Learning to Cha-cha

Currently living by this quote: OPTIMIST: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s more like a cha-cha.”

This past weekend I traveled to London, Ontario to compete in my first competition since July! I’ve overcome a partial tear in my hamstring tendon this year, and I was finally healthy enough to begin to compete again. Coming off a fantastic training camp in AZ earlier this month, I was eager to see what my healthy rested body could do. Two events into the heptathlon I experienced a strong pain in my Achilles tendon and had to pull out of the competition.

Sport can slap you in the face with no warning signs sometimes and it’s your responsibility to determine how long the sting it leaves lingers with you. Sometimes it’s good to feel the pain a bit, but the sooner you forget the slap and begin focusing on your next step forward, the faster you’ll get there.

Suffering from a step backwards while I was mid stride in my first forward step in a long time hurt, but it was nothing I cannot overcome with a good attitude and some diligence to rehab and training. Beyond my initial two minutes of self-pity and near devastation (haha), I have surprised myself with the cool and collected outlook I have about the circumstances I face now. It is easy to look at an athlete from the outside and see the situation in a very different light.

I know that people like hearing good news and results. I know it sounds way better to say “I got a new personal best” than “I learned a tough lesson today,” but I hope that anyone following my journey can understand that the cha-cha I am doing is one that I love and I knew would have steps backwards as well as forward when I signed up for it. I hope that a step in the right direction can be as exciting to hear about as a step onto the podium.

Although I am ultimately chasing the same hardware you all wish to see around my neck one day, it is those medals and certificates that will eventually be sitting on a shelf while I am out taking on the world with all the experience and knowledge I’ve gained along the way.
– So what’s the take away from this blog post? I would like you all to know I am okay and I am motivated, but ultimately I am happy and doing the cha-cha with a smile on my face while I work my way to the top as fast as I possibly can.

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Why I’m not sweatin it.

It has crossed my mind on several occasions to write a post about what I’m currently going through, but I didn’t want to believe it would last long enough to have to. Finally I can swallow that what I am going through is for real and I wanted to update you all on my progress.

This fall during my base season a very familiar pain arose in my right hamstring that seems to linger around this time every year. I got it looked at by a physiotherapist and took a few days off of training, but what seemed to slowly disappear every other year didn’t seem to want to budge this time around. A persistent injury of the past few years had finally overstayed it’s welcome and I decided to commit to getting rid of it for good.

After many weeks of physio I was seeing small gains, but I just had a feeling there was something we didn’t know about going on inside of my leg. I had an MRI in December, and it confirmed that there is a small tear in one of the tendons in my hamstring. Although it has been almost three months since I have been able to practice, I’m finding every ounce of patience in my body to let this nagging injury finally leave me for good. I am not undergoing any procedures to fix it, rather resting from training and receiving daily physio from some of the best. So that’s why im not ‘sweating it’ physically right now.

There’s another way I’m not ‘sweatin it,’ and that’s mentally. I’d be lying if I said some days I don’t lay on the couch in a ball feeling completely defeated, but 8/10 days I can see the good in this happening. Being a full time athlete and University student for the past 6 years I appreciate this time off in so many ways. I just finished my undergrad degree in January, so for someone who has always balanced more than two or three full time commitments at once, I’m free to breathe and sleep and be completely healthy for once.

With Rio being my ultimate goal right now this was frightening at first, but I’m starting to believe that the timing has been pretty wonderful. I am taking care of something that has been restricting me for years, and resting a body that hasn’t sat still since I was 17 years old. I have FULL confidence that I will be back on the track this summer much faster, healthier and full of success.

Cliché welcome 2015 Post

I always do a yearly recap, but it took a few days for me to be inspired to do it this year. Like one of my favorite lessons of 2014 I had to remember not to force it, it will let me know when it is ready to be written.

I wanted to be angry with 2014 when I left it behind as I suffered from my first injury, struggled with school for the first time and stumbled through many unforeseen roadblocks that tested my very last nerve. I woke up this morning feeling joy on a day I didn’t expect to, and immediately knew 2014 had been the best year of my life. I had grown so much and everything I learned almost overwhelmed me today.

I never thought at the age of 23 that I would want or need to figure out who I was. I think perhaps because I am so passionate about track and school that my relationships with friends and others was severely lacking. Last January I had what turned out to be one of the most important conversations of my life. A small, honest chat with a friend of mine showed me that I was not completely comfortable with who I was and I was determined to discover what it was that I wasn’t being honest about.

When you realize you’ve never taken the time to appreciate yourself, and just gone on living happily but not in complete happiness it’s a strange thing to wrap your head around. Being happy at times and living happily are two very different things.

I can talk about this year for pages we all know that, but I will paraphrase by telling how learning what these words mean and how to live by them made me pretty damn proud and glad to be who I am.

SURRENDER
Surrender all things you cannot control, and do not be overpowered by them. When there is nothing more you can do about a situation you can’t let it continue to beat you. It is not giving up, but giving in to the fact that fighting whatever it may be will not change the situation, and having peace that it is what it is.

LOVE
You have to love yourself before someone else can love you. This has been the most powerful lesson once I finally got a grip on it. I have had more honest, intimate and genuine moments with people once I was comfortable with every bit of myself, and willing to share that with those around me.

 PATIENCE
Patience will be the most important lesson to carry onward to each and every moment of the years to come. Nothing in this day and age can happen fast enough it seems, and sometimes I have to remember no matter how badly I want something, the peace I feel when I relax and have patience make the wait much more enjoyable.

VULNERABILITY
When you want someone to know you and see you for who you really are, there is no way to do it but with complete vulnerability and confidence. Vulnerability causes some serious discomfort and sometimes makes my stomach turn, but it is necessary when you want to be honest and true with someone. I hate being vulnerable, but it allows people to see just who you are and shows a lot of their true self in that moment too.

HONESTY
Although I’ve always been as honest as I could, I couldn’t help but see situations where this could be improved. I am so proud of my courage to speak the truth in every situation possible, improving relationships and experiences tremendously.

2014 was about waking up every day unfathomed by what happened the day before, and having the good day you deserve. Putting myself first and knowing that I have the chance to start each day and not be bothered by what the previous day might have spat at me is a really great way to live. There are so many things in my life, like in anyone’s that I am not proud of or not happy with, but I have had to realize that in most cases it is too late to change them and I must just go on always trying to be the best Rachael that day allows me to be.

2015 is about the exact same thing. It is 365 new opportunities to have a great day.

Although these discoveries came with lots of excitement and satisfaction, they were tough to embrace and made for a lot of tears and stress at times. One year is hardly enough time to be comfortable with everything life throws at you, but my skin is definitely a lot tougher now and it’s only getting easier by the day.

A special thank you to these amazing people for making my 2014 so great.
Rebecca Bell, Ben Coakwell, Max Ross, Erin Macdonald, Jillian Weir, Keaton Cruthers, Natasha Jackson.

My 2014 season in review.

I have been tweeting up a storm all summer, but I forget sometimes to take more than 140 characters to explain all that is going on!
I realized I didn’t post a single blog about my competitions this summer and since I’ve had my most successful season to date, I think better late than never right?!

This summer was a total blurr. It went by so fast, and things were happening that I still can’t believe happened, it’ll probably all sink in while I write this post.

My season started in Tucson, Arizona; a place where we always have training camps, but I have never competed before. I was doing my first heptathlon in 6.5 months, and my coach was unable to be present for this first meet of the year, so it was all just to gage where I am and see what I can do out there on my own. I guess I was well prepared to fire up the season, because I left Arizona with a new PB overall (5641points), a 1st place finish, and a wicked new PB in the 800m. (2.10.69!)

Next I was off to Los Angeles to do another heptathlon just four days later. (For those of you who don’t know much about the heptathlon, the recovery time after competing in 7 events is usually a lot longer than just 4 days!! -but I wanted to give it a go!) Los Angeles was a beautiful 34°C and the competition was fierce. With my coach by my side I felt ready as ever to keep the momentum going and get after another good score. What happened here kind of blew me away. I did what every heptathlete hopes of doing, and that was to be consistently just around my best in every event. I finished the competition in LA with a 6th place finish, two more PBs (200- 24.91 & LJ- 6.07) and an ENORMOUS PB overall (5789 points) and was ranked 11th in the world at the time. Fair to say that was one of the most exciting weeks I’ve had in a long long time.

My third heptathlon was planned in Calgary in May, but sometimes things don’t go as planned and I ended up missing every height in the high jump and dropped out of the competition. This was the first time that this had happened to me, and it took a lot of strength and encouragement to bounce back. With my only other heptathlon planned being 3 months after my last heptathlon, I scrambled to find one more. I ended up taking an 8 hour road-trip to Regina with Les! For 7 hours straight it rained, and when we finally arrived in Regina we knew we were in for quite the weekend. As anticipated, we were drenched the whole competition. Chilly weather and pouring rain don’t make for a great heptathlon, but it serves as some great mental training. I was able to win the four-girl competition and get out of there as fast as possible.

That leaves us with my last meet of the season. I was in Ottawa simultaneously competing in two competitions. Our National Championship was also flooded with girls from other countries as we competed in the Pan American Combined Events Cup. I only had to do one heptathlon, but the results counted in both competitions. This last meet was an absolute blast! I was competing for Canada in our nations capitol, and my mom and dad were able to be there to get to see! Not a lot more I can ask for!! The competition took place with almost no major flaws. Again, just as I had been able to put together a consistent meet in LA, I had great results in every event and came out just shy of another PB! I walked away from Ottawa with a Bronze medal at Nationals, a Bronze medal at the Pan American Cup (My first international medal) two really great new personal bests (200- 24.76 & JAV- 43.14) My Canadian teammates and I captured the Pan Am Combined Team Cup for the first time for Canada, and I was just 26 points shy of that overall points PB I had achieved in LA three months earlier. WOW.

I got Goosebumps twice while remembering these moments and writing this bog post. Sometimes in the off-season you’re so happy to just be away from the sport for a while, but this was a great reminder to me just how much I love what I do and how proud I am of what each season gives to me!

With friends after a new Hep PB and Season Opener in Arizona.

With friends after a new Hep PB and Season Opener in Arizona.

With Canadian gals after the Los Angeles Heptathlon and my PB of 5789 points.

With Canadian gals after the Los Angeles Heptathlon and my PB of 5789 points.

With coach in rainy Regina finding something to laugh about.

With coach in rainy Regina finding something to laugh about.

My teammates and I after nationals -- The University of Gramantik

My teammates and I after nationals — The University of Gramantik

With my parents in Ottawa after Nationals and the Pan American Combined Events Cup.

With my parents in Ottawa after Nationals and the Pan American Combined Events Cup.

One of my Sportsnet Beauty of Sport Magazine photos.

One of my Sportsnet Beauty of Sport Magazine photos.

Claras Big Ride

It has been an incredible year of growth and discovery for me. It is hard to put into words how I believe the world works, but I will say that I have never been disappointed in the way it teaches me things and answers my questions.

I love people. I love being around them, understanding them and appreciating everyone for what amazing unique contributions they give to our planet. I love how different we all are, but how we have something in common with everyone we pass on the sidewalk each day.

One thing that connects us all is our struggles. There aren’t a set of feet walking the planet that doesn’t know the meaning of struggle, and that is a blessing. Over the course of the last year the topic of mental illness has been brought to my attention again and again. Too many times to be a coincidence honestly.

Growing up I was exposed to many different illnesses of all different severities from ADD to Autism to Depression and schizophrenia. There has never been a stigma around the topic of mental health in my family because we have always been comfortable talking about and caring for those loved ones in our family and community.

What the last year has taught me, is about those of us who are suffering in quiet. Yes myself included. There are thousands, arguably millions of people who the stigma has effected to the point where their suffering is worsened simply because they’re too afraid to talk about it.

The life of an athlete is the best example I can give because I live it and witness it each and every day. As an athlete we’re expected to be a champion, a hero for our country, and a role model to those who follow in our footsteps and dream of achieving the many accomplishments athletes do. What makes the newspaper, the internet and the television are the Gold Medals, sponsorships, broken records and the joyful tears of proud parents when they’re son or daughter has “Made it!” The sad reality of this is these moments make up the tiniest portion of an athletes career.

Out of my seven heptathlons last year, I won two. I still finished second in the country, but I only took GOLD in two of those seven meets. I’m often asked how close I am to making the next Olympics, but never how far I’ve come in the short five years I’ve been doing the heptathlon. There is a certain interest in and value placed on being the best or being on top, but not always the journey to get there or the many oh so close attempts. I am an athlete 365 days a year. I eat, sleep and train like an animal for those TWO, sometimes ONE day of gold per year. Of course we don’t only do it for the medals, but we do thrive off that desire to encourage others, and make the country proud.

When I first met with a sports Psychologist a few years ago he told me about a story of a man who FINALLY won the Stanley Cup after many years of playing hockey, and as he hoisted it above his head all he could think was “Thank god I’ve finally done it, I can’t wait to get away from all of this.” We all do it, we chase other people’s dreams and expectations as hungrily as we chase our own, so each time we don’t achieve the results we want we feel as though we’ve let down far more people than just ourselves.

Depression claims the happiness and sometimes life of many athletes world-wide. I would argue that nearly all successful athletes have had a time or two in their life where they didn’t know if they would be able to make it or not. Chasing numbers produced by only a few every year, or constantly wanting to be bigger, faster and stronger, is an expectation that we will fall to more times than we will achieve in the many attempts to get to the top. This past September, I was almost positive I was finished with my pursuit of excellence in Track and Field.

Clara Hughes was a name I heard over and over again when I moved to Calgary in 2010 because of her incredible accomplishments and many Olympic medals. Now, in 2014 I hear her name over and over again but for a different reason. For sharing her story of depression and helping Canada end the stigma around all Mental Illness.

I have been following Clara as she biked across the country and talked to thousands of people in every city and town along the way. I believe when she arrived in Calgary on Friday we broke the 48 or 49-thousand person barrier! What was more amazing than her courage to bike across the country and her courage to share her story over and over again, has been the people, like myself, who she has encouraged and inspired to share and acknowledge their stories as well. My favorite quote from the evening was by the amazing man who introduced Clara and hosted the event, he said “Talking about your weakness takes strength.”

Before Clara came on to the stand to talk to us at the Canada Sports Hall of Fame, Olympic Medalist Helen Upperton took the mic to talk about her own depression leading up to the Olympics. Proving once again, that no great accomplishment comes without a struggle, but every struggle will leave us with a valuable lesson to be learned and something to be gained.

When Clara first started speaking I had a lump in my throat. She was so incredibly happy and enthusiastic about everything that she has done and everything she is currently doing. Clara showed me more hope and encouragement through her incredibly positive personality and genuine contagious laughter than the words she would later speak.

Immediately I felt inspired to write a blog post, whether it was to encourage people to follow and support Clara as she bikes for another month, or to share with someone around them a struggle they have been going through. I have realized the importance of creating the conversation around mental health and normalizing it.

As I decided to continue on with my career in athletics I took note of a few things that had to change, and one of them was the way I thought and spoke about myself, and my accomplishments. I had lots of help along the way from many different friends and professionals, but one of my favorite tools to get me back on track towards success came in the form of a book. Reading DARING GREATLY inspired me and allowed me to accept everything for what it is, and truly be happy with myself. Recently I started reading THE CHIMP PARADOX, which is helping me piece together all the how’s and whys to our brain and thought processes. It will be a never ending battle I am sure, as I continue to work my way to the top, but since engaging others in the conversation, and discovering many wonderful things about myself and the beauty of sport, it’s a journey I no longer fear, but welcome with open arms.

Clara said 1 in 1 people are effected by mental illness. If not you than someone you know. Let’s end the stigma. Get Talking.

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Training Camp Video

Every year my training group travels to Tucson, Arizona to do a warm weather training camp. I asked our coach this year if he was okay with me taking some footage from a few of our practices to show everyone what we get up to while we are away from home!

Although we were there for a whole 12 days, here is just a glimpse into what it is like when we are training in sunny Arizona!

ENJOY!

 

That’s Sport

In sport, sometimes you’re lucky enough to win, and sometimes you’re lucky enough not to.

I have been fortunate enough in the past to taste gold, but yesterday I ended my CIS career with a silver medal, and to my surprise it tasted just as sweet.

After hearing the final scores of the competition, a friend said to me “That’s sport.” Those words released any last bit of tension, pain and emotion left from my 6 hour day. That’s sport. How incredibly true. One would be naïve to think that once you’re on top you will always remain on top. Sport does not work that way, and to my surprise I dealt with this realization very well yesterday. I always knew my spot could be taken, but as a fierce competitor I didn’t believe that it would actually happen.

In so many ways I am glad it did.

I sat on the bench taking off my shoes as everyone headed home from the track for the day, and a tear streamed down my cheek as I looked at my silver medal and felt overwhelmed with pride in knowing I battled my ass off to have it placed around my neck. I don’t think I can remember having a moment like this before. I would never discount the value of a medal of any color, and I think everyone who competes in sport deserves a medal for being so courageous, but when I take this silver medal home and place it next to my two gold medals, there will be a very distinct difference in what they represent beyond placing.

Sport has taught me how to have the courage to accept failure, and learn from my mistakes. How to understand your weaknesses are just areas for growth, and that nothing is accomplished on your own.

In the book I’m reading called Daring Greatly, Brené Brown explains one of the most helpful things I’ve learned yet: “We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us… I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be Vulnerable. Vulnerability is courage in you, and inadequacy in me.”

I will probably reference this book in every blog post I write from here on. It has been the key to opening doors that have been locked all my life, and to building new doors and opportunities I know never existed before I read it. By understanding that vulnerability is courage and not weakness, I’ve been able to find a whole new appreciation for who I am and what I do. When we see someone step on stage to give a presentation we admire their courage to be up there, but as soon as we step up to give our speech or our presentation we are overwhelmed with fear of judgment and failure. I realized that as I admire everyone who stands up in front of me to perform, when I’m doing the same and daring greatly, I now know that people are seeing the beauty in my courage and vulnerability too.

What I want to do, is give everyone who might think I am disappointed in my performances yesterday, or maybe has their own opinion about what I did yesterday, this short message:

Who I am today as an athlete and a person is ten strides ahead of who I was last year when I stepped on that podium and got the gold around my neck. I’ve decided to live a wholehearted life full of worthiness and to sink into moments like today when my pride and strength are being tested, and be proud I did what I could. I will never stop chasing the top spot on the podium, but thanks to Brené I will be smiling more and worrying less, collecting these special moments and ‘suffering’ less, and most importantly Daring Greatly and enjoy living my dreams!

I’ve always said “The journey is the reward” and my journey of ups and downs is certainly proving to have rewards around every corner.

I am very grateful for the group of girls I train with. Yesterday we said to one another “We need each other, to beat each other.” I train along side some of my strongest and toughest competitors each and every day, and thats a real blessing. #UniversityOfGramantik