Let me tell you something; Salt Lake City is hot, so hot. So, when we drove into the city, all the buildings are white or grey, and I could see heat waves coming off the roads and sidewalks, I knew I was going to be more determined than ever to be healthy, hydrated, and perform like hell was on my heels.
The road to Nationals has been an interesting one for me. It began in 2017, once I knew how close the event was going to be to Idaho. Despite the exhaustion that has plagued me the past few years, I felt determined to focus on this goal and achieve it, no matter what. And I have done just that.
In preparation for this, I intentionally participated in many more events, big and small. I needed to put myself out there, be vulnerable, be open to loss and learning, and get the feel for this different vibe. I have competed in large, international events before but there is always something different about a USA Taekwondo competition. It is not the vibe that has set me off but rather the place and cost; if I can go to some of my some favorite places, see friends, and compete for less than an arm or leg, I am IN. The UC Open, the JKI, and others are wonderful, prestigious events and I always learn a lot, but mostly I have fun catching up with friends in and out of Taekwondo, eating amazing food, and enjoying the ocean or city views. I always try my hardest and prepare for months, even if part of the goal is to incorporate a fun filled vacation. Still, there is something different about a USA Taekwondo, Pan Am, or World Taekwondo event.
At the US Open, I knew I had not prepared enough, that I was coming off a crazy work and sleep schedule, and that this was about the experience and learning. And that is exactly what it was, but I could feel the "off-ness" I had been complaining about for quite some time. Then, at the Oregon State Championships a couple of weeks later, again crazy work/sleep schedule, I felt off. Marie (my competitor) was really good, strong, and everything. I am those things too, but when I was done and saw the video none of what I know is inside me was translating to the mat. That was really hard to take in because I am so used to performing strongly, not looking like I am tired and dragging.
Before I even left for Portland I told myself that this was only about qualifying, get into Nationals, then rest, and prepare for Nationals with everything inside me. I mean, this whole time I was trying to prepare but just lacked the inner fire to do what needed to be done and travel to train where I needed to. My fire has been dampening for quite some time. I had gone to the doctor so many times and pursued alternative medicine and other options and it began to seem like I was just burnt out. It happens. I just didn't expect it to happen to me, and not now.
Still, I was set on attending Nationals and giving it my all. I scaled back everything more than I had and tried to focus mostly on what I would need for competition. Yet, there was almost no pep in me. At end of March, something real was wrong. Then, at the end of April, well, those showers didn't bring flowers. Turns out I have thyroid cancer - CLICK - mostly everything made sense. Sure, it is a shocker, but how awesome that it is a fixable problem (still sucks though). As a doer, I was heartened that I could do something to remove the weight on my shoulders, or rather on my thyroid. But wait, what about Nationals? Reactions like, "You're crazy" or very motherly (judging) looks were thrown my way. I am a determined person though and my heart was set on July 7th. So, when the surgeon and other doctors gave the go-ahead and actually encouraged me to compete, I was ecstatic.
I did my vulnerability work, I put myself out there, I was honest, and then I sat back and began to receive the benefits of admitting to the world I have a temporary illness and learning to be ok with asking for help. The support was unreal from all avenues. People came out of the woodwork in mostly a good way. I have been able to help educate people on chronic illness, how to treat people in this position, and how to respect boundaries. I am not dying and I can do something, so many people cannot and their reality is different than mine; I want to be heard for myself and for others, they need a voice too. This knowing I am not looking at a dark horizon does not diminish how disappointing the diagnosis has been.
Tim Thackery, of the Juice Athlete Compound, took me under his wing and got me set up to figure out what my limits were physically and mentally, because I am fighting a lot more than I thought; there new lines that needed to be established for this journey to be positive. Other community resources blossomed around me: Jenny at Hope and Healing, Jodie at Tantra Power Yoga, Renee at Shanti Yoga, Rachel and Stephanie with their Chinese Medicine, Jennifer Stone with massage and Bhuti Yoga, people with organic and wild food sources, people with some financial offering, people who were just kind and understanding, everywhere around me people were supportive. This has been beautiful to see, despite the circumstances.
The Mile High Open was so great this year, and leading up to it I knew I was pushing myself perhaps too much. Well, thanks to Master Steve and Amanda Rosbarsky and of Missoula Taekwondo Center and their equipment and support, Grandmaster Larry Duke of Idaho Taekwondo Training Center, Mr. Ben Forsgren of Stanley Taekwondo Club, Master Eric Wibbeler of The Martial Way, and of course everyone from McCall Taekwondo Club, the event was better, more fair, more competitive, and the all around better than it has been in the past. But, I did push myself too far and was pretty spent physically and mentally. I had to spend a lot of time resting and recovering, more than I had expected and with only two weeks between our event and Nationals.
I walked through my compulsory poomsae each day, focusing on the accuracy and timing. Much more than that and I was spent. My workouts via remote coaching were taking me longer to get through without doing more harm to myself. Still, I plugged away, my family rallied and we started doing more visualizations, watching videos, talking and writing my way through the forms to really get my mental game on point. At this time I was also doing the 28 Day Juice Athlete Challenge which really helped remind me to look at all of the good around me and keep me centered better, or at least from spinning out completely. I felt like a breakdown was coming and began blaming myself for wearing myself too thin, burning the candle at both ends, etc. I stayed strong and dug deep, banished the negative thoughts, and the breakdown never came, but slowly my energy and zip started to smolder again.
I did my best to not push it and to be kind to myself, knowing that no matter what I would give it my all at Nationals, even if that was just walking into the ring. Every day our best is different. This is something I have said for a long time, but this year it really has come into my soul. I accept this even for myself. We all know that forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest things to do.
We celebrated my dad's birthday on the 4th and hit the road. I got through all of my final doctor appointments and got the last go ahead. We - I should explain this we*. My mother having actively and admirably battled her own health issues and cancer, really understood why this was so important to me. She and my father have been a constant support to me, helping me every step of the way. My dad stayed to take care of the dog and tie up a few loose ends for me at home regarding insurance, business, and moving so I could compete more or less stress free; my mom made enough juice to supple an army, hit the farmers market, and we were off! So, We spent the night with my Aunt Sharon in Pocatello and she decided to join us on this little adventure and the next morning we made the sojourn to SLC. (whereupon I melted, just kidding)
When we went to the venue the buzz was electric. There were so many people. It is always inspiring to be surrounded by a group of people on a similar path and with similar expectations. Seeing so many people, old and young, masters and beginners brought such a smile to my face. We went and checked into the hotels, unpacked, had a quick rest, then popped back to see a few friends compete. After a few hours of non-stop clapping, some hugs from dear friends, and a new dobak, we joined my Aunt at Tin Angel for a little pre-celebration (remember, I like good food). Spending this time with family was so precious to me. I am grateful for that meal. My boyfriend called and told me he was en route to come support me and I thought at this point I was going explode from gratitude. Afterward, I met back at the venue with a new friend, Alicia, who also was part of the 28 Day Challenge. We went through poomsae, learned about each other, and then went on to find the original people I had intended to meet. I hugged Allison (one of my favorite competitors) and her coach Master Bohyeon Kim (multi-time world champion) and went back to the hotel to sleep. Or try. In case you have not noticed, I have a hard time just being "chill," as the kids say.
After some creative curtain improvements and such, I learned that my division would be much later than expected, and off to sleep I went. Upon waking, I meditated, visualized, got a pep talk from my mom, stretched, leapt out the door to hug my boyfriend when he made it to our hotel, and got ready to go to the Salt Palace.
When we got there we met one of the workers we had seen the day before and sparked a brief but beautiful friendship with Oliver. I went and watched Abbey spar her heart out and felt myself getting excited about 90minutes before I was to be called to holding. I went to stretch out and walk through poomsae with Allison and her coach. What I think has been hardest has been remembering not to push myself, because I am empty and running on fumes. I began to feel a bit nervous because walking* through my forms was leaving me breathless and exhausted. Allison helped keep me excited about what we were doing. A couple of other coaches reached out to make sure I was all right, and give me great feedback (they didn't know me), competitors from other womens' divisions came over and helped me out, critiquing here and there, making adjustments, and reminding me that 'this is a beginning' and I will only get better. It was also fun to commiserate about a few of the changes and engage in friendly banter. The one woman, Catherine, was so kind and pure in willingness to help. She saw me have a moment, when the wave hit me, and really reached out to help. Her assertions and encouragement, along with Allison's, a hug from some friends and my mom all built me up and gave me some extra spirit to get out there and put out my best. Then, my dear, amazing friend Master Amanda Rosbarsky agreed to coach me. I almost cried so many times during the competition because of how overwhelmed I was and still am, by everyone's kindness and generosity.
I went out there, I got some last minute tips from Master Amanda, and then it was my turn. I set my mind, put my body and spirit out there. Of course, I made some errors and there are things I can improve on, but I gave it everything I had in that moment. I was completely breathless at the end but I felt so good. I hugged my coach, my friend, her coach, and got so much positive feedback about my focus and strength. I needed to know that my effort in that moment showed, and hearing that it did was so gratifying. I did not make finals though.
Putting out your best and not making it to finals is a really emotional bundle. The whole thing is. What makes poomsae so much harder to me than gyroogi (sparring), is that you only get one shot to do it right. You cannot make up points once they are lost, you cannot take back a misplaced hand, you cannot redo a kick to make it snappier, one time at 100% and then you wait and see. It has a nice finality to it in some ways and a really hard one in others. When i realized I did not make the cut, I felt relieved, I felt sad, I felt accomplished, I felt disappointed, I felt amazed, I felt awe, I felt love, I felt it all.
Taekwondo is such a huge part of my life. Every competition is emotional, whether I win or not. I have a really hard time talking about any competition or event for a couple of days because I have decompress and thread out all of the emotions and sit with the experience. I have cheated myself this in the past and just jumped right into the zealous analyzation, intense self critique, and immediately training; yet, publicly I try to present a very upbeat, everything is great and everything is learning persona. I have realized what a disservice this is to myself and those around me. I have the same experience as my students when they win and lose, and that needs to be discussed and honored. They should not feel alone in their feelings. They should be able express sadness from a loss and joy from a win without it being diminished or overshadowed. A win should be celebrated and allowed to have its time before getting 'back to work' because it needs its own space to breathe and live, just as the emotions with a loss do. If those are constantly stuffed away and are not adequately acknowledged they will eventually sabotage the participant in the sport or in her life, or worse in both.
Now that I have sat with experience, I see small things I can correct, I see things I can adjust, and I see all of that balanced with the good and the progress I have made just in this year. I know with the help of many people I will get to where I want. They will see things I can not and teach me things and show me perspectives I never imagined, and I am so excited to get back to work. First, I have surgery and eliminate the cancer. Then, I recover. I rest and digest all of these experiences. Then, whenever then may be, and my recovery is complete or at least well underway, I will get back to the physical work and remind myself to be kind to everyone, including me.
In the days since Nationals I have felt such a relief, such a sense of accomplishment, I cannot begin to even describe it. I did what I set out for, my intent was seen through.
I cannot wait for the opportunities the future will present me with. Most importantly, I cannot wait to feel good and to feel alive again. This journey to Nationals has been eye opening and one of the most memorable, love filled, and positive experiences of my life.
Thank you to everyone who supported me along the way.