Monday, March 10, 2014

New Website!!

Hey everyone!  Thank you so much for all your support and encouragement!  Just wanted to write a short post to let you all know that I have a new website- www.elanameyersusa.com  Check it out- my blogs will also be posted there as well as here!

Thanks everyone!  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Silver Lining



I need to write.  And I need to write while the emotion is still raw, before I have the chance to let my rational mind consume my thoughts as it tries to help me sleep at night.  My hope is that maybe someone can learn something from my words, that it can change something for someone, but if not, hopefully it's cathartic enough for me to help me get some sleep at night.

Every night I'm haunted by that last run; I haven't slept much since it happened.  I replay the skids so vividly in my head that any thoughts of the other corners are reduced to a mere hazy memory.

So how does it feel to feel like you choked in front of the whole world?  How does it feel to have your lifelong dream slip away literally from your fingertips? It sucks.

So what happened?  This is a question I will ask repeatedly for the next four years.  I felt physically good and I mentally felt in the best place possible to drive my sled well.  I'm usually very strong in the biggest pressure situations, which is how I landed the nickname of E-Money or Money Meyers, the pressure excites me and usually brings out the best of me- this time it just didn't.  

I finally watched the last run of the race and realized I didn't quite look like myself- I looked well...exhausted.  And I was exhausted before the race had even started.  I'd mentioned before that my Olympics had been extremely tough, and it had been.  It began with the initial Olympic team selection, where some brakeman were chosen and others not and the hate mail started to come.  I should've had tougher skin, but I never would've thought I would've been told I'm a horrible person for something I didn't choose; I took it too much to heart and got stressed out.  It then continued with brakemen race-offs in Sochi (which are always stressful), which resulted in a gash in my shin that required a stitch and a bone bruise, brakeman switches, and yes more hate mail.  We finally get to race week and there's problems with equipment, I crash (whiplash), and then my sled breaks (and even more whiplash)- like gets completely totaled- and reassembled again.  So needless to say I was absolutely exhausted, but I still believed in my power to come back from all of this and succeed and win the gold.  I still believed that despite my exhaustion I was going to be able to perform at the highest level- and I was doing it...and then it slipped away.    Was I too exhausted?  Did I just finally hit my mental limits?  I don't know...

I know people are proud of me, but I also know that I'll be for we criticized as having choked at the Olympics and to those people at this time I don't have much to say.  I honestly don't know what happened.  I did everything right- I ate right, slept the required hours, and followed my coaches instructions to a tee, but it just didn't happen.  I lie awake at night trying to figure out why, yet the answers don't come.  I know they will eventually surface, but I know it will take some deep reflection.  I'll get some answers eventually, but right now I'm just stuck with my  emotions and stuck trying to figure out how to move past all this so I can begin the next four years.

I can't change what happened and even as I grasp to make sense of it all, I'm still at a loss.  At the moment I feel like I let my coaches, teammates, Lauryn, all of America down, and nothing seems to reduce the sting.  The tears come easily now, but each time they come I'm reminded of what happened and how I never want to feel this way again.

As I go on with my career, even if I win a gold medal I'm sure that I won't forget the pain I feel right now, but if I am fortunate enough to win a gold medal, I know it will be because of this moment.  I will use these feelings as motivation- as a guiding force to teach me what I need to to move forward.  I will figure out what went wrong and how to become a better athlete because of it.  I will take this moment and use it as an opportunity to grow as a person and an athlete.  I'm motivated more than ever now to become the athlete I know I can be.  I will learn everything I need to from this situation and become even stronger.

This post may seem strange to most people who would say "Hey- you won a silver medal at the Olympics"- but my goal at the Olympics wasn't to win a medal necessarily, it was to put down four great runs, and I didn't do that.  I let myself down, but the outcome was still a medal.  I'm proud to have won a medal for my country and I'm proud of the effort I put out to do it.  My friends and family sacrificed so much, and my fiancé has perhaps sacrificed the most in terms of time, energy, and financially. I worked extremely hard for this hardware, and I'll forever cherish it.   I've made history- I'm the first black pilot to win an Olympic medal, the first woman to win a medal as a pilot and a brakeman, and the first US woman to win two bobsled medals- that's quite an incredible feat!  

At the end of the day I have to appreciate the journey to this point- the journey to win this Olympic medal.  I've learned so much and I've grown so much as a person.  I am a better daughter, sister, fiancé, and athlete because of the past four years and the journey to Sochi.  At the end of the day, I may have lost the gold, but there's definitely a silver lining. 


Friday, January 10, 2014

Hard decisions


It all comes down to next week.  It all comes down to Igls.  The thought of it is literally making me sick to my stomach.  As excited as I am about the naming of the Olympic team for the U.S. women's bobsled team next week, I'm also completely dreading it.  Why would I dread what would seem like a tremendous celebration?  Because for the six women are named to the team (3 drivers, 3 brakeman), 3 inevitably won't be named to the team- and that thought turns my stomach over and makes me sick.

Why would that thought make me sick?  Well I'm a team sport kind of athlete, I love having teammates and I love interacting with them and competing with them.  My mom always wishes I would gravitate towards an individual sport, where the focus was just on me and my performance, but I could never stay away from the fact that I absolutely love having teammates and people to share the highs and the lows with.  There's a certain bond between teammates that develops and it's always something special, and with this team it's no different.

I say it's no different, but this team is something special.  Kristi Koplin was one of the brakeman with me my first year driving- taking miserable trip after miserable trip as I tried to learn the ropes.  Without her and the class of brakeman that came in with her, who knows where I'd be.

Emily Azevedo has been on World Cup since 2006-2007 season and she's been a stalwart.  With Olympic games experience, she's been a veteran leader for the brakeman and helped keep everything together- with the changing of coaches and drivers as well.  Emily's been a rock for this team for a long time.

Katie Eberling- oh what can I say about Katie!  She's been my rock for the past two seasons- she's been with me as I transitioned to a full time World Cup driver and fought with me through thick and thin- she pushed me to two World Championship medals and she's got a fight that's always helped me stay confident in my driving.  We've been roommates the past two years- we've seen each other at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows (she's probably seen me cry more than anyone in bobsled other than Nic!), and she's always been there for me.  I can't say enough how much the past two years of having Katie in the back of my sled has gotten me to where I am today and for that I'll forever be grateful.

Lauryn Williams is a rookie this year.  She doesn't know much about the sport, but she's one of the most positive people I've ever met.  She's eager to learn and eager to help, and she's been great for a team where stress is a constant looming presence.  She pushed me to a medal this season and it's been a joy to slide with her.

Lolo Jones is one of the hardest working people I've ever met.  She has so much energy I feel like she's doing 100 things at once!  She truly transitioned into a bobsledder and knows how to take care of a driver.  It's definitely reassuring as a pilot knowing that if the sled some how broke in a million pieces, you could rest assure knowing that Lolo would some how find all million pieces and personally sit down and super glue the entire thing back together!  That's what kind of worker she is- she's tireless and determined.  I've won medals with her as well and what's she's displayed in those wins is an incredible amount of fight.  She's been great for this team.

And finally, Aja Evans.  What a beast!  She's got so much talent I think the weights get stronger when she lifts them!  She's been a great athlete all her life but she is starting to become a great bobsledder.  She's always pushed fast, but she's starting to learn the sport and is working every day to become a better bobsledder.  I had my first World Cup win with her and she has worked this year to make my life as easy as possible.  We've been through our highs and lows together, but this year in particular we've grown closer and she's really come into her own.

When you've got 6 great brakeman, 6 brakeman that I've all won medals with, cried with, and laughed with, how the heck are you supposed to narrow it down to just 3?  To clarify, the drivers do not select the brakeman.  The brakeman are selected to the Olympic team by a selection committee that includes coaches, our CEO, and retired Olympians.  I personally am glad I don't have to make this decision, because with a brakeman squad like this how could you possible choose?  All of these women work extremely hard and all of them deserve to go, but only 3 will make it.  I'm going to be over the moon excited for those who make it, but devastated for those who don't.  I have no idea at this point how this decision will turn out but I'm proud of every single last brakeman.  They've all fought for this spot and they've all earned it.   I'll be honored to be on an Olympic team with any of these incredible women.

January 19 will undoubtedly be one of the hardest days for me of my bobsled career...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My McKayla Maroney Moment

I got caught.  On the big screen.  I was sitting in first place in the race in Lake Placid, with one sled, Kaillie Humphries, remaining to go.  During the run for the last sled, the current leader sits in the winners box and watches the next sled go down while the cameras stay on you.  My fiancé was yelling at me to smile--- I didn't hear him, so I got caught.  Not only did I get caught, my moment was replayed on the big screen during the award ceremony for everyone to see, just in case you missed it during the race.  I hoped it didn't show, but I was caught red-handed and now it was on display for everyone to see.  I was unimpressed.

What do I mean that I was unimpressed?  I was in second place!  I was a silver medalist at another world cup to cap off what was an incredible first half of the season for me.  So why was I unimpressed?   It had nothing to do with Kaillie or her run, or where I finished in the race, it had everything to do with being disappointed in my run and how I performed.  It's a weird thing to admit to and something people don't often understand- "You got second- how can you be disappointed?!?" But I wasn't disappointed at the outcome, I was disappointed because I knew I could drive better and I knew I could push faster.  I am an athlete who seeks perfection, I seek perfect mind blowing push times and perfect drives down the track.  I am constantly analyzing and striving to be a better bobsledder, especially a better driver.  Part of the reason I am a driver is because I love the pursuit of this perfection and I love pushing myself to be better.  Don't get me wrong, I want to win medals- of course every athlete does- but at the end of the day I want to walk away from the track knowing that I executed my runs as best as I could, that I had the best runs I've had during the race where it counts the most.  I didn't do that in Lake Placid, so I was disappointed, I'm just usually a lot less obvious about it when I am.

The key is what happens after that disappointment.  Sure I sulked a little and analyzed what I did wrong, but what's most important to me is that I learn something from it.  No amount of post-race chocolate can make me feel as good as learning something from a less than desirable result.   As I mentioned earlier, the outcome was more than desired, the drive just wasn't.  So it was my opportunity to learn something, and from that race I did learn quite a bit.

I've been disappointed plenty of times in my career and I'm sure there are more disappointments to come.  In a sport where perfection seems continuously out of reach, it's hard not to feel disappointed at times, but the most important thing is to learn from it.  Every day, every run, and every race, I'm learning. As long as I keep my mind open to learn from the successes and the disappointments, I'll eventually get where I'm trying to go- I'll have that perfect run.  Hopefully, the face I make then will be caught on tv as well.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Potential Energy

There's something in the air this time of year, in this year- an Olympic year.  We get back on the ice on October 1 here in Lake Placid, but even now there's a certain electricity in the air and its mesmerizing.  It's hard to describe what it feels like, but the source is not to hard to determine- it's potential energy.

What do I mean when I say potential energy you ask?  Well all summer each and every athlete has spent so much time, poured in so much sweat, blood, and tears, into the effort of making the Olympic team or winning an Olympic medal.  It's this time- right before we hit the ice- that all athletes believe that anything is possible and history tells them that anything can happen.  There is the potential for dreams to come true, for records to be broken, and medals to be won, and at this time everyone believes that they individually have the potential to make their dream a reality.

That's the thing about an Olympic year and the Olympics.  Everyone believes they have the potential to reach their goals, regardless of how far fetched they may seem.  The athlete who's won Olympic gold dreams of repeating, the athlete who's never won a race dreams of Olympic victory, and the athlete who's never made a national team dreams of walking into opening ceremonies.  Despite what has happened before, it is this year that matters and potentially anything can happen.

Sure, most of the time the top ranked competitors continue to be top ranked and a lot of time those who are supposed to win the medals do indeed win, but there's always upsets that prove that anything can happen.  For all athletes competing for a spot on the Olympic team, it's that potential that keeps us going, it's the potential that makes us believe we have a fighting chance, regardless of how high the odds may be stacked against us.

Even companies and the media hedge their bets on this potential.  Companies sponsor athletes with the hope of seeing Olympic medals around their necks and media outlets rush to compile stories about America's champions.  The companies and media don't see the past, they see the potential in athletes and tag along for the journey.  Regardless of where athletes have ranked previously, companies and the media believe that anything can happen, and further spread the potential energy.

Right before we hit the ice, the results from the past have been erased.  Each athlete is eager to see what the future holds and what rewards result from all their hard work.  No one is dwelling on what happened last year or the past 3 seasons, each is looking forward and focusing on February 2014.  Before we hit the ice and reality starts to set for some that dreams will not be accomplished- as teams will be named and athletes will be cut- the potential that anything can happen creates an energy in the air that is hard to describe, but it feels like hope and promise.  Soon the potential energy will disappear and the fight for the few Olympic spots will turn the energy madly competitive, where one must be defeated in order for another to accomplish their dreams.  For now though, the energy is positive and intoxicating, as everyone believes they are the next gold medalist.  The truth of the matter is, some will win gold medals and others will fail to make the team, but right now we all live in a world where anything can happen.   The potential for dreams to be made is here, making this the most wonderful time of the year- the calm before the storm.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Holcy

The past two days I've been asked specifically about Steve Holcomb, which has led me to write this blog.  For those of you who don't know, Steve Holcomb is a two-time Olympic bobsledder who won gold in the 4man in the Vancouver Olympics.  He has won a slew of medals in World Cup competition and in World Championships, including a double gold in the 2012 World Championships in 2man and 4man.  He'll be going for his third Olympics this winter in Sochi and looking to defend his title.

Not only do I admire all his accomplishments, but Holcomb has done quite a bit for the team that he may not even realize.  He's not the out spoken type, Holcy (his nickname) usually is content just sticking to himself and a few others, going through his days and workouts with a silent (or sometimes soft spoken) intensity.  He's not a big time celebrity in the sports world, but those who know bobsled know Holcy.  And this is one of the many things I admire about him.   Even though he's one of the most accomplished athletes in the sport, you'd never know it.  He's not a braggart or one to dwell in past accomplishments, he trains every day with the same intensity as if he's never won a gold medal or multiple world championships- and that's something I admire.  He doesn't wear his accomplishments on his sleeve, but is confident in his abilities and his confidence radiates from him anytime he's at a bobsled track- being around him and seeing what he's able to do in a sled makes you think that maybe you could control your sled like that one day and it gives you something to aspire to.

But few people know what's been happening behind the scenes the past few years. Due to the retirement of some athletes and the unfortunate injuries of others, this past season our World Cup team consisted of 5 out of 6 pilots with 4 or less years of driving experience (this past season was my 3rd season of driving).  Holcomb was the only driver this past season with significant driving experience, let alone an Olympic gold medal as a pilot.  With drivers with hardly any experience, coaches have to spend quite a bit of time teaching them the lines to just get down the track, which is vastly different than the coaching needed for more experienced drivers.  The increased amount of attention the new drivers need definitely puts a strain on the coaching staff, which for more experienced drivers, has to be difficult.  It'd be easy as a veteran driver to get frustrated with this situation, but Holcomb handled it like a champ.  He never said anything when I needed to take Brian Shimer (typically his coach) with me for a track walk when I couldn't figure out a curve.  As a matter of fact, on several occasions, he explained lines to me and helped me understand a curve in an entire new way.

Not only has Holcomb been great at the track, he's given me countless advice on sleds, runners, brakeman, and most importantly- how to handle an Olympic year especially dealing with expectations and pressure.  I greatly admire Holcomb and what he's done for the sport of bobsled, but more importantly how he's helped me grow as a driver.  He didn't have to help me, he didn't have to say a word.  The men's and women's teams- although we travel together- often operate in very separate ways.  However, he's helped me since day 1 and that's something I greatly appreciate.  If I'm blessed enough to win a gold medal in Sochi, he'll definitely be one of the people who helped me get there.

Steve Holcomb, 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist, USA Bobsled Pilot


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Good "Teammates"

What does it mean to be a good teammate when you are on a "team" where the members directly compete against each other?  This is a question I've thought about quite a bit (probably more than I should have), but with my background in the team sport of softball I can't help but think about what it means to be a good teammate.  In softball it was easy to understand what it meant to be a good teammate, you helped your teammate in any way possible because you knew it would help the entire team accomplish their goals.  Whether it was batting and fielding tips, nutrition advice, or in the college ranks homework help, you did whatever you could to help your teammates perform better.  But how should this work in bobsled?

Team USA after claiming the 2013 World Championship for the Team Competition

In bobsled, I am on the same "team" as 8 other women's bobsledders.  However, only one of them will compete directly with me in the sled at any given time and two other members of the "team" are drivers who I am competing directly against for spots on the team and medals.  So essentially, I'm on Team USA but at the same time I'm not on the same team as many of my teammates because we're in direct competition.  So how are you supposed to be a good teammate when your "team" wants to defeat you? Unfortunately, this is a question I don't have an answer for...

In our sport, there's a saying "I'm not against you, I'm just for me."  It's not a saying the softballer in me appreciates, as it implies that in order for someone to be successful, they must do things that would hurt another person's chances for success.  The optimist in me wants to believe there's a way to create an atmosphere where all of us, despite the competition, work to create a healthy atmosphere where no one is cutting each other down and everyone is working to build up the entire team, not just the members in their sled.  But how would this be done?  Should you help your teammates out even if it means they might beat you?  What determines the proper level of help?  For example, in the past I have let my teammates borrow my runners for a race.  In the sport of bobsled, we have personal sets we own and then sets the federation owns and can use either for a race.  I have previously allowed my teammates to borrow my set of runners for a race, and even once was beat by someone using my runners!  To be honest- I didn't lose the race because of my runners, but runners do factor in to the outcome of a race.   In this case is lending my "teammate" runners good sportsmanship or is it me foolishly giving someone else an advantage?  I used to think I knew the answer to this question...

It's not only the lending of physical goods that makes me question what it means to be a good teammate.  In order to achieve any level of success in elite sport, the space between your ears is more important than any physical asset.  Most elite level athletes are highly aware of this and often when an athlete is unsuccessful it's because of some mental malfunction.  It also sets up the mind as a perceived spot of vulnerability.  We all know examples of athletes taking the competition out physically (Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan), but the more intense warfare that you rarely hear about is the mental warfare that occurs to take out the competition.  When you're competing on a team (your individual sled) within a "team" (Team USA), the mental warfare can be intense.  Whether its bad mouthing a someone to coaches or other teammates, or sabotaging their mental routine, cutting down their performances and accomplishments, or creating drama within their circle of competition, unfortunately in my 6 years on the women's bobsled team, I've seen it all.  Not only have I seen it all, I've seen it within the entire "Team USA," not just women's bobsled.  So this again raises the question, what does it mean to be a good "teammate?"

I think the problem is perspective.  I think most people think that in our sport multiple people can't be successful.   I think the problem is that success is only measured by winning a gold medal.   We need to change this perspective.  Yes, every athlete wants to win a gold medal but in reality most won't, but this doesn't mean that every athlete can't be successful.  For example, my determinant for success if I'm blessed enough to make the 2014 Olympics is putting together four great runs in Sochi.  Now this has absolutely nothing- NOTHING- to do with what any of my "teammates" do other than the brakeman in my sled.   I can accomplish this level of success even if my "teammates" have great runs at the Olympics- the two are mutually exclusive.  So for me, I don't need to conduct any mental warfare against my "teammates" because they have nothing to do with me achieving success.  I can be encouraging and supportive without harming my goal, because my goal isn't wrapped up in a gold medal.  My goal is about performance and ensuring that I perform at my best, and if I'm blessed to win a medal for it- great.

I've never felt the need to play mental games with my competition, I want to win races because I put together the best performance on that day.  I want to win because I've trained hard and dedicated myself to learning the sport and determining what's fast.  At the end of the day, I want to perform at my best and win races and be a good person.  I want to be successful and a good teammate at the same time and I believe it's possible.

But what do you do then if your teammates don't feel the same?  What do you do if your teammates still believe "it's either you or me"?  Do you still try to be encouraging?  What lengths should you go to to help your "teammate" out?  Should you let them borrow your runners?  Should you give them training advice?  Should you help their brakeman push faster?  After playing softball for most of my life, the team sport athlete in me votes yes, but maybe I'm naive...

Cause I haven't even asked the final question...so what happens when you try to be a good "teammate" and get burned?  How should you respond then?  How do you respond when despite your best efforts to be a good "teammate," other athletes try to sabotage your efforts of success?  Do you keep encouraging and supporting them?  Do you disband the idea of a "team" and make it every man (or woman) for themselves?

I wish I could end this blog with a profound conclusion, but the truth of the matter is, I don't know.  What I do know is that I'm going to work to be a good "teammate" and let other athletes decide the answers to these question themselves...