A funny thing can happen when you spend a majority of your life focused on one major goal; you can lose yourself. At the end of it all, success or not, you do not know who you are, what your purpose is or where to go without that one major goal. It is confusing, crushing and freeing all at once. My goal had been to make a US Olympic Rowing Team.
While I don’t want this series of posts to purely be about my past endeavors, I do think providing the back story is appropriate. When I was 15 years old my friends and I decided we wanted to start a rowing team. I was a chubby (weighing in at about 235lbs) and unathletic kid that had tried every sport possible, desperate to find something I would spark with. I found that spark in a boat.
Fast forward about ten years and I had lost around 60lbs, had won some races, had made a Junior National Team, spent four years rowing for a less than supportive college coach, completed an undergraduate degree and was working full time while training 4-6 hours a day. I had been denied jobs because of my training, moved across the US multiple times to train with different coaches, rowed through multiple injuries (to prove to myself just how badly I wanted it) and made every single choice, no matter how small, throughout each day as if that would be the one thing between myself and making the Olympic team. There was no time, or energy, for personal development or to begin a career. For those ten years, my sole life’s purpose had been to crawl, drag and inch myself closer to my goal.
What stopped me in my tracked, and derailed it all, was one lunch time trip to my Austin apartment to take my dog out and grab a 10 min nap. On my way back to work I was side swiped and ended up going full force into a concrete barrier. My airbags did not deploy, my car should have been totaled and I did not have health insurance. I was rushed to the hospital repeating to every official looking person, “I am not hurt. I can’t be hurt. I have trials in a month”. I was pumped full of anti-anxiety meds, anti inflammatories, painkillers and muscle relaxers and when x-rays did not show anything I was kicked out into the world with no follow up.
With no one telling me to stop I kept going. I was back in my boat within a week and raced at the event the next month. I had done something right, placed well and was offered a spot training with an elite team in Washington D.C.. Life in the Capitol was the same as usual, except it wasn’t. I couldn’t get a job, there was more pressure to preform, I was constantly told to lose weight and every time I rowed my arms and legs went numb and the pain made me see white. So the cycle began of training for 3 months and then taking a month off. I was continuing to get faster but I was inconsistent and couldn’t be depended on for team boats (my only hope of making a team).
One of the last times I was in a boat was trials for the women’s double. Leading up to the race I could tell my back/body were hating me but I had a great partner and the best chance I had had yet. I figured I would deal with it later and focused on the opportunity rather than the pain. The final was the race of my life, it was also my last. After the race I could not feel my legs and realized that something was truly wrong. I booked an MRI that week. Eight months later, two months into trying to come back to my passion, I re-injured my back lifting and found myself having a conversation with my trainer that no athlete wants to have.
I needed to re-prioritize my life. I was officially a civilian.