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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

I'm just not good enough! A guest-post by Leah Vause...

Leah Vause is a Canadian pole vaulter.  In the last two years, she has lived a bit of a nomad life - bouncing around between London, Cardiff, Saskatoon, and Phoenix with her fiancé, British pole vaulter, Steve Lewis.   Originally planning on continuing her promising career in London (she had competed quite successfully in Canada), Leah is currently ‘taking a break’ from competition.  As her career potentially winds down, and as her fiancé's begins to gain steam (Lewis was 5th at the 2012 London Olympic Games), Leah - like many before her - has a choice to make; one that many athletes in her situation have had trouble with:




I am 25 years old. I’m a pole vaulter.  In the middle of my so called prime. I am on a break from the sport and I am currently training for a charity half marathon. Apparently, this has nothing to do with pole vault. I haven’t been able to say I am retired - nor am I completely intrigued about going back.  I’m writing this to articulate to myself and to those who will listen (or care?) about why-how I’m caught in-between two worlds. 
Am I choosing to swallow my failure as a pole-vaulter or move on to other avenues in my life and accept reality?
Over the years in this sport, I’ve heard people say being an athlete has its limitations.  Of the many pros and cons, the most common are ‘your body won’t hold out’. ‘you make no money’ and ‘you sacrifice so many things, like having a family, a job, and security’. 
From my perspective, these limitations make sense. Reflecting on my career, I can gratefully say I have made World Junior Championships at age 18, I’ve made multiple National teams and have placed in the top 4 in Canada for 4 consecutive years. I have also racked up 10 medals from 5 CanadaWest and CIS Championships while at the University of Saskatchewan.  I say this with pride but, at the same time, with a sense of dissatisfaction. 
How these limitations affect my decisions and possibly others in the same situation;

1. ‘My body won’t last’. This isn’t something I am struggling with as I have no sufficient injuries at present. Many athletes I know have battled, and I mean BATTLED through injuries and operations to come back to the sport. Kudos to them! However, at what point does commitment become stupidity? How far does one have to search to reach a certain ‘satisfaction’ point? In my view, I think the people who persevere through the brutal times are often the ones who can’t mentally accept defeat. Leaving on a bad note is always menacing. I know retired pole-vaulters who speak of the glory days like it was yesterday. Sometimes I find myself just thinking ‘who cares buddy - give it up’. These lifers will never make the transition mentally. And, really - who’s to decide that they should? As long as they aren’t hurting anybody with their  folktales - let them be.  
Also, people forced to leave the sport with injury have an easier decision. Maybe harder to swallow, but not as tough to decide if they were really finished. For all the other athletes who are struggling to give it up because they are plagued with injury - are they reaching for some sort of “golden ticket?” I hope not. Sometimes its okay to accept the hand that’s been dealt.

2. ‘I make no money from this sport’. This one is true - at least in amateur sport.  I can speak from most ‘almost there’ athletes when I say…there is no money in track. You have to be good to get paid - very good. And realistically, being good means making big heights - which I really didn’t. The small town Sask people - to whom I love dearly - may say I was an incredible athlete, accomplishing far more than the average person. To them, I am a role model for the sport - and I owe them for the sincere compliment. In the real world of track and field, I am the little fish in the extremely large pond. (cringe cliché - sorry). If I’ve learned anything about the last ten years in track, its that - you do NOT go into it for money. Track is a chosen passion and if you happen to excel to an elite level and get paid - congrats! You are part of a very slim margin. I unfortunately was not one of those people. However, I can also say I have accepted that track was not meant to be my career. 

3. I have given up so much! Having this nine-month break has given me the opportunity to realize what I want from non-track life. Half of me doesn’t want to give up pole vault because I like to be known as an ‘athlete’. Being an athlete defines me and makes me feel important. I have purpose and structure to my day and I have a goal and people to stay accountable to. I fear all of these things will slip away and people will forget me. To be brutally honest, I want the glory without doing all the work.
It isn’t surprising that athletes find themselves to be associated with what I like to call the ‘me monster’. Being an athlete means you must adopt a certain narcissistic, selfish lifestyle. To be successful, you have to comply with all the off-the-track subtleties that a lot of people neglect. It’s a full-time job.
I’m not ready to give my life to something I haven’t seen results in. I’m an impatient realist.  There is this sense of delusion with people that I can’t understand. Call me cynical, but I feel reality has just not sunk in with some of the track and field population. I’ve read numerous blogs of some aspiring 20-something year olds unfolding their ‘Dreams of Making the Olympic Team’. I am not, in any way, condemning their dreams; I’m just pointing out that some dreams need a reality check. You have to weigh up your progress and see where the dream ends and the reality begins. Some people are not cut out for it. I am not cut out to make an Olympic team because I am not giving it a true shot.  I accept this.
I want to pursue my teaching career, get married and one day be a mother. I feel -personally - that I cannot train full time and make pole vault my passion without thinking that I’m sacrificing those things. 
Having said that, I can say that I would like to go back to sport and be involved in it in a lesser sense. Train occasionally; keep in shape - stay in contact with the amazing people I’ve met along the way. But I’m not going to the Olympics. And that’s totally okay with me - because it wasn’t to be. I’m just not good enough.

So I guess I’ve answered my own question. Which world am I in? Swallowing failure?  No - I don’t think I’ve failed. I’ve just got in touch with reality, and in that - there is closure. 


Leah writes an on-going blog on www.stevelewisgb.com, and is currently training for her first half-marathon to raise money for Douglas MacMillan Hospice in Stoke.  If you're interested in supporting her efforts, you can do so through www.stevelewisgb.com or www.dmhospice.org.uk

3 comments:

  1. Great post Leah!

    I struggled with many of the same issues when I was deciding to quit vaulting. Over the subsequent years (I know I’m an old man), I’ve had a chance to think about this a lot and have come to some conclusions.

    Having trained with you for years, I can say that you haven’t failed. Perhaps you set the wrong goals (I know I did), but that’s not the same as failing.

    As a society, I think we tend to oversimplify our measurement systems of success and value. Wealth is the obvious example here, but I think many metrics in sport also miss the point. Pole Vault, for example, has just one simple metric, height, which we can easily compare each other by and measure ourselves based on. It’s nice in that it’s pure, there’s no ambiguity, but it’s flawed in that it doesn’t directly correlate to success or value, it’s not even that good of an indicator of those things. Life’s simply more complicated than that.

    I believe the true value in an activity like pole vault lies in how close a person can get to their maximum potential in the time they’re given to pursue that activity. I believe it’s there that a person’s true character is revealed.

    For me, I’m sure I feel more fulfilled having jumped 5.20m after a decade of hard work, than someone perfectly adapted to running and jumping with a stick in their hands does after slacking off in their training for years and peaking out at 5.60m. Likewise I’m sure there are folks who have jumped 4.80m, who are more fulfilled, you could even say more successful, better, than myself, because for the time they could devote to the sport they wasted nothing.

    You should be proud of your accomplishments in the sport, and take the energy and drive you had to all the other aspects of your life!

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    1. setting the wrong goals = not failing - I like that! Thanks for your comments Rob! Very well said.

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  2. Thanks for your great post Rob. I really value your thoughts and personal opinion on my blog. I will always cherish the times we had at U of S and I am planning to invest my drive/energy into new things in my life. All the best
    Leah

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