It’s been a hard winter.
There have been a lot of beautiful moments these past few months, and I have treasured every one of them. But for the most part, it has been a season of challenge. And struggle. And heartache.
It has been a season in which I have felt the weight of a whole lot of heaviness around me.
There are a number of things that have played a part in making this winter especially tough and I’ve contended with a variety of challenges on a personal level, but most significant among those things is the loss of one of my family members (my kind, vibrant, incredible “mother-in-love,” Annie), after a brave and somehow remarkably graceful fight against cancer.
Losing Annie has been devastating for our family.
The magnitude of her loss is incomprehensible — as was Annie’s impact on all who knew her. It leaves a void that will never truly be filled. So, I guess we will have to learn how to grow around it.
We are hurting, we are sad, and we are unsure how we will navigate this path forward without her in our lives. We have a long road ahead to healing, and we are just beginning the journey.
As we do that, and as I look back on all that we’ve been through in these past five months, as confusing and chaotic as a lot of it has been, there are a few things that I now understand better than ever.
As athletes, so much of our lives are built around the notion of “pushing through the pain.” We are taught and encouraged to push through our adversities; to not let them phase us; to “rise above” our circumstances. And we are praised for it. In sport, the more pain you can endure, and the less “weakness” you show, the better you are considered to be. Strength, grit and resilience are the desired (and expected) qualities, and they are exhibited in abundance among our elite athlete arena.
But we are also human.
[Of course we are always simultaneously both, but at the elite level, the priority line really does get a little blurry sometimes. In a lot of ways, elite athletics seems to rely on pushing some of our human qualities away.]
And as humans — in “real life” — the rules are different. It’s not all about strength and fortitude. The objectives aren’t nearly as concrete. The consequences of life are much greater than those of sport, and the adversities that much more significant. And in this much broader, and frankly much tougher arena of “humanness,” sometimes allowing yourself to be vulnerable is actually one of the most courageous things you can do.
And that is what I need to do for myself now.
I am here to say that I am human, I am — we are — hurting, and I am healing. I’m not a “superhuman,” as myself and fellow elite athletes are too often dubbed. And I am certainly not immune to the blows of life, as much as I may try to be to those dealt on the racecourse.
I am an ordinary, imperfect human trying every bit as hard as the next person to navigate this course of life and all its unexpected challenges, and one who right now isn’t totally okay — but I will be. AND THAT IS OKAY.
But right now, as with these last several months, the human in me needs to be at the forefront, and let the athlete take a backseat.
In this context, as I think about how to approach my race season and the things I want to prioritize, I know I must continue to honor that need, and just embrace being human for a while, and let the rest come as it may.
As a human, I’m giving myself essential time and space. I’m setting realistic expectations about where I’m at, what I need and what is best for me. I’m acknowledging the challenges we’ve faced and being gentle with myself in understanding that while I’m not nearly as prepared as I’d like to be heading into spring, I’ve done the best I can this winter, and that is simply all I can ask of myself.
While most other athletes have been loading up on training hours, nailing key workouts and consistently banging out daily double sessions through the winter, much of the time I have been thankful if I can get in 45 minutes. But, 45 minutes is better than zero, as I’ve continued to remind myself. And frankly, “training” has just felt at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of priorities these last few months, in the face of so many things that are ultimately far more important. Honestly, I’ve spent very little time feeling “stressed” about training (or the lack of it). Because if there’s one thing I know at this point in my career it’s that there are far better ways to spend my energy, and stressing over missed workouts or lost fitness is simply a waste.
I would love to feel super prepared right now, to know I was in great shape, and to be on the verge of kicking off my season. But I’m not. And that’s okay. Because I am learning to be okay with simply being where I’m at. I am where I am, and all I can do is move forward the best way that I know how.
There is plenty of time left, this year and well beyond, for training, racing and “following the plan” — when the time is right.
Since I can’t say when exactly that will be, I’m not yet sure when I’ll be starting my race season, but it will likely be late April or early May (much like last year). I’m also not totally sure what my schedule will look like. But I do know that I will be choosing the races I feel most excited about, and that I feel will most benefit me as a human.
Because this year, honoring myself as a human is the top priority.
I seek to keep those human qualities at the forefront, and not try to push them away for the sake of being “stronger,” or a “better athlete.” I seek to acknowledge and honor my feelings, my weaknesses, my needs and my vulnerabilities — and celebrate them, in all their importance.
I still want to be a great athlete, of course, for all the things that role brings to my life and the passion that I feel for it. But most of all, I want to be a great human.
And in that regard, I could not possibly ask for a better example than Annie.
She was hands-down one of the hardest working women I knew, approaching each day in her roles as a teacher, mother, friend and so much more with unmatched diligence, determination and passion. But she also understood better than anyone I know the importance of prioritizing the “big stuff” in life. She gave the most of herself to the things that mattered most, and she continued to do that even as she fought her toughest battle.
She was one unbelievably beautiful, extraordinary human. I am immeasurably fortunate and endlessly grateful to have had her in my life, and for her example.
So as I look at myself in the capacity of humanness and all that it encompasses, I know I can only hope to come close to following in her footsteps. But I’m determined to do my best. Because being human is certainly not easy, but as Annie exhibited so completely, it sure is limitlessly wonderful.