Past articles in this series selected gritty topics to examine, with our families and loved ones affected - not always positively – by our choice to be an older athlete; even when there is great communication and commitment to the goal between the athlete and their family or spouse. This series did have a great deal of discussion about what the loved ones or inner circles in our lives (as professional athletes) actually encounter.
This blog is all about the athlete. How lonely is it?
Being an older athlete means juggling a lot of issues between career, training, spouse, children, finances, medical visits, and sometimes intimacy issues and competition. Any and all of these issues can create a feeling of loneliness.
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely!
Let’s be clear: We own our choices and that is that – no whining, or as I was raised “no blood, no Band-Aid.”
It is rewarding to be an older athlete, it is invigorating, and it keeps you healthy, young and well, not sure about “wealthy or wise.” But I would not trade my choice for the world – until the moment I do.
Being an older athlete means that at any point in time you might have to make a different decision for the family, for the retirement plan, for the career. A younger athlete usually does not face these decisions.
Being an older athlete can be extremely lonely! It is exhausting! I do not mean physically because of a hard work out - I mean the juggling of life.
I am going to use my specific sport because it is my experience. The sport of skeleton is what I chose somewhat blindly to go “all in”. Everyone’s journey is different.
I am a winter athlete which means if I do not live near an ice track. I have to go find one in EU, Canada, Japan or the USA. We train at the gym in the morning – we train on the ice at night, on a track at higher altitude. By the time the athletes commence training, it is cold and dark. We warm up, we slide, we go down the hill, and go back up in a truck, in the dark, at temperatures of -10 degrees, in a paper thin speedo. If you are in Alberta it can be -20 (-25 and they close the track).
The cold alone can create emotional fatigue and loneliness. In addition, there is something more challenging about training for something in the dark - Special Forces Navy Seals and other divers train in the dark underwater. Darkness brings an entirely different dimension to any sport or training.
My alarm goes off at 3:17 a.m. and again it is dark and cold. wake up to silence and my own energy -mixing the right protein shake, planning food for the day and packing the car for the gym and then the laptop for a days work - There is no one to say “come on Prata, you can do it! – we are doing dead lifts and core today!” except the voice in my head.
During the day I train, mix protein shakes, take my supplements, try to stay warm, work on my sled, call the insurance, the 401K investment research, and work a minimum of 12 hours in corporate America – do conference calls on mute while sanding the runners on my sled in a basement that I rented with a hat on my head, because it is damp and cold. No one has checked on me to see how I am or if I have eaten enough or am I ready for the night.
3:30 PM – I still have to get my sled ready for night training, get to the track, make my runs, load up my gear after sliding, drive home, (often chaining up to get out of snow) and arrive home around 11:00 p.m., wet, cold and insanely hungry. This is lonely and I love it - but, after four days of intense physical and emotional pushing, even the energizer bunny is tired.
I have stood in curves of the track with my love for the sport and the ice in the dark studying what I did wrong on that steer and cried. I have cried hard knowing I am older and have to learn faster. There is no learning faster in this sport – a friend said, “You cannot force it – it will come.”
I have always been able to conquer- there were nights the harder I tried the worse I did. And after working so hard to do well and missing that mark, I still have a full night ahead. This is lonely.
Being an older athlete can or might mean you do NOT have emotional support. Even your most inner circle does not really know why you are doing this, let alone agree with your choices.
No champion means you start every day out emotionally alone.
You have to dig very deep to find the drive. I have tenacity and determination in spades and I use these to prevail. I also happen to be a Girl Scout and survival trained, so when I am stuck on the pass at night after training cold and hungry, I already have protein bars, a sleeping bag and shovels and lights to dig out if I have too. Talk about lonely!!! All you want is someone in that moment to care, love or support you or take a turn with the shovel!
This is when being an older athlete, you dig deep and ask why you are doing it? For Fame? Wrong answer! FOR the purity of the sport? YES!!.
Do not expect support from someone who does not understand-that will never happen. Do not pursue a dream like this while trying to impress anybody!
For me, I fell in love with the ice. Often falling in love is a beautiful thing. In this case it has proven to be one of the most amazing blessings and also a curse.
Pursue your dream no matter what and if that means you learn to deal with a deep loneliness on occasion- I assure you, it will make you stronger, your resolve more intact and your focus more clear.
To illustrate my point, here’s a scenario:
I have pulled up to my temporary den, the snow is blowing and I cannot get down the driveway and into the garage without shoveling 40 meters of driveway. What the hell! At this point in the night I am thinking, “BRING IT!” Another workout! 30 minutes later I am in the garage, unloading my sled and gear bag (sled weighs 34.5 KG /75+lbs) I still need to shower and get food in me fast so my muscles recover. My heart rate has been high enough for such an extended period of time, being in survival mode after training, that I will burn in excess of 8000 calories this night. I am so hungry! I am emotionally processing my runs in the shower. It never stops!
There was no one to have watched or videoed, no one to say, “Nice job Prata! or what the hell was that?” No one to make sure the salmon does not overcook (I prefer my salmon quite rare), no one to dry the clothes, dry off Gabriel (my sled); yet, as lonely as this can be, I have no regrets.
I fell in love with the ice, and anytime anyone falls in love and you are fortunate to have that happen in life, then you have to play it out! It is amazing what one will do for love and in my case the true purity of the sport. I have no regrets!
This blog is dedicated to Louis Cardello- a precious kind human who has supported me emotionally from a distance and asked me on many nights, “Well, how did curve 6 go?” He has never seen a track, he never will, he simply knows and trusts my commitment and passion for this sport and he respects that I must play it out.
Anna Prata is an Olympic hopeful Competitive Skeleton Athlete. Otherwise known mainly by her last name of Prata, she is 100% committed and passionate about living every moment of her life and leaving it on the field every day. In her non-athlete time, Prata is a highly successful executive in the niche of corporate turnaround. Both her corporate life and her sports life have similarities of stealth, intensity, and speed in creating value and less time down the ice; while wearing Kevlar to protect from the dangers of companies in distress and from potentially hitting a wall of ice at 90 MPR. Ms. Prata is not a nutritionist, a physical therapist or in any way should her opinions be considered medical, physical or psychological advice.