Simon Whitfield spies the red ribbon of the finish line. His spirits rise. The crowd is going wild. He’s in first place, and he’s having a blast! Even with his legs feeling very heavy and hurting, and feeling the heat from the Beijing sun as he has been racing for almost two hours, his spirits rise when he sees the crowd.
“I love the thrill of a close race,” says Simon. “I thrive on that energy and pressure.”
Simon is a triathlete and triathlon is an extremely challenging Olympic event. Competitors swim, then bike, and then run. It can be grueling, especially when the temperatures are high.
“You have to be ready and you have to be healthy,” says Simon. “That means physically healthy and mentally healthy. This means you need to eat well and have a good attitude or you can’t compete.”
At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Simon won the very first Olympic triathlon. He survived a bike crash early in the race and a shirt that shrank as soon as he stepped out of the water. He won in a blistering sprint to the finish line.
Of course, Simon was 25 years old in Sydney, and in Beijing he’s 33 years old. His results haven’t been as dominating since his convincing win in 2000, and critics say he’s past his prime or told old to continue in this sport. They are not expecting him to be leading the race in Beijing.
Simon knows something many experts don’t, however. He’s rediscovered the personal attitude that helped him win in Sydney.
“My goal in a race is to challenge myself to do my best,” he says. “My worst races are the ones where I’ve cared about medals or winning, and that’s what happened between 2000 and 2008. My best results have come in races where I just worry about my performance, doing the best I can, leaving nothing behind.”
At the heart of Simon’s attitude is the idea of enjoying the moment, finding a sense of play in all the hard work.
“You need the right attitude,” he says. “I didn’t come from an intense sport background. I just loved to play. I was the kid who was always on the phone calling my friends to come outside and play football, soccer, basketball, hockey… whatever!”
Simon suggests that sense of fun can help an athlete overcome the pressure and stress they put on themselves. It is normal for athletes to feel somewhat nervous or feel as if their heart is racing before a competition. This means that they care a great deal about their performance and want to perform at their best.
“The mental and the physical are absolutely linked,” says Simon. “If you put yourself under too much pressure, or worry too much, then that affects your ability to perform.”
Eating right was also something Simon learned as a kid.
“Food is such a huge part of it, so you can’t just open your gob (mouth) and stuff anything inside. Cut the processed foods and junk foods right out. Even in high school I knew that when I ate good food, I felt better.”
Simon’s body and mind are in total balance today; he is now neck-and-neck with another runner, a much younger triathlete from Germany named Jan Frodeno.
Simon’s mind is clear and he knows he’s doing his best – win or lose. The pressures of the Olympic Games can be overwhelming, and he has had to manage a lot of stress to arrive at this point in the race without psyching himself out.
“I rely a lot on my Dad,” he says. “We talk a lot before my big races, and he always tells me: ‘Don’t let the fog roll in.’ By fog he means all the concerns and worries about things I can’t control.”
There’s no time for worries now. Simon’s focus intensifies with every stride, as he strains toward the finish. He rallies all his strength as the battle with Frodeno enters its final stages. The two athletes sprint frantically for the victory.
Simon sees that Frodeno is pulling away as the finish line gets closer by the second. He’s performing at his very best, pressing the most from every weary muscle fiber.
Frodeno takes the lead with just a few steps to go, breaking the ribbon meters ahead of Simon.
The crowd erupts in thunderous cheers as Simon crosses the finish line for his unlikely Olympic silver medal. Exhausted, he walks over to Frodeno and congratulates him.
Simon’s smile continues to grow as he realizes how well he’s performed. He has managed the anxiety of competing at the Olympic Games by keeping it fun. He’s had a good play.
Connecting: Early Habits Last a Lifetime
Students are told to journal about doing their favourite physical activity.
Prompts might include:
- What is your favourite physical activity?
- How do you feel while you are doing the activity?
- Where are you?
- Who else is there with you?
- What equipment do you need?
- Why do you enjoy this activity so much?
- Why is it so fun?
Processing: Write and Sort Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Ask the students to silently read the story.
Distribute sticky notes, and have students write ideas about the ways that Simon Whitfield leads an active, healthy lifestyle. Students post their notes under the following categories: emotional health (mental fitness), nutritional health and physical health. Debrief the choices that a few students made to explore their reasons for sorting their statement. Next, have them write sticky notes stating what they currently do to live a healthy lifestyle.
Transforming: Charting Change- Creating a Readiness for Change
Students will consider their own lifestyle, and activity choices to reflect on their present level of activity and set goals for their future. Students record in a journal or agenda their activity and minutes of activity each day for one week. Ask the students to rate their effort on a scale where 1 is easy and 5 is very intense exertion (heart racing, sweating, breathing hard, etc). Using this data, students complete the physical health sheet as a summary page in the Now line (see attached)
Using the Think-Pair-Share instructional tactic, students will analyze their present activity levels, looking for standards of daily activity and a balance between home, community and school. Based on their analysis, students create goals in areas that are lacking or areas of “imbalance”. Ask them to record these goals on the Future row of the Active Living Chart. Students are also encouraged to think of ways that will encourage all of their family members to be physically active and to adopt and maintain a healthier lifestyle.