Last week I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to participate in my first race in three years. I have had quite a lull in my competition due to injury/health issues and as an athlete there was nothing more I wanted to do than to get back out on the field of competition. But it wasn’t easy. I decided to enter the Para-cycling National Championships a mere six weeks before the race and therefore, logged only that short time in training. I set my expectations for myself way too high. Although I ended up having personally decent races, considering my brief preparation, I was far from my competitors and from where I wanted to be. I tried to see the good, but let myself wallow in my disappointment.
When I got home and decided to make a new blog post I went through some of the lessons I had learned by going to this race and falling short of my expectations. And one of the things I resolved to do was to learn to see things differently. I could look at my performance as a dismal representation of my athletic abilities or I could see it as a far cry from where I was six, twelve or even twenty-four months ago. I pulled out this piece that I had written during my health struggles, and it made me realize that no matter how I felt about my performance, I had actually come a long way.
How did I get here, I wondered to myself last night as I stared into the mirror of the locker room of the swimming pool. Bones nearly protruding through the skin on my shoulders, twenty pounds underweight. The only remnant of my 12 years as a wheelchair racer and triathlete was the USA printed across the chest of my tri suit. And even that wasn’t convincing, as I could no longer fill out the top with the bulk of muscle, instead the form-fitting tank looks like it’s two sizes too big. Without a doubt, I am at the weakest point I’ve been since my accident recovery.
It’s all the result of a string of injuries I have sustained since July of 2011, that just got worse and finally resulted in three surgeries. For someone who has worked so hard to be strong, healthy and fit, it’s definitely a knock to the psyche. Could this possibly be the same body that finished two Ironman triathlons and trained for a handful of others, I thought as I got ready for my short swim in the pool?
As I got into the water and started gliding down the lanes, this time merely “exercising” rather than “training” I wondered if I had the strength to start all over…again. In my mind, I was thinking of coming back from my accident. It was a struggle to learn to live life in a wheelchair, gain the strength I needed to deal with the day-to-day physicality of it all, and to develop the mental toughness to go through the change.
But, that’s part of life. Change. Starting over. We do it all the time, sometimes not even realizing the transition. Other times it hits like a sledgehammer: changing or losing jobs, injury or illness, physical changes, ending a relationship, beginning a relationship. In life, it’s not a matter of IF you will face change, but WHEN you will face change. It’s unavoidable. And often uncomfortable.
I know it hasn’t been comfortable to me to go through the change in the ability of my body to go through the athletic paces it’s used to, to deal with the pain of surgery and the aftermath, the loss of strength that I tried so hard to build. But, between negative thoughts and feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I have been here before and survived. Even thrived. In those first months after my injury, I never imagined I would rise again and so high. I had no idea that one day I would do an Ironman. I especially didn’t have that thought the week after my accident when the nurses and PTs sat me up in a regular chair for the first time and I had no strength, no balance and all I wanted to do was puke.
This is certainly a new road that I’m on and it’s daunting. But looking back I realize that there is a certain amount of adventure to not knowing what is going to happen next. When we embrace the suspense of change and look for the positive we are more likely to be able to get through the things that challenge and scare us.
When I was in the hospital just after my accident, my rehab team members used to tell me that I would have an easier time coming back from my injury because I was an athlete. It took me months to figure out what they meant by that, but I finally realized that being in chair was a lot like a sport. It took the same physical awareness and mental toughness that I had been training for my entire life. And once I embraced that information and started looking at my situation in a new and different way, I gained the strength and confidence I needed to get through my situation.
How often do we look at change and see it as the worst possible thing that could happen, when what we really should be doing is looking at it for the possibilities and the adventure? Because when you start looking at things through a new lens, sometimes they don’t look so bad. You might even find that the change was for the better. You may learn something new, meet someone you might not have crossed paths with otherwise, or you might just become a stronger person for having faced the change head on.
I have now decided to see everything that I am going through as a new adventure. Certainly it has its struggles, but I am counting on the fact that when it’s over there will be a bright and welcoming light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, that requires faith. Hope. Optimism. But if we don’t have those things, what do we have?
What changes are you going through right now which are causing you to struggle? Can you take off your dark lenses and see your situation with a new brighter lens? How can you look at your situation in a new and different way?
Take an adventure with me. Embrace the uncertainty. Challenge yourself to re-create and come back stronger.
It’s not always easy to see things through a brighter lens. When all seems to have come crashing down, here are a few tips that might help:
1) As my Grandmother would say, “always count your blessings.”
2) Let yourself dream. Get out of your head or your body for a little while and think about the possible positive outcomes to your situation. Start by saying, “What if…”
Your “Win Your Human Race” Action Plan:
1. Write down a challenge or change that you are facing.
a. How can you see it differently?
b. What are the possible advantages of this change?
c. Create a power statement that you can say to yourself every time things get tough for you. For example: “I am strong, able and nothing can get me down,” or “I am on an adventure, and will embrace the uncertainty because good things are going to happen.”