In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
It took every ounce of self-control to not lose my breakfast over the side of the boat. A few thoughts raced through my mind. Do sharks like to eat vomit? Are we REALLY going to swim with sharks in open water? This is crazy! It was only the first activity at the Lululemon Elite Retreat in Oahu and I was already wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?”
I decided to slide into the shark-infested waters with the other ambassadors and remain as calm as possible. The boat driver told us to not make any erratic movements and gently swim away from the boat. We watched the sharks from a distance and initially the sharks didn’t seem very interested in us. They were fixated on the boat — waiting for dead fish scraps to be thrown overboard. Only when a few curious sharks came towards us and my body tensed up. As they swam past me, I relaxed my shoulders and took a deep breath. I realized these sharks were not the aggressive creatures I had been taught to fear, but a beautiful animal who granted us the privilege to swim next them in their natural habitat. They seemed just as scared of us as we were of them. The more comfortable athletes swam closer and took pictures but I just watched them from a distance, and took in the quietness and beauty of sharks swimming around us. It was a very serene experience and as everyone in the group crawled back into the boat, you could see the contentment and relief on everyone’s face. We all agreed it was one of the coolest experiences of our lives.
As a professional athlete, I’m very good at one sport and not so good at many others. I’ve come to fear learning new activities because I don’t want to risk injury or take my focus away from training. Lululemon’s plan for this trip was to get us out of our element so we could reflect on how we mentally handle new challenges. Swimming with sharks was by far the most memorable and feared moment from this trip for me, and I nearly missed it, allowing my fears to consume me.
The remaining time in Oahu was absolutely amazing once I opened my mind to saying, “yes” to everything. I tried surfing and was terrible at it. I found myself laughing as I flew off the back of a surfboard. I took many deep breaths as the week went on and reminded myself to go towards each new activity with confidence.
A few hours each day was set aside for us to get to know other Lulu athletes. We were encouraged to discuss how we handled ourselves with the new challenges presented; how we wanted others to see us, besides an athlete, and what sort of legacy we want to leave behind. All very tough questions that I had neglected to ask myself over the years. I’ve become a master of distraction, a creature of habit completely focused on racing. For the last 18 years, I’ve been on the road, unable to sit still, traveling from race to race and one endless summer destination to another. My body and mind have started to feel the effects of nagging injuries and unsettledness. I know in my heart it is time to become more grounded, travel less, take care of my body and discover new interests outside of mountain biking.
The retreat couldn’t have come at a more perfect time; I have decided to step away from racing after this season and transition into my next phase in life. It will undoubtedly present many new challenges and uncomfortable moments that I am sure I will not always execute perfectly. But, I will remind myself of what I’ve learned from Oahu and take a deep breath, open my mind and laugh. This could become one of the most memorable experiences of my life!