I was 20 years old. I was in Berlin, Germany. I walked into a stadium of 75,000 people. I was expected to compete in front of them. This was my first World Championships and my first time competing against world-class competitors. I remember feeling overwhelmed and a bit out of my league, but I was one of the youngest out there and was treating it as a learning experience. I figured that there would be many more medal winning opportunities to come.
The next couple of years were spent in the NCAA system, competing in collegiate meets and winning NCAA championships. I knew the ropes. I knew my competitors. I was comfortable in this environment. My goal in 2012 was to make the Canadian Olympic team and compete in London later that summer, but I had no idea that this experience would have such a dramatic impact on my career.
As always, there was a ton of media attention around the Olympics: Who are the medal favorites? Who was injured? Who was breaking world records? As the Games drew nearer, this media attention had a way of amping me up for my opportunity to compete on the big stage. I knew I wasn’t a medal favorite (I was ranked 10th), but I believed anything could happen. If I had a good meet, maybe it was possible…
I was sitting in the call room at the Olympics getting ready for the 100m hurdles, my first heptathlon event of the seven event series. I looked around at my competitors and thought to myself, “Holy crap! What am I doing here?! All these girls are so much older, stronger, and tougher than I am. I’m out of my league. I don’t deserve to be here. I’m scared.”
When you think about a 20 year old competing in their first major World Championship, you’d expected that they’d be a little starstruck, overwhelmed, doubtful, and scared. But for a 23 year old who has proved, through their results, that they are worthy of competing at the Olympic Games, such emotions are unacceptable. In my mind, this was mental weakness.
I spent the competition just wanting it to be over. I didn’t have fun, I didn’t appreciate where I was, I didn’t soak in the atmosphere. The instant I crossed the finish line of the 800m (even though it was a PB), I was extremely frustrated and upset with myself. All because of my negative attitude, I had blown an amazing opportunity to have fun, learn from, and compete with my competitors to the best of my ability.
Later that week, I watched my fiancé, Ashton Eaton, carry the American flag around the track and step up on the podium while his national anthem played after winning his first Olympic gold medal. At that moment, a fire was lit inside me. I knew something had to change.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
— Albert Einstein
I had three months off to sit and think about my feelings and at the beginning of November 2012, I walked into my coach’s office with a plan in my hand and tears in my eyes. I got right to the point, explaining to him that I was sick of not being considered a medal contender. I told him that I didn’t see the point of continuing if I couldn’t mix things up with the big dogs. I wanted to feel the pressure of being one of the best in the world and if I couldn’t, I should quit. He smiled and said, “Brianne, sit down and let’s talk.”
I was never once mad at Harry for the situation I was in, I was frustrated with myself. I was frustrated for not making the necessary changes, frustrated for thinking that I could just continue on training with the same mentality I had in college, and frustrated for thinking I could live the same way I did in college. It's hard for a coach to explain to an athlete the mindset they need in order to be one of the best athletes in the world, as it’s different for everyone. I know that Harry was just sitting back and waiting for me to figure this out for myself.
From that point on, I was motivated every day by success which enabled me to focus at practice and really begin to make sense of all the events. Going into meets, I began to understand what I was doing right and wrong and had cues I could focus on. I made it a goal of mine to just try and have fun at meets and stop worrying about my competitors. I was determined to change partly because I wanted to win World and Olympic medals, but mostly because I found it exciting to challenge myself to see how good I could be.
I now put my athletic career first and continue to look for new areas of change that are necessary for improvement, understanding full well that these changes may be uncomfortable. Ashton has always told me, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Most people would probably say, “Well, duh!! Of course that’s insane!” But I would venture to guess that a lot of people, at some point in their lives, have found themselves doing this.
Although my example is strictly about athletics, think about a time when you were frustrated or unhappy but continued to do the same thing over and over again, hoping something would change. Maybe you’re in that situation right now and just haven’t realized it yet, or maybe you’ve realized it but are scared to make the change. Just know that change is necessary to keep us growing as people, and on track to reach our life’s goals.