Georgia Simmerling’s quest for Olympic medal takes her on historic road

Georgia Simmerling’s quest for Olympic medal takes her on historic road


Cyclist set to become 1st Canadian woman to compete in 3 different sports at the Olympics

By Georgia Simmerling for CBC Sports
July 29, 2016
Canadian cyclist Georgia Simmerling is set to make Olympic history in Rio. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press) Canadian cyclist Georgia Simmerling is set to make Olympic history in Rio. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

My motivation has never been to be a stat, a number, or to have an asterisk by my name, Georgia Simmerling.

“Tell us how you’ve become the first Canadian in history to be named to three Olympic teams in three different sports?” I’ve been asked this a lot lately.

I don’t have the answer. I stumble every time I’m asked that question.

I know how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am today. I know the sacrifices I’ve had to make. I know how selfish I’ve had to be at times throughout my life, and I know how much support I’ve had from my family.

Growing up in an athletic family with three older brothers makes you different right off the bat. You simply have to keep up or you will be forgotten.

“No one wants to be goalie, if you want to play, Georgia, you have to be goalie.”

Okay, let’s play.

Shots. A lot of shots.

Ow.

“Toughen up,” I’d tell myself, “you were the one who wanted to play with your brothers in the first place.”

This mindset helped develop a foundation of mental toughness. I would do anything to play with my brothers, to keep up with them, to beat them.

I knew I wanted to be a professional athlete. I wanted to represent my country and I wanted to go the Olympics. The idea was mesmerizing to me. I created this idealistic vision in my head of what it meant to be an Olympian.

 
Simmerling faced the best skiers in the world on the alpine circuit. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press) Simmerling faced the best skiers in the world on the alpine circuit. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Path to Olympics

My path to the ACTUAL Olympian experience began on skis.

Competing against the best ski racers in the world on the World Cup Alpine Tour was a huge shock for me. I was physically at par with these girls, but my technique was next to terrible compared to the best. As a young Canadian competing in Europe against the world, making it to the top of the podium seemed intangible, unimaginable. Yet, I was beginning to live the life I had envisioned as a young girl, the life I had dreamed of.

I loved it all, and not just the idealistic glimpses of a professional athlete’s life you see as a child. The endless travel and living out of a suitcase, the jet lag, the hotels, sleeping in uncomfortable beds, packing, unpacking, repacking, training at times in god awful conditions with frostbitten fingers and toes, my team. I LOVED IT ALL.

And Alpine skiing brought me to my first Olympics Games. I was named to the Vancouver 2010 Canadian Winter Olympic team. It was an incredible experience. I was overwhelmed with such intense emotion, both high and low.

I was searching for something more. I was searching for ski cross. The sport looked like it encompassed more of my personality. The thought of it excited me. I had a good feeling about it…That good feeling landed me once again in a hospital bed with a broken neck and broken back. I instantly thought of my mother.

I’m sorry, mom.

People think of athletes overcoming “career ending injuries” and the challenges they have to face, but what about the pain they cause their parents?

I think of my mom, getting that phone call at 4 a.m. I’m in a helicopter on the way to a hospital, but I’m doing all right. ‘What's alright?’ my mother thinks. On a breathing machine, that’s all right. A broken neck, that’s all right.

And yet my parents never told me to stop. They saw how dedicated I was, how passionate I was. I was living my life to the fullest.

When I started ski cross, I wasn’t that good. I had to accept that I was going fail, a lot, before success came. But I believed in myself and that it was going to come. Allowing myself to feel exposed and vulnerable helped me so much in achieving my reality of today.

 
From left to right, Jasmin Glaesser, Kirsti Lay, Allison Beveridge, and Simmerling are medal favouites in the women’s team pursuit event. (Photo courtesy Georgia Simmerling) From left to right, Jasmin Glaesser, Kirsti Lay, Allison Beveridge, and Simmerling are medal favouites in the women’s team pursuit event. (Photo courtesy Georgia Simmerling)

Switching sports — again

Not many athletes switch sports midway through their career. They go through that phase only once. I was ridiculous enough to put myself through it four times.

Cycling.

I never had a fear of failure when I started training for cycling. If I “failed,” I would end up in the exact same place I was in, and I liked that place, a lot. That feeling was mentally liberating. I was scared, yes, and I was worried I would be jeopardizing my ski cross career. But I also had unwavering faith in my decision to pursue cycling.

Making it on to the women’s track cycling endurance team has been the hardest challenge I have faced in my career, both physically and mentally, and the most rewarding. The training actually never stops. From puking in 40-plus degree weather during a road race to simply crying in the middle of a road ride for no specific reason, I have pushed myself to limits that I didn’t know I could reach. The training is the same in many endurance sports, cross-country skiing, cycling, rowing, etc. You must endure an incredibly rigorous training regime.

I made the team in January, eight months before the 2016 Summer Olympics. This close-knit team of girls had worked tirelessly over the last Olympic cycle to create a cohesive unit, a unit that doesn’t break under stress. They didn’t trust me, and of course they shouldn’t have been expected to.

They didn’t know who I was. I had to earn my teammate's respect over the months we got to know each other. Together we went through extremely stressful times in both training and racing environments. We have won together. We have lost together. We have been so exhausted together all we can do is giggle about nothing.

Together. What I go through, what I endure, my teammates are there with me going through the same thing. These girls have taught me everything I know in this sport. They’ve made me feel like I belong.

A ship cannot be sailed with one set of hands. We all have an equal part in making our team sail. There is no one hero. The team is the hero. You have a job to do as a member of a team and a great deal of pressure comes with that, but uniting as a team is powerful beyond words.

An Olympic medal won’t define me. It doesn’t haunt me. I don’t have sticky notes all over my bathroom that say “gold” on them. It doesn’t define me because I don’t let it. I am motivated to work as hard as I do every day because I thrive on pushing myself to my limits, on the daily experiences that lead to glorious performances. Because when you fully commit to the process, fully live in the moment, those glorious performances are simply a product of your commitment, of your faith. Stepping on top of that podium is just the sweet, sweet outcome of years of pouring rain road rides, of training in -30 degree, bone-chilling temperatures.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am able to travel the world, to compete for my country, and to inspire others. A title will not define me.

(Photos courtesy The Canadian Press)

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