I think most of us understand the importance of sport and believe in it’s power to make us happier and stronger; physically, mentally and emotionally. So why do so many of us abandon it at a time when we need our emotional and mental resilience the most?
Mise (skip to the key details at the bottom if you don’t have the time to be reading this autobiographical shtuff)
I won my first national medal when I was 7. I did love running but like most things that you don’t nurture and care for, it didn’t last. I stopped running the year I sat my first leaving cert. I had lost interest in athletics gradually over the preceding few years as being a teenage douchebrat and an athlete don’t exactly go hand in hand. I mean I was turning up hungover to training at 16… Naturally I didn’t progress at the rate I would’ve liked and I became bored of a sport that wasn’t giving me the reward I wanted for my little effort. I put out my back pretty badly when I was 16 and rather than go to my scheduled MRI that August, I gladly hung up my spikes to ‘focus on my leaving cert’. I didn’t like doing anything I wasn’t the best at and at the time I wasn’t in the headspace to give it everything it required. So I quit
With the loss of sport came a loss of purpose that I didn’t see coming. Suddenly I wasn’t a runner going training, I was a regular person going for occasional jogs and I hated it. My sisters would suggest me running 10ks with them and I couldn’t even entertain the idea of being a “fun runner”. My relationship with food changed as for the first time eating bad food or too much of any kind’ve food actually made me fat which was not good for me. My body confidence plummeted and I started dieting. Exercise became about burning calories and looking good, food became the enemy, something that wouldn’t change for a long time.
In college I made a few attempts to go back training, it was always my intention but taking the plunge was something I was happy to put off..
First attempt: In first year my housemate Ciara and I decided to go training together. On the way there we met a girl called Kate on the bus who detailed horror stories of the training NUIG athletics do and what we would be expected to do. She spoke alot of jargon about splits, sets, reps and heart rate and we were genuinely terrified. We decided to skip athletics training for that evening and go to a circuits session instead, the safer, funner option, a good ‘calorie burner’. We didn’t even consider athletics training again that year.
Second attempt: In second year I joined Matt Locketts long distance crew. Matt is a fantastic coach but I was NOT ready for the level of commitment that he needed from me. With endurance training, you’re running alone for 4-5 days/week with only one group session. A muddy, disgusting, cross country session that I would dread for days before. I wasn’t enjoying it, it didn’t seem worth the grim training, half of which I skipped if I was “studying” or hungover. Little surprise after a few months of a 50% effort, I quit Matt’s group
The longer I left it, the less realistic it seemed that i would ever commit again. I was getting to the point that I knew I would put in the work but would I be good enough? Had I left it too late? Soon I realised that it was my ego holding me back. I wasn’t willing to give 100% and not be the best. When you actually try that makes you vulnerable. I was terrified of failing. That Summer I went to Canada, no better place to get unfit! When I came back my granny was in hospital and I was visiting her there. The national athletics seniors were on the TV in her room and we watched them together. I couldn’t help but think how unbelievably proud she would be to see me running on that screen. I made a promise to myself in that moment that I would run the national seniors the following year and whether she was here or not, I would run them for her.
Final attempt: I came back to college for third year in September 2017 with the usual start of semester notions, ready to take over the world of athletics as we know it. A multitude of very crap things happened then, I lost my 2 remaining grandparents and had my heartbroken within a couple of weeks. Losses which naturally took a huge emotional and mental toll on me. I ended up getting back together with said heartbreaker and I’m very glad I did as he may very well be the reason I’m running today. He had blind faith in my capabilities when I did not. I needed that support and belief in beginning, I needed that push. And just when I was ready to go out on my own, we broke up again about 2 months later. I lost a major part of my world but gained another, life is about balance right? Orr just distracting yourself with new addictions so you never have to deal with your problems.. That doesn’t sound familiar at all…
I have never looked back, I rekindled my romance with this godforsaken sport and we’ve never been more in love. Athletics brings me so much real happiness and a sense of purpose. What that purpose is I don’t know, after all I’m just running around in circles, but it feels right.
Soo why did you just read all that pretty irrelevant info about my life and I?
Key details: I want to urge people, especially those coming to college not to give up their sport, and if you don’t have one, find one. If you’ve abandoned your sport (like me), go back! It’s absolutely NOT too late! Play soccer, football, tennis, karate, boxing, rowing, whatever suits you! Try them all and eventually fond one that sticks. The leaving cert is a huge reason why so many of us put sport on the back burner. It’s understandable and almost necessary as it’s an incredibly important academic year. Staying active during that year is important but training every day and matches at the weekend isn’t realistic for most. What’s key is that you take it up again when the study is done.
Playing a sport nourishes your confidence. It’s easy to forget what we’re capable of when we put in a little work and sport reminds us of this. It teaches you to smash the upper limits you created for yourself as you grew up, limits that exist only in your mind. Having your own thing, a personal commitment that is all about you, outside of your college, work and friends, is very ideal for college life and will help you in more ways than I can describe. Of course if your passion is knitting or creative writing, by all means do that. I simply focus on sport because I truly believe in it’s all-round benefits for the trilogy that is your mind, body and soul!
I’ve seen the effect that deserting sport has on guys and gals first hand. It’s not good. Most of us grew up playing some kind of sport, training every evening with matches, games, meets, galas or races at the weekend. How do you expect your mind to adjust to suddenly not having that outlet at all? Do you honestly think college work is a substitute for that gap?
Having a sport in college may save you from the initial tempting trap that is going out and getting hammered every night of the week. You will feel a greater purpose to your life than being drunk or hungover all the time. Something that might sound fun now but will just make you fat and unhappy in the long run. If you can do the going out scene in moderation, you’ll be alot better off. And then there’s the obvious benefit of connecting with like-minded people and finding friends you wouldn’t have have met otherwise.
If the gym is your sport, you get fulfillment out of lifting weights and pounding the stairmaster, great. Move with caution, the gym can be dangerous! And I don’t mean the risk of falling off the treadmill, though that did happen to my housemate last year. Working out with your sole focus on how you look can lead to problems. Obsession over body-image being the first, especially when said workouts are done looking in a mirror! Sport encourages people to get up and move with the purpose of improving skills, getting physically and mentally stronger, faster, better and you will look better as a result of all this effort without having to focus your energy on it. Viewing your workout simply as a means of burn calories can lead a bad relationship with food. You may start to see food as something you need to work off rather than fuel for the work you’re doing. You may find it hard to stay motivated and to exercise consistently, finding yourself doing bursts of gymming and jogging every day for 2 weeks and then not again for another two. Sport gives you that structure. It’s freezing out? You’re feeling lazy? You still go to training because you’re answerable to the people there. You may not feel motivated on the bad days just to go for that run or to the gym as you don’t really have any obligation to. So you cuddle up on the couch, ‘I’ll go tommorrow’ Which is going to make you feel better in the long run?
I do acknowledge there is a dark side to sport, as there is to most things in life, if something goes wrong. I’m currently living that reality with a groin injury that’s causing me to end my season early. Not being able to run national seniors like I promised myself is crap and not achieving my goals feels a lot like getting my heart broken. And just as I asked myself then; Do I regret putting everything into something that ultimately brought me so much pain? Not at all. Because it was always about the journey, I enjoyed every minute of it and I’ll do it all again. Just as Winnie the Pooh said “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”- Even If just for the time being.
Stick to sport- It’s never easy but it’s always worth it.