Published on April 9th, 2013 | by Amna Al Haddad9
Reflection: What It Takes To Be An Athlete
I became an athlete by accident.
When my interest in weight training started in 2007, it was out of curiosity.
When my interest in strength training started in 2009, it was for empowering myself.
When my interest in crossfit started in 2011, it was finding out a competitive side in me.
When my interest in Olympic Weightlifting was solidified in 2012, was because I found something that challenges me the most, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Here I am 2013, a competitive Olympic Weightlifter.
How did that happen? *Looks to the right and left and shrugs*
I never planned to be an athlete. I studied journalism at university. All of my part-time jobs pre-graduation were in newspapers, media and marketing. I graduated and worked for a leading English newspaper in the UAE in 2011.
Ok. I don’t want to bore you with my history, but it’s part of my story, who I am – It’s part of my story of how I became an athlete.
The day I decided I want to be a competitive athlete was in October 2011. I approached one of my bosses and said: “I don’t think I can balance work with training anymore and it wasn’t right for me to stay in my job as a full-time news reporter.”
We talked and reached a middle-ground and I stayed in my job a while longer. Until May where I competed in the 2012 Crossfit Asia Regionals.
When I came back from the competition. I knew.
For many reasons, I just had to quit.
The way I lived my life was a life of an athlete leading to the competition. All I thought of was – what I will eat, when I should eat, going to bed to get my 8 hours of sleep, how’s my energy to perform on a particular day, what PB’s I will hit and what have you.
But realistically (fast forward today), is not all that makes an athlete, but it was part of it.
Came back to Dubai after the Crossfit Competition. Come June, no longer a full-time journalist (currently freelance sport journalist btw.)
October 2012 was when I said, that’s it. No more Crossfit as my main sport.
I quit it…
…To focus on what I really fell in love with.
Now. Now I am learning what it takes to be an athlete. Evey decision I made took me further out of my comfort zone, every time I decided to quit something, it wasn’t because I’ve given up, but because I wanted more for myself as an athlete.
It takes a whole a lot of sacrifice to be an athlete. It is truly a full-time job. I quit a good paying job because I wanted to dedicate my time for training, recovery, and lowering my stress levels – just so I can perform. Almost a year later since I quit my job, I do not have a stable source of income, yet I am still getting by through doing a bit of work here and there. I sacrificed the certainty of a stable income, just so I can TRAIN. I sacrifice outings to spend 30 minutes to one hour doing my foam rolling, trigger point therapy, and stretching almost every night before going to bed because my mobility and flexibility needs A LOT OF WORK, resulting in a slim-to-none social life (Note: Trust me there were days I HATED doing my pre-bed routine, and there were weeks where I didn’t even do them, but I always end up going back because I know they could be what saves me from a serious injury and what will improve my overhead position, squat, hip flexors, IT band, loosen my hamstrings, allow more range of motion…etc. I swear this list doesn’t stop. I am THAT tight.)
It takes a lot of consistency to become an athlete. It means showing up for training before my actual session starts – come in early, to do my warm-up and work on problem areas that I know would effect my lifting, and then start the skill-work with my coach. It also means finding a consistency in a mental state while training that works toward improving performance. Constant fluctuation in my mood may have different affect on training each time – what is the mood/feeling that works best for me? Being consistent with that will lead to consistent results and progress. I have learned to become aware and recognize what are the emotions, thoughts, and issues that effect my training. (PS: Search is still ongoing for the right mental state that allows less thinking and more doing.)
It takes a lot of practice of become an elite athlete. That means taking a step back to practice my weaknesses MINDFULLY. Actively engaging and practicing my set up position in the Snatch. Practicing keeping my weight on my heels in my 2nd pull, practicing and wanting to make sure each repetition is better than the one before it. Practicing a lot of skill-work to better my lifts. (Note: As a result of practice, I lift like a changed person technically. Each practice skill session has resulted in some kind of change, minor, maybe not noticeable at the time, however, comparing my lifts from a year ago, the changes ARE noticeable. Practice does not make perfect if done mindlessly, but it has be mindful practice. I admit, sometimes, though, when tired staying focused is a challenge and I do mindless reps, but again, work in progress!)
It takes a lot of determination and persistence to be an athlete. The level of determination to be an athlete is quite intense I might add. It is truly easy to just fail a few times and want to walk away from a session, after a few months or a year of training, or from a sport. I have learned it takes a lot to be determined, to keep training, to keep waking up in the morning for practice, to not fall off the wagon (either be it food, stretching, finding sponsors, not beat myself up for not making my snatches…etc), basically fighting against all odds, just to fight for what I want, staying determined, to achieve what I have set myself up to work toward, without giving up. (Note: This does not mean I never felt like I needed a break from it all. I do and I have. It doesn’t mean I am no longer determined when that happens, it means, simply – I need a break. I’m human afterall. )
Athletes face a lot of challenges, limitations, societal pressure, and sometimes lack of support. It takes a lot to rise above challenges, and not give up. I have dealt with a lot of physical limitations when I started training competitively (trust me, it required a post on its own, it was THAT BAD.) I am not necessarily genetically lucky in many ways, but recently found out I am in some ways for my sport – so I decided to focus on that and work hard on what I am not good at to see changes. There are societal pressure – people pointing fingers on what I am doing as a “female”, “covered”, “Emirati”, “athlete” among other labels and whatnot. The pressure of people “expecting you to perform “and win win win, lift heavier heavier heavier” and not merely understanding your sport, how it works, and how it’s a freaking-damn-process. There is dealing with possible partnerships with government, private, and international companies for support, which on its own has loads of politics and challenges. It takes A LOT for an athlete to
shut all that out, rise above challenge, not give up and keep training!
It takes a lot of motivation for the athlete to keep going and not fall victim to challenges. The best thing I have learned is the best motivation a person should work with is the one that comes within, not for external factors and reasons. This is all I have to say about this. (Note: Still work in progress though.)
It takes a strong will to fight. Strong will to keep going when nothing is going right. A strong will to want to make things happen. A strong will to stay positive when the world around you crashing.
Finally, it’s having faith. Having faith that all the hard work, inside and outside the gym, sacrifices, the tears, the rolling at night, the meetings, the hours worked on proposal and presentations, media hounding at you for interviews, months spent learning how to catch the weight, the physical therapy and weekly treatments, quitting of a full-time, stable-income job, pushing against all odds and challenges – will be worth it in the end. It is not a glamorous job to be an athlete, but this is what it takes to be one, and I will keep doing what needs to be done, because I want to be an Olympian.
…And this is my story of how I became an accidental athlete.
This is what I learned in my limited time of what it takes to be an athlete since I've been one for a year. Once I make it to the Olympics, I will write another post of what it takes to be an Olympian. Give me about three years and a half.