Note: this is the second (and final) part of this blog, you can read the first part here if you missed it!
Written by Tiffany Melius
Almost everytime I talk to someone new about my Olympic goal, I am asked the question, “So, how many hours a week do you train?”, like the person asking the question expects to be astounded by the answer. When I respond with “Around 24 hours”, which does not sound like very much, I realise that it’s actually the question that is wrong. Training denotes time spent in a gym doing physical workouts. Yes, sport is about getting physically and technically better, AND it is about managing your self-esteem and emotions, your mental health and your stress levels. It is about eating the right amount, of the right foods, at the right time. It is about sleeping the right amount, at the right quality, at the right time. It is about making every waking (and sleeping moment) geared towards the question “What is going to best serve my dream right now?” - observing, recording, reflecting, communicating with my IST, collaborating on the best approach, and then implementing.
I am the Executive Director (CEO) of a non-profit organisation that works with people with severe and persistent mental illness. It is my dream job. On the one hand, I am not making minimum wage and I certainly could not take on this dream without the level of financial stability (largely covering my basic expenses) that this job offers, even at half time.
On the other hand, I am the leader of this organisation and there are significant repercussions of having the boss only working and present half of the working week. My Board has been incredibly supportive, and the majority of my staff have accepted this as the modus operandi for the next few years, however there are also inevitable impacts on workplace culture that are difficult for me to watch. My loyalty to the organisation, and my integrity in acting in the greater interests of the whole, have been brought into question by the making of this decision, which is entirely in my own self-interest.
While I was still working fulltime and trying to increase my training and ‘athlete work’ to sufficient levels to achieve this dream long-term, I was stressed to the point of multiple emotional break-downs and a whirlpool of constant negativity. It was unsustainable. I had the choice to abandon this dream to go to the Olympics, and avoid all the unpleasantness at work, or, take the hard path and have to witness the consequences of my choice everyday that I keep choosing it.
Additionally, this is not the kind of job that you can just leave at work 100% of the time, like frontline retail or hospitality. If there are deadlines that need to be met, I have to work whenever, and however much, to meet the deadline. If there is an emergency, crisis, or significant event in the operations of the organisation, or with the staff or people we serve, I am on-deck. It’s non-negotiable.
I am also a life, sport, and performance coach through my business, Force of Nature Coaching. I specialise in helping high achievers reach their performance potential. Kinda like what I am supporting myself to do right now. :)
Minus the details, most of this could apply to many athletes the world over. What’s unique about my situation?
AGE - I am 34. I will be 36 at the time of the Olympics. The competitors who are my greatest challengers in achieving my dream are 1-2 decades younger than me. Yes, there are advantages in being experienced and having the self-awareness that age brings; and at the same time recovery takes longer, injury comes easier, and gains tend to be much smaller and take longer to manifest.
FAMILY - Before I made the decision to train for the Olympics, my plan was to start trying for a family this year. By the time I am finished on this journey it could be significantly more difficult for that to happen. I knew I wanted to be a mum from a very young age, and the chance that that may be harder, or may not happen at all because of my decision, rears it’s head every once in a while as an anxiety that I have to repeatedly work through.
I live overseas. It may be true that you are successful as an athlete based on your performance, however, getting the opportunities to perform in the first place are often based on relationships and connections. I haven’t lived in Australia since 2006 and therefore many of the people who are now in a position to help me are different from those I knew back then. Additionally, government funders and sponsors in Australia are often reluctant to support someone not able to be ‘on the ground’ for them domestically, and those same groups in Canada don’t want to support someone who is competing for another country.
Why do I live overseas? Because I feel like I can be a better athlete for Australia, by training in Canada.
Despite all of this, I still call Australia home (too). One of the proudest moments of my life was standing on top of the podium at the Oceania Climbing Championships in 2017 and singing Advance Australia Fair, knowing that it was playing because of me.
SO WHY THEN?
After reading about all of these challenges, you might be wondering why I am doing this at all. The answer is as multifaceted as the challenges themselves.
WANT TO HELP?
The truth is: I can’t do this alone, and every little bit of support helps.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
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