US 400m hurdler Georganne Moline reflects on the pain of several seasons of turmoil followed by a resurgence in form, kick-started by a physical and mental overhaul.
I had enjoyed a huge high in 2012. I had been undefeated leading into the NCAA Championships – where I fell – but qualified for the US Olympic team and went on to finish fifth in the Olympic final in London.
But the following year, I started to struggle under the weight of expectations of being an Olympian. I would get beaten but as ‘Georganne the Olympian’. I battled with the idea that I’m not supposed to lose. I suddenly didn’t know how to separate Georganne Moline the athlete from the person and my worth on the track started to affect my worth as a human being.
I started to question myself and I went on a downward spiral for the next three years or so. It became so bad, I hated days when I would compete. I started to suffer terrible anxiety ahead of races. I couldn’t wait for the race to be over. I was being invited to meets but I wasn’t appreciating the process.
I remember in 2016 I went to a meet in Kingston, Jamaica. I felt amazing during the warm up and ready to set a PR. Then I thought, ‘what if I fail’ and I pulled out of the race 20 minutes before the start. I was setting a very dangerous trend. I could not get myself to the starting line for fear of letting people down.
The lowest point happened just a couple of weeks out from the 2016 US Olympic Trials when I suffered a herniated disc in my back. I was also on the last year of my shoe contract and this brought an additional stress. I didn’t know if the injury was going to be career-ending.
Shortly after picking up the back injury, I answered an email from one of my friends who suggested I go and see a movement specialist to help fix the problem. I don’t know why I was so drawn to this email, but I decided to go and see Chip Coleman in Tucson, Arizona.
As soon as I met him, I liked the fact he told me there was a different way to fix my injury than through surgery. He showed that my right glute was not as strong or as stable as my left glute. So much so that when I changed legs at hurdle nine – to a left-leg lead – I was moving sidewards and losing precious time in the race.
It took a long time but slowly, through a number of exercises, he fixed my deficiencies and made my weaknesses my strengths. Over time, my body felt so much more stable and through hurdle nine, I started to feel stronger and more powerful. I still see Chip today and I will continue to do so until the end of my career.
Also in late 2016 I decided to see a sports psychologist, Dr Amy Athey. It has been such a blessing. She has helped save my career. Now if I get nervous before a race, I have a toolbox of solutions to draw from in order to deal with it. I tell myself, if I’m feeling nervous it is because I care. Things I used to look at negatively, I now look at positively.
My first 400m hurdles race in 2017 at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa was huge for me. My family was there and the weather was terrible but I only focused on things I could control. I ran very well that day (winning in 54.66) and I said to myself, ‘if I can run this quickly in the cold weather, how much quicker can I run in better conditions?’
By the time of the 2017 US Championships, a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was so excited to compete. I had never felt so mentally and physically fit. That championship in Sacramento, I felt like I was running on the clouds. In the semi-final, I ran 53.84, even though it felt like I’d put in the same amount of effort as a high 54 (seconds).
To then run 53.14 in the final – my first PR for four years – was huge for me. It was such a high; the moment I started to love track and field once again.
I may have finished fifth and missed out on the team for the World Championships (in London) but I was just happy to enjoy running again and privileged to have competed in one of the fastest races in history (described as the deepest in history as for the first time three women bettered 53 seconds and six finished inside 54 seconds in the same 400m hurdles race).
I experienced such a whirlwind of emotions that day, and I was very excited by what I could achieve in the future.
Steve Landells for the IAAF