The Story of a Not-Quite Olympian

The story of a not-quite Olympian

As I write this, it’s 114 days until Rio 2016 gets underway. However, despite loving sport in general and the Olympics in particular, on August 5th this year I will probably be hiding under a rock somewhere.

I’ve thought about writing this post for a long time. Lots of things have stopped me – shyness, embarrassment, not wanting to say something I’ll regret, wanting to be honest but not knowing how much of the truth to tell. I know I’ll never be able to convey in a few hundred words how and why my experiences and near misses have been so significant, so tough, so defining. I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m not fishing for compliments. It’s not about blame or assessing why I didn’t get picked. So why am I writing this? I guess I just want to let the unlucky few who share similar experiences know you aren’t alone and that you will find a way to handle it. And for everyone else – those who play, those who watch – maybe in the coming months it will help you remember to spare a thought for those whose Olympic dreams aren’t made, but broken.

I know this sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet, but I need to acknowledge that it hasn’t all been doom and gloom – I know I’ve been fortunate to experience some pretty incredible things during my hockey career. I made my senior international debut aged 17, I’m a Commonwealth and triple European medalist, I’ve played at a World Cup, I’ve been national champion multiple times with two clubs. I’ve travelled the world thanks to a bit of ability and a lot of hard work with a hockey stick. I still play for a brilliant, successful club with a great bunch of mates. I’ve got a lot of good stuff to look back on. But ultimately, I won’t be able to look back and say I’ve achieved my dreams in hockey.

The problem with dreams is that if they were easy to reach, they wouldn’t be dreams. They’d just be plans. Intentions. Actions. When I was 22, I had my first experience of not being selected for something. Unfortunately for me, that something was Beijing 2008. As reserve, I trained at the preparation camp in Macau with the girls then had to stay there on my own for a week (as a bit of an emotional train wreck) when the team travelled to Beijing. Four years later, I was involved in everything until selection, but missed the cut for 2012. The London Olympics was brilliant, devastating and totally inescapable.

I’m aware that people suffer far worse things in life than not getting selected for the Olympics, but this is where words fail me a bit. I can’t really describe how it feels to miss the tournament you’ve given everything for and dreamed about since you were a kid. I could tell you about things that have happened to me. Randomly bursting into tears at Tesco a few weeks after selection when a cashier asked me how my day had been. Surviving four months on three hours sleep a night. Being a bookworm, but unable to read a whole page for six months when all I wanted was to be able to escape into another world. Sitting with a teammate on the bus home from training at the Olympic Park and admitting to an irrational sense of extreme guilt at letting my family down. I’ve never felt as alone as I did in a stadium of 16,000 people in London – I was inconsolable when the GB women lost their semi final and inconsolable when the GB women won a bronze medal two days later. I could tell you about those and a hundred other things but in the end none of them really get to the nub of what you actually feel like inside.

There’s all this stuff going round in your own head and heart, but of course the world goes on, and thankfully I’ve always been lucky enough to have some pretty special people around to help get me through. It’s simultaneously the best and worst thing when people say they can’t believe you haven’t been picked (it still is). Selection, the big pink elephant in the room, has made me feel like an awkward friend/housemate more times than I care to think about (it still does), but the mates I know have really got my back never make me feel bad about it. Sharing a look with one of my best friends when she was on her bronze medal victory lap, and her taking a second to share my pain instead of revel in her elation, was something so powerful to me I don’t think she even realises.

It’s been over two years since my last cap, I’m not even in the GB squad any more and I still find it impossible to get my head around Rio being so soon. It kills me feeling like the odd one out in large parts of my friendship group, not having that same daily routine and camaraderie and sense that I’m part of something. I still believe I should be an Olympian and I still believe I should be in with a shot at Rio, but I’ve had to accept the fact that I’m not. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it exactly, but I guess I’ve learnt to look at things in a different way.

Some time, some perspective and some travel have reminded me of a few things. If I’m going to define myself as a hockey player – and maybe even as a person – based on whether I’ve played in the Olympics, I’ve realised I’m devaluing myself. And as for anyone else who judges me on that? I probably don’t need to worry about their opinion that much. Instead, I try to focus on enjoying myself and pushing myself to be better, on and off a hockey field. In that end, that’s what I want to define me.

65 thoughts on “The Story of a Not-Quite Olympian

  1. I am sitting at work and up comes your latest blog which I am compelled to read as you are my niece and God daughter. I can’t begin to feel your disappointment, then or now, about something that has bruised you so deeply. I will never be able to understand it. I can, however, relate to it in other ways and even offer up some advice (although I would prefer to say comment, as what I say may or may not be relevant to you and others).

    Successful people, in sport or business (and as you know I fall into the the latter category not the former), are driven to constantly do better, whatever they have achieved before. The drive is underpinned by nothing ever being quite good enough because everything can be done better or something else can be done to surpass the previous achievement. This driver is an immensely powerful one as it guards against any kind of complacency which in business (and probably in sport) is the number one risk to success in a competitive environment. Take your foot off the peddle and someone else always overtakes you.

    So this is a very powerful driver of performance and it differentiates successful people from others. It manifests in a relentless desire to work hard, improve things and be better than others we compete against. It can be infectious and if others follow the lead being given momentum is very quickly gained,

    It can, however, become a negative force if not managed both personally and for others around you. If continuous improvement means nothing is ever quite good enough, almost by definition success is never properly celebrated, enjoyed or dwelt upon in the way that it should be. What hasn’t been achieved yet or in the past can become the focus and then it can eat away at you. In my situation I have to be careful that my dissatisfaction over my own performance (even though its good I am never satisfied with it) isn’t then transferred to others because I am never satisfied with them either because the goals I set are not attainable or always set too high in the strive to do better and achieve more. If I am not careful I am aware that I might undermine my ability to lead and be a positive force for the good. This in turn undermines the achievement of success in the future. A virtuous circle becomes a vicious one.

    I would say we must celebrate success and reflect on disappointment in the right measure and that combination drives us forward in the most effective way. Too much of the former leads to complacency and too little of the latter means there won’t be the drive required. Too much of the latter and too little of the former and we lose a sense of perspective, in sport, business and, if we are not careful, in life. I hope you follow my logic her.

    You have had a wonderful career and have achieved great things and you must always celebrate that. Your disappointments will never go away but mark my words they will help drive you to many future successes in your life.

    • Thanks for your comments and insight J. Always appreciate your support.
      “We must celebrate success and reflect on disappointment in the right measure and that combination drives us forward in the most effective way” – couldn’t agree more.

    • Thanks Ruth. All my playing experiences – good and bad – have affected how I approach coaching (especially kids). I think in the end the thing that gives you the greatest strength when faced with a setback, is loving what you do. Be in touch.

  2. Fantastic article. Refreshingly honest and uplifting. Much better to have travelled that journey than to have never experienced those highs and lows.

  3. Really appreciated what you have written! Were you able to ask the selectors why you weren’t picked?
    U are not defined by being or not being an Olympic. ….but never give up….aim for next Olympics? Be inspired by awesome female Sportswomen like Dara Torres!…..maybe be an Olympic Coach? Etc …..Good luck xx

  4. An incredible article & I can relate to the hurt & emotions even at my level of sport, so appreciate how difficult it is to cope when it is world sport & coverage. As you say the wounds may never heal, but it is a bit like grief it does wane & you have to remember the positives/highs. Keep going, we are all with you & thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Good luck at the weekend, hope to see you then.

    • Thanks for your comments Lynne. The grief analogy is one I’m always a bit reluctant to use because I’m not sure chasing a ball around a field should ever be compared to ‘life and death’ (whatever Bill Shankly said!)… however, in terms of the experience you go through, there are certainly parallels and you’re right about the effects of time. Best wishes and see you at Lee Valley.

      • When you put everything you’ve got into it and you look at it through your eyes and not through others’ and what they might think or say, it IS life and death, of course you’re still alive in the end but when dreams shatter, there is always something dying inside of you, you’re entitled to feel what you do… I don’t know you but I’ve been deeply moved by what you (beautifully) wrote. You’re still alive though and they say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, so maybe you haven’t made it as an Olympian (or so you believe because all the work you’ve done for so many years has probably contributed to the Rio victory!) but that doesn’t make you less worthy and hopefully that won’t prevent you from “being the difference” in other people’s lives and you are truly an inspiration. So keep going and keep believing in you! And thank you for what you wrote, you ARE an inspiration. Anne

  5. A powerful and well written article. Thank you for sharing your experience with us Beckie.
    You already have much to be proud of and I’m sure that you will enjoy many more successes in all sorts of ways.

  6. Bex( tried to post comment, didn’t work…) just wanted to say, amazing article,
    Must have been so hard to put into words, inspiring for so many! X

    >

    • Thanks Sarah, really appreciate your comment and it’s always good to know I have a beautiful island to escape to if I need to! I still remember you and Kit picking me up when I came home from Macau and bringing a much needed smile to my face!

  7. Beckie great, honest and endearing article and I am so pleased that I could share with your parents the start of your journey along with my daughter Sammie, back in those days we had great aspirations of what you both could do.
    You did succeed and no one can take that away from you, hope to see you soon, good luck in the future.

  8. Your article flooded me with emotion. My son did make the squad for his sport for London 2012. He retired after the Olympic games. It has taken him 4 long years of hard graft, with unstinting support and love from his wife and friends, to work through the deep rooted psychological impact of the selection process coupled with not realising his dream of a medal. He is only now becoming himself again. Like you he recognises and is truly grateful for all the opportunities and experiences he had. The road after being a top level athlete, whenever and however that career comes to an end, is a challenging and lonely one.

    • Hi Beth. Thank you for your message. I’m blown away by the response I’ve had to my blog post and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience.
      I know that there’s lots of athletes out there whose experiences have an incredibly big impact on their identity and their mental health as well as their sports career. I’m also very aware that family and friends often ride an emotional rollercoaster alongside them, and there’s no doubt that this makes the world of difference to a sportsperson keeping their feet on the ground when ‘successful’, and keeping their head above the water when ‘broken’.
      Going to the Olympics or winning medals doesn’t necessarily mean an athlete’s career (or the transition out of it) is smooth or “the stuff that dreams are made of”, just as not going doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you have nothing to be proud of. I’m glad to hear your son is becoming himself again and I completely understand how this process feels to go through.
      Thanks again for your comments, it means a lot to know that what I’ve written strikes a chord.

  9. Good read, i’ll leave you with a quote from Batman

    Alfred Pennyworth: Took quite a fall, didn’t we, Master Bruce? Thomas Wayne: And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

    Life is what you make it Beckie, with your attitude i have no doubt you will make it special.

    Mike

  10. Hi Bex,

    A beautifully written, heartfelt description of the absolute feeling of desolation of not being selected. Although I never reached the heights that you have, missing out on selection for county/territorial squads hurt like hell…..tears shed, sticks and goalie helmet chucked.

    Now they are days that I remember fondly (if still a bit grudgingly) for the life experiences and more importantly the life-long friendships made…..oh and the knee and shoulder surgery.

    Whatever your future holds (hopefully including a catch up on the beach with the dogs) it will bright …… simply because you will make it so. Sam xxx

    • Hi Sam. Thanks for your message and I’m glad you could relate to it in your own way. I completely agree with you about the other things sport gives you – and my first experiences in hockey with you and the Quackers were the best possible way to start my career!

  11. Thank you for writing this blog…..I’ve found out myself this week that I’ve not been selected, and I’m devastated, heart broken, lost, confused, shocked, exhausted…..and more than anything I’m questioning the sport that I love, and questioning if it’s all been worth it.
    You’re words summed up everything I’m feeling and I thank you for the comfort they gave me, but even more I thank you for making me realise how I need to handle this. Right now I want to shout and rant and blame…..but that’s not the person I want to be. I’ll be ok, and there will be life after Rio.

    Thank you, Kelda x

    • Hi Kelda. Thank you for writing this message. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had bad news on selection. I can imagine the emotions that you’re going through and are going to go through in the coming months – there’s no escaping the fact that it’s going to be an incredibly challenging experience and I know all too well there’s not much anyone can say right now. If my blog helps any athlete like you in even the smallest way, it’s made it worth writing. Hang in there, hold your head high, and keep reminding yourself of the things you have to be proud of and the fundamental reasons you love doing what you do. All the best for the future.

  12. If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

        If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

        And treat those two impostors just the same;   

    • Four very apt and very beautiful lines from my favourite ever poem! Thanks Ben, all our hours of cooking crazy dishes, listening to Kings of Leon, making plans with that giant world map (Baykal!) and laughing a LOT made a huge difference to me back in 2008. Hope you’re keeping well and thanks for the words.

  13. ” If I’m going to define myself as a hockey player – and maybe even as a person – based on whether I’ve played in the Olympics, I’ve realised I’m devaluing myself. And as for anyone else who judges me on that? ”

    You have found your own direction/advice. You have yet to find out your other natural strong skills.
    But keep active..to stay healthy for life.
    My thoughts: https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/balancing-between-active-and-cerebral-your-passions-for-life/

    • Hi Jean. Thanks for your comments and thanks for the link to your blog. I found your article interesting and it made me think – I suppose in many ways, for me my other ‘creative skills’ are around writing! Best wishes.

  14. So true, if dreams were easy they would not be worth pursuing. Sometimes we miss the mark and we are left standing, wondering what to do next. During these times we can stop and moan our lost dream. But, that is no way to live; instead, we have to gather our thoughts, learn from the experience and move forward. Whether we move forward to try again or to try something different, but to try nonetheless. I am conducting research on the topic of Confidence and would love to have you stop by my blog and fill out a survey I have created. May you become excited for whatever your next try may be.

  15. I stumbled across this on Twitter and almost thought I was reading my own story (as a footballer). Naturally, a few lines into the article I burst into tears. I felt compelled to reach out and say thank you for sharing

    • Hi S. Thanks for your message. I think the response I’ve had to my story has reminded me that athletes in all sports, at all levels, can go through a similar experience. I’m glad it made sense to you.

  16. Very brave to open your heart. i think you are great especially as I hated that hard hockey ball and opted to make the tea at home matches at school. Love Aileen

  17. Hi Beckie, we haven’t met but your words touched me and I felt compelled to respond.
    I was also dropped from the Olympic squad (Beijing) as one of the last two. Being picked up again after the Olympics was possibly harder to cope with than being dropped in the first place. I retired about a year later to pursue another career, have not touched my stick since, and have also not managed to shake that dirty, guilty, somewhat fraudulent feeling of not having made it to the pinnacle event. The worst is when you’re introduced by someone as an ex-Blackstick and the first question asked is about whether you went to any Olympic Games …
    This is 8 years ago now, but the feeling is still raw. It never goes away, but you do learn how to live with it. Chin up and refocus.
    Bridget
    London NW5

    • Hi Bridget. Thank you for getting in touch and sharing your experience. Lots of very familiar emotions to those I’ve experienced, although I think I just love playing too much to have ever really thought about hanging up my stick. The response I’ve had to my writing has reminded me how many people out there have dealt with a similar disappointment at some stage and that so many more people don’t ‘make it’ than do. I hope you find some peace – being a Blackstick is a great achievement no one can ever take away from you and you clearly have a lot to be proud about regardless of the disappointments you’ve endured.
      I have played the last 2 NHLs in NZ (for Central) and I can honestly say I think the experience ‘healed’ me in a way. Travelling and playing down there was a bit of a game changer for me. I think of NZ as a bit of a second home and I hope you manage to get back over there from London every now and then. I think we may have played against each other in Rome in 2006?!
      Best wishes and thanks for the message.

  18. What a brilliant piece. Captures the feelings perfectly. My brother was an Olympic hockey player, but I can still remember his feeling of confusion and worry and anger and self-doubt at not being selected for the first Olympics he had trained for four years for. He never forgot that.

    • Hi Beccy. Thanks for your message. I’m glad to know it made sense to you given your brother’s experiences – although I’m also glad he managed to get through it stronger and become an Olympian later in his career. Appreciate you getting in touch.

  19. Your blog popped up on my reader. I don’t know you. Or hockey. I do know pain, but still, to try to fathom how you feel, after such a huge loss, is difficult. Your grief is real, palpable and absolutely understandable. It sounds like you have been defined as hockey player, a successful, champion hockey player for so long. You’ve had such a plan laid out for yourself. What is left when that falls away? I wonder if injury would have been easier to bear.

    Do you have access to a sports psychologist to help you through?
    Thank you for sharing. It was a privilege to gain some insight into sport at this level. What’s terrible for you, was a gift to me. God that sounds trite. Just take good care

    • Hi Pol. Thanks for your message and support. The question of injury is an interesting one. I missed six months of competition (including 3 tournaments) due to an injury during my career. There’s no doubt that this is also an extremely emotional and challenging experience for any athlete, but I’m not sure it can be compared directly. Perhaps missing out due to injury has an element of self-protection for your ‘ego’ whereas non-selection feels like more of a direct judgment on your ability. But I definitely think injury is a different challenge rather than an easier one. In the end I guess whatever the reason you miss out it hurts like hell!
      Thanks again for getting in touch, I really appreciate your support.

  20. I love watching the athletes compete during the Olympics and get goose bumps during every medal ceremony. I appreciate the years of hard work and sacrifice but your post reminded me that not everyone who trains is selected. How hard is that! But I am hoping that you can still see the silver lining even if the dream is yet unrealised. Thanks for your honesty and in my mind you are already an Olympian🙂

  21. Therein lie the secret … be true to your self. Our experiences, our hardships and joys in life are all relative. Not one person has a right to hold their life above someone else and say “yes but you have it lucky, look at me…” Relatively speaking, we all have our lucky and unlucky days. You are doing what you are proud of and in that context, not being drafted is as bad as loosing a limb. The person next to you that has lost their limb are in a place where life is good. They are achieving their goals, it is your turn to be held and reassured that all will work out in the end.

    Shout to the world, proud and loud, share your achievements …

    Cry to the world, in tears and sobs, everyone has a right to a strong shoulder in times of pain and doubt …

  22. Pingback: All Are NOT Chosen: Perspective of an Olympic Hopeful | Life is for Living

  23. The downside of sport – not everyone, even though worthy and brilliant, gets selected. Not everyone wins a medal, and sometimes you have a hard day and get beaten. All the same, I encourage my children to join sports teams and play hard because they love the thrill of winning, the team spirit and I think that even if they don’t make the team/ don’t win, they learn how to live and win in the bigger game – life.

    • Thanks for your message. Totally agree with this and so glad you encourage your kids to play sport and join teams. Winning is a great feeling but losing or being left disappointed can teach us so much about pride, strength and resilience. Most of all, I hope they enjoy what they are doing. Best wishes and thanks again.

  24. I attended the 2000 Olympics in Sydney to watch my partners daughter play with the Matilda’s. I followed her journey through two Olympics and the sacrifices she had to make for her sport. The mental anguish is tougher than the physical pain. I can never begin to understand how you must have felt not being picked,I have seen you play. You will always be a star to people who have seen you play. But life is not fair we all know that. But in sport an athlete only has a small window of time and opportunity. You are not too old for the next one. Keep dreaming. Your article was refreshingly honest. Thank you and keep that chin firmly up.

  25. I finally got around to reading you blog approximately 114 days after you penned it. I’m not exactly speedy… I was chatting this a.m. with a group that watched the Rio events religiously. One of them polled a group she belongs to and found that every member of the group picked a back story as the most memorable part of the Olympics. It was good for me to read your thoughts. Be sure and keep developing your story. Someone wants to hear it.

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