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First Person: Running for a Different Gold

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Cheryl Bernard wears her Team World Vision jersey.

Curler Cheryl Bernard was Team Canada’s skip in the 2010 Winter Olympic games. Her team won silver, and now Cheryl is taking up another sport—marathon running for Team World Vision. This is the second in a series of her reflections on her experience.

A few weeks ago I was watching the Sochi Olympics and remembered back to our 2010 Olympic run and the lessons we applied to manage the stress of playing for Canada, in Canada, at one of our biggest Olympics ever. I will never forget our sports psychologist, Penny Werthner, telling us, “You have no hope at these Olympics if you can’t manage your stress and recovery time, and maintain a healthy perspective.”

As my marathon training progresses, I have been having some doubts about making it across that finish line in June. Life has been busy and I am having a hard time fitting in the training days. And then on top of that, running in the cold and wind in Calgary has not been fun or very good for “confidence building!” So the Olympics got me thinking: Why not apply my curling training to my marathon training?

These were the four items I focused on leading up to and during those 2010 games:

1. Be strict with your training routines, on and off the ice.
2. Meditate and breathe, before, during and after games.
3. Maintain a healthy perspective; this is sport, something we love. Don’t make it more than that.
4. We have a choice as to how we are going to react to the situations that arise in sport and life.

In 2010, our curling team walked onto the Olympic stage with no prior international experience. I won’t kid you—it was tough and stressful. However, I attribute our success to all the work we did under Penny’s guidance in the years leading up to and during those 2010 Olympic games.

Mental preparation was a big one for us. For the four years leading up to the 2009 Olympic Trials, we worked on breathing and relaxation before games and as a recovery tool after competitions. I also learned to quiet my mind with breathing at certain times during a game and before throwing high-pressure shots. And as those high-pressure games progressed, I would breathe more and more to relax. I was always checking on the tightness of my jaw, shoulders and hands.

This was a work in progress for me. Penny and I had a lot of discussion around the fact that I was the skip, so I couldn’t afford to take a mental break during a game. But over time I realized that I had to take those breaks and find small moments in a game to just “go on vacation.”

And mentally that’s what I did: I would think of the heat, the sun, the beach—it just let me relax for a few seconds.

Besides doing this during competition, I also tried to implement it during my practice, so it wasn’t something I just used in games. “Practise like you play” was something we all tried to follow.

I also worked hard to have a scripted pre-shot routine. I think it always provided me with a safe zone—it was like going home; the minute I went there it was comfortable and I felt confident in my ability. Included in my pre-shot routine was a mantra I would repeat right before I threw. It’s similar to champion golfer Rory McIlroy, who talks about humming a song during his swing. I think that repetitive mantra would stop my mind from thinking of the outcome and I would just go on autopilot.

The year before the Olympic Trials, we discussed perspective a lot. We spent many hours as a team asking ourselves, “What’s the worst that can happen at those trials? If we don’t win, we go back to great family, great friends and a great life.”

I think it freed us to just play at those trials without fear. In our minds, we had dealt with the possibility of losing and what it would look like, and realized we would be okay if that happened. It didn’t mean that we didn’t expect the best. It just allowed us to look at the “worst case” and go play those 10 days without any fear. And we did.

I still remember Penny’s first words to us after we won the 2009 Olympic Trials. We were now Olympians and Penny said, “You cannot always choose or change your situations in life, but it is your choice how you react to them.”

We could choose to view the 30-million-plus Canadians cheering us on as a positive or a negative. We could say, “This is awesome. We have 30-million-plus fans,” or, “Oh my God—we have 30-million-plus people counting on us to medal.”

We made the choice to view it as a positive thing. And I think that was an aha moment for all of us. Going forward, we could choose how we reacted to anything that was thrown at us during those games.

I did a lot of mental work between the trials and the Olympics, including breathing and meditation. And I really worked on transforming myself mentally into a place that I didn’t need a certain result, that I was okay if we didn’t medal. All of us are continually caught up in society’s definition of success, and it blinds us to what we decide our own success is. So that was the way I went into those games—I was not going to chase anyone’ else’s definition of success, only my own.

So, can I apply all of this to my marathon training? You bet. I can be strict with my training regimen. I can meditate and practise relaxation before and during runs, and I can choose to have a healthy perspective in my life. Will I medal at this marathon? Not with gold, silver or bronze. But I will medal at this event, because I am accomplishing two personal goals: to complete a marathon and to help raise awareness for World Vision. That will be my gold!


Follow Cheryl @TeamBernard and visit her at her website.

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This article was published on April 1, 2014.

A version of this article originally appeared in Cheryl Bernard’s blog at goodlifefitness.com.

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