Tiny, microscopic beads of sweat are just beginning to break through the skin on my face. I can feel the cool tingle of the last layer giving way to the droplets. My feet feel a little too hot in my Nike Flyknits to be comfortable. I’m kicking them off. Maybe if I get a little air between my toes I will feel a bit better. Yes, yes. Much better. My feet are resting on the cool tile floor beneath the modern-styled but still-comfortable chair I have decided is an okay spot to rest a while and write this entry.
Yesterday, I traveled from Portland, Oregon, to Paris, France, from USA Outdoor nationals to here to compete in a few European meets. The slightly warm lobby of this hotel feels a lot more comfortable than the cramped red-eye flight I caught yesterday. Actually, the day before, if you take into consideration the time change.
Last weekend was the second time I have traveled out to Portland from Arkansas – the first time being three weekends ago for the 2015 Outdoor Track and Field National meet.
For those of you who follow me, you already know the results of that meet. I did not defend my Indoor NCAA title with an outdoor win, but instead with a runner-up finish. Now that it has been a few weeks, I can sit down and express the emotions that have been coursing through my body since that day.\
I want to address the mental aspects behind the “near win” – what it’s like being so close to that national title but having things not quite line up. Check out this speech shared with my by a teammate. Many of the points really hit home for me and are very inspirational.
The near win
I hope other athletes read this and can relate, and possibly benefit from my words. Of course being so close is frustrating, but I am not disappointed with my performance that day. You have to step back and look at the big picture. By no-means did I not perform. I went out and jumped the second-highest mark I have this entire outdoor season, and tied my third highest best for the year. When I went back to look at my performances of the year, my lowest bar from all indoor and outdoor meets was just shy of my all-time-best mark the previous year. I think the way to cope with being so close is to know that consistency is key, and I have had the most consistent season of my career. When you can be consistent, it leads to bigger and bigger bars. If you can perfect consistency, you will develop unwavering confidence in any situation you may face in a competition.
Also, I try to not let myself dwell on the “not winning” part. Instead, I try to shift my thoughts to the fact that I jumped well, and use it as fuel to get pumped up for my next competition. That is exactly what I did. I went home to Fayetteville for a couple weeks, then turned right back around for USA’s at the same track in Eugene, OR. Ironically, I vaulted the exact same height – 4.65 meters – but this time, I did it in imperfect conditions. My jumps over 4.50 and 4.55 were into the wind – a pretty strong one, at that. I can remember repeating to myself in my head “hands tight, hands tight, left elbow down, left elbow down, charge in, charge in.” These are mental cues I have developed that I know work for me when running into the wind with a 14-and-a-half-foot pole in hand.
A tip for younger athletes: pay attention to mental cues…
and which ones work and which ones do not. How do you know they work? Well, you get positive results. I know because if the mental cue works then my body does what I tell it to, and thoughts of change becomes real change.
I ended up taking runner-up again at USA’s, but this time, it was to American and world-record-holder Jenn Suhr. My consistency at 4.65 and my resiliency to the wind placed me in 2nd rather than 3rd. Would it have mattered if I had gotten 3rd? Not really, since 3 people from that competition make the world team. I would still be headed to Beijing in the coming weeks to compete at the IAAF World meet. But silver behind an Olympic gold-medalist as a 22-year-old does sound quite nice…am I right? It’s a very cool thing to achieve. Although it has taken countless hours of hard work to get here, I want to stress that I would not be in this position without the safety net and support system that has been and always will be in place thanks to my family, friends, and coaches.
Jenn won that competition with 4.82m.
Do I think I can jump that high, too? Yeah, I know I can. But another thing I know is that these things don’t happen overnight. It takes months and years of practices, screaming mental cues to yourself in your head day in and day out, testing which ones work and which ones don’t, throwing weights around until your body shivers, sprinting until your lungs hurt, and doing pull-ups until your grip goes weak and you have to let go. When you can’t hold on any longer, do another one. That mental toughness comes in handy when you’re being blasted in the face by a head wind on your last attempt at a would-be personal best that would get you up onto a podium.
A point I would like to make that I think about often…there is a fine line between disappointment and dissatisfaction. It’s okay to be dissatisfied. As athletes, we always want better technique, faster times, and higher heights – but do not let yourself be disappointed. You have enough people in the world to cast that upon you. Unless you know you didn’t go out and lay it on the line then don’t feel that way. If you know you slacked, then okay, you have the right to be disappointed. But if you are reading this entry, then you’re most likely a dedicated athlete…one wanting to learn about how to deal with being human – being imperfect. You are most likely not a slacker if you have come to this page to learn about sport. So, instead of disappointment, shift that emotion to dissatisfaction. It is natural. It is okay. It keeps you thirsty for that next swig of cool, refreshing success of achieving a new goal.
Stay thirsty my friends.
For success, that is.
The day before I competed at USA’s, I did something that most every child has dreamed of at some point: I signed a contract with Nike and became a sponsored, professional athlete. That was the first time I would stand on a podium in the Nike issued team jerseys.
The day I signed that contract, I completed a goal I have been chasing since childhood. I would by lying if I said it didn’t feel amazing. This is something I have always wanted – to get paid to travel the world and pole vault. Too many students graduate college and are stricken to the innards of cubicles. Cubicle life may not be all that bad, but… I would still rather pole vault. Just sayin’.
So here I am. This modern chair may not be as comfy as my memory foam bed in blasting air conditioning, but I am extremely happy. My job is to be a great pole-vaulter… and…I am in Paris.
I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.