A youth coach's message, a lifetime influence
By Greg Bach
Allysa Seely, gold medalist in the paratriathlon at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, has never forgotten the words delivered by a coach during her middle school years growing up in Glendale, Ariz.
They were powerful.
And she’s turned to that message often while fighting through numerous health issues – including brain and spine surgeries and the amputation of her left leg below the knee – to not only emerge as a world champion but a wonderful role model that young athletes in all sports can learn a lot from.
“When I was becoming competitive in sports I was missing out on school dances and birthday parties with friends and stuff like that and one of my coaches told me to not look at everything as a sacrifice, but instead to look at it as an investment,” Seely says. “And that was an investment in my dream. So when I started going through these medical problems and these physical struggles I went right back to that. Every hour that I put in at physical therapy, and all the pain and the surgeries and doctor appointments I went through, I just looked at it as an investment in my future and hopefully an investment in making my dreams come true.”
That coach’s message resonated. And those dreams have arrived.
A coach’s words matter.
Kids soak in everything.
And conversations can change lives.
“I’m not superhuman, I’m just like everybody else,” Seely says. “We all have that inside of us to believe in ourselves. We just have to cultivate it. I was really lucky growing up as that confidence and that belief in yourself is something that was instilled at an early age through athletics and I think that’s what allowed me to believe that I could do something that was impossible, or I could do something that was hard, because I had done it so many times before through sports and through training. I think that’s something that everybody has and we just have to find it within ourselves.”
HEART OF A CHAMPION
Growing up Seely was an avid runner, but she didn’t try the triathlon until college at Arizona State. After she crossed the finish line of her first race she was hooked.
“I fell in love from there and never looked back,” she says.
A few weeks after that first race she began losing feeling in her legs. It marked the beginning of nearly two years of doctors, specialists and hospital stays.
In 2010 she was diagnosed with Chiari 2 Malformation, Basilar Invagination and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and endured brain and spine surgeries where she was told she likely wouldn’t walk again without assistance.
Now, this was a message she had no intention of listening to.
She had other plans.
“There was this voice inside of me that just kept saying ‘you can’t just give up without trying,’” Seely says. “So that was my biggest motivator. I was going to try to get back to running and I was going to try to get back to the triathlon. I was going to do everything I could possibly do to make it happen. I just had to follow that inkling that said ‘keep going, keep trying’ and I’m really glad I did even though so many people didn’t think it was possible.”
In the late summer of 2013 her left leg below the knee had to be amputated – and even that didn’t slow her love of competing or prevent her from doing so. Seven weeks after the amputation she swam 1.2 miles as part of a triathlon relay team; and not long after that she ran a 5k before soon getting right back into the triathlon.
“I just kind of put my head down and got to work and every day just focused on little things to improve to get better,” she says. “That’s what led me to get back out on the race course so quickly.”
Seely gets the chance to work with young athletes at running clinics around the country, and she’s got a message worth hearing.
Just like the one that coach delivered to her years ago.
Youngsters in all sports are going to face days where their energy tanks are running on empty and practicing and working hard isn’t a priority.
But finding ways to fight through it spurs development.
“Motivation is something that can come and go,” Seely says. “We all know that. You have to force yourself and remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing, and why you love what you are doing. It may be because of your teammates or your coaches; or you have dreams of going to the championships. So I use things like that to remind myself of what I am getting out of bed for and what I am showing up and working hard for. So those little reminders help keep me disciplined, even on the days when I don’t feel super motivated.”
Seely’s list of wins and strong performances in the sport is long and impressive, and she’s done it while overcoming unimaginable adversity.
And she’s competed with an outlook that would serve all young athletes well these days.
“I hope that when kids watch me compete or follow me I hope that they take away that I have never given up,” she says. “No matter if I win or if I lose I am always proud of the effort I put out there and my display of good sportsmanship. I just really enjoy being active and being healthy.”
For more information on Allysa Seely visit her website.
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