Want to smash your health goals, no matter how wild life gets? Three sports champs reveal their resilience secrets
Reaching for the lolly bag, Anja Stridsman refuses to feel guilty. While she’s known for being tough, the lightweight boxer has relaxed her schedule, stopped being fixated on her kilojoule intake and is using this period of uncertainty to refocus.
The 33-year-old Commonwealth Games gold medallist had been working hard towards qualification for the Tokyo Games and was at peak fitness, weighing the ideal amount for her boxing category, when the world changed.
“I’m letting myself be,” Anja says. “I’d never let myself go, but I can take my foot off the pedal.” At first, the slowing down of life in every sense was an issue. “I was bored and felt like I was eating all the time,” Anja admits.
So she focused on filling her day in other ways, like walks with her dad, doing Insta training sessions and practising handstands. “If I’m curious about anything, I feel like I can do it now because I have the time!” she adds. A huge fan of cooking, her secret is having a few quick, healthy options handy. “Always have things prepared so that you’re never ravenous.”
Your Move: Plan your meals and make healthy snacks a big part of this. It’s where most people fall down with their nutrition, especially if they’re at home for much of the day.
− Jessica Spendlove, advanced sports dietitian and co-founder of Health & Performance Collective
It was March 2020. Cheers, laughter and elation filled the room as the Carlton AFLW team celebrated their latest win. They were a whisper away from the grand final and forward Darcy Vescio says they were in a good position to win that, too. But everything they’d worked so hard for was about to be snatched away, as someone switched on the press conference broadcast, where it was announced that the 2020 AFLW season would be cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was small in contrast with what was going on globally,” Darcy says, but it was still a big deal for all the athletes involved. Instead of upping her training, 26-year-old Darcy found herself in a rest period and then back into a very new regimen.
“We [went] from two team training sessions a week and a game, to weights and conditioning at home. I [had] to see it as a unique opportunity to step away from footy and focus on training in a different way.” During that time off the field, Darcy was in constant contact with her teammates – socially and for training – on online platforms. “There were 20 of us in a Zoom pilates class,” she recalls.
“It [was] an opportunity to try different workouts.” When you’re at home, she advises squeezing in some movement wherever it’s possible. For her, that was about setting short-term goals that fitted in with her longer-term ones. After all, Darcy felt the “fittest she’d ever been” during last year’s season, so was “determined not to let that go to waste.” Now, with the new AFLW season underway, it’s clear this superstar is back to kick more goals than ever.
Your Move: Running is a great way to get the blood pumping. For extra motivation, the Nike Run Club app has audio-guided runs incorporating training intervals. At home? There’s plenty you can do with no equipment, from pilates to endurance training. – Lydia O’Donnell, Nike Running head coach.
Mental toughness is a quality athletes share. And Jenny Blow is no exception.
To ready themselves for the Tokyo Paralympics, her goalball team, the Aussie Belles, began a rigorous 10-month training schedule, which was cut short when the Games were postponed in 2020.
“I was initially relieved they’d made a call, but then reality hit,” Jenny says. “You put your life on hold. I’d planned to do that for 12 months and [then suddenly I had] to do that for [longer].”
Despite tears shed, she’s tried to see it as positively as possible. “Instead of worrying, I’m trying to feel grateful,” she says. “Knowing everyone is in the same boat is helpful. [At the time] I posted on the international [goalball] Facebook page and all the teams came back saying their halls were closed. I did know that, but hearing them say they weren’t training either was a relief.”
Jenny’s used to being part of a team and says maintaining connections is crucial for mental wellbeing. “The hardest thing is the uncertainty. We’re all aiming for August 2021 but, who knows, we just have to take it day-by-day. I’m grateful for what I have and, like our coach has said, our number one priority is our health and family. That’s a good goal to have now.”
Your Move: Over the past year, almost everyone has had their routines ripped from under them. Creating simple new structures in your day can be restabilising: going to sleep and waking at similar times, scheduling in your training blocks as well as contacting coaches and teammates. – Lyndel Abbott, Australian Paralympic Team psychologist