What makes a resilient champion?
Updated: Apr 7
(This article is dedicated to my friend, Simon, who is recovering well from what could have been an absolutely catastrophic accident).
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc with Olympic and world championship plans, leaving many athletes in limbo, at a loss about what to do, feeling despondent and demotivated and, for many, they are now in financial hardship and wondering if it is worth keeping going. I'm reaching out to all of the athletes who I have been helping in small ways with achieving their sporting dreams. Here is a positive message for you.
True champions are first and foremost, extremely resilient creatures.
Resilience: it enables us to develop mechanisms for protection against experiences which could be overwhelming, it helps us to maintain balance in our lives during difficult or stressful periods, and can also protect us from the development of some mental health difficulties and issues.
For me, resilience is about always having a positive outlook, even while in the midst of disaster. Resilience is about turning adversity into opportunity. Resilience is about not just having "Plan A", but also having "Plans B, C and D" and being able to switch plans in an instant. Resilience is about accepting that mistakes might have been made, then moving on to better things.
Bouncing back - Resilience in action!
I bounce well. Well, kind of and most of the time!
I've had several terrible setbacks in the way of injuries and infections. Following each of these, I have always managed to come back fitter and stronger than before.
Here's a couple that I have written about:
The most catastrophic setback was a little over a year ago when I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair!
I fell off my bicycle, suffering damage to my neck vertebrae with damage to my spinal cord, resulting in temporary paralysis (I still have some numbness in my right hand).
After getting over the initial shock, the loss of movement and the intense, burning pain in my arms and legs, I asked the first responder to take some photos. I was not about to let pass the opportunity to document my journey to recovery (This was my attempt to make the most of a very bad situation).
You can read about the gory details of my accident and the immediate aftermath in the articles here.
The video below is an indication of the nerve damage that lingered for some months after discharge from the hospital. It has taken me a year to be able to watch it without feeling a little ill inside!
The accident happened at the end of February with the video recorded early May.
This is what happened Mid-August:
And here's the outcome:
How is that for resilience?
My situation right now
Alofa and I have already booked our flights and accommodation for the Masters MTB World Champs July to August this year in France. It is close to $12,000 spent that we might not get back. Right now the Masters is still on. Until they are cancelled we are committed to going. For me, the lockdown is happening right at the time when I should be training at my hardest. I'm going for my 3rd win in a row and I'm a marked man. If I am to win, I must be in peak condition. As you read on you will realise that I will be ready on the Race Day.
Turn COVID-19 into the opportunity to be better than ever
The COVID-19 Lockdown and all of the mayhem it is causing for sport, including the postponement or cancellation of most sporting events, including world championships and the Olympics is actually giving you the opportunity to be even better by the time the Big One happens. Let me explain.
You now have an extra year to get even fitter, stronger, more skilful and wiser. You are permitted to cry in your soup for a couple of days but now you need to get back to training. Do not waste another day and, in no way, allow that fabulous physical condition to be lost. Begin now to build on it.
Making the most of the lockdown
You might not be able to do the big expedition training runs and rides, you can't get into the pool, swim in the sea or to ride the trails but there is so much more to get on with. Plan B, C, D and E - accent the positive of what might otherwise be a bad situation!
Refocus on new events. For myself, if I receive notice that the World Champs is cancelled, I'm instantly switching my focus to winning the 60+ division of the NZ Cyclocross Championships in August, assuming these are not also cancelled. It is important for focus and motivation to have much more immediate events to aim for than ones that are a year or longer away. My Rule of Thumb is to have no longer than 12 weeks between competitions. There is nothing more motivating to get out and train than the clear and present danger of a race just a few weeks away!
Intermittent Fasting to shed any excess fat. My goal is to be as light as 61 Kg by August while keeping my muscle. This must be managed carefully. I've dropped from 66 Kg in February to less than 63 now and the increasing power-to-weight ratio is showing - yeeha! What's your body composition goal?
Build your nutrient-base. While you are semi-parked up this is the perfect time to work on what your Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis has indicated where your nutrient-weaknesses lie. Now is the time to make nutritional headway by sticking more than ever to your diet plan and taking your special supplements. What you build up in storage will pay huge dividends once hard training is recommenced.
Be creative and versatile. I've hung my mountain bike up for the duration of the lockdown because it is simply not right to be riding any trails at this time. I'm training every day by alternating between what is best described as "Urban Cyclocross" and running, keeping close to home so as to keep within the spirit and the rules of the lockdown. I can tell you that it is hard work grunting up all those Central City hills! My poor body is only just hanging in there. I'm doing more stretching and massage. Our son has turned the back of our house into a weights gym. His goal is to pack on even more muscle than ever during the Lockdown. When I look at his bulging muscles the only thing I see is our food bill.
Get on top of niggling injury and health problems. Hardly any athlete does not have niggles and issues like cramps, poor digestion, sinus problems or exertion headaches. It can be difficult to get on top of these while in full training and competition. Now is the opportunity to well and truly get the upper hand so that you can train harder and longer than ever before!
COVID-19, or any other setback for that matter, can be either a training disaster or a training opportunity. It is what you make of it. How resilient are you? I'm coming out of Lockdown in better shape than when I went into it.
How about you?