As I sat on the eight-hour direct flight from Geneva to Newark returning from the 2015 World Championships just a week ago, I ran through my mind the previous several hours, into days, and finally, weeks. At best, all I wanted to do was forget. Forget it all. The brain does this amazing thing called dissociation when faced with stress or conflict. You can block out an incident or time and nearly forget it ever happened. At varying levels, dissociation describes a wide array of mild to severe detachment, including simply daydreaming when bored, to more serious altered states of consciousness, the latter of course linked to much more serious episodes than a bad regatta. Pretty incredible when you think about it.
A week later and the pain of what was, simply put, a terrible World Championships experience has slightly dulled, perhaps only due to a strong will to forget and thanks to the amazing brain’s coping mechanisms. There were lessons learned and I’ll hold tight to those, but revisiting anything else is only an invitation to be stuck in the past, brought down by sharp regret and disappointment. A week later, and it’s time to move on. A week later, and it’s already the start of the 2016 Olympic season. I’m a planner. Let’s get on to what needs to happen next. No time for moping.
They say winning isn’t easy. Whoever “they” are, got that terribly wrong. Winning is the easiest part of what we do. It’s the losing that will test you beyond measure; scrape out of you the emotions and parts you try to hide or pretend don’t exist. They’re those parts that whisper, “it’s not worth it” or “why do I even do this?” in the privacy of your own solitude and suffering.
When things come together just as (you think) they should, perfectly and all to plan, it’s bliss. When you’re riddled with setback after setback, fighting only not to fall apart completely, that’s the real struggle. In a sport like elite rowing, you work 357 days out of the year (and many more before that) in hopes to put together eight days of successful competition. It’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride of the perfect week, just as you’d imagined it. It’s crippling to be tossed from one end to the next, white-knuckling the grip on your composure as the world around you seems to collapse.
It’s exciting to wake up the next morning, greeted by your smiling reflection, refreshed with the joy of knowing all of your hard work finally paid off. It’s depressing to pull yourself out of bed, weighted down by the burden of disappointment and no realization of the sacrifice you offered to chase the dream. The face in the mirror screams at you, “your best just isn’t good enough.”
It’s uplifting to look forward, to meet the eyes of your family and friends, those that supported you and experienced the victory with you. It’s crushing to keep your head down, eyes shifted to avoid any recognition of the pain for you on your loved ones’ faces, feeling your own hurt compounded by the weight of theirs.
It’s logical to comprehend that your hard work deserves success. It makes sense! It’s mind-boggling to accept that your blood, sweat, and tears amount to nothing. It feels good to take the pats on the back and high fives; it’s deafening to hear the silence of empty consolation, “Get ’em next time.” It’s easy to be reassured, you’re on the right path. You won, so you have to be! It’s halting to be doubted, no stable ground to push up from. Where do you go from here?
Winning is the easy part.
We’ve all been there. That is the push and pull of rowing. It’s what sucks you into this sport and refuses to allow you to give up. The pursuit of perfection. The allure of the game-winning goal and fairy tale ending. There are incredible peaks and valleys in sport, especially in rowing. The ability to ride through the highs and lows with a similar approach and steadiness is what will allow for greater success, not promise it. In a race, there is only one winner and en route to victory there is going to be a lot of losing along the way. A lot. Can you survive the beating and retain your belief that you will succeed? I think perhaps it’s this brutal reality that keeps rowing a small, amateur sport.
I like to believe I’ve experienced my share of valleys, but I have a strong inkling that the terrain ahead will continue to bring several ups and downs. In fact, I hope that it does. Bring ’em on. The lows are what truly test you and if you can handle them, you will come out stronger than before. As we look ahead into the 2016 year, the stakes will only be higher and the pressure more intense as we near the Summer Olympics. Every day brings a new challenge. Every day brings victory or defeat.
Every Day Counts.