36 Years in the Making

Last winter I spoke to a grade 8 class about qualifying for the Age Group Team and about my inspiration to race triathlon. During the question period one boy asked me a really good question that I reflect on from time to time and I think I finally have a complete answer for him. He asked: “If I knew how successful I could be in triathlon when I was younger do I believe I could have gone all the way and competed for Canada at the Olympics?”

Trust me, I have no grand ideas that I am that talented but his question underlines a bigger more important question that we ask ourselves all the time – what if? We all do it. What if I had continued playing the piano? I showed potential, I just needed to work a little harder. What if I had stayed in school to pursue more education instead of going into the workforce? What if I made one choice over another, would I be in the same place? It is a very powerful question and it can excite you with the possibilities or it can gnaw away at your self-doubt.

So do I think if I had turned to athletics and triathlon earlier in life would I have been an Elite Athlete or even an Olympian? What an amazing idea, right? The short answer is – No. The long answer is – Athleticism, actually any achievement on that scale is about more than talent. People who can see, recognize, acknowledge their dream at a young age and give everything up for that dream are truly a rare breed of human being. You have to have such drive and determination, to not want “normal” teenage things. You have to want to sacrifice everything for your dream, not knowing if you will achieve it. I know I never possessed that type of drive in my youth and no amount foreknowledge would change that.

The other thing that makes our national and elite athletes stand out from the pack is their willingness to suffer for their dream. And I mean suffer. This past year I have experienced a small snapshot of the injuries and illnesses athletes suffer in their training to win and what they have to train through to win. It’s not pretty, it’s not easy and it is most definitely painful. Look at Clara Hughes who cycled with a broken back last year during the Olympics. No one knew, she had a broken vertebra as she cycled into 5th place. 5th place!! Out of the world!! With a broken back!! That is true mental toughness. And I didn’t have it when I was 15, 25 or even 30.

Instead my life has been 36 years in the making. I am where I am today because of all the good, so-so and bad choices I have made in my life. Each and every decision has put me here and I couldn’t be happier. I love my life right now at this moment. My success would have meant nothing if I hadn’t had my husband and children to share it with. I also own my success. I did not push myself and test my boundaries to please anyone but myself. No one has made me do this. No one forces me to train and no one puts pressure on me other than myself.

It took having my children and being faced with scary uncertainties to discover my mental toughness. I learned self-sacrifice through my children. Self sacrifice is a hard, humbling experience but it also builds crucial character and internal strength. Strength that I can now tap into when I want to give up. I also learned emotional and physical pain during the past 4 years. Being able to overcome pain and control pain has let me push myself to new limits.

My life has brought me to this place in time with the skills I need to succeed. It has brought people into my life who believe in me, encourage me and pick me up when I want to give up. I have a strength and vitality my 16-year-old self never new was possible or dreamed off. My father once told me he never regretted turning older or entering a new phase of life because everything in his life has made him the man he is today. I didn’t understand then but I do now.

The Olympics were never a possibility for me and I’m ok with that. I am a work in progress. Who knows what I’ll be capable of in 10 years from now.