Pity Party: Young athletes can throw them, just put a time limit on it
By Greg Bach
The great world champion and two-time Olympic hurdler Perdita Felicien knows the euphoric highs and crushing lows of competing in sports as well as anyone.
And she’s got a message all young athletes need to wrap their arms around and put into action the next time their team loses a big game, or they miss a shot, strike out or commit a blunder in the big moment.
Because it happens in every sport.
And to everyone.
“Sometimes we try to swallow our feelings or put them aside, but it’s good to feel that disappointment and that burn and that anger,” says Felicien, host of the young athlete competition show All-Round Champion. “I like to say to give yourself a timeline. OK, I’m going to sulk for the next two hours or the next day, and I give myself permission to have this pity party but then I’m done. And then you start using that as fuel to do better.”
A two-time Olympian and 10-time national champion, Felicien won gold in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2003 World Championships, and a year later won the World Indoor Title in the 60-meter hurdles.
But amid that glorious career she also experienced the heartbreak of arriving in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games as one of the favorites in the 100-meter hurdles. Dreams of gold vanished when she clipped the first hurdle and fell.
“Obviously everyone knows about my big tumble at the 2004 Olympics,” she says. “And for me, I even speak about it very candidly now because it’s one of those things where we’ll all face those moments and experience a time that’s really hard and dark, and we have to pick ourselves up. To me, the messaging is it’s not what happens to you when you fall, it’s what you do with that. Are you going to use it to feel crushed and down or are you going to use it as fuel to do better the next time?”
It becomes so important for parents and coaches to help kids keep the experience in perspective.
“At the end of the day what I try to tell kids is it’s just sport,” Felicien says. “It’s amazing to be great at it, and it’s amazing to be able to even do it, but the truth of the matter is there is life beyond sport and it can’t consume all of you. It’s fun and it teaches us so many lessons in life, but it’s not everything and it can’t define you.”
HOST WITH HEART
All-Round Champion – which can be streamed on the BYUtv app or www.byutv.org – features 10 of North America’s most decorated young athletes competing in sports like wakeboarding, gymnastics and skateboarding. The catch is they don’t compete in their own sport - but in each other’s.
Athletes are scored on skill, sportsmanship and improvement and at the end of the series one athlete will be crowned the All-Round Champion. The series features internationally renowned guest mentors like 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin in swimming, Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson in diving, and Alicia Sacramone Quinn in gymnastics, to name a few.
While handling the hosting duties for the show, which has already been renewed for a second season that will focus on winter sports, Felicien also has plenty of opportunities to share the valuable insights she has accumulated competing on the world stage with these young athletes who are encountering a lot of challenges and disappointments while attempting to learn new sports.
"That’s part of my role,” she says of the mentoring that goes on. "They have a really bad week in a sport that they’re not used to and they don’t know anything about and they’re really down on themselves. So part of my job is to counsel them and say ‘ok, you didn’t win this one but are you going to give up now?’ You have to set your sights on the next week because things can change and things can be different. But honestly, it starts with their mental focus and their mental attitude because I have the perspective of having been at every level of sport and I can kind of let them know that if you can find moments to be really happy and proud of yourself you’ll be a lot more satisfied at the end.”
Felicien got involved in track around the age of eight, thanks to the encouragement of her elementary school gym teacher.
And she’s forever grateful she gave it a try.
“I loved putting myself out there,” she says. “And I was never really afraid to try and I think that’s really what took me far.”
She loved the sprints and relays.
And it took a lot longer for that love to materialize for the hurdles.
“I tried the hurdles the first time and did not love it,” she says. “It took me years to actually love it. But I did happen to be good and that kept me coming back because I liked the winning part of it.”
She did a lot of that throughout her career. She’s still the Canadian record holder in the 100-meter hurdles, which she set back in 2004.
Along with all the medals and the accolades Felicien scooped up on her athletic journey, she also tucked away countless life lessons that have enabled her to be a success in front of the camera these days.
“It has played a huge factor because an element of being an athlete, whether it’s a team sport or an individual sport, is that you are performing,” she says. “All eyes are on you and there’s an intensity and adrenaline that you get as an athlete that I found as a broadcaster I got it, too. So I found that the way I would prepare for a race and get ready is the same way that I have to prepare for a broadcast.”
And it’s been a thrill to work with young athletes.
“It has kind of brought me back to my younger years in sports with the innocence and the hunger and the natural enthusiasm that all the kids have,” she says. “It has been really infectious and nice to see.”
And every chance she gets around young athletes she’s sharing positive messages that are so important in kids’ lives.
“I always encourage kids to try,” Felicien says. “You might win, but you might not, and that’s ok. When you’re done you can look back and say ‘I’ve conquered this thing, I’ve conquered this fear.’”
You can follow Perdita Felicien on Instagram and Twitter; and BYUtv on Instagram and Twitter.
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