An Olympic athlete reflects on chasing a dream he once thought was possible.
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Growing up, I had the far-fetched dream of competing in Track and Field at the Olympics. I was never a sporty child and have never viewed myself as the most talented individual. I only took up athletics when I was thirteen but I never gave up. I eventually got to live out my day in the sun and compete for my country at the 2012 London Olympics. At that moment, all my Christmases had seemingly come at once.
I qualified for the 400 metres hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics in the final week of my country’s qualification period. I yelled with joy when I saw my time flash up on the clock. The emotions I felt are indescribable even to this day. The stress leading up to that point had been intense—I am so proud that I was able to produce when it counted most. I’m perhaps even prouder that I was able to hang in there when it didn’t look like I was going to be able to participate in the race.
A few months later, I found myself walking out with my fellow bright yellow-dressed Aussies at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Everything I had worked towards for thirteen years was actually happening. I can still close my eyes and picture the moments before the race: I followed my friends and competitors in single file through a dark tunnel, towards a bright light that quickly turned into a scene of 90,000 screaming spectators. When I finished strong in my heat, I dared to dream even higher. At that moment, I thought anything was possible. The feeling was fleeting though—I drew an impossibly tough semifinal and after seeing who my competitors were, I had a feeling my race was over. I was later dropped from our country’s 4×400 metres relay team, which I had been strongly tipped to run in. My dream soured significantly after that happened.
I did get my shot at retribution at the following year’s World Championships, running the race of my life to get my 4×400 metres relay team into the final. Since then, however, there hasn’t been much to celebrate. I gave up everything to try to get into the Rio Olympics, but I didn’t even get close to qualifying. After years of injuries and poor performances, I can’t remember what it feels like to run past someone now. I had always thought that those made it into the Olympics would be heralded as legends of sorts, but that’s been far from the case for me. Today, I have trouble even landing reception gigs to pay my rent while I finish my studies.
Post-sport depression is a big issue for athletes, and it’s one that’s becoming more discussed. It’s difficult to constantly appear happy when you’re hit with a double blow. No longer are you relevant in the sport you’ve dedicated everything to, but what’s worse is entering the “real world” and seeing just how far behind you are compared to your peers when pursuing a new career. I write all of this to show others in a similar position that they are certainly not alone. I constantly remind myself that the best advice is to keep looking forward and remember how many other amazing adventures can be had. Those journeys won’t be the same, but they can be equally special in their own way. It’s normal to spend time in the void as you figure out what to do next, but the most important thing is to never stop dreaming.
Though I haven’t had the success I’ve yearned for over the last few years, I have recently decided to put the spikes on again with the hope of at least recapturing my love for the sport. Whatever happens, I know that when I’m old, I’ll be able to say that I gave my all and did, at least, get my day in the sun.
Written by Tristan Thomas
Illustration by Vivian Shih