The last time I felt like this was at the end of Avenger’s Infinity War...
I was glued to my seat wondering how the hell we’d (yep I said we, I was thoroughly invested) get out of this situation.
It just felt like too big a mountain to climb.
The time before that was in another movie, I had snuck away from adulting midday to see Incredibles 2.
I was more stressed than the preschoolers in attendance.
Lucky for them, all they had to do was observe. But my adult brain was making calculations...
And I could not see an outcome where the Incredibles would make it out alive.
There was only one other time I’ve felt this way and it was several years before even that...I lived in Los Angeles and I was watching Cinderella 3.
Did you even know there was a Cinderella 3?
The story got to the point where I was like there is no way in hell this gets wrapped up in any kind of favorable way...
But it did.
The Incredibles won out.
The Avengers initiated their endgame.
And Tianna switched jump legs.
After 21 years of jumping off of the left one.
It’s my endgame.
And I can tell you the exact moment the finger was snapped on my long jump career.
Indiana June 2018
I attended the USATF Junior meet. I’d never been as a spectator and I wasn’t doing anything else and so I was able to tag along with ASU.
Conveniently this is also the home of St Vincent’s Sport performance center, and so because I was in town I was able to make arrangements with USATF to go get looked at and get some treatment.
I was feeling a little banged up.
It felt like my hip flexor.
But the therapist said, “lucky for you the doctor is here, do you just want to get some X-rays while you’re here?”
And I said, “just get X-rays?”
And she said, “yes, because the doctor is in. We can see if there’s anything we need to treat while you’re here.”
We x-ray’d the left leg.
Neither me or the doctor was ready for that image.
Nine stress fractures....
Spaced, almost like wide-rule in a composition notebook, up and down my shin.
The doctor made an involuntary sound.
I just stared at the image thinking yet slightly amused by the ability of the universe to just keep delivering me hit after hit.
“So...” the doctor starts... “you don’t have any pain?” The disbelief in his voice was palpable. I told him I didn’t feel a thing.
But I corrected that statement shortly after I said it.
“I mean I feel pain when I take off sometimes but I assumed it was due to a bad takeoff angle like sticking the foot out in front of me or something.”
I asked how close any of them were to becoming breaks.
He said he really couldn’t give me an answer but he pointed to some that were almost through to the other side.
I asked if I could just switch jump legs.
He said, “why don’t we x-ray the other leg just to take a look and go from there.”
There were seven fractures in that one.
So now me and the doctor are staring at each other in pregnant silence.
I can see him leaning on his training to deliver me the bad news.
He doesn’t think I should jump anymore this season. That I should just take the bone stimulator and live on that machine for the rest of the year.
I tell him I can’t do that.
If I did that, NIKE would reduce me (they did)
I wouldn’t be able to afford my attorneys (I can’t)
He sighed...but he said he understood.
July 2018 Padova, Italy
We were jumping in the streets. On an elevated runway.
My season had been largely disappointing for me up until that point, in fact I had half quit already.
Half quit: I stopped training. And kept turning up for meets.
Anyway, it’s Italy though.
And although I walked away from my marriage one of the things I took with me was my love of everything Italian.
I learned the language thinking it would endear me to my in-laws only to learn after I learned it that no one actually spoke Italian. LOL.
So I was happy to be in Italy and two of my good friends Mario and Carlo, who couldn’t be more different from each other yet so quintessentially Italian in their own way, helped me with my fluency throughout the year.
Padova was awesome for my ego.
I did appearances and press conferences. We even had an event that revolved around Aperol Spritz.
Are you kidding me?
Vorrei un aperitivo...adesso.
Not to mention we had an elevated runway! Because we were jumping in the square.
On this trip alone I met up with two followers turned new friends, Damiano and I were supposed to catch an open air movie and instead wandered around Padova which is beautiful at night and he lent me a book I absolutely loved , and Riccardo was front row cheering me on during the event.
Not to mention I went to Venice and was held in the arms of a ridiculously handsome gondolier.
And I used my bone stimulator nightly.
Needless to say, I was feeling myself and it was enough for me to rally to a 6.74 leap.
I didn’t think anything of it at the time.
I was happy to win, happy to be in Italy speaking a language I love.
Happy I had the freedom to enjoy it.
And all too happy to ignore how I nearly sacrificed my shin and left ankle to do it.
I limped away from that competition and on to the next.
Székesfehérvár, Hungary (also called the Budapest meet for those of us who won’t even attempt to pronounce this city’s name)
Encouraged by my win in Padova, I kept pushing forward.
I was trying to break the board on every attempt at the Gyulai Memorial Meeting.
And at takeoff, on my last jump I felt my ankle give up the ghost.
I drove as much force into the ground as I could muster (which is a lot, I’m kind of strong).
And my ankle said...”not today.”
I felt the pain immediately.
By the time I returned to the spot where my gear was my ankle was swollen, the skin pulled so tight I could hardly stand it.
I hobbled back to the warm up area.
A group of young fans carried my bag, let me use them as human crutches, fetched me bags of ice, and waited with me at the shuttle.
I managed to get back to my room on my own.
I stared down at my extremely swollen ankle...
I stared at the bone stimulator tasked with healing my fractures.
In that space between processing the end of something I needed to be a new beginning and despair...
I learned that St Vincent was actually based in Belgium for the summer. A totally doable drive from where I am based in Europe.
Again I made arrangements with USATF to get treatment for a few days.
Darrell Barnes and Doctor Arnold are the two men I trust the most when it comes to getting treatment and I was so fortunate that they both were in town when I showed up.
They got the swelling down.
Helped me get pain free.
Gave me rehab exercises.
Before Hungary I was confirmed for the long jump in both Lausanne AND London.
The medical staff implored me not to jump at Lausanne.
I told them the same...
I tell them I can’t do that.
If I did that, NIKE would reduce me because my world ranking would be low (they did)
I wouldn’t be able to afford my attorneys (I can’t)
They sighed...and said they understood. But they encouraged me to think more long term than I was.
The weather in Switzerland was beautiful.
I spent a lot of time at the lake sitting on the rocks staring at the swans...
The day of the meet came. And I decided not to jump.
That decision was...
It was all over.
My season was over.
My ability to make money- over.
Afford attorneys- over.
The London meet director removed me from the start list because I didn’t jump in Lausanne.
And I showed up in London anyway having been told differently by my then manager.
Embarrassed, I set out to have as good a time as possible, and I must say British Athletics came through for me big time, providing me with a hotel room, a VIP credential, and a mixed zone gig.
And the BBC, oh my god. I got a paid gig with the BBC too!
And I learned that I love radio.
But I felt I had nothing.
That I was worth nothing.
So easily expendable by meet directors and sponsors alike.
So I decided to fortify myself...I went to yoga teacher training to dive more deeply into a practice that had been saving me from myself for years.
I committed seriously to a meditation practice so that I could develop my listening skills.
And I rebuilt my team so that I could make 2019 a comeback year.
And you’ve seen it...right?
Me training this year?
I worked hard.
Developed my speed.
And I got to my first long jump meet and jumped barely over 6 meters.
Went to the second one and jumped less than 6 meters.
Went to another and jumped 6.20
And another and another.
And each time my foot screamed in pain and rebellion.
It was saying to me
It’s not going to happen
I can’t take anymore
Why are you forcing me to?
And I kept saying in response:
Because this is the way we’ve always done it.
How many times have you said or thought that about things in your life?
How many times have you looked at your partner and thought, I want more but this is the way we’ve always been?
How many times have you gone to work and thought you wanted to do something different but you don’t because this is what you’ve always done?
For 21 years I’ve jumped off my left leg.
And I can’t anymore.
So I either quit jumping or I switch legs...
Because between the wear and tear of somehow applying so much force over the years that I had nine stress fractures in my takeoff leg
Plus spraining it at every major championships
Plus all the times I sprained it before that in college, and high-school.
And all the times I sprained it on the basketball court.
In any other profession I could almost qualify for early retirement.
I’m not done yet.
And so quitting wasn’t an option.
It wasn’t from 2007-2012
It wasn’t in 2017 or 2018
And it isn’t now.
So switch legs it is.
Székesfehérvár, Hungary 2019
I’m excited to get back here. I love it here. Been coming here forever. And I hate that they’ve had to deal with me “underperforming” last year.
But now here I am again...
That I either jump off my right foot
Or I don’t jump at all.
And so with one day of practice approaches and no jumps under my belt I grab the three o’clock shuttle to the competition stadium.
The entire time I’m talking to myself. Questioning, affirming my courageousness, my bravery, my balls.
To get out here in a meet setting and jump off an opposite leg.
I’ve got 21 years of muscle memory working against me.
I was resolved.
I didn’t care what the distance would be.
I wanted to know one thing and one thing only...
If I was still fearless.
I’m up. It’s my first attempt.
I was on the board in each of my practice runs.
We have a tail wind, pretty strong pretty constant.
I feel the excitement coursing through me...adrenaline.
I’m running now.
Faster than I was in the warm up.
But it feels good.
The drive phase is set, it’s good.
The “tall phase” is there too...it’s good.
I have three more strides and I’m at the board (I know because I’m a counter)
Muscle memory starts screaming at me:
APPROACHING TARGET WITH INCORRECT LEG.
I am more present than I’ve ever been in a competition.
And I hit the board and takeoff off my right leg.
It’s a foul so I take off from the scratch plate which means my foot is at an inefficient angle for takeoff...
I slide into the pit off the momentum
Fall out of the sky and land on my butt
And unceremoniously fall to my side, flayed out momentarily as my body asked what the hell just happened.
I dust myself off
And exit the pit smiling.
I’ll tell you what just happened I thought.
I just learned I’m no punk.
Here I’ve been so afraid...
Of attorney’s bills...
The next stunt by my husband...
What my last coach thinks...
That I almost began to believe that fear was my default setting.
But when actually face to face with some real life do-this-or-be-done level shit
Tianna the brave shows up.
I was so happy to see her.
I took three attempts and not once did I bail and revert to the left.
I will figure out how to jump off my right or die trying.
Because even though I’m crazy and this is crazy
The definition of Insanity is really to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result each time
I know what I’ll get from my left leg and I’m grateful for its service.
But I’m pursuing mastery
And sometimes it requires you to take 21 years of experience say thanks for the memories and toss ‘em.
Sometimes it requires you to seemingly start from scratch
And look stupid
And be scared
But I cant abide more of the same...
We don’t have to settle with stuck.
We can decide to do something different.
We can decide that fear doesn’t get to dictate the choices we make
We can decide to dare greatly.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end of the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat”
Thank you Teddy Roosevelt.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.