As viewed on television, the life of an Olympic athlete might seem to be filled with triumph, excitement and million-dollar endorsements. But the truth is that most Olympians and hopefuls live far removed from this sparkly media ideal.
Mike Clark, DPT, founder of Fusionetics in Atlanta, has witnessed the tribulations that face these elite athletes. “The mental, emotional and psychological component to this is enormous,” he says. “The stress they put on their bodies just for the training alone is incredible. They’re constantly exhausted.”
And their challenges don’t end when they finish training for the day. Clark explains that the life of an Olympian can be lonely. “You have challenges in your social life because nobody understands what you’re going through or what you’re feeling.”
Clark witnessed the stresses of competition when his wife, Melissa “Mel” Mueller, was preparing for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Because he was there with her—and also heavily involved in elite athlete training—he could understand what was required of her. But most athletes and their loved ones don’t have that luxury. “A lot of our married female athletes have great difficulty,” Clark notes. “If the husband hasn’t been involved in professional or elite sports, he doesn’t understand that level of commitment and why it requires so much time away from home.”
Finally, the financial strain adds to an already stressful life. “A lot of these athletes aren’t supported well,” he says. “A few of them make big money with endorsements, but most of them don’t; many are supported by family, friends and boosters. They also try to hold down jobs, which is nearly impossible considering how much time goes into training.”
Despite all of this, athletes continue to seek Olympic greatness. Clark finds this determination inspiring. “It has always been fascinating to watch Olympic athletes, knowing the commitment level they had to have to get to where they want to be.”
To get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work with the world’s best athletes, please see “The People Behind the Champions” in the online IDEA Library or in the July-August 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.