I just got home from another good hard day of training on Elk Lake on a nice and cool summer day here in Victoria. One of my teammates interviewed me yesterday for a video documentary he’s working on which will try to capture our daily lives as elite athletes. The questions were simple: Why do you do it? What makes you get up in the morning? What gives you the drive to keep pushing day in, day out? The answer is not so simple really. When I first started training on the national team in January, I thought I had potential to be a good rower and wanted to see how far I could take it. But, after about a month to 2 months in, I really hated my life and was angry at myself for always getting myself into these challenging situations. As another month passed, my frustration and anger toward the physical and mental toll the training was taking on me became duller. The month after that, I did not feel much. Sure, I was just as exhausted as before, but I was in a trance. This month, even today, I feel strong and focused. I feel like all those miserable days in the winter were necessary to build my determination for the racing to come in the weeks ahead. I don’t know how I will feel next month, but I now appreciate the journey.
There is not a clear answer to why we willingly suffer on a daily basis. Before I began training at this level I thought it had to be the ego and even vanity that pushed athletes on in the pursuit of an Olympic gold medal. But the ego gets broken down in those first 2 months of training and vanity is overshadowed by fatigue and, at times, despair. At some primitive level we all have a disposition towards fighting or fleeing. The elite athlete is a fighter. When tested, he or she will feel the same symptoms as their fleeing counterpart; fear, nervousness, tension, anxiety, etc, the difference being that something irrational will compel the elite athlete to fight and overcome these symptoms just because it’s in their nature. That’s why I suffer. I don’t have a choice. I’m a fighter and I can’t turn it off.