I grew up an athlete.
My body was pushed to its limit several times over my decade long competitive swimming career. When I ran cross country for two years in high school I ran on a fractured knee, severe tendinitis- all eventually leading to my retirement from the sport. My swimming career ended with an almost torn rotator cuff- if I swam another year I would have done serious damage to my left shoulder.
I suffered through pinched nerves, chronic soreness, and horrible joint and tendon pain throughout my career- the pains getting worse the older I became and the more my coaches pushed me.
Swimming was my sport though and I loved every minute of it. I loved the races, I loved how you could be on a team but ultimately competed for yourself, and I especially loved the friendships I made throughout my years as a swimmer. These experiences I would never trade for anything in the world. However, as I have metaphorically retired the cap and goggles from ever competitively racing again and now have rejoined the general population with “gym memberships” and going to “studio classes”, I have come to realize there are some side effects from growing up an athlete that no one mentions when you’re young.
First, no one warns you about the mindset. See, when you’re doing a really hard set or you’re lifting heavy in the weight room, or you’re doing that last mile- there’s your coach yelling and pushing you past your limit to achieve what they believe is your next level of greatness. Growing up, you absorb this thought process. You internalize that voice saying “Push through the pain. Keep going. Don’t quit.”
My personal favorite: “Pain is temporary, greatness is forever.” This quote completely encompasses everything young athletes are trained to believe. You can’t quit and you certainly can’t quit because you’re in pain. In the athletic world where someone else is controlling your workouts and monitoring your form, this isn’t a problem. But when you leave the competitive realm and begin to work out on your own, this mentality is your biggest downfall.
In a crossfit workout for the second time in my life, I was pushing myself to the competitive limit. I was trying to keep up with everyone around me by doing my own handstand against the wall. Consequently, I fell, my head breaking my fall. The instructor ran over, frantically asking, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”
Shaken, but fine, I said I was good to keep going. He looked indifferent as to whether or not he wanted to encourage me to keep going, then smiled and walked away. I pushed through the workout, feeling a little lightheaded and a little off balance. At the end of the workout the instructor asked me, “So what did you think, did you like it?”
“I’m a former athlete so I love the competitive feel I get here.”
He smiled and walking away said, “Athletes are the best at crossfit.”
Originally I thought because well athletes are strong, so of course in an environment where you are throwing around weights you would perform better with the strength of years of competitive sports provide. Then I realized, it’s because of the athletic state of mind.
We’re trained from a young age to push ourselves to complete metal exhaustion. That whatever we do, it’s “80% mental, 20% physical.”
When applied to achieving what we want from life, this proves invaluable.
When applied to our daily life and the way we maintain an active lifestyle after our competitive days our over- this can be dangerous.
We aren’t taught to quit, because quitters don’t win. So we don’t quit. We take on more than we can handle because we know how to push ourselves to the breaking point.
Only no one teaches you how to recover from your breaking point. No one teaches you how to recognize your limits.
So we fall victim to our athletic state of mind.