2013 was a big year for me. It was the year I graduated from chiropractic college, wrote the last of my big board exams, got married, moved home with my husband after 9 years of being away at school, started my practice and developed Celiac Disease (though I didn’t get the diagnosis until the following year). But it was also the year I decided to commit to training with a new coach from back home and returning to the heptathlon after a 5 year hiatus from the event, all with the goal of making the 2016 Rio Olympic Team.
This was a goal that I’d had for most of my life, but didn’t seem a sincere possibility until my 3rd year at University, when I hit the Olympic ‘B’ standard the year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
This was when my dream really came alive.
But, for various factors and bad timing with injuries, my life’s journey kept me from realizing that dream in the subsequent years. To be an Olympian is something so many athletes strive for and to me it is the pinnacle of my sport. To compete with the best in the world and have the opportunity to show myself what I am fully capable of through all my hard work, dedication and sacrifice, would mean everything was worth it. In the end though, it is all for the love of sport, why else would we do it?
So, Rio was meant to be my shot. After a rough but successful year in 2014, where I struggled through the ever-frustrating symptoms of Celiac Disease without a definitive diagnosis and ended up winning our National Combined Events Championships with a new personal best score in my first year back in the event, I was feeling confident.
Then 2015 came and was not as smooth as it should have been. I underestimated the residual impact my healing gut would have on my body; I assumed once I had the diagnosis, everything would start to go right again. But I spent much of that year battling flare-ups and fighting illnesses. It was during these times that I had thoughts about giving up and asked myself why am I still doing this?
Why should I continue to balance work and track, train 6 days a week sometimes twice a day, spend weeks at a time away from my husband, forego having a social life and missing major family events, put off starting a family and building a house and my career?
But I remembered my goal and learned to take one day at a time. It also helped to have a wonderfully supportive husband who was there to remind me of the why. When I finally felt strong again and was ready to peak for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, in front of an electric and supportive home crowd, I suffered a major tear in my hamstring while warming up for the first event of my competition and was forced to end my season.
Frustrated with all of these ups and down, my coach and I decided to make some major changes leading into the 2016 season. We started working with a new strength coach; I made a plan with the National Team’s nutritionist and physiologist to get my immune system back to full strength; we changed my training cycle plan to include more rest time; and I set a recovery plan with my amazing chiropractor.
I had changed my mindset around my training and had help from my family with daily things to take unnecessary stress off. I felt on top of the world. I had never felt stronger or healthier and my workouts were going great!
Until I tore my adductor in early April: at the peak of our competitive season. This is when things derailed mentally for me. We were doing everything we could to make sure I healed quickly and could get back to the track as soon as possible. But I had already missed 6 weeks of training and competition at a crucial point in the season and my head started playing games with me, an experience I had never had before. It was at this point I called my brother.
While my journey over the past four years wasn’t going quite as planned, I was always motivated by watching my brother and his incredible successes. He is so fun to watch and such a phenomenal athlete, that when I could cheer for him I seemed to forget the struggles I was having. It is a unique relationship to have a sibling not only in the same sport as you, but in the same event as well and at such an elite level. We can relate to what one another is going through and share an aspect of our lives that is such a big part for both of us. When no one else seems to understand, or can’t possibly understand, we have each other to talk to. And so, I called my brother for advice on how to navigate this foreign world of the mental issues of sport. He helped me quite a bit that day and I further sought the help of a sport psychologist; but come the end of our qualification period I had failed to make the Olympic Team as I had run out of time to get back into form for the big PB in the heptathlon I needed.
But my road to Rio wasn’t done there! Thanks to that brother of mine, I had good reason to make the trip down with my family to cheer him on in his second Olympics and watch him upgrade his bronze medal to gold! From the time we both learned to high jump in elementary school and he used to come to my practices to watch and get a few of his own tries in at the end, I have loved sharing this sport with him. Watching him grow in high jump and become the reigning world and Olympic Champion has been an amazing experience. Despite being younger, he has always inspired and motivated me and I just hope that I’ve been able to be there as a support system for him when he needs me.
I have had many challenges when it comes to track and field and my life in general, but I know I could have things much worse. So, I try to keep in mind that no matter how often you are knocked down, you only have to stand up one time more and look forward to the future. I will still chase this dream as long as my body and life circumstances will let me and I have the added motivation to join my brother at the top of that international podium one day.
Written by Jillian Drouin (Karma Activist)