Phylicia George back on a familiar track with a fresh perspective
So…what was it like in the sled?
That’s the question I’ve been fielding most recently.
Now that I’m back training for track and field, track athletes who saw me win a bronze medal at last year’s Olympic Winter Games in bobsleigh approach with a dazzle in their eye and curiosity about the whole process.
And it’s been fun describing a whole different world to them – a world where jackets, snow pants, hats, and gloves are a must and traveling at 150km/h is just another day of training.
I tell them about how I spent hours in the weight room getting strong and gaining 20lbs of lean muscle mass.
I tell them how I had to learn to spend more time on the ground with each step to create power and force, in stark contrast to the bouncy reactiveness that sprinters are used to.
And when I lined up for my first race this season, I couldn’t help but smirk when the announcer said Summer and Winter Olympian after my name.
But here’s the thing about being a Summer and Winter Olympian: the next Olympics are always right around the corner!
In February 2018 I was in PyeongChang in -20°C and in April 2018 I was in Phoenix in +20°C, starting my transition back to the track. Despite many seeming similarities, the training necessary to compete at a high level in bobsleigh versus track and field is very different.
I knew that if I wanted to be ready for the 2019 World Athletics Championships and firing on all cylinders for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, I had to get back on the track ASAP. I gave myself one month to pat myself on the back for a job well done and to enjoy being an Olympic medallist.
After my transition into my bobsleigh, I knew my transition back to the track would be challenging. But track and field is my bread and butter. I’ve been doing it for the past 14 years. I’m a two-time 100m hurdles Olympic finalist.
It definitely couldn’t be that hard right?
Here’s the thing: after bringing all your energy to have a peak performance at the Olympics, it’s really hard to find the motivation to continue to train.
The only way to describe my first few track practices would be:
And then there was the matter of those extra 20lbs. My brain inquired politely, whose body is this? And can we have the old one back?
One thing bobsleigh showed me was the importance of patience and trusting the process. Special things happen when you put full and complete trust in yourself, let go of worry, and simply put in the work. You start to see things in a whole new way.
I remembered the moments when those around me were sure I wouldn’t make the Winter Olympic team, but I put my head down and kept working.
I reminded myself that the focus is always on the big picture and where I’m going.
So, I made myself a deal.
I would spend the 2018 season simply taking my time getting back in shape for track. I decided to forego competing in the 100m hurdles and instead just sprint. I decided to have fun while working on my speed and shedding the weight I gained for bobsleigh. I decided to work on the small technical things that I’ve typically overlooked in the past.
I won a bronze medal in the 100m at Canadian Championships and helped the Canadian women’s 4x100m relay win a bronze medal at NACAC Championships. Not too shabby for a transition year.
I started this 2019 track season refreshed, motivated, and ready.
Stepping away from track in 2018 and starting in a new sport forced me to look at things as a beginner again. It was refreshing to not have any expectations of how something is “supposed to be done” or “supposed to feel”, but to simply be in the moment experiencing.
And now I have gained a fresh perspective; a reminder to bring curiosity to every track practice because there is always something new to learn; a willingness to let go, to throw myself into things, even in the face of fear. And since I’m back running the 100m hurdles, I’ll definitely have a lot of obstacles to face.
This year the screen on my phone says, “What you do everyday matters more than what you do every once and awhile.” My goal this year is to be consistent about all the little things. I know that greatness is created by the things that you do day in and day out – the things that you do on the days that you don’t feel like it.
I saw tremendous growth in myself by stepping outside of my comfort zone to do bobsleigh.
Now that I’m back on the track, I’m forcing myself to constantly challenge myself and push myself to new limits. Through consistent and intentional practice, my feet are getting off the ground as quick as ever. I’m showing my legs that even when they feel tired, I still have more to give.
The 100m hurdles is all about rhythm and can be unforgiving of even the slightest technical mistake. So I’ve committed myself to doing all the extra reps necessary, over and over again, practicing not until I get it right, but until I can’t get it wrong.
In 2019, I’m grateful for two major championships where I can to continue to fine tune and perfect my craft. Firstly, I will be gearing up for the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru in August, followed by the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar in September. And in 2020 I look forward to making my fourth Olympic team for Tokyo.
I am so proud to have won a Winter Olympic medal for Canada. Looking back to race day in PyeongChang, I remember a sea of maple leafs in the stands going crazy. It brought a warmth to me like nothing else. They felt like family and, for me, it added more fuel to want to do even better.
When we crossed the finish line and I realized we won a medal, I felt a wave of raw unfiltered emotion as I remembered the journey up to that point. It was a surreal moment that I will cherish forever.
And now my goal is to create more moments like that in Tokyo – to stand on the podium with a medal around my neck and a sea of maple leafs beaming with Canadian pride.