Keeping Balance

Elite Athletes Vs. Healthy Humans

November 02, 2023 Courtney Babilya Season 1 Episode 22
Keeping Balance
Elite Athletes Vs. Healthy Humans
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Between World Championships and the Rogue Invitational, today's episode dives into the realities of being an elite level athlete, and what that means for their mental and physical health. But beyond that, what does it mean for US as we look to them as heroes, idols, or the picture of health and fitness?

Together, we debunk myths and discuss the arduous journey of athletes grappling with the demanding nature of their sport, often leading to early retirements. Drawing from my own experience, we'll emphasize the importance of separating fitness for LIFE and fitness for performance.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

McKayla Maroney's interview on the Gymcastic Podcast

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Speaker 1:

Hello everyone, before we get into the episode, I just wanted to let you know that I had originally recorded this a couple of weeks ago and then, when the rogue invitation happened last weekend, I knew that I had to add a little extra to the conversation, because it just flowed so naturally in with this episode and I did not want to leave it out. And so, while it seems like the episode is wrapping up towards the eight-team-minute mark, we're going to keep on going. So stick with me. It's worth it to hear all of it and, without further ado, let's get into the episode. Welcome to Keeping Balance, the podcast that brings the lived experiences of our health and fitness journeys to the forefront as we dive deep into the many nuances of what wellness and balance is. I'm your host, courtney Vabilia, a fitness nurse, business owner and mom of two, and if you want to feel heard and gain wisdom on your path to aligning physical fitness with mental health and joy as a woman, then you're in the right place. Hey friends, welcome back to the show. Today's episode is all about athletes, gymnastics and the difference between being fit and healthy Because of the big difference. So this whole thought process in my brain spiraled, starting from a few weeks ago, when we got to Arizona and we had absolutely nothing in our house except for a TV, thankfully, by the grace of the gods, worlds was on Gymnastics Worlds. This is where it's like the biggest event in gymnastics besides the Olympics, where all of these different countries compete. This year they were qualifying to the Olympics and then they're competing to see who is the best country in the world, who is the best gymnast in the world, of all of the events and then who's the best gymnast on each individual event. So it is like a ton of competition back to back to back to back. So grilling for these athletes. But of course they're all in beautiful outfits and have sparkly hair and you'd never know that they're probably dying inside and just want to go take a nap. But it was just so incredible to watch.

Speaker 1:

Simone Biles needs no introduction, just a phenomenal person. Besides her being a phenomenal athlete. Can me please just acknowledge how phenomenal of a person Simone Biles is and the how much of a role model she is for everyone in the sport and even outside of the sport really, because two main things, like the most important thing that I notice about Simone Biles when I watch her, is that number one. She is Simone first. If you watch her compete, she hides nothing on her face, you can read her emotions, you know when she's pissed off, you know when she is elated and you know when she is embarrassed. Just in this world Spoiler alert if you haven't watched yet she went after a teen eight who had a hiccup in her routine and so whenever someone has a hiccup, the next person who goes you're like okay, because sometimes, making mistakes and competitions contagious, the first person goes and falls and then the next person goes and falls. But anyways, simone goes after this small hiccup in a routine and she is doing an amazing job with all of her passes, which are, you know, of course, the most difficult in the world. And then she trips over her own foot, just basically trotting down the floor. It was hilarious and you could see immediately on her face just how embarrassed she was. And when she walked up the floor, you could see her mouth what the F to her coach? And it's just fun to watch her and you can tell that she's just being herself and trying to have fun and enjoy her, her time there and she's not making anything for granted and she's just a good human being with a pure heart Like Simone, you're you're a doll.

Speaker 1:

But the other thing that is just so fantastic about Simone's journey is that she had a pretty devastating Olympics last Olympics and she wound up taking two years off, I want to say, because she got something called the twisties in competition at the Olympics. And that is where your appropriate exception or your ability to know where your body is in space it just turns off and you get lost in the air. And so think about a gymnast who is got incredible amplitude, super high in the air, going extremely fast, unable to stop gravity. So you know you have to land on the floor eventually, but you're twisting and you don't know which direction you're going and you don't know how to stop it. It says if just the communication between your body and your brain, it just shuts off and you're just blank. And it's terrifying because it can result in catastrophic landings, right, either if you're on your neck or your head or you know something else. So really, really scary, definitely a mental game that just gets into your head, because not only are you scared in the air, then you become afraid to actually do your skills and go for things.

Speaker 1:

And so this happened to Simone the greatest athlete to exist in the middle of competition at the Olympics and she had to bow out and we thought we had seen the end of Simone. We thought, okay, she was her second Olympics, you know, she's probably done, it's okay, like her time is over, it's fine. No, she prioritized her mental health, she took a step back and then she came back to the sport and now she's probably just as good, if not better, in some areas than she was before. In fact, she is better on vault because she got a new vault named after her, which is the most difficult vault that any woman or man competes, and it's now the Biles too on vault. So just, I mean, it's just an incredible message to everyone that taking care of your mental health and putting yourself first, no matter if your gold medal is at stake, that that will always come first. And so I'm really, really proud of Simone for not putting a gold medal on the line or her body on the line for a gold medal.

Speaker 1:

So, coming off of that, I wound up listening to an interview from Michaela Moroni, who was also an Olympic gymnast, a little bit before Simone's time. Actually, michaela and Simone did compete together at one point, but I was listening to an interview that she did on the gymnastic podcast and Michaela was telling her story. Michaela was one of the first gymnasts to come forward regarding the Larry Nassar situation and the abuse that was happening within USA Gymnastics and she was kind of telling her story about her injuries and her experience being an elite level gymnast. And she was talking about how they trained 30 days straight leading up to the Olympics at a selection camp and they didn't give them a single day off and they went straight to competition. So straight from 30 days of training straight into competition, and her coaches didn't let her look at anybody or talk to anybody. In fact, she mentioned how jealous she was of Simone because her coach let her smile and this was the level of psychological abuse going on within that team. And not just that, but she was competing on multiple fractures and coming out of that Olympics she had to get multiple surgeries on her toe and then right after the Olympics she went on tour. I mean just it's insane the volume of training that they were doing. And she was how old? A very young, you know, a teenager, 16 years old. I don't remember how she was spent Olympics, but she went on tour and then she had like a devastating fracture in her shin, I believe. So just injury after injury after injury.

Speaker 1:

She wound up taking some time off and Makilah intended on coming back to competition. She wanted to make another Olympic team. She still had more to do, she had unfinished business and she basically tried to train and then became very unhealthy again. She said she burned out to the point where she couldn't really do anything for three months at a time. She said she was so exhausted to the point where she felt at peace because there was she or I didn't have any energy to provide her emotions. She had no energy left to feel angry or to feel tired or to feel frustrated. She was just numb, essentially. And then, I think, when she finally decided to walk away from the sport, she slept for three days straight.

Speaker 1:

And her story just really hit me hard, especially when she was talking about how, when she had to walk away, it wasn't because she was over gymnastics. She said she was never over gymnastics, but she was over being unhealthy. And as soon as she said that, I just started bawling my eyes out, because that's exactly how I felt about leaving gymnastics. I didn't want to have to leave gymnastics. I loved gymnastics dearly and I didn't want to separate gymnastics from me like I felt, like I was, it was still very much a part of me, like in my living breathing tissues, but that it just had to happen for my own health. And so Makilah finally put words to that, and it was just really beautiful to hear, but also really important to hear, from people who idolize athletes for being the picture of health or who idolize athletes for aspire to be at their level, when your goals aren't actually to be an athlete, if that makes sense.

Speaker 1:

So we see athletes on on TV, on social media, and this is even true for fitness influencers, whose sole job is to be a fitness influencer and to be fit and to maintain a certain physique is that's their full-time gig? Okay, and so when we see that and we see them constantly posting workouts every single day in their training, we think that, oh, that's what we have to be doing to be healthy, or that's what we have to do to achieve greatness, to be great. And I just want to drive home the fact that you know, very clearly laid out by Makilah, is that being a high-level athlete is not always healthy. In fact, it's very common that athletes are unhealthy and we have data that shows that people who were a high-level athlete they actually have shorter life spans and they have much greater stress on their cardiac systems. It is not sustainable and that is why gymnasts are done by the time they're 16, 17, 18 years old.

Speaker 1:

Now, these days, I think training strategy has improved and we're starting to see gymnasts who are in their young or early 20s and we're even considering that old, like Simone, she's 26 or 7 or something, and that is. I mean it's pretty outrageous how old she is competing at this level. And it's not because she's old, it's because the sport is so incredibly brutal and and demanding that the the lifespan of that intensity is very short-lived and there's only so long that you can take that. So if you're looking to your favorite athlete or your favorite fitness influencer and you're thinking that that's the kind of level that you need to be at, otherwise you're inadequate or unworthy or not as healthy as you think you should be, that's pretty much the opposite. Okay, and I've fallen into this trap too, and especially when it comes to being in the online fitness space, you see other people who kind of have a similar job to you and you're like, oh shit, like they're working out way more than I am.

Speaker 1:

But it's only my business to be concerned with my body and how it responds to different levels of training and that's going to change throughout my life. I used to train 30 hours per week when I was a child. I was 11 years old training 30 hours per week, and now, being 30 years old, I train about three to four hours a week, max, maybe a little bit between three and four. Yeah, if I'm like recording content to that's extra outside of my workouts because I try not to do extra workouts to film content then yeah, that's where it falls, but that's that's truly like 1% of my life and that's that's all it takes.

Speaker 1:

There's a trend going around on social media right now where the creator is showing me 1% of the time and it's like them in regular clothes or glammed out and doing something fun or normal, and then it switches to me 99% of the time and it's showing them like a really inspirational and cool, inspiring montage of them doing badass athletic stuff. And I respect that and I admire that if you're an athlete and truly training for something like you know, a major competition, and if you have goals for athletic performance incredible, amazing but I also don't want us to get trapped glorifying, spending 99% of your life doing something that may or may not be really unhealthy for your body and that's everyone's choice to make and not judging anybody or trying to say, like shame on you for being an athlete like heck, no, I was that person, but I came back and I opposed to something that was the opposite, like I'm literally spending 1% of my life in the gym because about three hours a week is 1% of my week and the other 99% of my time is spent actually reaping the benefits of that 1%. It's being able to enjoy having a body that can move freely and lift heavier things and have the stamina to play with my kids and you know what I'm talking about. Like the stuff that we do in the gym is supposed to be able to bleed into our lives, to give us capacity and for our lives to be more comfortable, for everything to be more accessible, so that our limitations are just getting ever so slightly smaller, and for me, that's what fitness is doing for me right now. So just to friendly reminder that athlete and high intensity does not always mean healthy.

Speaker 1:

Fit is not synonymous with healthy and also, you know fitness in and of itself has different definitions for different people. Crossfit, for example, they call themselves the. You know what is it? The sport of fitness? I don't know. They're competing to see who's the fittest on earth, and I think fit is different for an athlete than it is for a regular human being. I don't know what regular human being needs to be able to sustain that level of high intensity for that long.

Speaker 1:

We have evolved and I think we can practice fitness in a safer way that isn't going to burn us out and make us reliant on, basically like doing recovery efforts whenever we're not in the gym. You see the commercials for athletes and CrossFit people like when they're not doing CrossFit, they're recovering from CrossFit, and that's not how I want to live my life. I don't want to have to live my life constantly in compression boots Under red lights. I mean, I do love me some red light therapy, but like not 24, seven and all these different like biohacking devices and creams and pills and powders and things like that Like I don't want to have to live my life recovering from something. I want my fitness to Give me net energy so that I can go live my regular life. And this is such a 180 from how I used to think when I was a gymnast. I mean, it took me so long, like years, to evolve out of that mindset of having to be a High-level athlete to be valuable.

Speaker 1:

And even the mackayla's interview she said that she's ready to put her worth and value into something else aside from gymnastics. I wanted to say, mackayla, no, you don't have to put your worth or value into anything. You are worthy and valuable just because you exist, just because you are mackayla, because you're a human being on this planet earth. He doesn't, it doesn't live in anything else external. It's all inside of you. And I think that's a trap that we get into when we start thinking we need to Do x, y and z because she's doing it on on Instagram. It's because they put our value into someone else or into an accomplishment or into something that is not within us.

Speaker 1:

And one of the books that I'm reading right now is talking about how Greatness is not achieved when you win the medal or when you, you know, get the accolades. The greatness in you is achieved when you decide to Be great, when you decide to hold yourself to that standard and when you live your everyday life to that standard. That's the greatness, and then maybe the medal is the results of that greatness. But that's just speaking in metaphors. You don't actually have to be striving for a medal. But those, those are my thoughts that spiraled all from watching worlds and and watching Simone be be happy In a really demanding sport, and then hearing the Kayla's interview and how her experience was just so I mean sad, but also the experience that a lot of us shared, having been a gymnast in that time period. So Please don't confuse being an athlete with being healthy. You got to do you. You're only concerned. All your only business is with yourself and how your body is responding, and you don't have to be 99% in the gym or working towards your Fitness pursuits. You can. You can do the 1% and it's still incredibly beneficial and still going to help you tremendously, even if just 1% of your life is spent doing intentional exercise.

Speaker 1:

Okay, and speaking of CrossFit earlier, we have to bring Tia Tumi into this conversation In light of what just happened over the past weekend at the Rogue Invitational. So if you are not familiar with Tia Tumi, she is essentially synonymous with the word CrossFit at this point. She has dominated the sport for the better part of the last decade. She won the CrossFit Games, which is the pinnacle of competitive CrossFit. She won that competition six consecutive years in a row, which no one has ever done, man or woman. So she is by far their most successful athlete of all time and, you know, with Tia Tumi, simone Biles, even the others in CrossFit, like Rich Froning and Matthew Frazier, the ones that sort of held on to the title for quite some time and put a monopoly on that first place podium. It's kind of understood that those athletes are, yes, elite athletes because they work hard and they're, you know, really talented, but they're like, talented and skilled in their own league, like, if they're elite plus, you know, so if they're competing in a competition, like everyone else is just vying for second and third place. But with that in mind, tia, at the end of her 2022 season, she won the CrossFit Games. She's solidified that. She's the most successful CrossFit athlete of all time.

Speaker 1:

She wins and she's like you know what? I know, I've been doing this for a really long time at a really high level and I think I would like to have a family. So her and her husband they had a baby this year and all throughout her pregnancy she was posting her training videos and you know you're like mad respect would expect nothing less from her. But then she has the baby, adorable, child, adorable and she is continuing to post training videos. Um, and you're wondering yourself, okay, is this footage from before she was pregnant? Is this old? Is this now? Like everyone was kind of scratching her has, like what's going on? What is Tia planning? What is she doing here? Because we thought she was going to be taken a couple years off or maybe even retired from competition altogether, but no, she was.

Speaker 1:

She's gonna have been like three or four months postpartum and she announced that she would be competing at the rogue evitational because she had unfinished business. She wanted to get back out there, and this I mean. I, of course, I've never met Tia. I have I've known nothing about her, but it just being from the athlete's perspective. I can just see how it's. It's so difficult for women and for an athlete in general to let go of a certain identity, especially after you have kids, like you feel like you've lost a part of yourself and you so desperately want to get back to that. I have no idea what Tia's motivation was.

Speaker 1:

But Whatever it was, she competed at the rogue invitation of this past weekend and she got second place, and just by a very, very small margin. It she was back and forth between first and second all week in long, between her and Laura Horvath, who is also another incredible athlete, and Laura, or Laura, everyone always tells her that she can only win if Tia is not there. And so she, when she did win this competition, she sort of made the, the comment that you know what? Everyone says that I can only win if Tia's not here. But guess what, tia is here and I still won. And everyone's like, yeah, because Tia is only five months postpartum, and I mean that kind of language like that, that whole Dialogue. I think it's completely unnecessary and I don't know, just kind of disrespectful to both athletes.

Speaker 1:

But one of the events in the competition was a one rep max deadlift and if you've had a baby or know anything about Women's anatomy, especially postpartum, then you're probably cringing at the thought of someone, five months postpartum, going for a one rep max deadlift. And I know nothing about her body again, I know nothing about her rehab and her training, but, um, she did decide to not use a belt and what she accomplished beltless was absolutely insane. She lifted 400 pounds five, five months postpartum and Everyone was thinking, oh, you know, oh, she's choosing to go beltless. Interesting choice, interesting choice. But it's like, okay, yes, she's clearly making a smart decision not to put that much extra pressure on her midline and her pelvic floor. Um, because she is so fresh after having a baby and she did come out and say that when people were asking her all over her Instagram why weren't you using a belt, she was like, yeah, some things still have to move back into place, but she was still able to to nail a 400 pound deadlift, which was not her heaviest lift, but after having a baby it is.

Speaker 1:

And before anyone goes and says to themselves, I am five years postpartum and I could never, well, no shit, she's an elite athlete and that's the whole point of this conversation. She is it elite plus, plus, plus, in my opinion, and I looked up her training and she trains at least five hours a day, but in between her sessions she's doing mobility work and additional training and additional recovery, kind of the things that I was talking about before. Um, so her entire life is this sport, her entire life is training, and it is this unspoken thing that, like it's there's a time limit on this. There's a clock that's ticking and you cannot sustain it for forever. So, please, if you're watching CrossFit on tv and you're like, holy shit, this is what we're doing in regular CrossFit at the gym, like no wonder everyone's always injured, like it gives CrossFit such a bad name, you need to understand this is not the CrossFit that you're going to be practicing.

Speaker 1:

If you go into a regular box. That is the the point 001 of of athletes that make it to that level, because that's their job. It's literally their profession. That is how they make their living, they love it and they're dedicated beyond belief and they get paid a lot of money. If you win the CrossFit games, you're talking, you know, money that people aspire to to make in a year, two years, three years, even even more. So, yeah, you, you can make what, like 320 thousand dollars, I think, is the current price for winning the CrossFit game. So these guys are after it for the money. They're after it because I love it and they're after it because they are at such a high level.

Speaker 1:

Um, that it's. It's not even the same league as you or I, who are just Staying active to maintain a baseline level of health and to to make the 99 percent on the rest of our lives, our real lives, feel so much better. So I just wanted to bring that part into the conversation too, in light of the regularvitational which is. It's a spectacle for a reason because it is so awe inspiring, because it is so rare to see. So we can, we can respect those women and those athletes, but we can also understand that it's not going to translate to us and what we need to be doing. All right, so now we're going to end the episode for real this time. Love you, hey.

Speaker 1:

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