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For a good portion of my life, being an Olympian’s wife was something that made up the majority of my identity.
When friends or clients asked how things in my life were going I spent maybe 10 seconds answering how I was, and a handful of minutes talking about my husband.
It’s understandable I guess, when you’re married to someone who travels the world monthly, brings home trophies on the regular and is on television every weekend through the winter season. My husband is constantly doing cool things and sharing his new experiences with me, so it makes sense that sharing with everyone else was what I did.
But the reality was that for me, spending years embracing the role of Olympian’s wife as my primary identity was an easy distraction from dealing with a lot of my own personal fears and insecurities.
Let’s back up a bit first to give you some context here. My husband Manny has been to the Olympics three times. He competed in Alpine Skiing in the Downhill and Super G events in Torino in 2006, Whistler in 2010 and most recently Sochi in 2014. He also has 11 World Cup podiums over 11 seasons as a member of the Canadian National Ski Team. There is a ton to be proud of, and of course I glow when I talk about his achievements. His job as a ski racer is a big part of both our lives!
Ok maybe we don’t all have a blown up headshot of our partner…
This post isn’t about living in someone else’s shadow at all, instead it’s about my own journey to honestly face very normal, human insecurities. It’s also about how humans are genuinely attracted to people who fascinate us and the struggle to carve out our own identity in our romantic relationships. I’m sure it’s a similar struggle for many people, but when you’re married to an Olympian it can be easier to assume a supporting role.
Manny and I met in the summer of 2006. Looking back now, I can see how much both of us have changed over the past decade and the great journey our relationship has been. When we met, I knew next to nothing about skiing and wasn’t a skier myself, but I was immediately attracted to Manny’s electric energy and excitement for all facets of life.
As the years went by, I struggled to find my way through my early 20’s. I had loved University but had no idea what I wanted to do for work. I was also creating a real identity for myself, learning how introverted I really was and figuring out how I wanted to live my life.
Being in a relationship with someone who was competing at the World Championships and Olympics gave me something to hold on to, and made it easier to put off finding the real me.
I have friends that have always been 100% unapologetically themselves in relationships, they don’t change much and are steadfast in who they are. I definitely think I fit that mould now, but I was the exact opposite when I met Manny. You could say I was at the height of my ‘being a chameleon’ and not knowing where I fit in. I struggled with some friendships and jobs and generally felt quite insecure about myself and didn’t know who I really was.
It’s not surprising that this was a time in my life that I spent a lot of time in the gym. It was a place I could escape, think and be on my own for hours. The years I spent identifying primarily as the significant other of an Olympian were hard. I put so much pressure on our relationship and at the same time felt very lost.
I don’t know how much my closest friends even knew about what I was going through at the time. It was hard to put it into words until I got through it years later and began to create my own identity based on what I loved and who I really was inside. Of course they know now, and I think I am just a generally more peaceful, happy and much less dramatic person.
There were a number of turning points in our relationship that changed how I acted, and the best way I can describe the change is to say that I slowly and surely got the confidence to be who I really was. It didn’t happen overnight. I began to read more, I took self-development courses (The Landmark Forum was a game changer for me) and I became much more honest with myself and with Manny. I knew that the common denominator in almost every frustration I had was me, so I learned that I had inner work to do.
Cheering on Manny at the 2010 Winter Olympics with friends and family.
I started doing things for myself like running half and full marathons, started a business and traveled with my girlfriends.
I stopped saying what I thought people wanted to hear and spoke my mind.
I worked at being a better listener and communicator with everyone in my life. I said what I meant, and meant what I said. No more confusing, dramatic and mental-game-type communication.
I put more effort into being the type of person I was proud of being even when it was scary, hard, embarrassing and vulnerable.
And most importantly, I worked hard at forgiving myself for the way I had been.
The thought of telling this all to one person would have been WAY too hard for me a decade ago, and now I can see that I am just a normal human making my way through life. I’m constantly working at being more honest with myself and the people I love.
The years I spent finding myself, or creating myself, were not easy for our relationship, but they made it possible for us to even have a relationship worth having. I definitely think that relationships take work, especially when they see you through tough times in your life (so, all relationships?!). In fact, a worthwhile relationship might be the thing you work on the most for your whole life.
I learned that a healthy relationship is always made up of three identities. There’s your identity, the identity of the person you are in the relationship with and the identity you create when you come together. It’s like they are three overlapping circles, and when one identity struggles (as ALL relationships do at different times over the years) it puts a lot more pressure on the others.
I know that me taking on working on myself has benefitted my husband in countless positive ways. And maybe I’m not telling you about everything that is still the exact same. I am still a nervous nelly before he competes, I still don’t change the lightbulbs when they burn out and I am still a bit of a chameleon.
A post-race kiss after a podium finish in 2014.
Now I proudly and passionately wear my ‘Olympian’s Wife’ hat as one of the many facets of my identity. It isn’t more important than my role as a sister, friend, trainer or citizen of the universe, it’s just part of it. Not only has our relationship improved immensely because of the work I’ve done on myself, my own self-confidence has blossomed. I feel like I bring so much more to my family, friendships and work as a health and fitness professional.
Of course I’ll still be cheering at the top of my lungs at the Winter Olympics every four years, just like I do EVERY weekend of the ski racing season.
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