My husband, Nic Taylor, and my coach, Stu McMillan, are constantly pushing me to grow and learn. After each of my hardships, or even my victories, the two of them, in separate conversations, challenge me to ensure that I am learning from each experience and not just focusing on the wins and losses. At times they ask the exact same questions and the exact same responses to my answers, which sometimes are very short-sighted (it may not be that unusual, as they both are coaches at the World Athletics Center, where I train in Phoenix, Arizona). They both have the ability to provide me with perspective and work to help me reach my long-term goals.
As an athlete, I’m often caught up in the short-term — what’s happening today, the race this week, or this year, for that matter. However, I know that this week, this month and this year are all part of a process of a long-term goal of being where I want to be headed into the 2018 Olympics and beyond. I don’t have much problem focusing on long-term goals in my personal life: I’m one class away from graduating with my MBA from DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management and I’m currently in the process of securing internships for the summer, both of which are steps to my long-term goals. However, as an athlete, I get so caught up in trying to win each week that perspective falls by the wayside and learning becomes secondary to winning. Luckily, I have Nic and Stu to keep me in check.
I am an athlete mentor in an organization called Classroom Champions. With this organization, I record videos monthly, which are sent to classrooms around the country to teach them skills like goal setting and fair play. One of the lessons we do each year is on perseverance. Each year I tell the children how difficult obtaining a goal will be and how important it is to work through the obstacles. As much as you talk about it, the only true way to learn perseverance is to experience it. As much as I’ve overcome in the past and as much as I’ve tried to teach others about it, this year has definitely taken my perseverance experience to a whole new level.
After a rough week in St. Moritz, Switzerland, I head to La Plagne, France, optimistic that a change in scenery will help me feel better. We arrive at the hotel and immediately I feel better. Having raced here earlier this season, I know all the hotel staff, specifically the director Thibault Reignier, and I feel like I’m at home—or as close to home as I’ll get on the bobsled tour. I’m still recovering from the Altenberg and Koenigssee crashes, as well as the St. Moritz crash, but I’m getting better and better every day. Because the world cup race doubles as European Championships for this race (a big deal to European nations), we are allowed an extra day of training. Unfortunately, due to my recovery, I am not.
I spend the training day watching my teammates as well as many other nations slide, trying to visualize what it will be like driving my own sled. Due to weeks and weeks of passenger rides, the track is pretty bumpy and each athlete only gets one run. Each athlete comes up complaining about the conditions, and, as much as I wanted to be in my sled, I knew it was a good decision not to slide.
The next day I finally get back in my sled. I’m super excited, as there’s nothing that makes you more grateful to get in your sled than watching other people do what you love. I take the first run and feel great afterwards. The track is bumpy, but apparently not as bad as the other day. Not only do I feel great — but I’m fast, which is exciting as I’m normally not one to be fast in training. I check my lines with my coach and head back up for the second run.
The second run goes smoothly, but the track conditions worsen. After the run I feel horrible, and I’m getting worse and worse by the minute. It feels like all my symptoms are returning all over again. Discouraged, I know now that I cannot do four-person this week and that I might possibly not be able to do all my two-man runs this week. After a brief discussion with the coaches, I head back to the hotel and lie down for the evening.
I wake up the next day still feeling pretty awful. Sliding is scheduled for that afternoon, but I’m questioning whether I can go. I need the trips but I also need to feel good in order to race properly. I start to get ready, still unsure on whether it’s a good idea; however, while at lunch, the coaches get a call — training has been cancelled for the day! I no longer have to make a decision. I’m relieved, as now not only can I take a much-needed day off, I don’t lose much to my competition because they won’t be able to slide either. As excited as I am, I crawl back to my bed and lay down for the rest of the day.
The next morning I wake up, still feeling awful, but a little better. I speak with the coaches, who make the decision that I’m only taking one training run. I get to the track, take my one run and am very unhappy with it. I hit out of Curve 3, a mistake I’ve been trying to fix all week, and instantly Coach Brian Shimer knows I’m going to beg him for another training run. I plead with both coaches (Shimer and Coach Sepp Plozza), but as much as I want to take a second run I know it’s not a good idea, and the coaches deny my pleas anyway. Discouraged for ending the week so badly, I head back to the hotel to prepare for the next day’s race.
|Me with our athletic trainer, Rick, throwing up in between heats of the race
I wake up the morning of the race feeling the best I’ve felt in two weeks, which is still not great. I’m nauseous, but I normally get a little nauseous with race anxiety so I shrug it off (when I was a brakeman, I used to have so much anxiety that I would throw up before every race). However, we get to the track and my nausea no longer feels like pre-race nausea; this is something else. While warming up, the feelings continue to get worse, and finally, I stop my warm-up and throw up on the side of the warm-up area. I turn and look straight into a camera, catching the entire thing. I continue warming up, but my stomach is knotted up and I feel like I’m going to throw up again. However, the first heat is about to start, so I head into the changing room, try to calm down, and get ready to go.
Cherrelle and I blast off the first start, my stomach still cramping, and the trip is smooth. However, there’s so much pressure in this track — 19 curves and one of the longest tracks on tour — that in curve 16 I feel the vomit come to my mouth and fear that I’m going to throw up in my helmet. I make it down to the bottom, then run out of my sled to the side line. I can’t throw up, but I dry heave. I learn that we’ve set a track record, but at this point I feel so awful I don’t care. We’ve made it down. I look back towards my sled and Cherrelle is bent over, in pain. Her back has been bothering her and with all the pressures she’s in just as bad shape as I am. Although we’re in the lead, I’m seriously questioning if another run is in our future. We load our sled onto the truck and head back to the top of the track.
At the top I’m immediately met by one of our athletic trainers and Sepp, whose worried look makes me pause. Sepp was the head coach of the women’s team back when I started bobsled in 2007, so he knows me quite well and the look on his face tells me I don’t look good. I tell him that I need an alternate to warm up, as I’m not sure Cherrelle can go another heat. He then asks me how I’m feeling and if I can even go another heat and at that moment I have no answer. I want to go another heat, but at this time I just feel so awful I want to lie down and throw up some more. I know if I just throw up I’ll feel better.
Our sports med staff takes me inside the start house to try and help alleviate some of my symptoms. I tell them I just want to throw up and they allow it. I walk outside behind the start house and throw up, mostly pre-workout drink, but it does the trick. I start to feel better and lie down in one of our cars in the parking lot. My head stops hurting, the nausea dies down and I feel confident that I can go another run. Sepp, still worried, brings me some hot tea. I gather myself, take a deep breath and start to prepare for the second run.
I warm up again and my stomach starts knotting up. I know I don’t have anything left in my stomach to throw up, but I take it easy on the warm-up and let the adrenaline of racing do its work. We are the last sled down the hill and I can feel my stomach getting worse and worse with each and every sled that goes down the track. I know I have a limited time left before I’m going to feel really bad again. Finally, it’s our turn to go. Cherrelle has rallied and is back at the line with me for the second heat. We take off the block and head down the track. The ride is fairly smooth, but once again Curve 16 hits me and I want to throw up.
We make it down to the bottom, we cross the line and see that we have won. Instead of celebrating, however, my teammate Jaz helps me out of my sled as I gingerly step out, trying to catch my equilibrium and ensure I don’t throw up. I take my time changing in the finish house, take a second, rock a pair of Oakley shades to help protect me from the brightness of the light reflecting off the snow, and saunter to the winner’s podium. After a quick interview, I’m done. I can finally rest. And rest is what I do. Three days to recover until another race week in Igls, Austria…