Once upon a time, I made the decision to devote my life to Sport. It was some five years ago now that I really committed to the elite athletic lifestyle. At that time, my reasons for doing so were fairly straightforward: I wanted to compete, represent my country, and be the best in my sport. For me, that meant training with the US Olympic Team in rowing, and competing in Beijing for a gold medal.
Now, several years down the line, I am a different athlete than I was. I have learned so much during my time as an elite athlete… about myself, about my sport, and about the concept of Sport as a global ideology, that I almost cannot even remember what it was like to be training and competing with such a limited view of what I was doing, and what it meant. Every day I went to practice just focused on surviving, and then hopefully excelling, in order to make the US National Team and–hopefully–the US Olympic Team. My experience was almost entirely introspective, almost all of the time. I rarely viewed myself as anything other than an exhausted, stubborn mass of muscle and cardiopulmonary systems that my coaches were trying to shape into a competent athletic body. What I did had no impact on anyone except myself, and infrequently, my teammates. I was in a bubble.
Now with a few more miles, a few more trips around the World, and a ‘few’ more cardio hours logged during which to contemplate the mysteries of life, I have redefined why I do this (probably several times over, at this point).
It is a question that arises inevitably every time I am about 2k in to a 6k erg test; every time I get about 20 strokes in to a 2k in my single; every time I still have 7 minutes to go on a timed 7 mile run. Yes, there are lots of times that, rhetorically, I scream to myself, “WHY AM I DOING THIS?”. This is not one of those times.
This week, I had a really special moment that made it very clear to me what is important to me about what I do, and why. I received a link to a video created by the Wellesley Women’s Crew team following their performance at this year’s NCAA Championships. The Wellesley video was made to thank my teammate, Natalie Dell, for having sent a good luck video to the Blue Crew before they left for Sacramento–featuring a few of the National Team girls talking about racing, and competing at NCAAs. The response video from Wellesley was so special. I cried. While it wasn’t just to me, seeing these women living their dream, loving the sport, and genuinely taking something away from the work that we do on the National Team really left me deeply and profoundly touched.
I preach from time to time on the values of Olympic Movement and the purity of amateur athletics as a global medium for humanitarianism, peace, and unity. I truly believe that Sport has a unique ability to bring people together–to allow them to share joy, friendship and just being human during times when even the simplest acts of humanity become obscured by war, corruption, or poverty. Sport is so genuine. So pure. So healing. And those people who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make it their whole life… it is a privilege. I am so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to participate in something that is so noble, and something that is so much bigger than myself. I am here to win medals and be the very best athlete I can be–that’s what I do for myself. But I also do what I do because it might mean something to someone, somewhere, who needs or wants hope. Or calm. Or peace. Or something that only Sport can bring to them.
Wellesley, in a way that only you could, you have summed up what it is that is so important to me about being an Olympian, and an Olympic Hopeful. I have never forgotten the overwhelming feeling of connection and togetherness I felt as a member of the 2008 Team in Beijing, nor the hope I felt that there is Good out there that people can focus on and celebrate as a global community if they choose to. I may never change the world, but I can continue to support the Olympic Movement, and I can keep hoping that those who come after me will choose to do the same.
Yes, you have made us proud, Wellesley. I hope we can continue to make you proud of us.
Brave and Relentless,