Feature: Samir Ait Said – athletes will go to breaking point

Samir Ait Said: Faster Higher Stronger.

Athletes will go to Breaking Point

You are already a champion Samir Ait Said. You have become an Olympian through everything you already are. Gracious, courageous, determined and compassionate. These values led you towards the Olympic rings. They were always with you and will always be part of who Samir Ait Said is. Now and in the future, both inside and outside of the gym.

Photo: NBCOlympics.com

The image of Samir was disturbing when he snapped his leg in the men’s vault at the Rio Olympics. Posting from his hospital bed Samir commented “Believe me, the adventure of Tokyo 2020 is still possible. As soon as I’m back on my feet I’ll be back in training and searching for that Olympic gold.”

Many athletes push through injuries. Some push until they break. An important human survival mechanism is to keep moving. It is hard wired in us. The drive to get to safety before emotionally letting go. Flooding the brain with a cocktail of physical and emotional pain.

Many of our Olympians will push through physical pain. But when the Games are over, feelings of confusion, anguish and distress may leave some wondering if it was all worth it!
Samuel Mikulak was the American gymnast next in-line to Said. He heard his gasps but stayed focused on his vault and stuck to his game plan. “I just made sure I stayed focused on the routine I was about to do. It’s always a shame when there’s an injury. This sport is absolutely brutal,” he remarked afterwards.

Our athletes, like our soldiers, are trained to block out trauma and push ahead. But what happens when the Games are over and things begin to unravel? Sport is not war. The stakes aren’t so high and few athletes will ever be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This truth only adds to feelings of shame when athletes find themselves not coping. Silencing the despair many will experience when the Olympic flame is extinguished.

The hype of competition and the Olympic circus can mask the very real distress some will face when the games come to an end. A sense of loss at having not fulfilled their aspirations. A loss of purpose about what they will do next in their lives. A fear that nothing else will ever feel quite as good.

Athletes are inevitably good at managing physical pain, but it is often their emotional pain that is their undoing. Individuals can feel fundamentally flawed when they are not coping with overwhelming emotions such as anxiety, depression, grief or loss.

This is the silent side of sport because athletes are supposed to be mentally tough and not express or admit to emotional pain. Admitting they are not coping exposes vulnerability; something athletes are taught repeatedly not to be.

For Samir Ait Said, Tokyo is four years away. Between now and then he will know the depths of despair. He will feel angry, sad and fearful. He will question his passion and have days when he will struggle to get to rehab or back in the gym.

Know this Samir; these emotions are what make you human. They do not define you. You may or may not compete in Tokyo, but you are not diminished by anything you achieve (or don’t) in the future.

Recover well Samir and be kind to the body that has supported your dreams and to your heart that continues to inspire others.