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The Emotions of Sports: Finding that resolve

So many sports success stories are based on resiliency

Posted: July 31, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 31, 2011 1:55 a.m.

In this undated photo, Canyon High graduate and USA Track and Field runner Lauren Fleshman celebrates after completing a race. Fleshman continues to compete, despite past injuries.

 



If you give up on something at the first sign of trouble, you’ll never make it in sports.

Trouble comes in all forms. It could be an injury or an illness. It could be a disappointing result, or a bunch of disappointing results piling up on one another.

Know what it can’t be? A deterrent.

“I got so sick of setbacks,” says 1999 Canyon High graduate and USA Track and Field runner Lauren Fleshman. “Having to start all over again, you start to think, ‘Do I have it in me to do it again? I know I have athletic potential, but do I have the fire to push through the next 12 weeks of hell?’”

Fleshman has the kind of fire that defines resiliency in athletes.

If she didn’t, the four separate foot fractures she’s suffered since graduating from Stanford University would have ended her Olympic dream.

While at Canyon, Fleshman won five CIF-Southern Section track titles and state championships in cross country and the 3,200-meter race. At Stanford, she won three straight NCAA Division I outdoor 5,000-meter titles and was a 15-time All-American.

Then, injuries befell her.

The first came six weeks before the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, an injury that Fleshman calls “disorienting” and that robbed her of a chance to compete for her country.

The second injury came in 2005, but Fleshman attacked her rehabilitation and went on to win the 2006 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field championship in the 5,000.

Her third injury came before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, a stress fracture of the navicular bone just beyond the ankle.

“When horses get that, they usually just shoot them,” Fleshman says.

Despite missing another shot at competing in the Olympics, Fleshman poured herself into recovery and eventually won the 2010 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field title in the 5,000.

This past January, another foot fracture struck. With an abbreviated training period, Fleshman finished sixth in the 5,000 at June’s outdoor nationals.

But at 29 years old, Fleshman isn’t slowing down.Fleshman ran a time of 15 minutes, 27.3 seconds in the 5,000 at the Samsung Diamond League Meet on Friday in Stockholm. While her time was 13 seconds short of the “A” standard for the United States World Championships team that will compete in South Korea in late August, Fleshman can take another shot at the 15:14 qualifying time at next weekend’s Diamond League meet in London.

She knows how to deal with a little adversity.

“The emotional part of that is adjusting your reality, making the most out of what you’ve got,” she says. “I’m a competitor. I want to win, but sometimes you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got.”

Recent Saugus High graduate James Weiner was forced to do the same, albeit in a different fashion.

He spent eight years playing football, but he spent the entire spring and summer of his senior season sidelined with a spinal fracture. As hard as he worked in rehab, the injury forced him to miss practice time and also football camps that could have boosted his recruiting profile.

“Whether it killed me or not, I wanted to at least do something,” he says. “Having the doctors tell me, ‘You’re not going to be able to play,’ that was a motivator.”

Weiner suited up for Saugus in 2010, but when the season was over, the college football offers he’d hoped for were non-existent.

Instead of sulking, he embraced something else.

“My football season was crap,” Weiner says. “I really didn’t have that much fun with it. Everyone was talking about how much fun track was. I tried it and it turned into a scholarship.”

Using the speed he’d built as a football player, Weiner made the most of his circumstances and reshaped himself as an elite sprinter, finishing second in the Southern Section Division II 100 and third in the Division II 200.

Moreover, he caught the attention of Cal Poly Pomona, which offered him a scholarship in late May. So he’s going to college to play sports — just not football, like he’d always thought.

But that moment, realizing your goal after a tough journey, is what largely defines resiliency.

“It’s indescribable,” Fleshman says. “It’s absolute bliss. It’s something I don’t think can be replicated in anything you do. It’s what makes millions of people watch sports. There’s something truly special when it all comes together.”

For Canyon High graduate and Caltech sophomore Mike Edwards, it all came together as a member of Caltech’s men’s basketball program, which has been renowned for its futility.

“Losing streak” is polite. “Losing legacy” is a lot more like it.

The Beavers went 26 years and 310 games in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play without a win. Then, in the final game of this past season, they finally broke through.

“It felt very, very good,” Edwards recalls of the 46-45 win over Occidental on Feb. 22. “Seeing our fans rush onto the floor was really funny.”

Caltech’s fans didn’t get the chance for more than a quarter of a century. When Edwards first joined the basketball team, he felt every bit of the downtrodden reputation.

“It was probably harder to play through the freshman season,” Edwards says. “We were adjusting to college basketball and having to deal with our past.”

During his freshman season, Caltech lost every conference game by an average of almost 40 points. Despite the struggles, Edwards and his teammates kept coming to practice and competing in games.

That helped them get closer to winning during Edwards’ sophomore season. It took the Beavers the whole conference season to do it. Edwards knew if he could bounce back from something like his freshman season, he could bounce back from anything.

“It was disappointing and it kind of hurt, but we were so close,” Edwards says.

Getting so close fueled Edwards throughout the season. Other things fuel other athletes when they’re confronted by adversity.

The ability to bounce back is crucial to success. You can’t get dissuaded when the other team gets momentum, or when you lose a contest. You can’t get dissuaded when you get hurt and miss time.

You can’t get dissuaded when you’re 100 percent and still fall short. The opportunity to compete, Fleshman says, is what counts.

“A lot of what I enjoy in sports is when I’m healthy, I really get to pursue my potential,” she says. “This is such a gift. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. … It’s something I can only do for a short period of time in my life, and I’m not willing to give that up.”

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