by Tal Carmel May 22, 2018
As you may (or may not) know, due to injury, I decided to take the 2017 competition year off. It was rough. There have been countless doctors’ visits, rehab sessions, and physio appointments. This time spent away from my sport has kinda forced me to become very introspective. I mean, I’ve always been a very spiritual individual… I like my quiet time. But being away from track often felt like permanent silence… Left alone to your own thoughts, a constant hum of randomness, flux between positivity and despair. Anyway, here’s my little tid-bit on the whole athlete and injuries dynamic.
For most serious athletes, their sport becomes a large part of their identity. It consumes numerous hours of their lives, not just physically whilst in the game, on the track or court, or whatever, but mentally when they’re laying up in bed trying to think up how they’ll tweak training to get a teeny tiny edge over their competitors.
It can be exhausting! I mean, for me at least, I’m constantly imagining that I jump against some woman doing one more sit up, running 100th of a second faster than me on a timed trial, squatting a few more pounds… I’m ALWAYS trying to think of my next move in order to gain the edge.
Sounds a bit obsessive but let me tell you this, this is the kind of stuff we live for, and guess what, if ya wanna be great, you have to be obsessive. It has to become your sole focus. You’ve gotta be some kind of crazy to do this stuff at the professional level… I mean look at some of the greatest athletes, they all carried themselves in ways far outside of the norm (Mike Tyson, Mohammed Ali etc). I don’t know many other jobs that require comparable levels of intensity…
You have to become COMPLETELY invested in what you do, or you get left behind. Before you know it, life is a bit difficult to understand without sport. Your own identity and value becomes so much harder to articulate outside the context of jumping high, running fast, throwing far, punching hard, hitting a ball across a court or throwing it down a field.
One of my friends asked me the other day, “Who is Jeannelle Scheper?” and honestly, all I could come up with is “I’m a high jumper”. I literally could not come up with a better response. Naturally the follow-up question was, “Who are you without your sport?”… I was completely blank. In that moment, I got a grip of just how much I found my identity in Track & Field. I think a lot of athletes can relate to this.
Every aspect of my life currently revolves around my sport, after all this is my career. I think as a professional athlete; we train so much and so hard at a ridiculous level that you develop this idea that you’re invincible.
We joke around about those hard workouts that we hate and how much we threw up that day blah blah blah, but really, inside we crave those workouts. We crave those moments where we get to push our bodies right to the very edge, just to see how far we can take it. It hurts, the lactic builds up, we torture our bodies… But we keep doing it. There’s some kind of weird satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have taught your body to overcome all of these painful feelings to achieve something it had never done before. And then we do that again, and again, and again, in the hunt for a new PR.
Now that’s just fine and dandy I guess, I know you’ve heard at least one of those YouTube videos of some guy spitting some super motivational lines about giving it all you have, giving your blood, sweat, and tears, persevering until you have nothing left yada yada. Taking it to an uncomfortable level of devotion is basically normal in the sporting arena… if you’re not giving your entire soul to your sport then you’re a slacker.
But where do we draw the line? Because this stuff doesn’t last forever and what happens to this glorified idea of being invincible when you get hurt? All of a sudden, your superhuman powers are put on hold. Who is Clark Kent without Superman? Uhm, no one… a boring guy with glasses. Honestly, as dramatic as that sounds, it rings true and is relatable. As athletes, we get so tied up in what we do, it becomes who we are.
It doesn’t help that success is addictive! You get a small taste and then you are eternally on the chase. In most other careers you can keep pushing and pushing and there’s always another level to reach, or feat to conquer. Your success depends solely on your effort and ability. This is mostly true with professional sports, HOWEVER once your body says no, all of that is out the window.
Anyway, during my introspection and self-searching, I discovered so much more about myself! Hence this post. It took some time but I have learned that in addition to being a great athlete, my value does not depend on how many medals I’ve won, or how high I can arch my back over a stick… Nor does it depend how many sponsors I can pull or how many meet directors want me at their meet.
It DOES however depend on the content of my soul. It depends on my impact and legacy on this great world… Do I want to leave behind records and awe inspiring performances? Most definitely! But I also want to be remembered for my character… To any athlete who has been injured or is injured reading this post. It’s not the end of the world… You are a whole lot more than an athlete, and I think it’s extremely important that you take some time to discover what those things might be.
Love you all and don’t forget to love yourself!
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