6 min read
So it is done. I have made my decision. For better or worse. It is done. I am not going to continue with my Olympic bid.
I woke on Sunday October 4, 2020 with a heaviness in my chest. I thought that I was coming down with a cold, and decided to stay home (you never can be too careful in these COVID times). By the end of the day I had made my decision. Not through logical rationalisations and a weighing up of pros and cons, but through letting my heart talk to me – and actually listening. I was heartsick.
Friends and Family
I had had an amazing day the day before – spending long, quality hours with my sister and then my best friend and her daughter. I think it reminded me of the sacrifices that I have made the last three years in order to pursue my Olympic dream, and where maybe I want to be spending more of my time and energy again.
Sacrificing or Prioritizing?
It’s funny to think back to the beginning – when people would ask me ‘what sacrifices are you making for this journey?’, and I would reply that I didn’t think I was sacrificing anything; that it was a matter of priorities – pursuing what I wanted more than anything else meant aligning my priorities in a meaningful way. You’re not sacrificing if what you’re actually pursuing means more to you than other things.
And I truly did feel that way. When I started feeling like I was sacrificing something, that was a prompt to re-evaluate my priorities – is the Olympic bid still the most important thing to me, and worth de-prioritizing these other areas of my life for?
These questions actually started coming up for me around September 2019. Up until that point there had never been any question that the path I was on was worth more than almost any other thing in my life (within reason and balance of course). By that time I had competed in multiple lead and speed world cups, more bouldering world cups that I ever thought that I would do, and two World Championships. I had worked parttime and juggled an Executive position with climbing training, my relationships, and my wellbeing.
I had a moment, before my last (speed) climb – at the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo, where I felt deeply and at my core that this was the last time I would be climbing on this stage. It was an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I had been privileged enough to have the experiences and second chances that I had had, that I had had the opportunity to climb alongside some of the greats of competition climbing in my time, and that I had been deemed worthy enough to climb among them. I shed private tears and let the emotion be with me (and then of course my last climb was terrible! 😛 But that was OK).
My process goals for this Olympic adventure were to see how far I could go, and to share my growth along the way – and I felt that World Champs 2019 was the furthest I could go (and I feel I’ve also shared my growth along the way).
A month later, in September 2019, there was a ‘bloodletting’ at work, that made me question a lot of things about myself, my choices, and my identity. It challenged me in a way that there is no room for in an Olympic bid. Humans experience all types of stress in the same way – no matter if the source is physical or emotional. When highly stressing the body through intense training, there is little to no capacity for emotional stress to be added on to that.
In addition to work stresses, I was ‘starting over’ with a new coach, and managing feelings of distress over not being able to support my mum (with whom I am very close), as she was working through the grief surrounding several significant losses in her life. My capacity to train diminished, both due to emotional stress and the accumulation of two years of intense (over?)training. I was so tired.
But I am not a quitter, and I fought on, determined to see my commitment through to the end. I competed in the 2019 Australian Climbing Championships, and was on track for a top three finish at the Olympic qualifier – the Oceania Continental Climbing Championships – in March of 2020. Since only the top finisher at the OCCC takes an Olympic berth, and I didn’t feel realistically that I could win, I simply saw that competition as tying the bow on my elite competitive career. It was to be my graceful bowing out; to be my ‘last dance’. And I wanted to go out with a bang, not a fizzle.
On the weekend of March 14 and 15 my new coach, Charlie, had flown up from Wyoming (USA) to be with me for my final competition simulation. On the morning of Sunday March 15, 2020, I received a message from my mum that the Australian borders were closed, and that it was likely the OCCC would not be going ahead. My flight had been scheduled to leave for Australia on Thursday March 19.
If you want to read about my mindset dealing with COVID initially, you can read this blog written back in July.
For the past few months, and intentionally for personal growth purposes, I sat in the uncertainty. We didn’t (and still don’t) know for sure if the postponed OCCC would go ahead in December, or be cancelled, or go ahead in 2021; if I could get a flight that would actually fly; if I could get the money to fund $3,000 in mandatory quarantine fees upon arrival in Australia.
I think it did me good initially – to grow strength and resilience in the unknown by not making a decision just so I would have certainty. Until I realised that the decision to withdraw was no longer about giving me certainty, but was about honouring what I really want, as an evolving being, at this moment in time. And that not making the decision, and waiting for it to be made for me, was actually the easy way out motivated by a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
At the beginning of September, on a Sport Climbing Australia call with the Vice Chair of the Australian Olympic Committee, Ian Chesterman, he mentioned that two Australians who had already qualified for the 2020 Olympics (now being held in 2021), had withdrawn. This seemed amazing to me – they had already done the hard work and qualified, and all they had to do was keep training for one more year! I sought out more information and found out that both these athletes had had plans to retire after the 2020 Games, and that continuing for an additional year was not the right choice for them. I think in a way this gave me permission to start thinking about what was the right choice for me, and that not continuing was actually an option.
The logistical challenges continued to feel increasingly insurmountable. Between training food unavailability due to supply chain issues, shorter and less frequent training sessions due to climbing gym booking slots, lack of partner availability for lead, less time due to working fulltime again, and facility availability (yep the Fall rains are here so everyone is back inside), even just the most basic training was wearing me down.
I was asking myself if the challenges of making the competition itself were worth it – for example, hoping for non-cancelled flights, and the physical and mental health considerations of quarantining (both before the competition and on return to Canada) – for just two days of competition where the likelihood of an Olympic spot is low. My perspectives started to shift…
In the COVID scenario I was not going to be able to see any of my family back in Australia during the OCCC trip, and I started thinking that I would rather go back just to see them, with all that entailed, rather than for the comp. The Olympics will no longer be the same experience, so even if I did happen to make it I would not have the opportunity to walk in the opening ceremony, or mix with athletes of other countries and sports.
I started asking myself “Where is the line between ‘overcoming challenges’ and pushing too hard for something that’s just not gonna happen?”
I think the answer to that lies in motivation. If you are highly focussed on a goal, and you are all in, you can push through anything, overcome anything, be resilient in the face of challenges others would baulk at, and get stronger through the process. If you don’t really want the goal (anymore), then all those challenges just wear you down. If I feel like I’ve achieved my process goals, and I don’t feel like I can achieve my outcome goal (or if I did, it wouldn’t be what I hoped for or expected, and I just wouldn’t feel good enough to be happy with my performance), then what is the point?
Charlie and I discussed how with COVID-19 coming into play, there isn’t even really a ribbon to tie a bow on my career with anymore. That the ribbon was burned to ashes by COVID-19, and the best I can really hope for at this stage is to use that ash to put a full stop (period) at the end of the sentence.
And in the end, my truth was revealed in my answer to the question “what do you want to happen?” For the comp to go ahead in December, or be postponed to 2021? My answer? I want the comp to be cancelled.
So I could stop.
So I didn’t have to make a decision.
And this is not the wish of a psyched individual. I love competition, and for me to wish a comp cancelled I have to be really done.
All of that aside, there have been some incredibly weighty issues coming to the fore in our world these past few months. Issues that are bigger than me, but that call to me to “be the change I want to see in the world” (-Gandhi). Inequality, inequity, injustice, and environmental threats to our species feel so much more important now, than this dream that has been my priority and focus for what feels like so long.
So I pay tribute to the ‘Aspiring Olympian’ that has been the dominating part of my identity for the past three years, and open myself up to whatever the next chapter holds. Now is my time to grieve. My deepest gratitude to all who have supported me, shared with me, come along on this journey with me. I love you all.
This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end of our elaborate plans
The end of ev’rything that stands
-Jim Morrison, The Doors