How Winning Olympic Trials taught me about being a truama survivor and how to completely escape from a “mental illness” diagnoses (part 1 of 3)
This is an essay I wrote about two years ago, about winning Olympic Trials. This was right before I became a self-employed person. It was about the day I realized that many of my mental health problems and symptoms were coming from my past trauma experiences. I’ll be posting it in several parts since it’s long.
What winning Olympic Trials Taught Me about Trauma-Informed Care
by Corinna West
I was a member of the 1996 Olympic Judo Team. A lot of people who find this out say, “Well, I don’t want to get you mad.” This is a complete misrepresentation of who I am. I always studied Judo as a sport and never thought about the self defense applications. The operative word in the first sentence is not “Judo,” it’s “Olympic.” There have been 8,863 U.S. Olympians Total since 1896 when the Modern Games were reinstated. 6,649 Men, 2,214 Women. We are more rare than professional athletes.
There is a certain mentality to all Olympic athletes. We are people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get to the top of the platform. Whether it be getting up at 4:00 a.m. to work out, finding a way to pay for training in another country, finding a way to balance work, school, and four hours of training a day, finding the right coach, anything. Ann Maria deMars, America’s first world Judo champion, told me about a survey of winning Olympic trials athletes. It asked, “If you could take a pill that would guarantee that you would win an Olympic gold medal, but you would die a year later, would you take it?” In this survey, 80% of Olympic athletes said “Yes.” That’s the kind of people we are. We’ll do anything that it takes.
Ann Maria asked me one time, “What wouldn’t you give up to win an Olympic gold medal?”
I said, “Well, maybe I wouldn’t give up my Chemistry career.” At that time I was majoring in Chemistry and wanted to do some kind of disease curing research when I graduated. I also said, “Maybe I wouldn’t give up Bill.” Bill was my boyfriend at the time and later became my first husband for 9 years. Funny thing, now I now longer have a chemistry job or Bill, but I do have a career during disease and a great fiance, Rod, Midwest Rock Lobster.
I trained for all my young adult life to be an Olympic gold medalist. I have a poem called “Because I Can,” about the Olympics, and I’ll excerpt from that,
….I train a solid year for the Olympic trials. A grant pays for morning Judo workouts
On top of the evening Judo workouts, before or after the sprints, along with the video watching
besides the mental training, and using the bicycling as transportation.
The Olympic trials are close, referee’s decisions against a stylistically difficult opponent.
It’s my innovative, aggressive, pit bull tactics against her duck, dodge, and run away.
It’s my dominating, snowboard, impose my strength and will tactics,
versus a former world and Olympic medalist.
And I won, because I believed in the work ethic.
I believed anything was possible with enough persistence.
Anything that got in the way, I just overcame the resistance.
I chose mere subsistence, and I went the distance….”
Here’s the video telling the Olympic story and about the Olympic Trials:
Feelings after winning Olympic Trials:
But after winning Olympic Trials, I wasn’t happy.
I was scared. I was horrified. My main opponent in the trials had been the only athlete in U.S. Judo history to have medaled at both the World Championships and the Olympics. I lost the first day of the trials after a questionable referee’s call. Because I had gone into the trials as the number one ranked athlete, we had a two out of three fight-off the next day. I won both of those matches by split decision, and both were very close with no scores.
The scariest thing for me was realizing how near I had come to giving up.
I told my fiancé at the time, “I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to pull it out if it had gone to a third match.” The trials were featured on ESPN, and the commentator said that my performance might have required the most heart of all the people who made the team. However, it felt terrible to me. There was something I had wanted so much, something that meant the whole world to me, and I had almost given up. Winning the Olympic trials was a positive event, but I also had some very negative feelings.
Stay tuned for the next sections of this essay about winning Olympic trials to be posted…..