BB2F Gala Speech – Bringing Fun Back into our Everyday Lives
May 7, 2017
Thank you so much Julie for that incredibly kind introduction. I’ll speak more on it later, but I truly would not be the person – or athlete- I am today without the start in endurance sport I was lucky enough to experience right here in Wingham at Madill. Thanks to hardworking volunteer coaches like Mr. and Mrs. Lisle, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, Julie Sawchuk, Mrs. Jackson, and many others, thousands of teenagers have blossomed into incredible distance runners, Nordic skiers, and track athletes under their tutelage. That’s why it’s such an honour for me to be here today, speaking to you all, as we raise money to install better athletic infrastructure and playground equipment. Tonight, I’m going to tell you a little about my background, but also connect to the importance of bringing fun back into our everyday lives. I began my athletic career here, and I also learned some pretty important fundamentals in life that I reconnect with whenever I am home. This presentation was actually very therapeutic for me to put together at this point in my life and biathlon career, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of the things I’ve learned along this messy-yet-amazing journey.
(Slideshow and spoke candidly about my sport and athletic career.)
So, all things considered, I am an incredibly lucky person. If you had told that little squirt in grade 10 that a few years later she’d be chasing her skiing dream in the mountains, I simply wouldn’t have believed you. I’ve always had this flame in my heart – this burning desire to push myself and become the very best at what ever I’m doing – but the thought of chasing an athletic goal past high school was always a pipe dream. I was teased for being too small and skinny; too much of a nerd; and for trying to be perfect at everything, When I started biathlon, though, that little flame inside me exploded into an intense fire and I knew I’d found my calling – the personal legend I was born to pursue.
I’m surrounded by a lot of “go-getters” – both when I’m in Alberta training with my teammates, and here at home with my family. My parents are incredibly hard-working and the exciting ventures both my sisters are currently undertaking is a testament to that influence.
Growing up, I don’t think it ever even really occurred to us that we couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue what we were passionate about, and we have the way we were raised to thank for that. I’ve always been surrounded by a culture of people who work hard; here in Wingham I saw my parents, sisters, coaches and teammates putting in long hours for little recognition or personal gain, and I think that attitude is what has set me apart in a sport I started late – I started at age 17, whereas most of my competitors started skiing at age 3 shooting around 10.
I moved to Canmore exactly 5 years ago this month, and spent the first 3 years training with the national development group – the BATC. I had some amazing teammates and we pushed each other hard, and I competed at two world junior championships as well as my first senior IBU Cups in 2013 and 2014. I improved rapidly, embracing the lifestyle of a full-time athlete (with a part time job to pay the bills) and loved every second of training and racing. However, the summer of 2014 and into 2015 I hit the biggest obstacle I’d faced yet – my endocrine system was driven into the ground from all the physical and mental stress. I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism after a year of exhaustion and pushing myself through every session. Across the board my hormones were extremely low, and I spent my first winter in the senior ranks adjusting to medication and realizing that perhaps my intense drive was hindering me, not helping me.
That spring, two years ago now, I left that team behind – one of the scarier choices I’ve had to make – and started working with a club coach outside the Biathlon Canada system. John had worked with female athletes with similar issues in the past, and still saw a ton of potential in me – talent and drive that other coaches thought could never be expressed due to my poor health. It’s taken two years now, but I can finally say that my thyroid hormones are stable, and my overall endocrine system is the closest to functioning “normally” that it’s been since I started endurance sport at age 14. Along the way I’ve encountered other physical setbacks – overuse injuries, a dislocated shoulder last summer, disordered eating habits, nasty viruses in race season – but the hormonal challenges I’ve faced have been the toughest. Through it all, I’ve learned how to advocate for myself and stand up for what I know is right. I realized that I don’t need anyone else’s approval or disapproval to make decisions in life; after all, what difference does someone’s opinion make on who we truly are?
This presentation has really had serendipitous timing for me, as I finish off three months of taking a step back from my sport. I never thought I’d be one of those people to experience burnout – but here I am, coming off of a true physical, mental, and emotional burnout in February. I started this winter with some strong racing in November, and truly believed I was set up for a breakthrough season. However, the universe had other plans, as I battled sickness after sickness once I got over to Europe. The results I was expecting – and literally hinging my career and opinion of myself on – were not happening. Weeks of frustration and ill health wore on me, and by early February I was skiing poorly, struggling to hit my targets because I was pushing so darn hard trying to keep up, and breaking down after every race. My coach and sports psychologist convinced me to come back to Canada and take a step back from biathlon – a true break after pushing myself so hard for so long – and though I resisted at first, I now see what a blessing that advice was. I wasn’t giving up; I was giving in to the reality of the situation – sometimes you literally have to remove yourself from a situation to see the bigger picture; the bird’s eye view. My body and mind both needed a break from my sport and from focusing so intently on just one thing for so long. Lack of progress is inevitable when you are pushing boundaries, but because my passion had turned obsessive, every failure felt like a personal attack on my sense of self. My perspective was warped in early February; I didn’t want to think about my sport or even be in the mountains anymore. So, I decided to see who I was outside of being an athlete, and do something I’d always wanted to do but never thought I’d make the time for. I heeded my coach’s advice in the only way I know how – 100% all-in – and took off to a remote area of Costa Rica to volunteer at a sea turtle research station. It was the most rash decision I’ve ever made, but one of the best. I could give a whole speech on epic turtle stories, but I’ll leave it at this: for two weeks, my schedule was set by the turtles and the tides. I was thrown into a totally new challenge and was able to not only experience some fascinating things, but also see who I was outside sport, amongst people who didn’t know me as a biathlete, and didn’t care. I did a lot of thinking, and returned north feeling extremely grateful for the lifestyle we lead, and more certain than ever that my time in biathlon was not yet done…I just needed to make some major changes in my training approach and lead a more balanced life that brought the “turtle Erin” in harmony with the badass “biathlete Erin.”
Over the past three months I’ve come to realize that I’d strayed from my core values. Instead of harmonizing my passion for biathlon with the rest of myself, I let it consume me and be the only part of my identity I could see and express to others. Now I remember how much more I am than that – I’m a daughter to two amazing parents, a sister to two crazy girls, a friend, and a teammate…biathlon is what I’m doing right now in this chapter of my life, but it’s not who I am. I’m pursuing this personal legend of mine because more than anything I love to challenge myself, and biathlon demands mastery of body, mind, and emotions. My definition of success in this sport is no longer whether or not I make the Olympics or stand on the international podium…the success I’m striving for is the internal satisfaction that comes from giving something my all. In life, I think that’s all that matters – finding the things that resonate with you, and doing them…and all the amazing people we meet and things we see along the way. No one will remember me for my results; they’ll remember me for how I made them feel.
So that’s the last thing I wanted to hit home about today – the little joyous moments. The theme tonight of “bringing fun back into our everyday lives” is something even I realized I lost out on for five long years. Even though I am lucky enough to get to train outside every day – do something I love - I let the routine become mundane, and that’s what I want to pass along. I spent 5 years being stuck in the same mindset; the same routine; the same cycle of stress and self-pressure….and that was chasing my DREAM! Sometimes the workout was only about my ski technique, how many targets I hit, and whether I got a good enough photo for a sponsor social media op…not about the feeling of wind on my skin, the light on the mountainside, and my heart beating out of my chest.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being able to take a break in life- whether that’s turning everything off after dinner and going for a walk with your family, or taking a vacation somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, or making themed dinner nights. There are so many ways we can bring a bit of fun into our everyday routine – and the little moments of joy will be the ones we look back on. I don’t remember every IBU Cup result I have or my shooting percentages, but I do remember laughing at dinner with my teammates in Italy, the excitement in my wax tech’s voice as he screamed for me up a hill in Slovakia, and hugging my sisters on the OFSAA Nordic start line.
If there’s anything I can pass along to you, I hope it’s this feeling of liberation. ”Sukha” is a Sanskrit word with no English equivalent; it means, “genuine lasting happiness independent of circumstance,” and that’s what I’m emulating now. I’ve accepted that there are a million things outside of our control in life….rather than focusing on and trying to force the end goal we think we want, we need to let go and enjoy the ride - potholes and all - along the way. All any of us can do is our very best each day, because life really is too precious to do it any other way. We just have to keep fighting through the rough surf, towards the sunlight, like the little turtles. Thank you.
WHAT I'M -
LISTENING TO: London Grammar - Big Picture, Strong; LP - Into the Wild, You Want it All
EATING: All things Thai after an epic cooking class with my mom...and smoothie bowls (finally)
WEARING: my Fast and Female Buff! and lots of teal
WATCHING: Scorpion (close enough to a cop show)
PURSUING: increasing the volume after 3 months of 8hrs/week, and super tight groups on the range
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!