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My Journey to the Olympic Trials

Written by Betsy Graney PT, DPT
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Betsy OlympicsThis July, I had the opportunity to compete in the US Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene , Oregon.  My event is the steeplechase, a 3000m (7.5 laps, 1.86 miles) race over barriers.  There are 35 barriers and one each lap has a water pit on the other side. For women the barriers are set to 30 inches.  Unlike hurdles that you may be used to seeing on the track, the barriers cross three lanes, are made of wood and don’t fall over if you hit them.  It adds another dimension to distance running.  I’ve heard people call it ‘terrifying,’ ‘difficult,’ and overall unappealing, but I call it fun.

 To qualify for the Trials in track, you have to run a qualifying time (under 9:53 for women’s steeplechase this year) within the year leading up to the race. I qualified in 2012 in the same event and decided then to make it back in 2016.

The experience, especially the build up to the race, taught me a lot about life and running. The beginning of my season didn’t go exactly as planned.  My first race was a good start, but my second race was poor.  My third attempt was interrupted by a thunderstorm.  The disappointment left me questioning my ability and purpose.


 I was running out of time and opportunities to qualify. I was missing out on experiences with my family and friends.  I was putting myself through a rigorous training schedule, mostly training alone. I was spending a lot of time and money to travel to the competitions. What if I couldn’t hit the time? What if I got hurt along the way? What if I’m not good enough for this anymore? What if… What if….  What if… Have you ever had doubts that distract you from your goals?

After the third "attempt", I did a lot of reflecting, praying and thinking.  Maybe my mindset was part of my problem.  I went from thinking: ‘qualifying is going to be easy, I don’t even have to try that hard, it’s a given’ at the beginning of the season to feeling all of this self-inflicted unnecessary pressure and fear to perform.  Neither of those are conducive to having success, no matter the area of life.  Overconfidence led me to thinking I didn’t have to work as hard.  Fear led to doubts and too little confidence. 

This mental battle can be similar to rehabilitating an injury or illness.  Your expectations, goals, hopes and dreams can be altered in the matter of seconds.  Your once perfect, positive attitude doesn’t seem to be possible anymore.  How can you stay optimistic and focused?

One tested and true factor to help rehabilitate an injury faster and completely is social support. Social support has been shown to have beneficial effects for many populations including athletes, people with severe injuries (like traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries) and caregivers for the severely disabled.  After a heart attack, those with quality social support live longer and have improved quality of life compare to those who do not (http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/8794777).  

Personally, my family and friends were critical in supporting me during this time of difficulty in my running.  Their confidence in me never wavered and it was a way for me to build my confidence back up. They served as listening ears and gave advice when needed.  I also relied on my faith and trusted in God’s strength beyond my own.  It unburdened me to remember that His plans are greater than my own and that His way is the best way. These things really allowed me to run free, reconfirmed my purpose and helped me enjoy the sport again. Performing your best in your sport or activity requires peak physical condition and psychological state. 

Besty Olympics 2I flew to Nashville for a race exactly one month before the Olympic Trials race.  I hit the time in a new personal best and felt fully engaged mentally in the race for the first time in a long time.  I was able to translate some of that mental toughness into the Olympic Trials race.  I had a foot injury about  3 weeks before the race that limited my training leading up into the race.  Free from expectation, I hit another personal best time at the Olympic trials! I finished 17th in the event out of 36 runners. Without a fully surrendered mind and being fully supported by my friends, family and coworkers, I could not have had such a successful race.

One of the things I enjoy most about my job as a physical therapist at the Center is serving as social support for my patients in their recovery process.  Although I may not know exactly what you may be going through, I'm happy to serve as a listening ear or a fresh perspective.  Recovering from an injury or illness is never easy and not usually quick. However seemingly big or small your impairments or limitations are, our staff is here to support you in the best way we can. There are likely to be difficult periods and joyful periods.  We're here for them all. Let us know how we can support you on your journey.

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