As our elite team manager and sensitive soul (anyone who knows me can attest), I’ve been really feeling for our Haute Volée athletes over the past 4 weeks as the landscape changed every day, sometimes multiple times per day. So destabilizing. We reached out to hear from our Track and Field athletes directly with these questions:
How are you coping with the postponement of the Olympics by a full year?
Does this change your life plans?
How have you adjusted in the short term and how are you feeling about athletics right now?
Share one of your self-soothing strategies.
Our Haute Volée are such a solid crew, and they are showing themselves to be adaptable and resilient!
Jenna Fesemyer (push rim):
The postponement of the Paralympics led me to so many different emotions. My first response was just the practical question of, “what will my life look like in a year from now as I am in the middle of graduate school but also training at my highest potential to prepare for the Games? Can I do it?” But then as the storm of uncertainty started to settle, I reminded myself that more time can be GOOD in the sense that we are given this time to help us refine different aspects of our training and biomechanics. This time of extra training and miles will prepare us for what I believe will be the best Games yet! To further prepare, I have added new exercises/hobbies that I usually don’t do that will help me to enjoy training and to test my body in different ways (yoga, running with my running blade, rowing, etc). It’s also healthy to work on mental toughness in this time through mindfulness and visualization techniques.
Rebecca Mehra (800m/1500m):
It's been a very odd last few weeks, but I know one thing for certain- we all must do our part to help stop the spread of this virus. The only decision that made sense was to postpone the Olympics.
My team and I have put a lot into training for this year, and to have track season and the Olympic Trials ripped out from under us has been difficult and disappointing. But we are all doing our best to keep our heads up (wings out!) and keep training for a future season to come. I am lucky that in many ways this doesn't change my life plan for the next year, as I planned to continue racing and training post- 2020. We’ve changed our training routine a bit over the last week. Rather than making the shift to event-specific workouts on the track, we have kept our mileage up and workouts long and strong- lots of tempo work and dirt loops. Essentially we are getting back to the basics. The whirlwind of the last few weeks has definitely left me feeling off, and lacking motivation. Doing my best to still put in the work, and get excited for some potential racing this fall. I have been having virtual dance parties with my family. It's a fun way to release some of the nervous energy, and a guaranteed way to make you smile!
Maddie Strandemo (steeple):
For the last two years, I’ve had my sights set on competing at the Olympic Trials. It’s been the big, exciting goal that motivated me through doubts, months of injury, and tough training blocks. I’ve had a one-track mind to get in the best shape of my life by June 2020. At the same time, I also told myself - and my fiancé - that in August 2020, I would reevaluate if I want to continue pursuing running at this level. It was the logical reevaluation point because it was post-Trials, contract renewal time, and I’m getting married in September (coronavirus willing). By then, my fiancé and I will have been in a long-distance relationship for two years. So on a personal level, the postponement has brought up some tough conversations prematurely.
To be clear: I think it is absolutely the right decision to postpone the Trials and the Games. But at first, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed about the postponement. I’ve thought about the Olympic Trials every day for the past two years, and when something you've looked forward to for so long is finally approaching, but then suddenly snatched away, well, it stings a little bit. My motivation and focus faded away for a few days. But now, after some settling, part of me is stoked that I have been “gifted” more time to prepare. I think I can be even more competitive in June 2021, and I'm getting re-excited. . . in a 14-months out kind of way.
If my Mom or Grandma is reading this, they will never believe it, but my self-soothing strategy right now is sewing! Our team all got Oiselle Wazzoh Long Parka jackets and my coach, Lauren, gave us materials to sew “Littlewing Athletics” letters on the back. I'm surprised how much I've enjoyed it, and it's been the perfect pandemic escape and soothing strategy. #PandemicMaddie sews, I guess.
Megan Clark (pole vault):
In light of the global crisis, the postponement of the Olympic Games has honestly been a relief. If conditions continued to be restricted, adequately preparing for an Olympic year would have been nearly impossible for so many athletes. As a vaulter with very limited access to facilities, day-to-day training has changed completely. With all of the local tracks closed, I’ve moved back to fall conditioning workouts, while trying to maintain the speed that I’ve built in the last few months. It’s tricky to train for a season that has been postponed indefinitely, but it’s much more manageable without the added stress of this being an Olympic year. So, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that the Olympics weren’t cancelled, and I’m grateful for another year to prepare. It seems so trivial to worry about there being a track season or access to facilities while the world is so full of suffering, but that doesn’t make the stress less real. To combat some of this stress, I’ve taken up yoga. While I’ve dabbled with yoga in the past (particularly in the off-season), it’s become my strategy to find solace day-to-day.
Karelle Edwards (100mH):
First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge that Canada, and ultimately the IOC, made the RIGHT decision to postpone the Olympic Games. Safety is the most important thing right now, not just for athletes but for everyone around the world. Nonetheless, the last couple of weeks have been overwhelming and confusing. I’ve been reluctant to share my feelings because all the athletes around me seem to be “locked and loaded” for Tokyo 2021. Although the dream is still very much alive, I’m trying to give myself permission to grieve “what I thought would be” before I regroup and focus on what’s to come.
Every decision I’ve made in the last four years has been with Tokyo 2020 in mind. Decisions like moving to another country away from my support system, putting my Master’s degree on hold, living in a different state than my fiancé and picking myself back up time and time again after injury. This season has been far from what one would consider the ideal preparation for the Olympics. Because of sciatica pain, my fall and winter training were intermittent. As a result, a lot of people expected me to be relieved at the news that the Olympics were being postponed. Although the postponement of the Olympics may end up working in my favor, I am still just trying to process everything. For the past ten months, I’ve been focused on one thing and one thing alone: to be in Tokyo in July 2020. Everything I’ve done over the past year has been with a view of turning a lifelong dream into reality. I was ALL IN! I fought like I’ve never fought before. Just two days before Canada pulled out of the Olympics, I ran a personal best. I was moved to tears as I was thinking: “I’M BACK! I’VE GOT THIS!" But, in the snap of a finger, everything was taken away.
Everyone wants to know what my plans are. For now, I’m taking it one day at a time. I have good days and bad days and I'm getting comfortable with the idea that this is ok. I'm working on being kind to myself. I’m also allowing myself, for the first time in my life, to not rush to the finish line. I don’t have all the answers at the moment, but I know that everything will work out one way or another. I've re-enrolled in school. I will be completing my Master's in Counseling Psychology. As for training, I was initially resistant to having to change the way I train. The news that the Olympic Qualification period has been postponed has definitely lifted a weight off my shoulders. I feel that I can finally switch the focus from performance to regaining 100% of my health.
Mel Lawrence (steeple):
As frustrating as it is to have the Olympics postponed, I 100% agree with the decision. I think that it would be socially irresponsible to keep it on the calendar. My teammates and I went to altitude camp right before shit hit the fan. Once the Olympic announcement came out, I did have a bad day. I woke up thinking, "What am I doing? What the fuck am I doing here?" It really was a day where I just questioned a lot. BUT, it only lasted one day, I allowed myself to feel what I felt, process it and move on. The next day I woke up feeling better, with a new (and rough) plan in place. I didn't try any self-soothing strategies; I just let myself feel annoyed and confused and disappointed and all the other emotions I was feeling.
Maria Michta-Coffey (race walk):
As a full-time Physician Assistant Student-Athlete-Mom my life has been one busy, tiring, sleepless blur. Time to train was scarce, and time to sleep and recover even scarcer. Initially, as race after race was getting canceled the stress began to mount as I still had yet to achieve a high enough World Ranking to qualify for the Games. It seemed my shot at Tokyo 2020 was beyond a long shot. The saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and Tokyo 2021 is just the opportunity I needed. I just gained 365 additional days to get out there doing what I love in an attempt to make another Olympic Team. The fire never stopped burning and postponement has only stoked my passion.
I am happily focused on the positives of the luxury of time that this situation has afforded me. Time to sleep, time to train, time to cook, time to breastfeed rather than pump, time to spend with my husband and daughter. Time is not something I’ve had much of for the better part of two years so now I am incredibly thankful to have some.
To everyone else whose life has been turned upside down and not for the best, hang in there. Try to focus on whom you have around you, even if it’s only over the phone, via a Zoom call, or peering through their house window. I’ve been using all three forms almost daily to stay connected with loved ones. And most importantly, to all those working on the front lines THANK YOU on behalf of myself, my family, and most importantly all of mankind!
Angel Piccirillo (1500m/ 5k):
I have really been struggling with our current circumstances. The Olympic postponement was the absolute right decision to make. But not only was this an Olympic year but this is the year that I am marrying my partner, Patrick Tiernan, fellow professional track athlete and 2016 Olympian. We had very intentionally planned our wedding around the track season, particularly the Olympics (more than a handful of our invitees and bridal party are either also professional track athletes or connected to the track season in some way). Patrick is Australian, and half of our wedding invitees are meant to travel internationally for this event so the uncertainty of the future has made wedding planning that much more stressful. For the time being, we are both practicing social distancing by training alone or with each other and have had to forgo trips to visit my parents (my mom picked up my wedding dress and I can’t get home to see it ☹). So while we feel good about the decisions we have made and have been made for us by governing bodies, there is still a great deal of uncertainty for us and some pretty big plans in jeopardy.
I can say that I am starting to feel better. All of this has been a hard pill to swallow but as always I have been able to lean on my family, friends, fiancé and sponsor for support to continue pushing through and believing in myself to have the strength to do so (I can’t say this is how I imagined my first year with Oiselle would go)! Something that has really helped me during this time has been writing. I have been trying to write at least a few words each morning about how I’m feeling and why I think I may feel that way. It has really helped me track why I feel a certain way and what I may be doing to contribute to those feelings without knowing it. My fiancé and I have also been Facetiming with lots of our friends and trying to remain connected as much as we can. I also coach at a local high school, so I’ve missed my fellow coaches and the athletes to get out of my own head on hard days! So I’ve had to find different outlets to do that and “journaling” has seemed to be the best way for me to stay focused and calm.
If you have never considered teletherapy I would highly recommend it, especially now. I can only communicate with my sports psychologist via Zoom video chat and I can’t put into words how much he has helped me through good times and bad. I am leaning on him now more than usual because of what’s going on and I wouldn’t have been able to find as much comfort as I have during this uncertainty without him. Between journaling in the morning and sometimes at night as well (just as notes on my phone), I think teletherapy has been the biggest help in keeping my mind in a good space.
What I tell myself is take it all one day at a time and remind yourself you’re always doing the best you can; that’s all you can do (and it’s always enough!). And…we adopted a beautiful shelter pup, so if all else fails, that helps too.
Riley Cooks (heptathlon):
Even though I had been expecting a postponement for a few weeks now it’s definitely hard to wrap my head around this reality. The thought of training for a full year without certainty of competition is both scary and exciting. Scary because the training for a hep is beyond exhausting, and not having any upcoming meets can make it very hard to stay motivated through hours-long training sessions with nothing to truly test my progress. On the other hand, the extra year means so much more time to really dive into my events at a level deeper than what might have been possible with trying to prepare to compete. With so many events comes so many places to get better, but it can also mean having to only focus on certain things when trying to stay competition ready. So with this in mind, I definitely think the postponement is only going to help my chances of scoring the Olympic standard and making the games. But that definitely doesn’t mean it will be easier. The biggest challenge right now is figuring out where to go with my training so that I can stay fit, get better, and not burn out before I am finally able to compete. I think my main strategy right now is just taking it day by day and focusing on the small things instead of the big picture. I know the Olympics will get here eventually, and by being the best I can be in each individual day I know I’ll be ready to go when they are.
Sadi Henderson (800m):
Compared to most people affected by the postponement of the Olympics I think I am a beneficiary because as a new pro I could use the extra year to adapt and grow into the new training lifestyle. Since the postponement, I have felt less pressure in my training and day to day which I think will be a positive as I move through this transition. It just gives my life plans more time to manifest.
My team and I have had to be more creative and flexible- using what we have to do gym routines and working with each other when we have aches and pains. I think that it's fun to practice thinking on our toes and making what we have at home work to our advantage. Running is serving as my protective bubble through these times. It is how I am enforcing routine and consistency through uncertainty, and I am continuing to build strength.
I soothe by writing. It's a way for me to check in with myself regularly and make sure I am ok and doing what needs to be done to be ok.
Bethany Drake (javelin):
I’m allowing myself some time to slow down, adjust, and reevaluate. It’s okay to not be okay. Having the season snatched away (along with the preparation for it) is a tough thing to grapple with. I made a lot of changes in preparation for this season, cutting back on my career, holding off on other changes, and now it’s a question of what to maintain and what to move on. I love track and field, and have been dedicated to these pursuits for quite some time, the question is, how long do I go? I’ve said that I would be done when I felt that I had nothing left to give. That I had stewarded the gift to the fullest. What does that look like?
In the short term, I’ve taken the state mandated actions as a time to rest physically as options are limited and adjust mentally to all the other changing components of life. I've been maintaining general fitness, but no longer feeling the pressure of a season a week or two away. This does not negate the preparation or the progress that’s been made. The question is whether you need the performance along with it to feel satisfied. I’m inspired by my fellow athletes continuing to find innovative ways to train; but man I miss the community and the competition and the celebration of the efforts that have been made.
Kendra Chambers (800m):
I think I’ve finally accepted the Olympics being postponed. The most important thing right now is to make sure no one else gets the virus and we help stop the spread and the number of deaths. This is bigger than track and field right now and we must respect that. This does change my training plans and possibly my living situation but when you decide to pursue a career like sports, you take many risks including an unstable lifestyle, the risk of injury, and other aspects that are simply out of our control. In a way, this time of uncertainty makes sports what it is.
It took me a week to gather my bearings but my coach and I have made some training plans two to three weeks at a time. So this allows for changes based on what’s happening day to day. I feel optimistic now. At first I was frustrated and scared for athletics and all of our work we put in thus far. But when you take yourself or selfish thoughts out of it, the bigger picture appears. I think athletics will help bring our world together again whenever that time is. I love talking with my mom or my coach, both who know exactly how to get my mind back on track. I also do yoga and meditation to try and relax during these stressful times! Praying for everyone’s health and safety!
Val Allman (discus):
Woof!! Where to begin!? I’d be lying if I said my heart hasn’t felt a bit broken in accepting that the Olympic dream is postponed until 2021. Ever since missing the team by a few spots in 2016, I made big changes to orchestrate my life around training, recovering, and preparing at the highest level to increase my chances of earning a spot on the prestigious USA Olympic team. For so long, I felt like I had been a workhorse with my head down checking the boxes of trying to “optimize the day”, that when news hit it almost didn’t feel real.
It has been super scary to be ALL IN on something. It’s been challenging to deal with the emotions when what I was working towards is getting swept out from under my feet. For me, as a 25 year old on that #selfisolation grind it’s been difficult to figure out how to deal with such deep sadness. I filled the several days after the news hit with compromised training, lots of tears, soul searching with my Coach, FT’s with family and friends, and like 1million Cadbury eggs. Of course, everyone processes emotions differently, but for me I realized how much I cared about what I was working towards.
Accepting that the Olympic Trials and Olympics were off the table was tricky, but it has been a whole ‘nother ball game recognizing the ENTIRE track season lies in a bed of uncertainty. Sponsorships, prize money, and performance objectives all are up in the air. For the first time in my life, I’m training without any idea of when or what my next competition will be. It’s really bizarre and kind of uncomfortable to have no timeline of when you are going to see the results of your work.
Weirdly, as the sting wears off, I am starting to see some positives during this abnormal time as my brain has been doing lil' bit of rewiring. I’m realizing that one of the best parts of working towards a goal is the actual work. It is refreshing to admit I’ve been enjoying training more the last few weeks. When the Olympics were still on the docket for 2020, I found myself obsessing over the littlest details. I was overanalyzing everything and getting an A+ for being a self critic. Now, it is way easier to find the joy in the process. I’ve noticed myself celebrating the little wins like being outside, sweating, a good night’s sleep, a healthy body, being able to make a technical change, fulfilling relationships, and the ongoing and ever empowering Oiselle sisterhood. I am excited to carry more of this mindset forward with me.
All athletes have been dealt a tough hand of accepting changed/cancelled seasons, but around the globe, people are having to accept things they never imagined in dealing with an unprecedented, unfortunate, and unpredictable pandemic. Who knows what the next six months looks like for our world, let alone our sport, but I’m hopeful that all the work done in the dark will have a way of coming into light.