Those ‘Psycho’ Athletes

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 6-16-2020

“The biggest mistake people make is having an end goal. An end goal implies that you will stop. Stopping means that the change will only be temporary.” -EaE

     No one forgets their most painful workouts; they are defining and legendary. Even if at the time it was pure misery, there’s something in us that wanted it that way, and we wouldn’t change it for the world. We wouldn’t give up our athletic sacrifices. Athletics is never a waste of time, money or resources. It gives us something that is irreplaceable. It is one of the most productive ways to spend our time, and it is known as the greatest endorphin release that we can naturally give ourselves. Everyone should workout. I say that both as a clinician and an athlete: EVERYONE SHOULD WORK OUT. This doesn’t mean that everyone should be an athlete, it means that we as humans should all get involved in some type of physical activity for the sake of our mental health. Yes, even if it’s 3 or 4, 30-minute walks a week, it’s something and it really does make a difference.

     I have been athletic since freshman year of High school, but unfortunately for the longest time I would not call myself an athlete. I did not feel worthy of such a title. However, I ran all year round for 4 years in High school to include 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 meter track races as well as 5K cross country races. My transition into the military at the age of 18 then put me in a position to explore other athletic avenues, starting with 0400 PT (physical training sessions) in Boot camp 5 days a week! I do not miss that! Once settled down at my permanent duty station in Texas, I continued to run various 5K’s as well as being peer pressured into doing the Tough Mudder! I eventually ‘retired’ from running and transitioned into weightlifting and belly dance to include two powerlifting meets on Dyess Air force Base and a dozen belly dance recitals around the town of Abilene.  Moving to NYC I found my new passion: Brazilian Jiu jitsu and MMA training. I have since then, in the past six years, competed in 20 Brazilian Jiu jitsu matches and earned my Purple belt. Racing, grappling competitions and dance recitals require TONS of training and practice; thus, I am an athlete. An amateur level athlete hobbyist with a full-time job, to be exact.

    When the general public thinks of an athlete, they think about pro level athletes, and therefore ‘they will never be able to aspire to get to that level’. However, I am here to tell everyone that most athletes are very much like the average American person. Tied down with a full-time job/ family demands and exhausted most days of the week. We do not “feel up for a workout out” most of the time, we do not have extra magical energy or time in the day, we make sacrifices to be athletic. We sacrifice the couch, money, Netflix, dinner dates, outings, solitude, R&R time, our ‘ego’ and more. Why do we do it, especially when we are tempted to ‘wind down’ after work along with the majority of the population?

     After my very first day of cross-country practice (age 14 going on 15) I woke up the very next day so sore that I could barely walk. Every inch of my body was on fire and I was legitimately terrified to go back. I expressed my fear to my stepmother, I was slow, it was embarrassing, it was painful and tiring. She simply said to me: “What else are you going to do with your free time?! Sit around and watch TV?!” Well, yea I guess she had a point, that was all I was doing. Whenever I get back into a depressive rut even as an adult, that is all I end up doing. When we are ill, we get sucked into what I call “powerful temporary potions and medicines” that have amazing short-term relief, but long-term maladaptive consequences. For the sake of mental health though, humans need less powerful short-term potions, and more long-term self-care regiments. Hence, why athletics ended up becoming the single most long-term self-care activity I have ever done or will do. I am married to fitness and will not let it go. It’s one of the healthiest things I have, therefore it is worth it.

     We should not pull people away from their athletic self-care, to do so is unkind. We should also not shame people that are getting into fitness self-care for the first time in their lives, but be encouraging instead. I’ve heard of many circumstances where a new athlete walked away from a gym due to a lack of inclusivity, which is NEVER okay. The incredible metaphor I learned as a teen in cross country involved the way we trained together. We start off running in a pack, but eventually the faster runners get further ahead, and the slower runners keep their pace in the back. It was the job of each individual runner to chase the person ahead of them, use them as their encouragement. It was also our job to run away from the person that’s coming up behind us, use them as our encouragement to stay strong and keep a solid pace. Every human is on the spectrum of fitness and athletics, and we all matter, we all play our part as individuals and as a team. Despite popular belief, we are not in the fitness world to ‘compete’. In fact, if we allow competition to get into our heads, it will destroy our athletic progress. It’s a journey, and the endpoint is whatever we want to make it. Every girl that I competed with in grappling, whether I won, or they beat me, I considered them my teammates, not my enemy. We helped each other in our grappling journeys whether we won or lost.

     I joke that I have quit Brazilian Jiu jitsu about 4-5 times so far in my six-year endeavor. Martial arts is HARD, and perhaps that is why I cannot let it go. I came from a background of running until my lungs almost exploded, to now being in a sport where the training partner and/ or opponent is trying to break one of my limbs or choke me unconscious. However, it is one of the most fun and beautiful things I have ever taken part in. We learn nothing about ourselves without mental and physical challenges. We do not necessarily need to compete or be ‘the best’, but we need a sense of purpose, objectives, goals, concentration and clarity. Training in Jiu jitsu, MMA, wrestling and Muay Thai almost broke me, yet I am still training. I think back to my ‘lowest of lows’ moments in martial arts after embarrassing spar sessions where I got beat up and embarrassing matches where I lost really fast, horrible injuries that could have been prevented had I not been so stubborn. All I see now is lesson’s learned without regrets.

     My fiancé recently reminded me of that important concept that my stepmother gave me 15 years ago. He worded it a bit differently: “We (humans) are suffering/ miserable every day anyways, we might as well suffer doing something that will improve our lives vs suffering with something that will get us nowhere” (couch, TV etc.). I respect every single athlete I have ever come across. An athlete is a person that defy’ s odds and takes courageous steps every time they head to their workout. Every time we head to our gym in fear of how we will perform, every time we enter our workout exhausted, every time we want to quit but don’t, we are combatting depressive, anxiety and anger symptoms. We are molding ourselves into a person of substance. We are valuing and fighting for our lives and mental health. Athletic activity is the language of many sufferers. To the outsider we appear as “Superhuman”, to our teammates, coaches and ourselves, we are humans fighting to defy the odds stacked against us and all of humanity.

Working out is not meant to be a punishment, it is meant for self-care. Do not mistake the comfort of excessive relaxation and idle time as ‘self care’. Balanced people tend to have a pattern of low and high momentum throughout the day. If we sit or lay for too long we sink, if we workout and train for too long we burnout. Incorporating fitness into our daily or weekly regiments can balance out those symptoms that are otherwise next to impossible to deal with. It is a matter of finding YOUR fitness activity or sport NEXT. If you are an athlete, I applaud you and encourage you to keep going. If you are thinking about exploring an athletic endeavor, I support and encourage it. Reward your body, reward your mind. Learn what the fuss is all about! Those ‘psycho’ athletes may just be onto something.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

2 thoughts on “Those ‘Psycho’ Athletes

  1. You are so right about finding time to get exercise. And it is hard to get back into a routine. My Doctor told me I needed to exercise but yet I found myself coming up with excuse after excuse to not do it. I am one who doesn’t enjoy working around others. After my last doctors visit I finally got tired of getting lectured about how much better I would feel. So I have started riding my bike again. At first like you my body hurt and I thought I can’t do this , but now I look forward to the peacefulness and getting out for a ride. And as much as I hate to admit it. The Doctor was right. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So happy to hear you are biking! Starting over again is very hard but overtime I hope you feel the benefits. Now that I’m running more again, waking up and getting through my days feels a tad easier 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: