Updated: Mar 19
As I sit here watching the Winter Olympics, it ceases to amaze me what the human body is capable of doing. High flying skiers and snowboarders, skaters completing quad jumps and athletes racing sleds downhill head first topping freeway speeds are all part of the Olympic dream. What stands out most though, in many of the sports being contested, is that there is a high number of competitors pushing themselves to be at their best (or sometimes beyond their limits) for their one moment of glory. Despite their ages, they make it look easy. But as a former athlete myself, I can tell you it definitely is not. To compete at an elite level is more than just training. In this blog I hope to go behind the scenes a bit and dive deeper into what makes an Olympic hopeful a gold medalist. A great deal of these very talented individuals started their sport at young ages. As they grew, their bodies got taller and their weight increased making what used to be so simple more difficult. Training regimens had to adjust right along with what was happening physically. Those that push through also endure changes to their emotional and mental well-being, unexpected injuries, or other setbacks that dampen hopes and dreams. Add to this the fact that some who are competing have been doing so for multiple Olympics. We know that as Father Time catches up with everyone eventually, the human body starts wearing down adding another dimension to what has already been challenging enough. These are just a few elements of an athlete's journey toward a revered place on the podium; however, their stories don't end there... Think you have what it takes to become a champion? Of course you do. We all do. Hard work and the willingness to keep going when things gets tough. As sung by Kelly Clarkson, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." But to become the best in the entire world is much different. Yes it takes numerous hours of repetitive training, overcoming plenty of unforeseen (and sometimes inconvenient) obstacles, and unfortunate missed opportunities for that one moment of glory, but what else happens that the television audience doesn't see? Let's find out... We begin at a local fitness complex with a child learning the basics from a coach just starting a career. Maybe the natural born athletic prowess is developing into a love for the sport and the current instructor can no longer help. He/she recommends a center specifically designed for "gifted" warriors. The problem...it's a substantial distance away. What now? By staying, there is a chance of never fulfilling the dream. Going back and forth puts an immense strain on family life. Choosing to live closer to the training facility uproots other people's lives...so...as a teenager a decision is made that offers the best chance of success...separating the chosen one from the only family ever known to be with a new, unfamiliar coach. This is the most stressful transition an elite athlete has to make, but that is not all... Metabolism in kids and teenagers is insane. Most can eat pretty much whatever they want without much thought of where the calories go. Fast food, pizza, and soft drinks are diet staples. Now that the new surroundings have become far more comfortable, athletic trainers, nutritionists, and other professionals are constantly guiding and monitoring what is consumed so the entire kinetic chain performs optimally. Really? Green beans! Ewww...yuck! Garbage in, garbage out they say. Strict meal plans must be followed so as not to hinder training. You want to go to the Olympics, right? While this seems like quite the undertaking, it is yet another facet to becoming numero uno. Up to this point, the change has been good. Being away from loved ones has allowed new freedoms not found at home. Yet with this comes added responsibility that hadn't previously been thought about. Curfews are followed more closely because sleep deprivation can lead to catastrophic injuries causing time away from practices during rehab. On top of all this, there must be a balance between school homework and a rigid training schedule. And what if Algebra or Geometry is confusing? Who will be there to help? Furthermore, training schedules can vary from four (4) to eight (8) hours per day depending on the athlete's level. It is literally their full time job just without the perks of benefits, hefty salaries, IRAs, pension plans, and occasional raises. Pressure to become the best comes from everywhere. Sometimes working through injuries, although ill advised, occurs. Clashes with coaches happen frequently as well putting a lifelong dream on hold until a better one is found. Making a choice like this should not be taken lightly. A lot of consideration and thought is necessary before a high level of success can be reached. The dedication and love of sport must remain intact or burnout and/or early retirement is imminent. If you ask anyone who has ever had this golden opportunity if all the sacrifices made were worth it, they would certainly say...ABSOLUTELY! Elite athletes are a special breed. They have what it takes to be champions...mental toughness, patience, perseverance, stamina, and strength all in one package referred to as the human body. And for the next two weeks beauty, endurance, perseverance, strategy and strength will be on display for all the world to see. These special individuals will experience highs and lows. For some this IS their chance to shine, whereas others are wrapping up their athletic careers with one last hurrah. Whatever the case may be, there is a lot more to these competitors than meets the eye. Each one has a unique story but what they have in common is being shared with the world. Go team USA! If you could be an Olympian in any sport which one would you choose and why?