The bubbles in my flat, motivational waters have been recharged this week. Not from an unusual source; we regularly hold up elite athletes as a source of inspiration – but from an unlikely trigger; the ‘seating’ plan for the plane transporting equine athletes to the Olympics in Rio.
There are hand written corrections and adjustments on the plan and it made me think of a coach for a school outing. The ‘children’ are seated according to who gets along, who gets sick and who the teachers need to keep an eye on.
It’s the Who’s Who of the horse world at the moment. It’s a pony mad girl’s dream!
And in amongst all these behemoths and no less mighty himself, is a horse I knew in Mexico.
He is there because he and his rider have qualified to be there, through hard graft and perseverance. Of course all athletes train hard and dedicate everything to achieving their Olympic goal. What I’m saying is that we probably don’t appreciate what that involves, in real terms.
Well, I’ve seen it. It’s determination and perseverance like The Terminator. It’s “I’ll be back…and back…and back…till I achieve what I want”…till the cows come home.
Not every country has elite athlete programmes. Yes, at the end of the day it’s still the athlete that has to train, perform and get the results but it’s very helpful to know that you have funding and support behind you. It makes me wonder how many competitors in Rio will have been training alongside doing their ‘day jobs’.
One day, sitting with this rider while they were doing their ‘day job’ and nursing an injury that required painful injections and therapy, the question of competing at an upcoming competition arose. I suggested that maybe a rest was in order as there would be other competitions…
Have you ever said something and as soon as the words were out of your mouth you realised how ridiculous it was? Watch out for the tumbleweeds on your way out.
Equestrians are a strange breed. I’ve seen people who have fallen off, covered in sand and blood, limbs dangling at stomach turning angles attempt to get back on their horse saying their injury was just a scratch. I myself have ridden with chronic back pain but dosed up to the eyeballs with anti-inflammatories…and then been cast in bed the next morning. The H had to roll me out of bed. It did seem worth it at the time.
Along with skewed injury perception, equestrians also have a unique medical recovery app installed in their head. It takes the amount of time the doctor says you should rest, divides it by the amount of patience they have, subtracts the safe number of painkillers that can taken in one day and then spits out the new reduced convalescence time of usually just a few days. However, their horse will have the full amount of rest necessary and not a moment less.
So, after a look of ‘Really?’ the response I got was “I have to try” before I got handed the heat pack and they hobbled off to explain something to a student with the usual infinite patience.
It’s not just the physical endurance I find mind boggling, it’s the mind boggling mental endurance too. How do they find the strength to keep going when the most treacherous of all body parts; the brain, casts doubts on their abilities and choices?.
In Mexico, whenever I was in a black hole of despair about my riding, dramatically announcing I’d lost the ‘joy’ and wailing I would just give up and call it a day, I’d get a well deserved verbal kick up the backside from my “witches” if the usual encouragements hadn’t worked. There would be a cup of coffee, the “this is the nature of horses” speech and “tomorrow is another day”.
Thank you ladies. (In case you are wondering, these encouragements are still available – now delivered by the magic of WhatsApp).
Who does that for athletes? Who does that for athletes that don’t have the luxury of sports psychologists? How can anyone who is not performing at that level understand the mental battles athletes can have with themselves? I suspect many have to be their own cheerleaders.
Seeing my chum’s horse on the seating plan didn’t make me think about the competition ahead, it made me think of all the effort that had gone before to get a spot on that plane. I thought “Now they can just relax and just enjoy the moment”. Erm….WRONG! Of course they won’t. That’s not what they do. Getting to that moment was just part of the bigger plan. The effort and hard work continues right up until the final salute of the final test. They are always pressing forward. Just thinking about that constant expenditure of energy makes me exhausted. There might be a little rest after the Olympics (just to restock the adrenaline and catch up on some sleep maybe) but I would put money on it that normal work resumes shortly after.
I am in awe and incredibly proud of this person’s achievements. It makes me a little weepy and emotional to think I’ve witnessed some of that journey. (Come on now! It wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t some weeping).
Whilst I admire their riding abilities; I would sell my grandmother for a fraction of their talent – I would give my kidneys for a fraction of their grit. Everything must seem possible when you have that kind of mental fortitude – it’s like a bloody superpower.
Maybe I can’t sustain the level of work and energy that an olympian can. My forward impulsion may not always be steady and unwavering. I may not reach the lofty heights of international glory, success and exclusive plane seats…but in the words of my friend, the olympian – I can try. I can keep coming back and if that is the very best I can do, then I am more than happy with that.