If you’d asked me three years ago if I envisioned myself working with the military sports programs, I would have said no. Not because I wasn’t interested, per se, but I envisioned myself liking the elite and experienced realm of sport more; the part of sport where people are fighting for seconds, analyzing data, graphing progress, and crunching numbers. It’s all about performance- the athletes in that world are finely tuned machines, there are teams of analysists, nutritionists, psychologists, coaches, physios, mechanics, all working to get one person to go a half second faster. That ½ of a second can be enormous in the performance world; the difference between a gold medal and a pat on the back, the difference between a paycheck and a “better luck next time” for the people involved. This was the kingdom that I had lived in for a decade.
Sport and performance are almost two different beings, two different cultures within the same world. The performance aspect is incredible, it’s a choreography of many moving parts that are all dependent on one another for success; a science. Sport, on the other hand, is free flowing, raw, organic, and exciting. Sport changes people and has the power to make a real impact on lives. And I’m not just talking about the participant but the lives of those around them too. There are athletes in the program that have been able to stop taking all medications in the last five months, have shed dozens of pounds of extra weight, have started riding bikes with their kids or spouses, and they have something new to look forward to. That makes a difference.
Working with the military sports program has opened my eyes and reminded me what sport is about, the power that it has to change. In a sense, I can identify with what many of these athletes are going through- a loss of identity. Three years ago, I lost my identity of “elite cyclist” and many of them are rediscovering their identities after being sailors. Some have told me that I was one of the first people to not treat them like they’re broken. Some of them have spent months in the hospital, and nobody addressed them as a person, only a patient. That’s not what sport is about. As Bill Bowerman said, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.”
June 6th2015 was the last day that I raced a bike. On June 6th2018 and I was on the other side of the sport- coaching the Navy’s cycling team at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs. The men and women of the Navy’s cycling team left it all out there on competition day. For most of them, it was their first ever bike race, the first team kit they’ve received, first number pinned on- most of them pinned through the holes, but they’ll get it- the first time some of them rode hard enough they puked after finishing. Some of them will continue on to the performance side of sport, but most probably won’t. I’m happy knowing that there are now twenty-two more cyclists in the world because of this sports program. Twenty-two more people who enjoy going out and riding bikes at whatever speed they like because it’s fun, and it’s something they cando. They might be in the scratch-and-dent bin but nobody is broken.
If you asked me today if I can envision myself not working with development athletes in sport, I’d say no.