Well it’s the exciting time of year. It’s officially CrossFit Games season with the kick off of the semifinal round. CrossFit’s best athletes from around the world are competing for their shot at a chance to go to the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. Though it’s exciting to watch, there are some big names absent this year. One very notable athlete is Tia Toomey who just gave birth to her first child. Two other big name athletes who will not be competing are Haley Adams and Mal O’Brien. These two athletes are former teen champions and Mal was a podium finisher last year, and a favorite to win it all this year. What happened to them? Both athletes have decided that they would not be competing this year, Haley stated that it was for her mental health while Mal mentioned personal reasons as her issue. Either way we need to discuss this.
When Haley decided to not compete it made the news but it wasn’t huge news, when Mal stepped down it really struck a chord with the CrossFit community. Who wouldn’t want to compete on the biggest stage in our sport, especially when you are favored to win it all. Now with Mal O’Brien we don’t know the whole story but I do have my thoughts. In the much larger world of sport we often see athletes who have some great potential to make it to the hall of fame who for one reason or another step aside and leave their sport behind. It happens every year in football, baseball, and basketball but in CrossFit this is a new dilemma. What many don’t realize is that when it comes to high level athletics the mental fortitude to continue is extremely difficult. We often see their highlights on social media but rarely see their lowlights. The missed lifts, the aches and pains in their joints, the extreme late nights in the gym just trying to work on weak skills. This is something that we don’t see but we know about. What we don’t see and we don’t think about is the mental anguish of missed opportunities with friends to just live a “normal” life. Just hanging out at a bar on a Friday night. A vacation on the beach with friends and family. A chance to travel the world and see different sights before settling down and having a family. These are opportunities that most of us take for granted. We just follow our favorite athletes on social media and envy the life they are living with sponsors and what we feel is a cushioned lifestyle. We have to remember that these are people too. Just because someone looks happy and looks like they are “living the dream”, oftentimes they are not. They are struggling to get through life just like the rest of us but now they have the added mental fatigue of not being able to enjoy the one aspect that many of us use for our mental health, the sport we love. This is the give and take of high level competitive sport. Yes for many it’s the dream but for all athletes that lifestyle ends up taking its toll. We cannot forget that just because someone appears to be living the life we can only imagine there is a mental side that is draining them.
This story of Mal and Haley in the sport of CrossFit should bring a new perspective as we watch our favorite athletes compete this summer. Yes, we don’t know the full story but we have to appreciate what they are going through, not just physically but mentally. This is also and important reminder to those parents who push their kids into competitive sport. Yes we all want to see our kids achieve greatness, what parent doesn’t want to see that? But at what cost? Remember this sports life is finite, it will end one day. Keep their passion going but not by pushing them too early and find time to pull them back when they need it. Take that trip to the beach and leave the glove at home. Let them lose and remind them that losing is part of the game. And if they need a break, let them have it. It will only help them grow their passion or better yet find a passion they didn’t know they had in something else.