Keep Your Enemies Close (5/1/13)

BY JAZMINE FENLATOR

 
Light day of training...and by light I mean pushing and pulling
lots of weights!

I am sure everyone has heard the phrase “keep your enemies close” at least once. As a child and young adult, I never really understood what that meant and thought to myself: How do you keep “enemies” close without conflict and tension? Clearly they are an “enemy” for a reason, right?  Well, as I have matured over the years, encountered a plethora of situations and life experiences, I realized the word “enemy” is used loosely in the phrases context.

Typical definition:
Enemy (or foe): a term used for an entity, whether an individual or group, seen as forcefully adverse or threatening.  It usually invokes strong emotions.

I started my 2013-14 Olympic season training April 1 by flying out to Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz. for a training camp with my new strength and speed coach, Stu McMillan. I was joined by quite a few other athletes in the sliding sport community – some new to the group like myself and some already established.  In the training group are bobsledders and skeleton athletes, including reigning two-time world champion and Vancouver 2010 Olympic gold medalist in women’s bobsled Kaillie Humphries, her brakeman/2013 world champion Chelsea Valois, both from Canada. Also in the group are my USA teammates Elana Meyers, 2010 women’s bobsled bronze medalist and 2013 world silver medalist; Nic Taylor, Meyers’ fiancé and 2012-13 World Cup team brakeman; Bree Schaff, Vancouver 2010 women’s bobsled Olympian (placed fifth); Katie Uhlaender, two-time Olympian and 2012 world champion in women’s skeleton. Finally, Canadian skeleton athletes Alex Hanssen, an up-and-coming slider, and Jon Montgomery, Vancouver 2010 Olympic gold medalist, round out the group. Some might say, wow that’s a whole lot of competition all training together under the same coach; in fact there seems to be inter-team rivalry as well as international. Well of course we are all fierce competitors with a common goal. 

 
Pole vault practice at Paradise Valley Community College in
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Contrary to popular belief, most Olympic hopefuls and returning Olympians train in high caliber training groups, with the same coach/staff and often directly with their highest competition. To be at your best you have to train with the best. This includes finding the best coach that works well to maximize your skills/abilities and strengthen your weaknesses. In addition, surrounding yourself with a positive, hard-working and supportive training group. And lastly, remembering that you are doing what you love and having fun doing it. Recently my teammate Elana Meyers answered some questions via Skype with gold medalist and retired teammate Steve Mesler on what she considers the top three key components to success. Below is an excerpt of what her support team entails:

“Also getting a new training group, that was huge – just surrounding myself with better people… I did change coaches back to Stu McMillan, who I'm very comfortable with.” – Elana Meyers (to read more on her article with Steve Mesler visit TeamUSA.org)

 
Sunset at Danney Training Facility in Scottsdale

Each individual in the training group brings strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately fuel everyone in the environment to push each other past their limits, never settling but continuously making strides of progression. Rather than being a “big” fish in a little pond, training like this can often even out the playing field. It allows you as an athlete to maximize your potential in training so that when you go to a competition, there really are no surprises, you’ve been around your competition every day for weeks, you know each others patterns and instances and that eliminates a lot of mental anguish so you can just compete. You can just worry about the game, performance, run, etc. It allows time to essentially slow down so you can execute and be efficient with all your energies where it needs to be – COMPETING in that moment.

While here in Scottsdale for this month, I have the pleasure of seeing many American and British track and field elites. A great example of training with the “enemy” is in the men’s pole vault community. Currently, Steve Hooker (Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medalist and recorder holder, Steve Lewis (Olympian and British record holder and Brad Walker (Olympian, 2007 world champion and U.S. pole vault champion) all train together there. Watching these guys throughout the week you would think they are on the same team or even brothers.  I guess essentially they are on the same team, just not for the same nation. They do track workouts together, pole vault practice together, lift weights together, critiquing and spotting one another all under the same coach as well – the famous track and field legend himself, Dan Pfaff.

We travel around the world together and interact for at least six months of the year over a number of years. After a while you get to know each other and it is like your teammates and competitors become your family away from home. You celebrate wins (maybe even holidays) while on the road, sympathize with losses, empathize with injuries as well as are inspired and motivated by one another’s character.

As a fierce competitor you want to win when you’re at your best and also when your competition is too – pushing athletic achievement to its limits that day going head to head, hundredth for hundredth, millimeter for millimeter, kilo for kilo, whatever it may be. It is a common sportsmanship and respect for one another and that is want makes a true title of a champion. At the end of the day I embrace my “enemy” and competition because I know that they make me a better athlete and person every moment I am surround by them in one way or another. No one wants the glory handed to them; I certainly don’t. I want to earn it and fight ‘til the end and no matter the outcome know I can stand tall, head held high, proud!