What experiences from your past are keeping you from finding athletic success in the present?

We all carry some mental monkeys when it comes to our performance in athletics—whether from childhood, recent or semi-recent experiences that weren’t so great, or just expectations from a belief set that came from who-knows-where. I left the sport of Olympic weightlifting in 1999 and didn’t touch a barbell for over 20 years.

Fast-forward to one of my first CrossFit workouts last year. I found myself with my hands on a barbell. I attempted a jerk out of the rack (a movement where the bar goes from the chest to overhead in an explosive movement), and missed the weight. When I dropped it, my eyes welled with tears and all the sudden, I was missing my lifts to qualify for the 1997 world team.

What in the heck…

I had a bad competition over 20 years ago and quit the sport. When I re-engaged with one of the movements decades later, the memories, fears, and insanity flooded right back to me—as if I was right back in that place, that time.

I don’t want to call it as extreme as PTSD, but there is certainly an emotional and physical reaction to that kind of drama.

These types of reactions and feelings can be more subtle. Did anyone in childhood call you fat, say you were slow, or you would never be ________ (fill the blank with the lie of the era)? Those quiet instances were embedded into our belief system and left there to fester, unknowingly, for years and years. When we come to a sport like triathlon, we may not even realize the trauma or fears that must be transcended to even make it to the start line—nevermind the finish line.

I was speaking with a coach, Ben Rocha, at my local CrossFit gym today about this. He said something that struck me powerfully.

I said, “Sometimes I want to lift weights and see if I can overcome the fears I had 20 years ago. But then it doesn’t seem worth it—the memories, the pain.”

Ben said, “Imagine what deep and powerful work would be accomplished if you did overcome those fears, though.”

In triathlon, many of us fear the sport because of unknown mental monkeys. Identifying what those fears and uncertainties are? Well, that’s the beginning of moving forward and onto the right path towards the goals we have set. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves these important questions in order to move forward in the sport—or even to begin a sport.

We all have history to overcome.

But imagine… what deep and powerful work would be accomplished if we could all approach our triathlon training with this mindset of overcoming? I like to think of it as a second chance, self-love, and forgiveness—with a dash of incredibly kickass sprinkled right over it all.

Food for thought.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a four-time Ironman triathlete, recovering attorney, motivational speaker, and author of the best-selling book, Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith is married with two tweens and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com. Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, is due out Fall 2019.