Eleven-times world cycling champion and Olympic Gold medallist Anna Meares offered an inspirational perspective into the mindset and physical stamina required of champions when she presented at Connect 2018 on Tuesday.
“My career success has not been defined by being undefeated. It’s been defined by overcoming challenge and adversity along the way,” she said.
A coal miner’s daughter, Ms Meares followed her sister into the sport of cycling, travelling from the Bowen Basin to Mackay each weekend to take part in events.
“I had good witness as to what it is to be committed and determined through the hard work of my parents. Every weekend Mum drove 300 km.”
Ms Meares was soon invited to attend the AIS in South Australia, where she learnt the importance of goals.
“Goals constantly have to be reassessed and analysed to accommodate the volatility of life.”
For her, that volatility included a spectacular crash just months before the Beijing Olympics, resulting in a broken neck and bruised shoulder.
It was a lucky escape that could have resulted in paraplegia or even death.
“When I found that out I went down a very quick mental slide into negativity,” Ms Meares said, noting the ‘what ifs’ haunted her.
“My coach said, ‘Anna, you’re asking yourself the wrong question. Don’t ask yourself what if, ask what is?’
“When you ask yourself ‘what if’ you are presenting your doubts and fears. Those things have not yet happened.
“When you think in the context of ‘what is’ you are thinking in real, tangible, measurable time. When I embraced that it completely changed my attitude to rehabilitation.
“I had to recover because there was only one position for a female cyclist at the Olympic Games. I had to do a fitness test four months after the accident. I went on to not just pass the fitness test but to set a personal best and then go on to win a silver at the Olympics.”
Had she not passed the fitness test, the next in line to take up the slot on the Olympic team was her sister Kerrie.
“My sister was the first person to congratulate me when I achieved silver that day.”
Anna noted that overcoming such serious injury had taught her a number of things.
“I learnt the only opinion that matters is the person striving to reach the goal. My motivation was challenged three or four times a day.
“I learnt about controlling the controllables. We all spend more time, more money and more energy on things where we cannot control the outcome.
“I learnt how important it is to choose who you surround yourself with, both personally and professionally.
“I learnt how important now is, today. We spend a lot of time looking to our past to learn from it and our future to plan for it, but often we can overlook the little things that matter right now.
“It will not be something big that brings you undone, it will be the small things that accumulate that get you in the end.”
Ms Meares reflected that, like real estate agents, athletes were in a performance-based industry.
“No medals means less funding. The silver medal in Beijing gave us a budget to work with to go to London.
“We get one chance every four years for an event that lasts 10 seconds.”
In London Anna would face her close rival, British cyclist Victoria Pendleton.
“I watched endless footage of my main competitor and broke it into data and stats. We looked at the data because it’s not emotional.
“The rivalry between us was so intense, I had to take the emotion out of it. I had to compartmentalise the power of negativity.”
After four years of training and analysing Victoria’s manoeuvres, Ms Meares would go on to beat her using pure strategy at the London Olympics 2012. She would then compete in her fourth Olympics in 2016, bringing home bronze in Rio.
“I can’t tell you how it feels to successfully execute a strategy spent years in the making. In the end I executed my strategy better than she executed hers. If I had not adopted change I wouldn’t have been able to upskill myself.
“You have to be open to change to stay ahead of the competition.
“I did not know I was capable of such things until I was put in this position. Many people do not know their full capabilities because they are too scared to succeed and are unwilling to embrace failure.”