As a former NCAA Division 1 track and field athlete, I know the hard work that needs to be done to be a strong athlete at the Collegiate level. Running 70 or more miles a week, weight lifting, and stretching were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being at your top level. Whether you have the talent to be an Olympian or the work-ethic to be an every day athlete, there is a lot of behind the scenes information that the average person does not know.
When I won a Conference title or qualified for a large Championship meet, friends and family members would ask the same question, ‘Do you want to go to the Olympics?’ Little did they know that even though I was a great athlete in their eyes, there were a ton of people better who would make me look pretty slow. They also had no idea of the work it takes to be an athlete, let alone a top Olympic-hopeful athlete.
24/7. You may not be training 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but you have a plan each and every day for your training progression. From the food you eat to how much sleep you get, your day is mapped out in advance to maximize your ability to train and compete at the top level.
Injury Prevention. Many people do not know what it takes to stay healthy and prevent injury. The workout for many athletes may not be the most time consuming part of their training. Stretching, massages, ice baths, weight lifting, abdominal work, and plyometrics are some of the many aspects of training that take up a large portion of the day. It is hard work to be in top form, but even more difficult to stay that way.
Mental Stress. The mental aspect of sports can be another battle. Pushing yourself on days that you are tired, sick, and just ‘not in the mood’ have to be overcome. Being able to improve and take yourself to new levels is a continued stress. We as humans have a competitive nature and we are sometimes our hardest critic, putting pressure on ourselves and holding ourselves to a standard that is higher that others would expect.
Socialization. Whether you are a serious college athlete or a world-class athlete, your sport takes up a lot of time. For a large portion of your day, it is just you and your coach or you with your teammates. The normal everyday life of relaxing travel or social events is sometimes pushed to the side because staying out late can have a negative impact on the workout the following day.
There are many sacrifices that athletes make to be the best. As you tune into the Olympics, whether they win or lose know that each of those athletes has given a lot to be where they are. There are many who have worked just as hard, if not harder, and have still not reached their dream of being a member of the Olympic team. To those who made it to the Games, best of luck and much respect for all that you have done to get there.
For more information on what it takes to be an athlete, look to individual sport websites such as USA Track and Field, and generalized sporting sites like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).