What hurts the most?


With almost 50 million views on YouTube last time I saw it, it's quite likely that you have seen a video of French gymnast Samir Ait Said breaking his leg at the Rio Olympics a few days ago. An awful incident made heartbreaking considering how hard he must have trained to get there. Can you imagine the sense of disappointment and anguish for him, on top of the physical pain?

Now let's imagine for a moment that Samir didn't break his leg in the preliminaries. In fact let's go as far to pretend that his Olympic performances were consistently outstanding and he took home several gold medals! Would he have been immune to disappointment and anguish forever more? Would the gleam of gold have shone throughout his life and coloured his world for good?

Hardly.

What a lot of us don't realise is that regardless of one's performance in such a highly-esteemed event, there is always going to be the coming down phase, the anti-climax and for some, the post-career blues. These amazing athletes have pushed, pushed, pushed for the best result they can achieve in one point in time, building up to a huge finale with everyone watching... and then what?

The Huffington Post posted an excellent article last week about post-season depression, which I won't go into much here, except to say it's a great read and you should do yourself the favour of clicking on the link here.

What I do want to point out is that while we remain so fixated on athletic achievement, physical performance and body aesthetics (and that's a whole other issue the Olympics has brought up), as a society we are still not giving much time to mental and emotional fitness. This applies just as much to the average Jo Bloggs as it would to an Olympic competitor.

So while you are watching the Olympics (or The Biggest Loser, or a cross fit competition, or anything that focuses on optimising the physical form) I suggest you start to wonder which of the people you are watching are truly, deeply and wholly happy when they go home at the end of the day. Who has joy and satisfaction? Which contender is entirely content with themselves, regardless of their performance?

Then ask the same questions of yourself. Are you as emotionally healthy as you can be? As mentally fit as you can be? I can tell you, after working for 12 years in the fitness industry, there are very few people I know who are as mentally fit as they are physically fit. In fact, the fittest people I know have created an identity out of their achievements, which has left them feeling empty and broken when the capacity to achieve becomes diminished - they then feel that their whole self has been diminished.

I wonder if Samir Ait Said will be feeling diminished right now? Less of a human being because his hopes were dashed? Perhaps... I for one don't feel too sorry for him. In fact I'm willing to bet that in a couple of years time he'll release a book about how his Olympic disappointment turned into his life's greatest gift by putting him on a new path he never would have found otherwise.

So what hurts the most? A broken leg? The disappointment of an interrupted Olympic bid? Or the realisation that a gold medal (or nice house, or expensive car, or dream job) doesn't change who you are? That a life spent focussed on physical form is a life unfulfilled?

I don't want to be on my deathbed wishing I had enjoyed my life more. So instead of clocking up hours on the treadmill doing exercises I hate, I'll choose to clock up hours working on my mental and emotional fitness instead*. Anyone with me?

(*Disclaimer - author loves many forms of exercise and is happy to share non-treadmill related movement with you at events such as "Fitlosophy") ;)

Bek Smith is a physiotherapist, fitness instructor and positive psychology enthusiast. She helps people strengthen their minds at the same time as their bodies through her consultations and classes - find out more at www.liveitupevents.com.au.

This post was originally published on the Live It Up Events blog - visit the website to learn more about well-being for individuals, parents and businesses.

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