Photo: Trek Bicycle/Chris Milliman
Many pro athletes rely on visualization prior to an event to help guide them.
“I am big into visualization. I try hard to visualize the course I’m going to do, so I can see myself doing it successfully,” Melgaard said.
Visualization is equally important to Schultz. At the beginning of his career, he used to focus on the pain that would be inflicted during a punishing race, believing he was readying himself for the inevitable. But imagining the hurt ahead of time did nothing to prevent the hurt. “It took me awhile to realize that it’s better to imagine a good ride and success,” he explained.
Now, before a race, Schultz shifts his thoughts to positive imagery. “If I know a section of a course is going to be really tricky, I visualize taking it nice and smooth,” he noted.
Performing at an event is the pinnacle of the pro experience; it’s where athletes put their training and resolve to the test.
“When you finally get out there, you remember what all the practice has been about, how exciting the feeling of racing really is,” said Schultz.
Although Murphy still gets butterflies before a ski event, he has mastered the art of calming them in a way that he couldn’t do as a novice. “I don’t get nervous in front of huge crowds anymore. After my first turn, I’m just there,” Murphy said. “That comes from years of work, performance experience, and a laser-like focus on what I’m doing.”
During an event, as the pain increases, as an athlete’s body starts to flag, how does she push on? “I know what incredible power my body has, so I focus on that. I pray the entire event, saying things like, ‘Lord, give me the strength to remain upright. Keep me going. Don’t let the pain get in my way,’” Melgaard said. “I simply focus on getting through.”
Ultimately, what motivates professional athletes is the sense of accomplishment and freedom that can be attained only when they are performing at the highest level.
“Unlike my work at the office, where most of what I do during the day is reactive, when I’m alone on my skis on the hill, I’m proactive and in control of everything,” explained Murphy. “There’s no better feeling than knowing that with my own power – mental and physical – I succeeded.”