Mental Health & Training
with Chari Hawkins
01 Jun, 2022
On Global Running Day, professional heptathlete Chari Hawkins, the 2022 USA Indoor Champion in the heptathlon shares her journey with sports and mental health.
Athlete: Chari Hawkins
“Mental Training & Creating Your Story with Chari Hawkins”
For our special Global Running Day episode we are talking with Chari Hawkins, the 2022 USA Indoor Champion in the heptathlon, who has represented the USA internationally on several occasions. Chari is an advocate for mental health and shares with us her advice for changing how we see mental health and learning to create our own story.
In the heptathlon, athletes compete in 7 events: hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m run, long jump, javelin, and the 800m. Chari is one of the best heptathletes in the world, and is currently ranked 6th globally.
I love Chari’s journey, because it shows the importance of mental health in sports and performance. Despite performing really well in college and winning conference as a freshman, Chari struggled with severe performance anxiety that went to the point of her wanting to injure herself in order to not compete.
In this episode, Chari shares her journey with sports psychology and how she turned mental health into her biggest strength as an athlete. She also shares how she learned to detach her identity from performance, and write down her dreams, goals and obstacles in order to craft her own story.
Welcome to the Voice in Sport Podcast Chari!
We're really excited to have you on today and to talk about mental health. It's such an important topic right now. And as you've said before, it's not if, but it's when we need help with mental health. So really excited to dive into it today with you. Let's start with your relationship with sports at your very, very beginning.
When you were young and. Started is this a sport that you always thought that you were going to be, you know, one of the best in the world?
To be honest, no I grew up in a basketball family. So my dad is a basketball coach and I am the youngest of five kids and everybody played basketball all growing up. And I also did volleyball, softball, and gymnastics. I did dance just like a little bit of everything. I mean, honestly, which is pretty true to heptathletes anyways, we kind of just dabble in everything.
But we were huge, huge basketball family. I have, my sister is 61 and my brother is six, six. I just didn't kind of get those same genes. I'm five, six. And so I kind of had to choose a new avenue. So I was actually the first person in. Family to do track and field. And I was pretty dang good at it right away.
So it was really fun. And I kept going. I actually only did track because my friends were doing it and I didn't want to be left out. And so my friends all quit track and I fell in love with it and I kept going and here I am all these years later, still.
So amazing. So early on, did you see sports as just something fun? Like you said that you got to hang out with your friends or were you like immediately a competitive. With sports from the beginning.
You know, I think I was actually more competitive as a kid. Interestingly. As the youngest of five, as I've grown up, I've actually gotten a lot less competitive because I've learned that it keeps the peace a lot better because my family is so competitive. So when it came to family game night and everything like that, like actually I remember this one time where my mom was just cheating.
And so we were all like, mom, you're cheating. And then we found out that my sister was also cheating. My brother. So mad and he goes, but by the way, these are not ones. These are 11 and he was cheating. Everybody was just cheating and it turned out to be like, really hilarious, but that was kind of like typical.
Like everybody just wanted to win by any means necessary. And sometimes it would get really heated. Sometimes it was fun and funny like that, but sometimes it would get heated and I realized like, you guys can win. I'm just going to go ahead and have fun. And if I have good cards, I have good cards and that's it.
And I kind of detached from like winning. And that's kind of why I like track so much. I think that's why I was drawn to it as I got a little bit older because. With track and field, like, as you get competitive, yes. You'd still do want to win, but even if you could take eighth place and even if you did your very best, you did amazing and absolutely anything, everything like you're going to be pretty happy.
And I think that's what kind of drew me to track is it was so individualistic and it was just about improving yourself every single day. And so I kept doing it. I fell in love.
I love that. So interesting because you, you obviously were pretty good at some of the events. I mean, in high school, we know you one state in three events, the hurdles, the long jump and the high jump, and then you were recruited to go to Utah state to be a heptathlete. So at that point in your career, you know, in high school, when you knew you were obviously pretty good at those three events, you know, what was it like to have somebody come and ask you about joining.
You know, a division one program as a heptathlete. Is that something that you had any sort of hesitation about at first or were you all in right when they.
You know, what's so interesting is I had really good grades in high school. And so I actually. I have really bad grades up until ninth grade. And then I told, I told my parents cause they, my parents are like Shari, like, why are grades so bad? I'm gonna be like, I promise you guys, you guys taught me grades don't count until you're in ninth grade because that's when they actually contribute to your GPA.
And and so I was like, once ninth grade hits, I promise, like, I'll do a good job. And I got a 4.0, like I had straight A's. And so I was actually recruited from. A lot of like really big schools that like I was recruited by brown and Cornell and MIT and to be fair like that, those were the schools that were really, really intimidating to me, mostly because of academics.
And so I decided to stay a little closer to home and go to Utah state. And I was really happy with that because I feel like I got a lot less culture shock when I was there. I wasn't like super overwhelmed. I was only two hours away from home. And so it ended up working out and yeah, I loved it.
My biggest thing would say like take all of your visits. If you're somebody who's like getting offered a lot of visits, unfortunately. I didn't really get a chance. I was also doing basketball and volleyball at that time. And my basketball coach was like, you can choose one visit, but I'm not losing.
Five different games like no. And the thing that's so crazy is because when we're young, you know, we're obsessed with our coaches. We're obsessed with authority, but like at the end of the day, even as a young kid, you have to remember that this is your life. And so you need to accommodate for yourself.
And that means choosing a good path. For yourself, don't do it because your parents tell you that, like, that's not good. Don't do that. Like do that for your, for your future, invest in yourself. Like if your coaches tell you, no, just go here, go here, go there. Like do what you want to do. You know, like, I, I mean, I probably wish I would have taken a couple more visits, so that would be the first thing.
And the second thing I would do for somebody who, I mean, I got recruited out of high school pretty heavily because I was. You know, three of the events that were in the heptathlon and I had decent grades, but if you want to go to college and maybe you're not getting like recruited right out of the. I would highly recommend going to the websites of potential schools that you would be interested in going in and emailing the coaches.
Because my my husband actually walked onto the track team and he was like really amazing. And he had potential to get like scholarships and stuff in the future as well. So you might start by walking on a track team and it might turn into something like a scholarship. And if it doesn't turn into a scholarship, you still get that.
I don't feel like you need to get like recruited out of college, out of high school, or you're not going to be able to do it in college. Like that happens all the time. People walk onto teams and then before they know it, they're on a full ride. And now they're a professional athlete that happens all the time.
I wish with all of my heart, that mental health training. Mental fitness training was a thing. It is still kind of, I feel like it could be a lot stronger than it is now. But it, it, when I was in high school, it wasn't even a thing at all. I mean, you just got nervous, you felt like you were going to throw up and then before you knew it, the race was over and you were like, okay, I feel better now, you know, kind of a thing.
And you just assumed that that's how life was. And you know, my mental health. D I would say didn't start declining until I would say I was in college and it started when I was a freshmen and I kind of surprised myself because I thought that right away I was going to be, you know, not very good out of the gate.
And so I was kind of expecting that and I surprised myself by winning conference my freshman year. And. So then there was this crazy expectation, all of a sudden I was a freshmen who won conference and now it's like, okay, now you got to try to go to nationals. Now you got to try to do this and that, and this and that.
My parents were always super supportive, always came to all my meats and my dad would always be like, you have a heart of a champion like LA and it seemed. It seemed as though, like every time I succeeded people would just come out of the gate being like, you're amazing. You're amazing. And my little tiny little cute Shari brain when I was younger, took that to mean that my value came from winning.
I mean, winning. I was, I had a heart of a champion, not because I'm a human being. I had a heart of a champion because I'm winning. Like if I wouldn't have had a hard champion, if I would've lost, you know, kind of a thing. And I started really attaching my value as a human being, to who, how I was performing and my sport became my identity.
And when I went to practice, I was there. So that I could get better so that people would like me. I didn't realize that until actually only a few years ago. But in the moment, like that is where my anxiety really started because it's one thing to have a race on the line. Like maybe you don't do very well and you don't get a good time, like, think about that.
If you just think of. Objectively, but that's not that big of a deal. That's not really threatening to anything. However, if your value is human being determines is determined by you winning, like that's a very direct threat to yourself. If I don't win, if I don't get a really good time right now, like I won't have friends, I won't have success.
I won't have love, I don't have value. And that is, that is so stressful. And I th. Reason to believe that wouldn't cause somebody like to have ridiculous panic attacks and. That was like the biggest thing for me, I would say, is trying to get through. That's actually why I became pro was because my mental health struggled so much through college and I knew I didn't even come close to scratching my potential.
And I knew that I still could. And I knew my brain was the thing getting in my way. And so I went pro. Didn't do anything about my mental fitness, just like assumed it was going to continue to get better. As I got older, I just didn't do anything. And it wasn't until 2019 that I was like, wait, can I do something about this?
And that's kind of how I got into really getting mental fitness under.
Yeah. I mean, so to me, 30% seems super low. I would say that that 30% is probably just the people that are admitting to it. To me getting anxious, getting sad, getting depressed, getting like going through something that feels like you don't have control. That would be like saying I got a stomach. And being like only 30% of people get the stomach bug.
It's kind of like, maybe like this year only 30% might get that stomach bug. You know what I mean? Kind of a thing. In, in my, in my opinion, and in my experience of coming in contact with humans, I would say that maybe like one out of 10 people have said something like, not really, like, I don't, I don't really get anxiety, you know?
But other than that, I would say most people. Most people are struggling. And so if you are struggling, like I hope, you know, two things that your in the majority, like don't think that you're like going crazy or like, why am I like this? And everybody else's calm, cool and collected. They are not you're, you're normal and number two, it's just like, if you haven't gone running for years, your whole life, and then you decided to go on a run, like it's going to be really hard. And that's how mental fitness is too. You can train it, you can get better and you can start finding yourself getting in control. It doesn't mean that you're never going to get tired when you own a run.
Right. It means, it just means that it's going to get easier. You're going to get more comfortable with it and you're going to be able to adjust a lot. And those would be the two things. Is that number one: You're not crazy. And number two you're not doomed it's you can fix it. You can help it.
Yeah, I think that it started with my very first pentathlon championships where I thought I was going, I was in the lead and I had the 800 left and I wasn't really that seasoned in the 800. But because of that, I wasn't really afraid of the 800. I was like, all right, like, let's go. And I don't know what happened, but somebody came over to me right before and said, all it takes is a little heart.
And I took that to mean go sprint this 800. And so I sprinted the 800. I came through my first 200 meters at 25 seconds, which is almost my PR, which was like almost my personal best for an open 200. And that's how that 800 went. So it was not good. It was not good at all. And I ended up because I died so hard.
I ended up losing the heptathlon and it was weird because it was so devastating to me. And I think that's kind of like where my anxiety started because I was embarrassed. Not that I lost, I was embarrassed. Like I'm not good enough. Like I'm not very good. And so then every single time I brought into it was time for a heptathlon, like days before I would be mortified, just terrified of reliving that terrified of having it happen.
And I wouldn't be able to sleep. I wouldn't be able to. And again, coming back to the fact that I had equated my value to my performance. And it was just, it was the worst. It was the worst to be feeling that way. And so, yeah, I did, I, I tried, there were, I remember I was at this meet and. There was a girl who ended up tearing her Achilles there.
And I remember the first thing I thought was that freaking lucky girl. Like she doesn't have to compete. She doesn't have to perform. And it's so crazy because that was the meat that I qualified for my first national championships. However, like I didn't have fun during that. Like I, I hated it. I wanted it to be done.
I wanted it to be over. But I. And, and then we were, I was at another meet and I remember like being like, I can't do this. And I remember thinking that girl Torah Achilles, and she didn't have to compete for the rest of the year. And nobody was mad at. Like, because I knew if I just quit people would be mad at me.
I would have to answer to a lot of people to coaches, to parents, to everything. So I was like, I got to get a way out of this. And that's kind of like where I was trying. I was like jumping up and down on my ankle, like trying to like hurt myself. And I remember being like, oh, that's not good. You know, like this is not good.
And then I. Balling. It was awful. And the meat just, it didn't go well because my brain wasn't in the right spot. And then it brought into the next one. And it's just a snowballing effect in that, in.
I'll be honest. And this is actually like, probably like good advice, but I did go see a sports psychologist. And he. Was, he was great. He was great. But there, he, we just, there was this one part, like there's one time that he made me like really uncomfortable. And I was like, no, I'm not doing this again.
You know, kind of a thing. And the, the, I mean, I think the thing with that is there's not a one size fits all. And if you don't like a therapist that you see. Does it mean that therapy is not for you? So I, it wasn't really that I didn't try. It was that I tried, it didn't work. So I assumed that I it's me.
It's not, it's not, there's nothing I can do. Like yeah, that's, that's kind of like how that journey went.
Or the second it took me one too. I went through, it was number four that where I found one that was like good for me. I had one and you know, what's crazy is every single therapist that I have worked with has taught me something that I've taken away from that, but it wasn't necessarily like the right fit.
There was one, I did have one that. So mean, he was so mean And he would just like, he would scream at me. If I asked a question and it was just, it was horrifying. And I was like, I can't, I cannot, however, he did teach me some of the things that are like maybe the most vital to my actual training.
And so I had to be in a space and I was a lot older. If that would've happened in high in college, I would've been like Nick, like I'm done goodbye. So I was really lucky that it was when I was a little bit older because I had to take the good, the good, and then take that with me and say, okay, this is what I learned from that.
That was actually a positive experience overall. Now let's find somebody that's a little bit more aligned with my communication.
The thing, the thing that's hard about that is I don't think that there's a logical, like they hit like this checklist, this chef list, this checklist. But something that I think in general in life that we need to learn how to do is like really just like trust, like our gut and trust our heart. Like how.
How do they make us feel when they're asking us questions and do we feel inspired when they give us suggestions? Do we feel bigger or do we feel smaller? And really just asking ourselves, like, how do, how does this person make me feel when they're giving me advice and how do they make me feel when they're hearing my questions?
Because. The biggest thing is one of the people that I saw, it, it wasn't that I didn't like him. I actually really did like him as a person, like a lot, a lot, a lot, but his stuff didn't inspire me. I wasn't like it didn't resonate with me. And it was almost kind of, I felt like it was my issue. It was kind of like.
Just do it kind of a thing. And I was like, oh, okay. You know another one, you know, I told you, I mentioned like the questions you would ask me, just like made me just feel a little uncomfortable. And then my, the third option that I tried, like, it was just like, I cried a lot after meeting as like a grownup, as like a grown person.
I cried, I cried. I would just start crying afterwards. And so now bill, the person that I'm working with. Anytime that I'm feeling doubtful, or I have a question or even he'll, he'll give me some advice and then I'll kind of question him about it. Like, well, what about X, Y, and Z? You know, he's very like, oh, you know, there's some science behind this that shows our brain that are dah, dah, dah, and it can help with, you know, and he gives me like, he, he actually has a conversation with me.
He makes me feel really good. He makes me feel inspired and he gives me nuggets. Okay. Oh, like I can do that. I can use that. I can bring that to the table. And he also allows me to solve a lot of my own problems as well. So I love it.
I think that's super helpful because how somebody makes you feel at the end of the day is, is just such an important life lesson, right? Whether it's your friends or like your family, your sports psychologists, you know, Yeah, your coach. It's so important to kind of recognize that. And I'm not saying nobody should be pushing you.
Of course we all need to be pushed and challenged, but there's a difference between being pushed and challenged and somebody really like, kind of tearing you down or making you feel bad about yourself. So let's talk a little bit about that because I, a lot of young women that are part of our community, unfortunately, are dealing with abusive coaches or coaches that tell them that are telling them that they're not good enough.
And that leads to a lot of young girls leaving feeling, feeling bad about themselves, or even just like, you know, anxiety
In their sports. What advice do you
have for girls that might be in a situation like that, where their coaches not telling them that they're not good enough or they're just in the bad coaching athlete relationship.
Yeah. I guess. It's hard. So I've had a lot of coaches in my career, I think I had 11 coaches in college. There was just a lot of turnover at Utah state while I was there. And I was really lucky because I did have a lot of really incredible. But I also have had coaches. I mean, I was in maybe potentially the best shape of my life.
And I made a mistake during one of my runs one run, one, run, one wrong mistake. And a coach, one of the assistant coaches was like, sorry, cause I wanted to run this like really fast pace. And he's like, you can't run that fast. Sorry. You're not fast enough. And. It crushed me like crazily. It crushed me, even though I knew I was in the best shape, I knew I could run it.
And all of a sudden I found myself running slow way, slower waist, lower waste over. And the best thing that my sports psychologist bill told me, cause I let him know that that was like really a big problem for me. He asked me, he said, who controls your sport? Does, does your coach control your story?
Or do you control your story and. We had done a little bit of work after that, where I was the one who wrote my story out and what I wanted it to be, and that I was in charge of it. And so he kind of brought me back to the fact that like we as athletes and human beings are the ones ultimately in control of our thoughts and feelings.
Now it's not as simple as you're in control. Go do it. Like there are steps that you can take to get to that point, but like, I hope you know, that. You that you are the one that's in control of your story? I had a coach once that didn't have us do a ton of workouts. And so I would go do workouts just a little bit extra stuff.
Like we never did like core exercises. We never worked on upper body strength. And so I would spend a little bit of extra time just doing it myself and. Thought process behind that was, I'm going to give myself an advantage that my teammates don't have. A lot of times when it's a negative situation, cause that happens all the time to everybody.
There's always something that's going to come up. That's a little bit negative. If we can find a way to overcome it. With the mental realization that we are in control, it actually becomes like a really empowering situation. I've had a coach who actually my coach now I am so lucky. She's a two-time Olympian.
She's absolutely incredible. Sometimes as an Olympian as a heptathlete herself heptathletes are very Projectionists. Like we want to do everything right. Every single time. How dare we not do it perfectly right now? And she's like that too, because she's, I have to athlete. I'm one of the best in the world.
And so sometimes I'll find her over coaching me during competitions and I, at one time, I literally, I was in the middle of a run and she started coaching me while I was in the middle of a run, a mess me up so bad. And I came up to her and I put my hand on her shoulder and I'm saying, I got it. I, and I just had to communicate to her.
I just said, like, there are times where I do need your feedback. And there are times like when I'm in the middle of something where I don't and I said, oh, you know, we had a conversation that was a little bit better than that, but a lot of. With communication with your coach. Like you can always try to communicate you know something that's like really cool is I have really incredible parents, but when I wanted to move to England and pursue track and field more, they told me no, they didn't support that when I wanted to be a professional heptathlete they told me no, they didn't support that.
And now, you know, they're like, thank goodness you didn't listen to us. Were so awesome. They you know, they go everywhere with me and they, they support me so much, but sometimes you have to understand that at the end of the day, you control.
I really love that. So if a girl wants, you know, is listening to this episode right now and wants to kind of follow that exercise, like how did they get started?
I think the best way is get out a piece of paper and start writing down goals that you don't even think. Maybe dreams, not goals. Start writing down dreams that you just like. If this happened right now in this moment, you would just start bursting into tears because you wouldn't believe it. You wouldn't believe you were capable of doing it.
Start writing those down. Those are the dreams that I, that, that you write down. And the next thing that I want you to do is start making little goals, like little steps to going towards them. That second that's step two and then step three. Try to think of things that might be in your way that you might need to overcome.
Maybe your five, six. And so it's a lot of the heptathletes that you compete against are six feet. Maybe it's that you don't have access to like a really amazing track. Maybe it's that there's no coaches in your area. Start writing down a list of things that are not things that are going to stop you from doing it, but maybe obstacles in your way.
And then after you do those three things, your dreams, your goals, and your obstacles start making a plan. Of what your story looks like and how you're going to make it happen. And if you start doing that, you are the creator of your life. You're going to start seeing it come through for you more than you possibly.
I love that so much. I am a big fan of, I mean, obviously it's why we started named the company voice in sport. Like we really believe like using your voice, even if it's like writing it down for yourself is just like such an important therapeutic tool to really envisioning like your future. In sport or even after sports.
So I love that you shared that. I can't wait for the girls in our community to do that. I want to talk a little bit about, like what made you decide to go to university of bath in England? I mean, you were very successful there. You became the 2018 British outdoor champion and broke a record a three decade old record in the process, which is pretty incredible.
So what were some of the. The biggest challenges and obstacles that you ran into as being, you know, a student athlete overseas. And what advice would you give to girls if they're considering to do that shift, you know, midway through or at the end of their university.
I actually highly recommend any girls that are maybe not ready to go pro yet. But they want to keep going. I would highly. To find a university overseas that can help you that can help you continued on the journey because you can still go to college. I got my master's degree in one year and trained while doing that.
And it was such a great experience. I obviously improved, I got better. I put almost 200 points on to my score. And It was. So it was just such a great fun experience too. And you get to hang out with the athletes overseas. I chose to go to an English speaking country. There's you can go to Australia, you can go to New Zealand, you can go to Ireland, Scotland in England, all over.
I used a program called team Gleason. L E a S that helps me kind of find the school that I wanted to go to. And it was, it was a super cool experience. I absolutely loved it. But when it comes to, you know, like the mental training aspect, that wasn't something that I actually learned until I came back to the states because I was the British champion.
I have got to tell you that. 10 times maybe during that competition, I threw a personal best in the, in the javelin came back to my little shadow where like my little tent, where everything was and just cried until my next event. Like I was sobbing through long jump, doing great by the way, like competing.
Great. And. Crying bawling my eyes out. I got done with the heptathlon. I got like the score. I needed to get all of that. And I was sobbing, but not from happiness. I was exhausted from crying through the entire meat and just having anxiety. And like, it was almost like I was just relieved that it was over.
And then I got to be like, yay. I did it. But it was just, I was so grateful. That like when I came back in 2019, like that's when I really started working hard on that. And you know, the three pieces of advice, the dream big, the write down your goals write down your obstacles. I am actually super excited because I take mental training and mental fitness so seriously because of how much it helped me really just enjoy my sport again, that this summer I'm actually going to be coming out with a mental training program.
And I'm really excited about it. But but yes, it was, I mean, I was so stressed that entire competition and now, I mean, even when, even if I don't do my very best in competition, like I had a competition last week and I did not do that bad. I'll be honest. I did actually pretty decent, but I didn't do that, that good either.
And. I was like having fun. I had a good time. I learned a lot. I absorbed what I needed to learn and I wasn't just stressed the whole time. Shaking, crying, not enjoying it. I was there being like, this is so fun. I love track and field and I never thought I was going to be able to do that. And that's why I created the program was I wanted to help girls.
Oh, well, I can't wait to see your program. I'm sure it's going to be amazing because I think I've heard you say before, but in your sport, it's first to show last to go. So you're there for a really long time. And so you have to bring it inside a little bit and be really mentally strong. So I'm so excited to see that I'm sure it's going to help so many girls when it's ready, let us know.
We'll share it with our community. That's and let's talk about, you know, I guess what you learned when you did come back to the United States and started taking your mental performance a bit more serious, what did that look like for you? You know, cause I think it still scares a lot of young girls who don't really know.
Well, what does it mean to kind of go get, get support and think about mental health, just like my physical health. So for you, what, what did that journey look like?
and what kind of practices do you put into your week now as a professional athlete that helps you keep that level of importance on your mental side?
Just like you have on your physical.
I think that's a really good question and super important to talk about because it all started actually with my, my last panic attack. That's where my mental health. Started was in 2019. It was indoor championships. And again, I was doing great sitting in metal position. I was in silver metal position, easily silver medal position with.
One of my best events coming up, which was the long jump at the time, and I was ready to go, but I was just in the middle of a full blown panic attack. I actually had completely blacked out and had like tunnel vision. I remember there was, this girl came up to me and was like, are you okay? And I was like, where are you?
Like, I didn't even know like where she was. Like, it was just it was so bad. I ended up pulling my hamstring just because my body had seized up so much. And. There I was not finishing the 800 because I pulled my hamstring, letting myself down once again. And I was in New York and my parents were there just trying to be supportive.
And I looked them in the eyes and I was like, I'm not going to do this anymore. And I, I think they didn't know like what I was talking about at the time. Like they weren't sure, like, are you gonna read, like, are you retiring? Like, what are you doing? And I said, I'm going to go home and I'm going to figure it out.
How to be mentally tougher, like I'm going to figure this out. So when I went home, the first step, the first step was asking myself and also asking everybody around me, why do I have this? Like, why is this happening? And I ask why, why, why, why, why to everybody. And that is when I ultimately came to that conclusion that I talked to the, that I talked at the beginning of that.
I'm putting my value on my sport as a human, like putting my value as a human, onto my performance in sport. And once I did that, I realized like, well, that's odd. What a weird thing to do, like realistically, like I ask myself, do I believe I'm a good person, even if I don't do well in track. And the answer is yes, I absolutely.
So then I had my next competition and I promised myself no matter what, you are not allowed to care how you do, you were only allowed to have fun doing what you do. And I will tell you I did very that right away. I didn't do too bad in hurdles, but high jump was like a personal worst. I cleared my opening height and then did nothing else.
After that shop, it was a mess. It was so bad and the 200 was okay, but it wasn't really that good. And I didn't care. I honestly was just, I kept shrugging my shoulders. I was like, oh, well like, oh, well like, oh, well, and the next day, interestingly enough I did, I think almost, almost at that time personal best day to day.
And It was just awesome because I had so much fun and I got done with the event and I was like, my score is terrible, but I feel great, you know, and that was the first time I didn't have a panic attack my entire career during a heptathlon or pentathlon. And it was game changing because my very next step Teflon was USA's where I took third and qualified for my first world change.
With no anxiety, just a little nerves. You know, nerves are good. Nerves are great. Got excited, but no panic attacks, no blacking out, no shortness of breath where I like literally couldn't even handle life. During that competition. And the rest is kind of history.
So it sounds like a lot of that work was like internal work about your value. And where does that value come from and does that, did all of that conversation pretty much start and start working with the sport? Just for you. I mean, I know you said you talked to a lot of different friends, family, it says to ask like the why and it kind of then reverted back to you.
But then I'm assuming it took some time. Kind of reset your mindset as you head into the competitions. And I'm sure that wasn't just like a light switch, right? Like you have to prep practice every day, every week. Mental health, just like physical health. So what are some of the things that you do now to like, keep that mindset that you're talking about and ensuring that, that value isn't just placed on your performance.
Yeah. So the interesting thing that I have found with my own personal mental health is there are things that are just like a light switch and then there, but the thing is the light doesn't stay on forever. So that's why it is continued. You, you know, and some things are. Some things are huge, huge unpacking.
A big one for me was detaching my value as a person, to my performance personally. That was huge for me. Another super big one has been like like basically. Building my own personal resilience, which that is, I talk about that in my program as well. And it allows me to kind of be braver and working on my bravery.
That's that was like a really big one for me too. And then there are also little things just like writing down. The best parts of your training that have been like dimmers that get a little brighter as you do them a little bit over time and training journals might be light switches for other people.
And detaching your value might be a little bit of a dimmer. It just kind of depends, and it's not a one size fits all. And So important to continue doing work because as you continue doing work, you continue to learn things. So there are specific things that you do that you learn and you keep doing them over and over and over.
And then there's things that you continue to learn and you grow and you get more mentally fit as it goes. So. Yes. And no, yes, there are light switch moments, but even the light switch moments need to be readjusted because there've been times even I found that in 2019 and it had to come back a bunch of times where I had to remind myself that you are.
Your sport. So it's a big one for me. I keep continuously having to make that light switch work. And I mean, I do so many different things. Like I do a lot of visualization. I do a lot of breath work. I do a lot of resilience building and journaling and meditation and talking to my sports psychologist and I have like another sports psychologist that helps me with my subconscious energy.
There's a lot of really amazing things that I love doing that is so good for me. I love training on the track and getting better at all of my events and I love training my mind and getting better at all different new tools that I have.
I love that. So now, like a typical week in your life of like, as a professional athlete, are you blocking out sort of like those training moments for your mental health? Just as much as you are like for your physical moments on the.
Definitely. I mean, I do breath work 40 minutes a day, 20 in the.
morning and 20 at night. And that is very extreme and I totally understand that, but it's just one part of my. I also spend up to my longest training day is nine and a half hours, which people still think, wow, that's a lot.
But the, at the end of the day, like 40 minutes, nine and a half hours, like there's still a lot of stuff that I'm doing mentally. Like I'm making sure that I'm bringing, you know, like my training journal to the track with me and keeping it by me so that if I get like an incredible aha moment of writing it down if I want to work through something I worked through.
Making sure that I'm giving, you know, as much effort to my mind as possible. That's that's that's really like the biggest thing. It's sometimes little things like putting notes to remind myself that I am you're, you're amazing, you know, like little, little things like that and training your subconscious mind to, to have the confidence that it needs to do, what it needs to do.
There's a lot. There's a lot of stuff that goes into it, but it's all the thing is, is it can all be so fun and it doesn't have to be a chore either. Just like training for your event is fun. Training to becoming like more mentally tough is actually.
I love it. It's so important. And I think one of, one of the last topics I just want to talk about is perfectionism. I mean, you already kind of called it out as like one of the things that a lot of heptathletes. But I think in general, a lot of collegiate women athletes face this pressure of being perfect, right?
Whether that's like being really good on the field or in the, on the track and good at sports and they're, you know, being a good friend and it just like this constant surrounding of like perfectionism and. What I hear a lot from our girls in our community is they feel a lot of pressure to be perfect.
So how do you as a heptathlete, as one who already sort of has that, you know, in your sport already, how do you, what advice, I guess, do you have for the girls out there that might be facing sort of this perfectionism right now in their experience in college? And what advice would you give them?
So I'm actually going to do something that is a little weird instead to kind of like help them. It's a, it's a huge thing. I actually, this is something that I do teach in my course that our, my experience that I do, but I'm going to kind of give you guys like a little bit of like a fun thing. So I want you to try to get, get up, take a pen.
If you're listening to this, now take a pen and a piece of paper and we'll wait, or like you can push pause while you get that. And what I want you to do is get a pen, get a piece of paper, and I want you to. Pretend that you're signing your name in you. Just write your signature, write your signature the way that you practice it.
Just write it. Like somebody asks you for your autograph. Go ahead and write your signature down. Nice and smooth. Just go do it. The second thing that I want you to do after you've written your signature down is I want you to completely take your time, take your time, but I need you to copy that signature.
Exactly the same. So take your pen, take your time completely. But I needed to look exactly these exact same as that signature, like identical do not let it be any different, but take it again. Take your complete time. Like you don't need to rush it, but make it look the exact same. I'm doing the same.
That's why I'm kind of mumbling right now. Cause I'm doing it. I'm doing it. All right. And then under that, go ahead and just write your signal.
One more time. And what I want you to do is I want you to compare the three and I want you to pick the two that look the most alike. And what you're going to notice is that the two that look the most alike, even though they're not exactly the same exactly right. Is the F the first one and the third one where you're just letting go and you're just doing what you know, and you're doing.
Writing your signature. You're not trying to make your signature look perfect. You're not trying to make it look a specific type of way. They were just being you. And you're just writing your signature. And what you might not understand is that if you're just willing to be yourself, Just be who you are.
That's actually going to be pretty freaking perfect enough, and you're going to be able to recreate it more and more. Whereas if you're trying to be the perfect version of yourself, it's going to look a lot messier because you're trying way too hard. You already have all the sauce. You need to be the person that you want to be.
I love that it's such a great, such a great way to demonstrate perfectionism and how it can be a total constrictor to not just
like your creativity, your existence and your performance. So I love that exercise. Okay. I can't wait to see what else you have in your training. That's coming up. So when is that going to launch? When can we expect to see it?
So I believe that we're going to be launching it in July, I believe. And so I'll give you all of the details as soon as possible. Hopefully I'll be able to send you. A little sneak peek of it so that you can like look into it as we get going. I'm so excited for it. I think it's going to be, I've been working really, really hard.
Honestly, it was when I started putting it together. It was really just for myself, trying to get all of the things that I wanted to do to like mentally train. I was kind of creating a mental training program for myself and I really. This has helped to be so much love my sport. Like I it's made me love my sport again, and that is the biggest joy that I could have had.
And so I mean, it's made me mentally tougher. It's made me more resilient and it's made me, you know, a better athlete in general. And at the, at the end of the day, like it's made me truly loved competing and I never thought I was going to be able to say that I always thought I was going to like, do better.
But then just hate it the whole time. Like I did it in, in a bath, like in England, like just it, this is the worst I did good, good job. But no, hate it. Like, that's what I thought my life was like, you'll just you'll do well, but it's just always going to be miserable. And now I look forward to competitions I'm I love them.
They're they're really fun. So I I'm so excited. I'm so excited to share it. Hopefully it can help people the way that it.
Oh, that's exciting. Well, it's so full circle and I really appreciate you sharing and being so vulnerable about your experience because I know it will just help so many young girls. So thank you. And as we like to do an end with is are two questions that we ask all of our guests. So what is one single piece of advice that you would tell a younger girl in sports?
If you are anything like me I want to tell you that you have value and you have love And you have joy and you are a good person. You show up, you work hard. And so as a person, as a daughter, as a friend, and even as an adult, Your performance does not dictate the value of any of those things. What dictates the value is how you show up for the people around you, how you show up for yourself and the work ethic that you're willing to put forth.
Are you really giving everything all you have and having fun and helping others to have fun along.
I love that. And you know, the sport of the sport that you're in. The heptathlete world. It's pretty small. I'm assuming there's not that many athletes, you know, around the world. So what is one thing that you would like to see change for the future of women's sports in general or for your sports specifically?
Yeah, I think the biggest thing I would love to see change is probably body comparison and body image for sure. In female sport. It's so interesting because I had a really severe eating disorder when I was younger. And even in college, you know, I D I would, I wouldn't say that I had an eating disorder because I didn't have disordered eating, but I.
Judge my body constantly, and I hated it. Oh man. I hated that I wasn't fit. And you know, like 0% body fat and it seemed that there were people who were, and oh man, I just hated it. I hated it. I hated it. And you know, what's so crazy. Is it how much it got in the way of my performance? Because I was so worried about what my body looked like, that I wasn't focused on what it could actually.
And I've talked about this before a lot. I talk about this a lot on my social media, but our bodies aren't statues. They don't just like sit there and they're just not like there to look at their machines. Like they have to move and they have to jump and they have to throw and you need to fuel your machine in a way that helps you perform better.
And that was actually honestly the way that I beat my own personal eating disorders. I was too, I was too invested in getting. That I stopped worrying about looking better. And that was like the biggest thing for me. And in college, I do wish that I would have focused more on how do I eat so that I can perform better, not how do I eat so that I can look better.
That was the biggest thing for me.
Well, this is going to be something we'll have to die. On the voice and sport Shari Hawkins episode number two because this is a huge
and an important topic that we're trying to help so many young girls with. So I look forward to having you on again and thank you so much
for, for today's conversation and happy global running day.
I know this is so fun and I'm so grateful to be here and grateful to be able to, to talk to these girls and to hopefully help them follow their passions and their dreams and make them.
Amazing. Thank you.
This week’s episode was produced and edited by VIS Creator Zosia Bulhak, a track and cross country athlete from the University of Houston.
Chari’s journey with mental health is so inspiring. She reminds us that we are never alone when experiencing performance anxiety or depression, and that these are things that we can work on and improve over time.
Even when others tell us that we are not fast or strong enough, it is up to us to believe in our worth and chase after our dreams to fulfill our full potential in sports and beyond.
So thankful that Chari shared her story with us today, on Global Running Day. We are very excited to see the incredible things she will achieve in sport and in advocating for mental health in the future.
You can follow Chari on instagram at @_charihawkins.
Head on to FEED on VOICEINSPORT and filter by “JOURNEY” or by “RUNNING” and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources we have at VIS. Check out the sessions page and filter by Sports Psychologist or Professional Athlete to sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with our VIS League or VIS Experts. Please click on the SHARE button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might enjoy the conversation.
You might also want to check out other episodes featuring amazing heptathletes like episode number 73 with Annie Kunz.
See you next week on the VOICEINSPORT podcast.
Host: Stef Strack
Producer: Zosia Bulhak
On Global Running Day, professional heptathlete Chari Hawkins, the 2022 USA Indoor Champion in the heptathlon shares her journey with sports and mental health.