Lately it has been a lot of talking about mental burnouts. Especially about Jenny Rissveds and how she has struggled since her Gold medal in the mountain bike event in Rio 2016.
For some of you it might seem surprising how a athlete that seems to have everything can´t find the right balance. The limit between success and failure or burnout lies very close to each other.
I´m not surprised at all.
I was there to watch Jenny win that medal and, in the evening, we celebrated with cake together.
It all reminded me so much about my first medal that I won in Bejing 2008.
You are completely out of your mind and feel like you´re flying over the clouds. Nothing is too much and you gladly answer YES to everything. Not knowing what that will mean until it´s too late.
On a rainy day In Beijing the 9th of August 2008 I woke up as Emma, the unknown rider that only got one question at the pre-race press conference. I had no idea that some hours later I will be “SilverEmma” with the whole of Sweden.
Everything happened so fast and I could not believe it when I crossed the line as second. Silver at the Olympics!
After that it all happened in a blur… the official press conference, more media outside the hotel where we stayed, a fast shower, even more media during dinner (that had to be shuffled in as we had more appointments), a long travel (where I was on the phone the whole way giving interviews) in to the center of Beijing to visit the Swedish Television studio, and of course media waiting outside both before and after the visit.
When my head finally hit the pillow that evening, I could not sleep. It was too much to take in. What had just happened?
As I still had one more event, with the time trail a few days later I woke up to a “normal” training day. Just that on this training we had a media car following us during that whole ride. Everything had to be documented. Quick shower and then off to the Swedish embassy to get celebrated together with my teammates. I was promised it would be a quiet event for sponsors without press and media. But as the car finally reached our destination I was surrounded by hungry media people once again, every one of them wanted their story. That´s when the panic slowly started to appear…
30 hours since I finished the race and I had been going from one thing to another. Still hadn´t had a chance to even talk to my family nor understand what happened.
Back at the hotel I finally found time to call my little brother who were home in Sweden. When he said he had been on the phone more or less since the finish of my race with media wanting to know more about me, I could not believe it. They had been calling my family, friends, old boy friends, my 85-year-old grandma etc. for information. The fact that the sports magazine had more than 10 pages only about me was terrifying.
My husband and coach, Martin, looked at me and told me to hang up the phone.
– Emma, we need to have a talk: Is there anything that I should know about you? Are there naked photos of you somewhere? Have you been to jail? Have you cheated? Please tell me now because I don´t want to read about it in the newspaper tomorrow…
Suddenly I went from being above the clouds to crying on my bed wishing this medal never happened.
Martin took action and cancelled everything that was on schedule the next day. I needed rest as I still had to race… Time trail came and I should have been better not to start. No good result after those busy days and finally it was time to travel home.
What Martin did that evening when he took control of the situation was probably what saved me?!
We talked about how the medal and my break through will change my life, and I had to make some decisions about the future.
For me the most important thing was to keep riding my bike fast. With that in my mind I could easier turn down tempting offers and events. I turned down bigger contracts to be sure I would be in an environment where I could feel like home and grow as a rider. Most years I have chosen not to go to the Swedish sports gala as it was always in the middle of my annual training camp period. Just to name some of the decisions I made…
People might have thought that I was weird and anonymous and I guess I was.
My whole career has been colored from this episode and even though it was hard then, I´m very grateful for it now. I learned so much about myself, what I care for and whom I want to be. But most important, I learned to stand up for myself!
Thanks to Martin it never got to a burnout and I really wish that Jenny and everyone else who struggles will find THEIR way to handle it.
As a top athlete, you have good balance between training, food and recovery. You are prepared for winning, but what comes along with the medal is beyond your knowledge.