Imagine standing outside at the top of a mountain. It’s -20 and you are wearing just a thin spandex suit, but you feel no cold. All you feel is the anticipation and nerves flowing through your body, it’s almost as if you are vibrating. The crowd is going wild, screaming and banging drums and cowbells, but you can’t hear them through the motor cycle helmet covering your ears. You can’t hear them, because the only thing louder than the crowd is the thoughts racing through your mind. Trust me – nothing is louder than the thoughts racing through your mind when standing on the start line at the Olympic games.
The clock goes “bing bong”, the sled gets flipped into the grooves on the ice and after smacking your teammate on the back you walk to the push bar. You hear the call and you start to push. It’s 30m of all out effort to get the 375 lb bobsled accelerating as fast as you can. You jump in and let the air out of your lungs. It’s almost impossible to breathe in the five seconds you are pushing. That breath transforms you from this mega powerful running back into the quick thinking quarterback because caressing the bobsled down the track is all about feeling, anticipation and finesse. The difference between bobsled and football is that in bobsled, we don’t fight for inches, we fight for hundredths. There are no brakes as the sled accelerates down the mountain. It’s 16 corners of twists and turns. Left steer, right steer, pull back, shoulder roll. The key is to not steer the sled but resist the centripetal force as the sled climbs into the corner. Until, you cross the finish line and frantically scream brakes for your team mate in the back to get the sled to come to a complete stop. Then, and only then, you remember to breathe.
What I want to talk about in this article are the thoughts that race through your mind when you are going through what you perceive as the biggest challenge in your lifetime. During this challenge, are the thoughts simple and positive? “I have done the work, I am ready”. Or, are the thoughts filled will all of the should have, would have, and could haves? These thoughts are inevitable, but what is crossing your mind and whether or not they are positive or negative, has to do with how confident we are in ourselves to deal with challenges. It has to do with our ability to be resilient.
2020 has been one of the most challenging years on record for many people. Some days are easier to overcome than others. If there is one good thing to come from 2020, I believe it will be resilience. I’ve come to realize in my past 8 years of bobsledding, including a trip to the Olympics, is that resilience can be one of the most important qualities you possess to help you achieve your goals.
My first challenge, while trying to achieve my goals, is my body. In my sport, everything is always a competition. Who can lift the most weight, run the fastest, push with the most velocity, drive the smoothest, and be the leanest. Now in my 30s, I’ve discovered the challenge of my body is more about deciphering when it’s appropriate to push myself and when to rest. My relentless drive to be the hardest worker in a room has been one of my biggest downfalls and is one of the reasons I was sidelined for the 2019/2020 season thanks to a 7 cm tear in my calf. Caring for our bodies is more than always pushing it to be perfect, or not pushing it enough. Caring for your body is about keeping it running as a well-oiled machine. Mobility, recovery, symmetry – because you can be the strongest person in the room but if you can’t move, you can’t compete. A body that isn’t well cared for can not be resilient.
I’m challenged by the perception of others. During quarantine many of our interactions were limited to behind a screen. Zoom meetings and social media are incredible ways of keeping us connected, but it makes it easier for us to convey a version of ourselves that we want people to see, and maybe doesn’t tell the whole story. Personally, I couldn’t be happier of all the people who reached out to me over the lock down on Instagram. These are people I have never met, from all different backgrounds, around the world spilling their soul and thanking me for keeping them motivated. What I had to share back was that it was those kind messages that kept ME motivated, and I was struggling just as much as they were. This is one of the important messages I try to convey to the students I mentor through the organization Classroom Champions in Fort St. John. I make it very clear to them that even though it looks like I’m always smiling, sometimes inside I am facing big emotions, and by acknowledging and expressing those feelings in an appropriate manner, it helps to make me more resilient.
I’m challenged by doubt. Back to those voices in your head-the little ones whispering in those big moments. Is the voice yours? Or is it someone else’s? Personally, if I can hear someone else commenting that I can not or should not accomplish something I use it as motivation. I believe that no one has the right to put limits on your potential, and a person out to prove someone else wrong is dangerous. But if that voice of doubt you hear is your own, it can be scary. Self doubt, a lack in confidence, most often comes from a lack of preparation. When I have a big moment coming up, I always start a checklist of the things I can do that will help me feel more confident when the moment arrives. This helps to reduce or eliminate the should haves, would haves, and could haves. There are always going to be extra challenges along the way that prevent us from feeling totally prepared, but if you can focus on the things in your direct control, it will make you more resilient.
Covid-19 has taken so much of the control away from us. The uncertainty of our futures has been the biggest source of stress for most people. By focussing on the things you can control, and trusting that you adapt, I really do believe that this experience will make us all more resilient. We are in this together!
I would like to acknowledge Scovan Engineering for being my biggest supporter for the past 5 years. Thank you for putting so much back in my control during these challenging times.
Written by: Alysia Rissling, Canadian Olympic Bobsleigh Pilot