As part of our involvement with the Roxsolt Attaquer cycling team we have often had the opportunity to work with athletes who are making their way back after experiencing a setback. In this blog post, Valentina Scandolara describes what is like to have your world come crashing down and the type of environment that is important for coming back from a significant setback.
I came across this sentence some years ago, but I did not really grasp the full meaning of it at the time. I guess life takes its time to teach you the lessons you need to learn.
I’ve been a professional athlete for 10 years now. During my entire life, I pushed my body to the limits, day in, day out. I won in amazing ways, I failed in spectacular fashions, I crashed and was hurt, I got up and healed. Many times, over and over again.
But last year, it was different. My body was suffering from a long time in a subtle, chronic way, a slow depletion, the most dangerous for an athlete’s mind and personality, which are used to endure pain and just “keep pushing through”. So I kept doing what was normal to me, pushing myself to my limits, everyday. Until my body decided that I had been stupid enough, and just shut down. No appeals, no ways to try and push through, this time. Game over. Adrenal fatigue syndrome is really unforgiving.
I found myself unable to get out of bed for two weeks, nothing in my system was working anymore: muscles could not train, brain could not compute. It’s probably been one of the worst experiences of my life, so far.
I found myself lost, couldn’t do what I’ve always been doing and was good at, and had no idea whether I could ever be able to go back to do that again.
Fast forward 8 months, and my recovery has been much quicker than all the endocrinologists I saw were ready to predict. I had 4 full months off the bike (for a professional World Tour cyclist, that’s a huge break), and could not train for more than 2 days in a row for the first months back… But at least I had started my “get up from the fall” process!
When Kelvin Rundle and Roxolt contacted me, asking me if I wanted to join them for their US season, I told them straight up about my health situation, and that I had no idea of how much time I’d need to get back to good shape. In response, they offered me so much support, motivation and a stress-free environment that I did not think twice and joined them.
Now it’s already a month that we’re in the States racing, and our small but tenacious team is surely being noticed. I'm so proud of everyone, from the riders to the staff!!! Everyone is giving their absolute best, day in, day out, and the environment is really positive and motivating: I think those are the main ingredients for success, in every field of life. In two of the hardest stage races in America, our two GC riders were constantly in the top 10-15, up against big names, and we got some podiums and a win in the criterium races.
In the last stage race I entered though, I had a huge setback. I just had a good result in Dana Point Crit (2nd), and I was happy and positive for what was coming. But in the days leading up to the race, I felt drained, with no real explanation. I was feeling extremely tired for the whole day, from the second I woke up to the one I fell asleep… I felt something was not quite right. And I wasn’t wrong… The first stage of Redlands Classic Tour came around quickly, and I found myself sitting on the start line feeling dizzy, unable to smile or talk to anyone around me (when that happens, I know there’s something wrong with me). The race started, my body was empty and my brain and reflexes slow and unresponsive: long story short, I pulled out of the race after only 35km, feeling humiliated and guilty towards my teammates and my Director, who would have needed me in the race the next days… It was definitely not a happy day for me, but after some good talks with my Team Manager, my Coach and my Director, it was clear to me that none of them was upset, and that everyone thought I made the right choice taking care of my body, especially in this extremely delicate time which is the recovery process from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Pushing the limits now could result in even bigger and long lasting damages to my body, which is the last thing I want. It’s a rollercoaster journey, but I knew it when I accepted the challenge some months ago, and I’m surely not giving up now: I know well that until we stop to get up on our feet after a fall, we can never really be defeated.
So I decided I could still be useful to the team in the race, even from off the bike.
Firstly, getting over my disappointment, showing to the young riders how we need to process and get rid of negative feelings and rumination as soon as possible, in order to avoid losing even more energy on what we can't change anymore.
Secondly, supporting and motivating them, giving them advices and focusing on the little things that I learnt over the years and that can improve their vision of the race, their tactics, their recovery, their mood.
I found this new role very rewarding: when you’re an athlete, your focus is so narrow and your energy so important and limited that you just can think of you, your form leading into the race, the course, and maybe a teammate or two if your job that day is to help them.
When you’re free from the stress of the race, your vision widens and you can really take care of the people around you, help them perform at their best, and be part of their journey, of their growth as people that to me comes even before their growth as athletes.
I think I now know what I want to do when I grow up ;-)
Until next time,