Repairs are sometimes upgrades

Summer Cook

​I actually had something different (read: more fun) written as a season wrap up (maybe I’ll still publish it because I do like it), but I realized that it wasn’t an appropriate summary of my year. I don’t want to be one of the people who hide behind peppy metaphors or pretty pictures that disguise the truth. It’s dishonest to pretend that everything is smooth sailing. For me it would be running away from who I am and what defines me. I think something that held me back as a younger athlete was thinking that the high achievers had an easy path to success; that they were born extra talented, with a better mindset, with whatever that something extra is. I understand now that the high achievers make themselves who they are.

It’s kind of funny to have people compliment me on my 2015 season. 2015 sucked and 2015 was awesome. I had my best results by a long shot. I won two continental cups and podiumed at two other continental cups; I earned my first World Cup podium and had a World Cup top five still injured from being hit by a car (more on that later); I got some exposure to the top level of competition with two WTS starts and as such, a better idea of what it takes to compete with the best. If someone were to only look at my results – especially in comparison to last year’s results –  they might not realize that the wheels came off in the middle. As a result, what makes other people say I had a good season isn’t what makes me say that I had a good season. Here’s why:

I started off pretty strong with two podiums in the Florida races and then planned to have a long training block before the Asia races. Midway through that training block I got hit by a car at the end of a training ride, an event that ended up defining my season. A lot of people know that I’ve never been too fond of the entire concept of riding a bike, though I have found that there are aspects of biking that I enjoy. This event brought to life one of my biggest fears. I had four weeks from the date of the accident to the Chengdu World Cup. My injuries were extremely painful and as such majorly limited my training, but working with Paulo, the sports med staff at the CVOTC, and FunctionSmart Physical Therapy I was gradually cleared to start back up and I used the race as motivation to get through those weeks. I was getting treatment 3x per week, working with a nutritionist to maximize my recovery, and trying to maintain my fitness. I went through those weeks with the single minded approach of crossing the finish line in Chengdu. There were days where I felt like I could do ok and then there were days where I wasn’t sure I could even swim 1500m in open water. I could confidently say before the race that I did everything within my power to get to the start line and have the best race possible under the circumstances. I finished fourth, in what was then my best World Cup finish. The level of focus I had for that race was entirely unsustainable; it drained me of everything I had. I have no regrets, but I’m not sure that I would recommend this psychological approach to anyone. I had almost entirely suppressed my emotional response and it was just a matter of time before I had to deal with it.

I struggled through the end of May but was still holding on to my sanity ok until around the time I arrived in Flagstaff for altitude camp. Things had started to slip out of control before then but I really started to come undone then. I was having panic attacks trying to complete simple tasks on the bike. Apart from short skills sessions, I didn’t complete an entire ride outside for the duration of Flagstaff camp and things got worse before they got better.  I continued to avoid riding my bike once we returned to Poway in July. The first week back I tried to ride at one of my favorite places and had a panic attack and walked my bike most of the way home. I hated every second of those months.

I went to race Tiszy in August because my skills sessions in closed parking lots had been going mostly ok and that is something. I had also been in a marginally better mindset for a week or two before I left which again, is something. I did terrible in Tiszy, got dropped on the bike in both prelims and finals and it is on me entirely. I failed. I woke up every day in the two months before the races and I didn’t do my job. It’s the pro sports equivalent of a businessman flying across the world for a presentation and blowing off making the powerpoint. Sure I had extenuating circumstances, but the world of professional athletics is harsh. There isn’t a special category for people going through tough times.  You don’t get paid because you tried. I hit a crossroads: either I needed to figure things out and get back on my bike or I needed to find a new job. There are a lot of things that I usually like about this job so I didn’t quit. I initially wanted to end my season because I wasn’t sure if I had time to salvage things – I was really fit swimming and running but I had barely ridden outside since April 11. I worked with Paulo to set goals and make a plan to get back on the bike. Paulo made me take ownership of my plan, which resulted in way more independence than I was comfortable with at the time, but looking back I understand why that was what I needed.

Despite being on a better path, I DNF’d Edmonton. My excuse is the extreme cold, and I didn’t have a temperature reading initially at the med tent, but frankly in hindsight I see how my attitude about the conditions could have affected my ability to tolerate the conditions. Maybe with a better attitude I could have finished? DFL is a lot better than stopped in my book. I had never DNF’d before and I secretly worried that once I had done it I would find it easy to do again. I got on the start line in Cozumel, had the worst swim of my life, and then totally blew it in T1. However, I didn’t give up and I finished 10th. Progress. I had some degree of confidence in myself again. I was excited to return to Alanya, convinced that it was a course that suited me well. I made a lot of mistakes but the mistakes aren’t what defined my race. My response to my mistakes defined my race.  I earned my first World Cup podium and I have an immense amount of pride in the work I put in to have this result after my meltdown.

This year was a good year for me but not because of my results. This year was a good year for me because I turned my failures into my best results ever. Bad things happened to me but I had to abandon the victim mindset in order to achieve again. Yes, my adversity defines me; it cuts me down for a while but I come out stronger each time. I’m not ashamed of these months of my career. They made me worse for some time, but then they made me better.

Looking forward, I understand now more than ever that I can be in a great place, with people I like, with things going well and still hit really bad times. I will still fail. These are inevitable facts and it’s totally normal. What I finally understand is that I have a choice and that choice will make me or break me. I can fear failure and find a way to victimize myself or I can find a way to be better as a result of my failures. Sometimes I’m going to choose wrong, but it’s up to me to find my way back. My tasks are to figure out how to rebound from my failures faster each time and to remember that running away is only a band-aid. I want to be the best athlete I can be. I want to be the best person I can be. I can’t accomplish either of those things if I refuse to solve my problems and take control of my own life. That being said, it takes a team to achieve being one’s best self. I’m grateful to have had the support of my family, Paulo, The Triathlon Squad, and my friends. I couldn’t do this without people who find a way to support me in the bad times without pushing me to be better at the same time.