Believe in yourself: Loren Rowney on dreams, fears and failure

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The last time we heard from Ella columnist Loren Rowney, she was in hospital in Hamburg, Germany where she was awaiting surgery on her broken collarbone. Loren’s injuries were sustained in a widely documented crash involving a spectator in the sprint finish at Drentse 8.

Less than two weeks following her accident, Loren is back on the bike – and blogging again. This time, she talks dreams, fears, failure and the power of self-belief.

I’m 11 years old. My eyes glued to the TV screen and my palms are sweaty. I’m full of nervous energy, butterflies in my stomach, as I wonder if she can do it.

Cathy Freeman is about to start the women’s 400m at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. I feel like I’m about to start the race next to her. Three months earlier, I had been on that very track racing the Pan Pacific Games, where I had won double bronze in the 800m & 1500m.

The gun sounds the race into action. From the start, it’s clear that Cathy is in it to win it. I watch with bated breath until she crosses the line. First. Cathy is an Olympic champion.

I want that to be me.

Fifteen years later, I’m a 26-year-old professional cyclist racing for one of the best teams in the peloton. I compete all over the world and live with my crazy best friend in Girona, Spain – home to nearly 100 professional cyclists. When I take a step back and think about, it blows my mind a little.

Had you asked that 11 year old where she would be at 26, she could have told you that she would grow up to a professional athlete. She might not have guessed that cycling would have been her sport of choice because she was a runner back then, but she knew that she was an athlete, and she knew she wanted to be a champion.

When I signed my first professional contract, I actually pinched myself. Those dreams I dreamt? I parlayed them into reality. I have been living and competing overseas as a professional athlete going on four years now, and I know that I’m the cusp of my best years yet.

That little girl watching the Olympics – she did it. She overcame her insecurities. She found inner self-belief. She worked incredibly hard. She dreamed big, and she made it happen.

I made it happen.

I’m the first to admit that my very privileged, supportive and loving upbringing played a key role in the path I have been fortunate enough to pursue. I was born into the ideal environment in which to thrive as an athlete.

That’s not to say I haven’t encountered speed bumps over the years. I have had my fair share of personal and physical adversities – just like anyone. I could list the most poignant but will instead focus on one – the one I think that anyone can relate to regardless of where she is in her athletic career. And that’s the self-created mental adversity.

I struggled with a lack of self-confidence for a long time. As a young runner, I would line up on race day and feel scared to lose. I was so afraid of losing, of not winning, that it became an obstacle to trying my best. What if my best wasn’t good enough to win?

I was my own worst enemy. I’m lucky. I surround myself with some incredible people. I have never once heard “you’re not good enough” or “you can’t do that” from anyone, Well, anyone but myself. I was the one questioning myself, holding myself back, putting myself down. My biggest obstacle was of my own creation.

I had a crash at the end of 2010 that left me hospitalised for one week. I had nothing to do but think, and I very clearly remember the thoughts that dominated the week I spent in bed.

“It’s all or nothing, Loren,” I thought to myself. “You can’t continue to plod around for another few years and keep spinning your wheels in circles.”

I can’t explain exactly what it is that ignited the fire within me, but I felt it with every fibre of my being. I knew that I didn’t want to be dominated by fear any longer. “I” was the key word in this defining moment. For so long, I had allowed myself to be caught up in what other people thought about me, what other people expected of me, and because of this, I was racing for them. I wasn’t racing for me.

Racing for me eliminates a lot of the fear of failure. It also eliminates my ability to make excuses when I fail. I am the only one accountable for the choices and decisions I make. When I fail, it’s on me.

It also means that I get to define what failure is – and failure doesn’t mean losing a race. Failure to me is not holding myself accountable for the choices and decisions I make. Failure is not trying my best or ticking every little box. Failure is not giving myself the best possible chance to be successful.

It’s crystal clear when I haven’t done what I’ve needed to do. If I don’t tick all the boxes, I lie awake at night and think: “How could I have done things better? What didn’t I do to prepare well?” Those thoughts that keep me awake at night are my cue to make better choices. I sleep well when I know that I’m well-prepared.

I assume everyone has self-doubt that creeps in, and I know that some people are better at managing that self-doubt than others. Some people, like me, have had to learn how keep those negative thoughts at bay. And some people are still learning the power and freedom of believing in yourself and backing your dreams – whatever those dreams may be.

I can’t sit here and pretend that I have it all figured out. Because I don’t. I’m a constant work in process. Aren’t we all? I think that’s part of being human.

Dreaming is part of being human, too. Dream big dreams – and embrace them. Because dreams do come true when you believe in them. And when you believe in you.

Loren Rowney is a professional rider for Velocio-SRAM. With the team since its inception (as Specialized-lululemon), the South-African born Australian lives in Girona, Spain during the European cycling season. The tattoo on her wrist in the picture above says “I Believe” in Greek and is Loren’s personal motto.

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