Happy Valentine’s Day.
This year is yet another in a long succession of Valentine’s Days spent at the Olympic Training Center, deeply invested in the selection process for a World Championship or Olympic Team. Valentine’s Day tends to fall right in the middle of winter training… a time of physical and mental fatigue; blisters; chafe; ice baths; never-ending piles of dirty, smelly laundry; erg testing; and everything else about our sport that is decidedly unglamorous and unromantic. To say that I’m not in a Valentine’s-state-of-mind is a bit of an understatement, but nevertheless even in my state of social and geographical isolation it’s almost impossible not to be aware of the arrival of the the reddest and pinkest day of the year.
Because as it stands, I’m one of about five women at the Training Center who aren’t currently dating someone–a statistic that surprised me when I realized it the other morning. When did being single become the minority on the Team? Almost my entire career as an elite athlete I’ve found dating to be frustrating and difficult (read: impossible)–a mindset that until recently I thought was more universal among my peers. But as it turns out, most of my teammates seem to find it easier than I do which gives me hope that it is actually possible to train at the elite level and have a romantic relationship, I just haven’t figured it out for myself or met the right person. What’s more is that most of my teammates’ relationships with their significants developed after they started training (e.g. they weren’t pre-existing in college, etc.) which means that–yes, it can happen. Just not for me. Yet.
And why not? I spend a lot of time blogging about training, racing, fundraising, traveling, and everything else that goes in to the elite athlete lifestyle. But it’s not very often that Olympians talk about their sex lives (or lack thereof) despite being some of the physiologically and evolutionarily fit individuals on the planet. Superior genetics, unmatched competitive drive–according to Darwin we should all be swatting away suitors left and right. But I’m not. Not by a long shot.
And it’s not like I haven’t tried to make room for romance in my life (flirting on Twitter with Conlin and Gennaro doesn’t count). There have been forays into the dating world–almost all with other athletes–but nothing that has worked out. Usually time and geography get in the way. So when that hasn’t worked, I’ve even considered online dating. But the problem with online dating is filling out the profile:
Age… 28. Well, at least it’s not 30.
Status… Single. Seriously?
Height…5’10”. I am taller than 99% of men on this site. Great.
Body Type… What exactly am I supposed to put here? I have 15% body fat, a six pack and my quads are as big around as a lot of women’s waists. “Athletic”? Does the girl who does the elliptical 3 times a week for 20 minutes at the gym also describe herself as “athletic”? I’m confused.
About Me… college-educated, lives with a roommate in Princeton, New Jersey. I’m in great shape because I work out 3-6 hours a day. I eat, a lot. I also sleep, a lot. I don’t go out on Thursday or Friday nights, and if I “go out” on Saturday, I can usually only stay awake until about 11. I can’t travel for leisure because I don’t ever have time off. I can’t do anything adventurous or physical during my few free hours a week because I have to recover for my next practice. I overachieve at everything. Extreme perfectionist. Competitive….all the time. Both of my hands are covered in calluses that have been there for 6 years or more; I won’t mention the tan lines. I live month-to-month off of a USOC stipend, so for all intents and purposes, I’m broke. I move to California for 2-4 months every winter, and travel to Europe twice a summer, but you can’t come with me or stay with me when I go because I’m with my Team. I will always, with no exceptions–ever–choose training, eating, sleeping and recovery over you.
My point is, that my situation is unique. I’m almost nothing like most people my age, and so it follows that any relationship I want to have or could have can’t be like other relationships. As an elite athlete I’m tired. I’m moody. I’m preoccupied with training, improvement and selection all the time. I’m completely invested in a low-profile sport that most people know nothing about. I don’t have a lot of time to meet new people, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have the time or resources to engage in the compromise that relationships necessitate. My lifestyle is extremely selfish–everything I do, I do with the hopes of better preparing myself to perform athletically–so finding ways to incorporate the needs and wants of another person may ask or require more of me than I am able to give. As a romantic, it’s sometimes hard for me to admit that there isn’t a fairytale option for me while I continue to train; that there isn’t a perfect match for me who is perfectly willing to tolerate everything about my lifestyle that makes me impossible to date while surpassing all my expectations and making me deliriously happy. But realistically: I just don’t have the time.
However rather than brooding about it on Valentine’s Day, here’s my thoughts on this year’s holiday: I say thank you. Thank you to all of the people who do love elite athletes and who are loved in return. Thank you for putting up with our insane schedule and obsessive eating, training and sleeping. Thank you for being patient and understanding even if you don’t actually understand. Thank you for driving us to the bus when we leave for competition. Thank you for picking us up at the airport. Thank you for talking to us on Skype for hours at a time on a crap internet connection for three straight months. Thank you for sending us Valentines at the Training Center when we’re away from home and miss you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for being a part of our journey–whether we end up in London or not–your support means more than you think.
I’m not expecting any Valentines this year (the obligatory cards from my Mom and Grandma already arrived) but that’s ok. I’m happy that lots of my teammates are going to have a special day today in between practices. And while they’re enjoying their flowers and cards from their special someones, I’ll be happy to continue to push the limits of my love-hate triangle between me, my single and the erg today…something tells me we still have a lot to work out between the three of us. Besides, I’ve already gone above and beyond the call of duty in festive-ness thanks to yet another salon catastrophe which has left me a redhead for this Valentine’s go around.
Long Live the Dream,