are cancelled…nobody really knows when life will get back to normal—or, at least, a new version of normal.
How We Define Ourselves
So where does that leave athletes?
For many, this situation has evoked a heightened sense of anxiety. And not only because of the fear we all have about this mysterious illness that affects different people in different ways, passing between folks undetected and ravaging the health of the most vulnerable amongst us. But it has also evoked angst as we consider who we are if we can’t fully live out the athletic activities we devote so much of our lives to.
This topic came up at our workshop: is there any risk involved with deeply devoting ourselves to athletics to the point that it consumes our every waking thought, defines our social circle, and dictates every moment of our daily schedule. Can we be too much of an athlete for our own good?
The answer is yes. But before you click off this post, let me explain:
Devotion to sport has SO MANY benefits. Physical activity not only makes for a healthy body, but a healthy mind and spirit (when pursued in balanced measure). That ‘high on life’ feeling you get at the end of a great race, workout, game or event is a result of your brain being flooded with mood-boosting hormones.
Regular physical activity mitigates all sorts of maladies: it helps you maintain healthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels, enhances your ability to sleep deeply and restfully at night, and boosts your immune system (we can ALL benefit from that right now).
But a deep devotion to training can also have some unintended consequences, one of which is narrowing your perception of who you are. And when you only see yourself as an athlete, operating on a very fixed training cycle, your mental well-being can become compromised when that cycle is interrupted.
What to do When You Can’t Be “You”
Athletes who have suffered serious injuries that take months to recover from know what I’m talking about. Knowing your training partners or teammates are all gathering for a hard-but-satisfying workout when you’re stuck at home resting and recovering, is painfully isolating. Seeing the date of an event you had previously been training for come and go without your participation, is gut-wrenching. If everything about your life has been tied to your sport—your friends are your teammates, your daily schedule is built around your workouts, your monthly schedule is built around competition dates on your calendar—you can find yourself feeling empty and floating in an unpredictable wind, when you suddenly can’t live out that tightly crafted persona.
So what is an athlete to do during these uncertain times?
Well, you can start by choosing to reacquaint yourself with…yourself. Take a serious look at who you are as an individual. Do you have hobbies outside of training? Do you have friends/friend groups outside of training? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’ maybe it’s time to reinvest in the whole you.
Try a new hobby or return to an old one you may have cast aside in exchange for laser-focusing your efforts on training. Read that book you’ve always intended to read. Create a new book club via Google Hangouts or Zoom. Arrange a virtual dinner party with old friends you wouldn’t mind reconnecting with. (again—Google Hangouts, Zoom, Facetime, Skype…all great ways to “see” people when you can’t see people).
I’m not going to say this time in our collective history is a good time to rediscover yourself. I don’t want to, in any way, diminish the seriousness of what is happening in our world and nation right now. But it is an opportune time to reflect on who you are, and how you can expand your sense of self to more than just an athlete. Because whether it’s an injury, a temporary illness or a global pandemic, every athlete out there will experience more than one time in their career when they can’t train and participate as they would like to. And by taking the time now to consider the wholeness of you, you will be better off when the next pause in your training cycle happens.
So, I invite you to ask yourself these questions:
- Whom am I?
- How do I define myself?
- Am I more than an athlete?
- Have I limited myself to only being an athlete?
- Can I be a high-level athlete and be a well-rounded person?
The answer to that last question is a resounding “YES!”
In this time of uncertainty with news and information that changes not just daily, but hourly, I encourage you to take the time to figure out how you can be both—a high-level athlete and a well-rounded person.
Stay well, stay safe, say healthy.