I recently watched the documentary Touch the Wall that chronicled the meteoric rise of Missy Franklin to the 2012 London Olympics. At those games, she dove her way into America's hearts with five gold medals, a true “Cinderella story” for someone who was still in braces and active on her high school swim team.
Fast-forward four years. Franklin just had a painfully disappointing 2016 Rio Olympics, failing to even qualify for the finals in some of her home run events. She was as shocked as the rest of us. “I wish I had an excuse, but I don't,” she told USA Today after her Olympics ended.
At the ripe young age of 21, Franklin is weathering the storm.
For Olympians, there's so much riding on races that come down to hundredths of seconds. It isn't simple self-pride that's on the line. We're talking national pride and millions of potential endorsement dollars here. For the average everyday athlete, the stakes may not be as high, but when you are weathering your own personal storm, the lessons learned are no different.
These local athletes share their own personal accounts and the character building morals they learned through their experiences.
Local ultra runner Muzaffer Musal was one of only 31 starters at this year's Ouray 100 in Colorado. This 100-mile endurance run has an elevation gain of almost 42,000 feet and over 83,000 feet of elevation changes with a 52-hour cutoff. Needless to say, there's a reason why this year's race saw a completion rate of only 16 percent. All athletes are given a space blanket, lighter, and small piece of tinder just in case. There are aid stations throughout the course, but sometimes getting to them involves hours of running and hiking at punishing elevations.
The first 20 miles ticked by, and Musal was feeling strong despite the terrain. Hours passed, and the weather kept changing. Drizzle and high winds made each mile more difficult, and Musal started to feel the effects. He made it through to an aid station and met with his crew. However, instead of focusing only on himself and his race plan, he kept seeing other racers move faster and make it through the aid stations just a little quicker.
“I knew I shouldn't get competitive,” he recalls. “This is not a marathon. This is not even a regular long race. This is a race with 17 percent completion rate. Instead of changing my clothes and getting a thicker sweater, I decided to eat all I could as quickly as possible, pick up my Camelbak from the aid station, and move.”
That is a moment that will haunt him. As night began to fall, he got off course. Then, he realized his Camelbak was leaking. And then, he started shivering. He opened his space blanket, but his hands and fingers were so immobile that he couldn't even ignite his lighter to use the tinder for heat. Aside from finding a structure and crawling into it, there wasn't much he could do besides fire off his tracker to send a signal to the race director that he was done. He really has no idea of how long he waited, but was eventually found, given a warm jacket, and returned to safety.
Muzaffer weathered his own storm. Literally.
No one ever wants to quit a race that you have physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for, but he does take away valuable thoughts:
Take Care of Yourself First
You have to focus on your race and not any other athlete. One of his big mental errors was letting the other athletes get into his head instead of controlling his own destiny.
Know When to Say When
He admits that firing off the tracker to end his race was not an easy decision, but it got to a point when continuing to suffer through the unknowns was not anything to be proud of.
Live to See Another Race
While that moment feels devastating, it's not necessary the end. He is planning on being at the start line in 2017.
Musal quoted writer Ed Viesturs when he summed up his experience: “Just because you love the mountains doesn't mean the mountains love you.”
If you ever want to fill up a year of your life with physical, mental, and emotional overload, then register for an Ironman race. Not only do you spend copious amounts of money to register a year in advance, but you also spend a full six months training so that you are (you hope) adequately prepared for the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.
Local triathlete Jenny Burden was ready to own Ironman Boulder on Aug. 6. The proverbial “hay was in the barn,” and it showed in her impressive swim time and swift bike splits for the first 100 miles of the race.
And then, like a violent unpredictable tornado, something changed. High expectations turned into an abnormally high heart rate, and she had to stop for a moment to rest under a tree. Jenny Burden was weathering her own storm. “I got up after about five minutes of rest and approached my bike, determined to finish the last 11 miles and get on with the run,” she shared in her blog recap. “But, as soon as I stood over the handlebars, my heart rate shot up, and I had to put my head down.” Police officers and medics came to her aid while she assessed her own dizzying symptoms and emotions. Like most storms, they often come on unexpectedly and, as we've seen in many recent natural disasters, not even the most arduous preparations can prepare you for the worst-case scenarios. In Burden's case, she was caught in one of those moments and eventually made the decision to remove her chip and end her race with less than 12 miles to go on the bike.
To some, she says, a situation like this may be considered just a bummer or a learning opportunity. “However, the experience is more,” she writes. “It is real grief.” In the moments and days after the race, she felt anger, shame, frustration, and, of course, profound sadness.
In lieu of a medal and bragging rights, what lessons can be learned from such an experience? What can she take away from this race? “I still struggle with thoughts of what if, but none of those provide the magic fix.” Instead, however, she devotes herself to many of the positive takeaways.
Unconditional Support of Loved Ones
Her husband, teammates, and friends have been a rock of support. Never underestimate the power of your tribe!
The Accomplishments of the Day Shouldn't Be Overlooked
She had her best swim ever and went into the race in some of the best shape of her life. She was ready and prepared.
She Didn't Injure Herself
The emotional scars may take time to heal, but she walked away with no real physical repercussions. Had she decided to continue, who knows what may have happened?
Bouncing Back with Style
Burden was recently named the South Central Regional Champion for Women ages 25 to 29, and she’ll be representing the United States at the XTERRA World Championship race in Maui on Oct. 23, 2016. Talk about a comeback!
Perhaps Missy Franklin sums up these rough moments most poignantly in her interview when she said, “ You’re so much more than just the number of medals, you’re so much more than the time you are in a pool. Your value goes beyond all of that. I don’t think I would have ever come to that realization without something like this.”
Adversity enhances your value.
I don't know about you, but knowing that I have value keeps me grounded through every storm.