A Mindset of Sacrifice

Traveling with USA Track and Field during this year’s world championships has allowed me to learn a great deal from the athletes in a unique environment. During preparation for the championships I sat down with Kara Winger, a three time Olympian and the American record holder for javelin. I asked her several questions about what athletes sacrifice and was fascinated with her response.

I specifically asked: “I am amazed at what athletes ‘give up’ or commit to. What do you think of when talking about commitment to your sport?”

She responded with this:

I’ve always been very intrinsically motivated, so when I think about commitment to sport, it’s about bettering myself and not a whole lot else. People get wrapped up in discussing the sacrifice of athletics, but I’ve never seen it as a burden. To me, it’s an opportunity to do something totally weird and different than you ever thought you’d be up to, see the world, and challenge yourself in ways you don’t expect. Maybe it’s partly being 31, but I’ve always loved lots of sleep, I enjoy feeding myself well, and I like to measure my improvement in anything, not just athletics. It’s not a difficult commitment in my mind to see if I can be the best at something, and I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that friendships formed and experiences gained along the way make the effort that much more worth it. 

The only things I feel like I give up are time spent with loved ones in the summer and outdoor adventures that I long to have someday. But I’ve also learned to prioritize time with loved ones when I have the opportunity (off-season and holidays). Smaller-scale outdoor activities help me recover from sport, mentally and physically, so I work those in too. I don’t think everyone gets to figure out that time is precious this early in life, but I truly have sport to thank for that, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Instead of focusing on the sacrifice that she has made she is clearly focused on the reward that she gains by the profession that she has chosen. Athletes at this level give up so much. They always are eating, sleeping and living with performance in mind. I know several that set an alarm so that it reminds them to go to bed on time, clearly conflicting with activities in the evening. We often don’t see this type of commitment because we are not living with them on a daily basis.

Personally, I have now been on the road approximately 18 days of a 25 day trip. This is time away from my family that I cannot get back, but I am inspired by Kara’s words. I also had an amazing moment on this trip when Amy Cragg placed third in the women’s Marathon. She is the first American woman to win a medal at the marathon distance since 1983. I was honored to hand her the flag at the finish line.

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