Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Megan Tapper - Lessons of a loss

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Megan Tapper
Megan Tapper
Mathue and Megan Tapper.
Megan Tapper (then Simmonds) clears a hurdle during her a heat in the women's 100m hurdles at last year's World Championships in London.
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1. I am 5 ft and an inch. To be honest, that's a rounded-off figure, but I am more than sure I'm above 4ft 11 inches.

2. Yes, YES! I AM smaller in reality than on television.

3. I am actually not a very fast sprinter, as my personal best is well above 11.50 seconds. To put it into perspective, the personal best of World champion and Olympic gold medallist Sally Pearson is almost 10.9 seconds. Hence, I am far from being "too fast" in-between the hurdles.

My love affair with running started in prep school where my coach Mr Winston Keyes (while I was in the process of training to be a part of the first cohort of Jamaican gymnasts at the London 2012 Olympics) saw me running and decided he had to have me on his track and field team. My parents didn't appreciate the idea, because they saw that it could have hindered my progress in gymnastics, but I suppose because I was so talented, they eventually obliged with a heavy heart.

From prep school into high school, I was the girl that did pretty much everything. When I wasn't doing gymnastics, I was on the track; when I wasn't doing either, you could find me at the top of cheerleading pyramids or dancing with a world-leading youth ensemble; and when I was completely free I would be making up dances and teaching it to my friends after school.

There came a time when I had to settle down. Thank God for my parents. They sat me down one day and told me it was time to choose. It was heart-wrenching to see my dream of becoming the first Jamaican athlete to go to the Olympics for two different sports come to an end, but my love for track and field made it a pretty easy decision.

NB: It wasn't that I wasn't a solid gymnast, it was just the hardest thing for a little girl to train for hours on end in a sport that she literally hated.

In 2008, I joined the track and field team at St Andrew High School, where I did the long jump. It wasn't long after, though, that I realised my body had already been pummelled by my strenuous career in gymnastics and couldn't handle the pounding that long jump entailed. With my great start and my career in gymnastics, I set my sights on a different event, the sprint hurdles.

I was so excited about my new event that in the summer during my downtime I googled 'how to hurdle', set up two chairs and a broom stick across them and proceeded to strive for greatness!

Skipping to a couple of years later with a silver medal at Champs and gold at Carifta, I was in fifth form and unsure of my next move. The most logical thing at the time was to take up a scholarship to go abroad for my tertiary education, but being alone at a school so far from home was not enthralling. This being said, University of Technology (UTech) had now become an option and after careful consideration, I was impressed by their athletic programme.

Honing the talents of greats like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (who I thought was closer to my height) and Asafa Powell is no easy feat, and they were able to achieve that. What sweetened the deal, however, is that my best friend (who just happened to be my boyfriend and now husband) at the time, also attended UTech. How could I turn that down?

Attending university while training full-time wasn't an easy feat. However, good friends who had my back, coupled with kind, understanding teachers, made my degree achievable in the recommended four years. I wouldn't have been able to do it without them. Thank God.

Transition to the senior ranks was an uphill battle.

At my first senior National Trials in 2013, I false-started in the heats. The following year, I worked doubly hard and made the final but hopped through the finish line.

In 2015, despite sitting out almost two months of training due to injury, I was convinced I had what it took to be one of three hurdlers to represent Jamaica at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. After leading my heat for 80m or so, I clamoured into hurdle nine and failed to regain my composure for 10, resulting in a devastating fall - crawling through the finish line.

 

DETERMINED TO BOUNCE BACK

 

The fall resulted in me tearing some ligaments and getting a late start in 2016, but I was more determined than ever to bounce back.

I had a good feeling about that year. It wasn't without obstacles, however, it was God's will for me to overcome at trials, and overcome I did. I became National Champion.

Heading to the Olympics as National Champion, being confident was the last thing on my mind. I can remember bawling my eyes out in my room as a result of not being able to handle the pressure I put on myself before my semi-finals. I was mentally weak despite being a student of mental training for a couple of years, and that resulted in me performing way below my capabilities and dropping out at the semi-finals.

For the remainder of the season, I tried to save face and perform at a level that was reassuring, but that did not happen.

In 2017, the experience gained in the previous year was to be used to help me do better, but dropping out in the semi-finals again at the World Championships in London was my fate.

 

BEACONS OF LIGHT

 

In spite of those experiences, there were beacons of light speckled throughout these years. I got and broke the Intercollegiate 100m hurdles record twice, I became National Champion, continuously lowered my personal best, and I got to race on the Diamond League circuit, which aides significantly in my growth, not just on, but off the track as well.

Crashing out after leading the race in 2015 was devastating, but one lesson I learnt in high school was to NEVER EVER GIVE UP, even when it looks impossible. So I didn't, I crawled through the line praying and hoping I would make the team but ... it wasn't to be. I was not only out of a chance to compete for my country at the World Championships, but I was directed to stay home, which prevented me from competing at the World University Games in South Korea.

This experience reminded me of how profound the peace of God can be in situations where we can't see the reason or an end: learning I couldn't make the trip to South Korea only a mere hour before I was to be at the airport could have been horrific news. Deep down, I trembled at the thought of my season ending so drastically, especially when this was what I had been training for the whole season, but God kept me stable and I was able to sail through it, coming back stronger to become National Champion.

I believe it is solid advice not to take advice from people who are not where you want to be. For example, a divorcee advising you on how to stay married or a quitter telling you how to persevere, so I will refrain from speaking about success. However, I think I have accumulated a pretty good rÈsumÈ when it comes to performing subpar, bouncing back and staying hungry throughout.

My secret? Trust in God and allow Him to have His will. Yes, bad times will come, but He says all things will work together for good to those who love God - to them who are called according to His purpose. And if you're not a religious person, take advice from one of the most successful people I know - Will Smith. Success is on the other side of failure. However, the reality is most people give up before getting through the lessons of the loss to be able to accept victory on the other side. No matter what you are going through, no matter how many times you get hit down or literally fall over hurdles, get back up with the lesson at the forefront of your mind with more perseverance, more determination and more resilience than before. Cry, do whatever you have to do but get up and run, run like you've seen the promised land and the door is closing and you need to get through it. Run like your life depends on it.

In conclusion, make every effort to focus on you and be the best that YOU can be. People will always have things to say and in some cases you will never be enough, but if you keep working hard and smart, what the haters say won't matter!

"Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine" - Alan Turing, Imitation Game

We all have the capacity to achieve our wildest dreams, let's do it together!

Megan Tapper

- Follow Megan on Instagram: @_meg.lion