I stand at the start line behind my blocks, trying to see through the pouring rain that is beating down on me.
It’s almost silent – there’s no crowd – except for the sound of the rain and the announcer introducing us. I can see the cameras set up at the finish line, ready to catch every moment of the race. I stare ahead at the ten hurdles in front of me. Eight lanes side by side, a gauntlet of hurdles. “Good luck ladies”, the competitor beside me calls out. That’s the best thing about being a hurdler in Canada: the camaraderie among us is unmatched by anything I have experienced in my entire sporting career.
“À vos marques,” the gunman calls out, a gentle reminder that we’re in Montréal. I do my routine as I get into my blocks, as I have done hundreds of times before. I breathe deeply - focusing, listening.
“Prêt-” the gun sounds and off we go. 13 seconds can feel like the blink of an eye – or an eternity. The competitor on my left hits a hurdle and falls behind, on my other side, a hurdler starts to pull ahead. I grit down and try and keep on her tail, hoping that I can use my speed to pull ahead at the finish. And then we cross the finish line and I see the other competitors slowing down in front of me, confirming my standing.
There is a delay with our times, they do not appear on the score board. I congratulate my competitors and after a moment, we start to walk back towards the holding tent to grab our things and put on our (semi) dry clothing. They announce our times and I hear mine. Sixth place. The race did not go the way I expected it to. I came in wanting to win, but much like how the rest of this short season has gone, I seemed to have missed the mark.
I quickly put on my clothes, grab my bag, and make my way to my coach. It’s hitting me as I am walking. The emotion is beginning to roll over me.
It’s not going to happen.
I have spent the last nine years in competitive track and field. For the last five, I have been seriously focusing on qualifying for the Canadian Olympic Team. In that time, I moved to the United States to train as a full-time post-collegiate athlete. I moved back to Canada to do the same thing in a more supportive environment.
I have sacrificed full-time jobs, holidays, and time with my family, all in the name of making myself into the best athlete I could be to qualify for The Team. I had imagined what it would be like to win the Olympic trials and qualify for Tokyo. I imagined crossing that finish line with the Olympic standard, the excitement I would feel, my family in the crowd, sharing that moment of victory with me. The reality was completely opposite.
At the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic hit, I was in top shape, running my fastest times and prepping to start that final push into the 2020 outdoor season. Then, almost overnight, the world shut down, the Olympics were postponed and my life seemed to hover in mid-air. Like many athletes, I was faced with the decision to push on or throw in the towel. I decided my journey was not over just yet.
I continued into this season facing a lack of training facilities and makeshift tracks in decommissioned ice arenas. I fought through dwindling motivation when it seemed like nothing would return to normal. There were moments of “why am I doing this?” but I pushed through because I was so close. I battled on through setbacks, injuries, and constant pandemic uncertainty. I had to see it through to the end.
I do not have the fairy-tale ending. I am not on the Olympic Team for Tokyo. I will not have the OLY beside my name, an accolade for the decade of work I put into this sport. I poured my heart into this process. My reward is that I am an “almost,” a “hopeful,” “close, but not quite enough.” It’s a tough pill to swallow, and a broken dream that I will grieve. It is a disappointment that runs deeper than you might realize. One that I feel I carry not just for myself, but for those who believed in me as well.
Qualifying for the Olympics means more than years of work, more than hours spent perfecting the tiny details that add up to tenths of second gains, more than taking care of my body from nutrition to physiotherapy to mental health counselling. Sport has become a part of me, and that will never change. The life it has given me, the person it has made me into, that is my reward.
When I look back at this journey, and the story I will tell, it will focus on the people who stood by me, all the way to the finish line. It is about my coaches and teammates who became best friends and family. It is about the therapists who healed more than just my physical injuries. It is my friends and family who believed in me when even I couldn’t. And it is about the countless people who followed my journey and cheered my name from the sidelines, whether they knew me or not – all because they wanted to see me succeed as much as I did.
These are the people who make an Olympic journey worth it – whether or not the end of the road saw me standing at a start line in Tokyo.
Top large image by The Canadian Press