Fans of the sport have seen the curtains drawn on the 2018 track & field season, but as an athlete with an insatiable hunger for more, the grind never stops.
Immediately after the conclusion of my season, I began reflecting on the year, seeing what I could learn from and turn into even better results in 2019. This is not about pontificating on how well I did. What I want to highlight and share here is a story of perseverance. Maybe it can inspire those facing adversity in their own journey. This story actually begins back in 2017, one of the most trying years of my career.
I got off to a rocky start: a preseason injury to my left quadriceps, from which I didn’t fully recover until a couple of weeks prior to Canadian Nationals. I went into the national championships under- raced. My season’s best times were subpar, my confidence was waning. I had a demoralizing false start in the 100-metre, but then I qualified in the 200m for the World Championships in London, posting a new season’s best in the process. I tried to turn my 100m misfortune into a positive by telling myself it was a potential blessing in disguise, since it allowed me to commit fully, and go all-in on one individual event.
Training for the World Championships went extremely well and I was feeling at my strongest for the first time that season. I rehearsed my race pattern religiously, running off the curve and transitioning aggressively into the straightaway; practising over and over until it was so ingrained, it became instinctive. More importantly, I found a balance between intensive training and getting adequate rest. I was primed by the time the championships came around. Even a potential disaster was thwarted; I overcame the Norwalk virus which had broken out in the hotel during the championships.
After enduring setbacks all season long, signs were pointing to this being a golden opportunity to shine. In the first round of the 200m, I lined up against a field full of quality competitors and when the gun went off, I negotiated the bend just like I had rehearsed — almost to perfection. I was able to relax and ease down to 20.08 seconds, my second-best wind-legal result ever. For a moment, I was elated. I had won my heat, a feat I had never before accomplished at a senior level championship. But the euphoria was short lived. Immediately after addressing the media I found myself disqualified for a lane violation. I whipsawed in a moment from triumph to one of the lowest points of my career.
I go back to that 2017 story, because that moment of ecstasy became the catalyst for my growth in 2018. Fleeting though it was, it fortified my sense of self confidence. I have adopted the adage Insight brings darkness before it brings light. The utility in mulling over losses is the reflection can bring growth. But there is no R.O.I. in dwelling on events without taking action. The best thing to do when adversity hits is to be practical about it. No one has achieved anything of significance without facing failure at some point in their journey. The great ones turn failures into launch pads, and success of the highest order.
In light of this, I made a case study of my experience at the 2017 world championships. I found the silver linings: despite the disqualification, I still technically ran one of my fastest-ever races. I ended the season in the top-10 of the annual Track and Field News world rankings for the 200m.
I learned how to fail without being devastated. I learned how to break through.
I discovered a blueprint that worked for me on the championship level, and I was eager to test it further in the heat of action.
Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
With the Commonwealth games set for early April 2018, I didn't have too long to wait for the opportunity to redeem myself. Coming into the games, I had raced only one 200m that season. It was a win, amid horrible conditions, but the fact that my time was 20.95 was disheartening. My confidence was diminishing and self-doubt, the thing that has been underlying my career, began to seep in.
That deep-seated fear was assuaged when I ran a comfortable 20.59 in the first round … even with easing down before the finish line. Once I saw the lane assignments for the next round, I knew I would have my first big test of the season. I was lined up against the world leader at that time, Clarence Munyai, who entered the games riding a recent 19.69 personal best.
I told myself this was the same opportunity I had at the World Championships in 2017. I had a chance to emerge as the marquee Canadian sprinter. With that in mind, I went on to win my next race in 20.18, the fastest semifinal time in Commonwealth games history. Even though I went on to win silver in the finals, that semifinal race was the moment that proved to be the beginning of a positive shift in my mentality. The race set the tone for the rest of the season.
In Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, author Susan Jeffers implores her readers to say ‘yes to the universe.’ We all start with a vision for how our life will play out, but when things happen that change our course, we need to adapt to the newly emerging paths and embrace the opportunities they present. We all face trials. How we deal with them defines our careers.
What makes athletes successful is an ability to bounce back from adversity. Understanding that losing is part of the journey and without loss, wins are not so great. I would take it even further: losing is a foundation success is built upon. The more you’ve endured and persevered, the more likely you are to succeed when faced with adversity.
Being a professional track & field athlete is like being the CEO. All the losses fall on you. The difference between those who go on to succeed and those who never recover is all in the ability to weather storms. If you can find even the faintest silver lining in every adverse situation, if you can manage to keep your optimistic lenses on, you will grow from your mistakes and begin to break through. I plan to continue to break through in 2019.
(Large photos submitted by Aaron Kingsley Brown)