HOPE. - Aasha Marler aka "Olympic Hopeful"

Have you ever stopped what you were doing and thought - “Wow, I can’t believe this is actually happening. I can’t believe I am doing what I love most and am motivated to do”? The last 5 months have been the start to a journey I’ve always dreamed to take. What’s my journey you ask? In May of 2017, I was given the opportunity to train under a world-renowned coach in professional long jump and triple jump at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. My elite coach has guided professional athletes such as Brittany Reese and Will Claye to several Olympic and World Championship medals. Over the next 3 years I will be training in an environment surrounded by world-ranked athletes with sights set on making the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Team. My hope is that you can share in some of the experiences with me through this blog series, leading up to a rather tall order of a goal ahead.

I don’t know if my parents fully realized the impact naming me “Aasha” would have on my life. Kudos to my East Indian mother to choose “Aasha”, which translates to “Hope” in Hindi. This brings me to the most important part of this series: Hope. In my opinion, the concept of hope is too often used as a doubtful, vague, and unpromising term for something you “wish” to happen. Speaker Victoria Osteen describes hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Note: the key quality here is “expectation”. For the good or bad I am hopeful enough to believe someone like me could make a professional career in track after being an under recruited, borderline athlete with almost no “expectation” for success in college track, let alone professionally. To be clear, I am a firm believer in hard work and forming those expectations aka “Hopes” that the time, effort, dedication, attitude, and everything else will pave the way towards those goals. As much as family and friend support continues to get me through some tough times in life, I know I have to hope and believe it within myself.

I’ll never forget the first time one of my biggest hopes came true and I visited the Olympic Training Center.

Source: [CVEATC]. (2017, March 17). Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/sI4leX7w8WE 

The entire experience was odd in the way that it felt like I took several punches to the stomach, all of which were incredibly good things, but so good that it was painful. First, I took an Uber ride from the airport to the track 30 minutes away, which allowed the driver and I to make conversation. When he asked what I was doing in Chula Vista, for a second I felt foolish. Here I was, all alone, telling this stranger that I was visiting the Olympic Training Center to compete in a meet that I hoped would qualify me for nationals and advance me towards a seemingly non-existent professional track career. The driver responded opposite to how I felt and was genuinely interested in my purpose and ambition for the trip to Chula Vista. Upon arrival, I saw the gate to the center; it might as well felt like the gate to heaven in that moment. This was the first punch to the stomach. The street name Olympic Parkway was enough to make me lose my mind. The magic was second to none (even my memories of Disneyland couldn’t compare) and my eyes began to swell. Before leaving, the driver asked if I wanted a picture in front of the gate - I knew this was a special moment and didn’t hesitate to say yes.

He so kindly bid my farewell and said, “I hope to see you on the television in 2020 then”. This small gesture made me slap myself back in to action “If a complete stranger found my goals possible, who was I to cut myself short”?

This seemingly simple, yet kind interaction with my driver set the tone for the next 48 hours of my visit.

After catching my breath and drying my eyes, I began to walk up a large hill that led to the track. It truly seemed like a scene in a movie. I wasn’t sure movie scenes were real until it happened to me. At the top of the hill I was able to overlook the track from a pinnacle view. In front of my very eyes I could spot the Olympians I had looked up to for many years. There they were so effortlessly training, jumping, running, and again it was like a dream I was witnessing from afar. The track was majestic and incredibly peaceful. Time really did stop and continually does when I’m on that track. I felt completely consumed by the track and magic in the air. This marks the second punch.

I stopped to gather myself before making my way down on to the track. The feeling of idiocy was creeping up on me again. I was a nobody to these world-class athletes, and I was clearly the outsider as I walked into a completely unknown environment. It felt very lonely and frightening, but I knew I had to make the best impression possible and stand up for myself, for my purpose there. I found the professional coach whom I had been in contact with, which hardly offered any relief at first. He was just as respected and intimidating to me as the athletes in present company. After greeting each other, he was kind enough to recognize I knew no one and offered to practice with me in preparation for the meet. You guessed it. This was punch number three.The next day, I met with the coach for my first practice on the sacred track. He gave me very simple, yet helpful tips to take into competition. It’s difficult enough for me to mentally prepare and relax before a competition, let alone after all the excitement and anxious gut feelings I had experienced since arriving.

Finally Saturday had come - I woke up and practiced my usual coffee and breakfast routine. It was competition day and the pressure was on. I told myself, “Today is not the day to jump bad Aasha. Save some pride and jump badly at any other meet, but today is not that day. Don’t waste this opportunity.” (Something I’ve always struggled with is being a jerk to myself) The competition began, and my mind went blank. I knew I had to let go, take a risk and go for it. I did. I jumped over a foot further in long jump, which is a bit of a drastic improvement to have in one competition. That was the moment I 100% believed in the power behind hope. Very minimal changes had been made technically, but the experience and hope I channeled lent itself to the best competition of my career so far aka punch number five.

Following the meet, I spoke with the coach and thanked him for being so helpful which clearly affected my performance. We continued to chat about other technical improvements, to which he gave me punch number six. He said, “If you’re able to make the move and find a way to live in Chula Vista, you’re welcome to join our group and train here full-time.I see a lot of upside with what you can do.” I would be lying if I said it didn’t take every ounce of me not to cry in that moment, let alone now as I write about it. The disappointments, sacrifice, love for my sport, hope, and a million other pieces all contributed to this sliver of an opportunity to advance my jumping career. I immediately said yes, and the rest was history for my move in September 2017.

My hope for all you readers is to share a glimpse into this incredible journey I am on and perhaps even inspire you for the journey you are on. I have everything I need to make those things happen, as I believe with my most hopeful heart they will.  I continue to find the best journey is vulnerable, raw, uncomfortable, and almost always painful, but consequently the most joyous way to live within the power of Hope.

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