AST 2020 Athlete Journal: Charlie Comeau
Hello, again, everyone! Prepare yourselves for this taboo subject!
Cassidy, Claire, Ashleigh, Alyssa, Kiki and I recently travelled out east, while Tora is killing her return to snow back at Nakiska. We raced a great FIS series at Alpine Ski Club and Georgian Peaks. Alyssa, Claire, Kiki, Ash and Cass took home some sweet hardware. The Nor-Am series at Osler Bluff and Georgian Peaks has just begun, and we are all super excited to conquer some steep pitches, and long flats (classic Collingwood).
Last week, on January 29th, was Bell Let’s Talk Day (or #BellLetsTalk day). It is likely you saw the blue post, or hashtag, shared on many platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. The telecommunications company Bell Canada created Bell Let’s Talk Day to raise mental health awareness and combat the stigma surrounding it.
I felt that it is such an important subject; I should dedicate my athlete journal to the significance of mental health on teams and in sport.
Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we feel, act and think. It also helps determine how we relate to others, make choices and handle stress. Two out of three people with mental health issues suffer in silence. Being open and talking is the first step towards ending the stigma. Some believe mental health problems are fake and fixing them is as easy as flipping a light switch. A simple “just be happy” is often not a cure.
Improving mental health does not happen overnight. Plenty of people are afraid to talk about how they feel for the sake of being made fun of or treated differently. Countless people who battle mental health problems feel alone, like no one understands them or cares what they are going through. The truth is, they are not alone. Many people deal with mental health issues on various levels every day. It is possible to assume others are happy when they could just be struggling in silence. And helping people feel safe, instead of alienated, can make a significant difference in their lives. A great way to do that is to bring more awareness and discuss mental health more openly.
As an athlete, I am very familiar with the sensation of stress, pressure and anxiety, which can, at times, feel very overwhelming. I have previously experienced dealing with these feelings in silence. This is because I get worried about bringing any negativity to my team, believing they will not view my struggles as real, or think I am overreacting. I hope it is a dated belief that athletes are always supposed to be “tough.”
Recently, I started speaking more openly about my mental health in ski racing and began depending more on teammates. The support I have received is incredible and very relieving. What I realize is that we are all in this together. My team, more often than not, can relate to and understand how I am feeling. My frustrations have taught me that ski racing is a seriously team-driven ‘individual’ sport.
Our points, FIS profiles and medals are a reflection of our individual performance. We are all imperfect and need to remember that almost everyone is continuously working to better ourselves both on and off the hill. However, having supportive teammates and an open environment within the team goes a long way, even in our “individual” sport. A safe environment allows us to make progress for who we are as athletes, as well as people, and also supports performance improvement.
Believing in myself to perform my best every day is sometimes difficult. However, it is easier with the positive inspiration I get from my team. When the girls encourage me and reassure me that we are all in this together, it helps keep my spirits up. Kiki made a point this trip to say that if she couldn’t win, the next person she would want on top of the podium would be one of us. Even as fierce competitors, we need and depend on each other to accomplish goals and achieve new personal bests.
The Norwegian Ski Team has a reputation for being extremely tight-knit. It is alleged that Aksel Lund Svindal was the leader contributing to this environment. There is a story about him in the 2016 Kitzbuhel downhill, where he landed off badly on the Hausberg jump and injured his knee. Being bib 19, his immediate concern was for his teammate Kjetil Jansrud, bib 21. To avoid having the helicopter in view on the course prior to Jansrud’s run, Svindal limped over to the slalom start. He did not want Jansrud distracted and psyched out by the helicopter. This is an example of an athlete in an individual sport who, after doing his best, thought immediately about helping his teammate’s success.
Every day we are working to develop our confidence, and we all have challenges and times of vulnerability. For this, we cannot be ashamed. Thank you, Bell.
When we notice a teammate who is not themselves, we must remember to ask, “Hey, are you okay?” and then listen. Within our racing circuit or even outside of skiing, we can say “Hi” to people we don’t really know, or join someone who is sitting alone. Any of these little acts matter and can make an impact. I am grateful for the support from my teammates, and I am hopeful I can reciprocate. In ski racing, we have to perform alone, but as a team, we are not alone! In fact, when one gets better, we all get better.
Check out Charlie’s Athlete Profile here.