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Episode #29

READY. mindSET. GO.

with Colleen Quigley

30 Nov, 2020 · Track and Field

Colleen Quigley, Professional Runner and Olympian, shares her incredible journey navigating the mental side of sport. Colleen discusses the power of journaling, meditation, and therapy in sport and beyond.

Transcript

(background music starts)

Stef

Welcome to the voice and sport podcast. I'm your host, Stef Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport. As an athlete, professional, and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now, I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. At Voice In Sport, we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all, to keep playing and change more than just the game.

 Today's guest is Colleen Quigley, a professional runner for Bowerman Track Club, Olympian and a former Division I student athlete from Florida state University. Today, Colleen shares her journey in sport. She grew up in a family of athletes and like many of us had a fork in the road moment in high school, where she had to make a decision about pursuing modeling or track and field.

 Spoiler alert... She picked track and field in high school and went on to win an NCAA championship title and capture nine NCAA All-American titles. But what you might not know is that Coleen did all of this without much focus on her mental health. In this episode, we dive deep into her mental health journey, which began just three years ago and has impacted her life in unimaginable ways. So, if you are one of those female athletes that might not take your mental training as serious as your physical training, then this episode is a must-listen. 

 Colleen discusses the power of meditation, journaling, and meeting with a therapist to take advantage of the powerful techniques of talk therapy, brain spotting, and don't worry, she's going to break all those down for us here today!

Working on her mental health has helped her deal with so many devastating disappointments while also helping her see that she is more than just an athlete. I am so incredibly excited for you all to hear this amazing conversation. Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast, Colleen!

(background music stops)

Colleen

Yeah, it's awesome to be here. I'm excited to talk about high school/ college Colleen. Those were good times. So, I'm excited to talk to you about it!

Stef

And it's so important because those times are so formative and it's often those times where we don't ask for help and we need the most help during those moments. So, we're appreciative of you joining us and being open to talk about your experiences.

Colleen

I'm an open book. You can ask me anything.

Stef

Well, that's what we're trying to do,  change the stigma around mental health.

The first step is just to talk about things. So, you know, it's really unfortunate with what's happening around the world right now with the pandemic. But, some of the recent stats have come out around mental health that are pretty shocking, that we wanted to kind of kick this session off with today.

So, since the pandemic about 40% of Americans have experienced a mental or behavioral health condition related to the coronavirus pandemic. So, the issue of mental health has sort of been there, but it's been exacerbated by what we're going through now. And, if you look to college level and then specifically female athletes, those numbers and those stats get even more staggering.

And so, it's why we wanted to have a conversation with you, one of the most respected and thoughtful runners in the industry about just this topic that we don't often talk about. Right now, the stats show that 25% of college students in general have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for mental health conditions within the past year. So, it's a prevalent concern, and we're here to just bring some light to what it really means to be a female athlete, in high school and college.  

Colleen

And, I will say to those 25% is how many people are seeing someone and talking about and getting treated. But, I'm sure if you were able to figure out the number of people who were struggling, including the ones who didn't reach out for help, that number would be even higher. 

Stef

Absolutely one of the things we want to talk about today is  how do you ask for help?  

Colleen

Or sometimes you ask for it, but you still don't get it. So, it's not necessarily their fault either, but I think the numbers would be even higher if you got to count everyone, who's struggling, period which is hard to count because: how do you measure someone who hasn't been able to see somebody? But, it's a real thing.

Stef

So, let's start with your journey then. Walk us through your journey with mental health, and I know you've played other sports growing up when you started. So, let's talk about that first.

Colleen

Yeah. So when I started seeing my mental coach, who I see now, a lot of things that we talk about are not changing who I am now, but rather getting back to my true self. And so, kind of thinking about who was I when I started being an athlete, and what words come to mind or what feeling comes to mind when you think about who I was then.

And, the words of being light and free and having fun and laughing and having it be a sense of play, those things all came up for me. And so, back then when I was, in  grade school, middle school, high school, I actually was dancing. So, I spent a long time in dance and soccer.

I was actually homeschooled, but I played soccer with the school near me, and I was in a non competitive dance studio. Did a little bit of a great school track, but actually Didn't like it that much.  

(laughs)  

It was not love at first sight, but I loved dancing and I loved being part of the soccer team and just having the joy with it. I didn't even like competition that much. I just liked going to practice and being with my teammates and moving my body and sweating and being part of a team and being part of a class if it was dance class or whatever, being part of a community. I think that was the part that I really loved more than anything else.

Stef

Yeah. And, it wasn't until later in your high school career that you were recruited for college for running. right.  

Colleen

Yeah, funny enough. So, I kind of come from a family of runners. My mom and dad both ran marathons back in their day, neither of them in college actually, but after college. And, my older brother ran in high school, ran in college, and actually ran pro for a couple of years. So, he was really good.

And, eventually I got caught by the running bug, but it wasn't until high school that I even got started in running. And, I just never imagined myself going to college for running. That was never a goal or a dream, that was not what I was working towards.

I was so much in the moment of high school and just what I was doing. And, maybe that's just as a high school athlete, your world is your bubble.  

(laughs)

You know, you can't think about it outside of your bubble, but I wasn't concerned with it. And, I was actually doing some modeling in high school. And so, my thought was that, "Oh, maybe well graduated high school," and this is what people were telling me too. And so I think my perception or my thought of what I was going to do next was probably shaped a lot by people around me telling me that's, what I should do: go to New York and get an apartment, and start working full time as a model instead of traveling while I was in high school and missing school to go to New York and go to shoots or travel to Mexico or wherever to do shoots, and instead, I would just not do the school part. And, I would just be a model full time.  

(laughs)

And, I was like, "That sounds pretty  fun." Then, the offers for colleges. Starting to come in. And, I was like, "Huh, maybe I should go over here."

 I kinda had a big fork in the road moment where I had to decide what I truly wanted to do, not what people were telling me I should do or anything like that. And, luckily my parents, they were not trying to tell me what to do. They were great. they were letting me decide what to do, but I did have to make a big decision. And, I chose running because I just knew that the things that I did as an athlete in high school, I had this feeling of like, I did that. I worked so hard. I sacrificed more than any of my teammates did in high school. I took it way more seriously than my teammates did. I went home early from prom. I missed graduation altogether.

I made so many sacrifices and then I did it. I achieved it. I won a state title, I won 2 state titles. And, it was like, I was so proud of that, whereas what I did as a model was really fun, but I didn't have that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

And so, yeah, at that point I decided to take a scholarship and I went to Florida State university and competed for the Noles for four years. I had a badass female coach who recruited me and I hitched my horse to her wagon. And, I was like, I'm just going to do that for four years, and it ended up being the best decision I ever made. it was so much fun. And I had an amazing experience in college.

Stef

I love that you had an amazing female coach because there's not enough of them. We need more women in those head coaching roles in college. But, she must've saw something special in you because you ended up winning the NCAA Division I title for the 3000 meter steeplechase your last year, which is really incredible for someone who was in high school thinking, "You know, I don't know. Maybe I'll do modeling. Maybe I'll do sport. I don't know."  

(laughs) 

So, I want to talk a little bit about, then the mindset  when you did make that decision to go division one. Did you change your mindset at that moment? Were you working on yoga or meditation that early in your work?

Colleen

Not at all. I think one of the big things, as far as mental health and everything that changed for me from high school to college was in high school, I always had this feeling of I just never felt like I fit in anywhere. My cross country and track team, they were great, but we didn't hang out outside of practice.

I had a couple of good friends, but I didn't have like a group of best friends. And, I always just had that nagging feeling of being left out or just not being cool enough or not being in the "in group" and, never having a clique. And, that always irked me. And, then finally, I got to college and I found this group of women who loved running as much as I did and took it as seriously as I did. And I just instantly connected with them and it was easy and fun, and everyone was really great teammates. 

And so, the mental side of it,  I didn't really have to work at it. The problems that I had in high school mentally, just kind of, they weren't a problem anymore because I had a support system around me. I had friends that I could be my true, genuine self with, and that was so great. And, I was like, "Whoa, this is awesome!" And, I think that having a good support system in my coach helped me flourish as an athlete.

You can't be who you want to be as an athlete, if you're struggling with something else in your free time. And so, when that kind of got taken care of, I was just free to do my homework and run, recover, and sleep and travel and compete. So, it wasn't as much work, but I still wasn't actively trying to work on my mental health. And, I didn't actually do that until --I graduated in 2015,-- and I didn't start meditating or doing breathwork or focusing on my mental health until 2017, which is kind of embarrassing to say now that it can be so long to figure it out.  

(laughs) 

Stef

All through high school, all through college, -- just wanna get the records straight here,-- you actually didn't really think about the mental side?  

Colleen

No. Didn't think about it. I think at that time it was, if I had a bad race or a bad workout, I always just attributed that to problems with my body. Like my legs felt heavy, my breathing, I just felt exhausted, it was physical. It was 100% physical. And, I always thought when people said stuff about like, "Oh, she's a headcase," or this is mental about other people or about themselves or whatever, I was always just like, "That's bogus." 

I just didn't believe it. Just naive and it just wasn't part of the conversation. It wasn't something that my teammates were talking about. It wasn't something my coaches ever talked about and I had some great coaches and I don't know, it's just not something that anyone was talking about.

Stef

I find that so interesting because, you know, you're on an amazing team and you love that you had this group of women. I played division one soccer, had a great group of women, but I feel like we never talked about any of these things. And, I actually had injuries that I dealt with in college.    And so, I was going through some stuff mentally because I wasn't on the field with the rest of my team.

 And yet, I didn't reach out. I never went to the sports psych that was available to me. And, it's a big regret. And, it's interesting because when you get to college, that's another one of these crazy stats that's out there right now:  48% of college female athletes actually are dealing with anxiety and depression.

 So, we talked about the 25% earlier, but this is almost double. It's a really big portion of female athletes, yet still it doesn't seem like it's okay to talk about it. And that's what  I want to change.  Now that you're older, and you've graduated, and you're a pro, and you look back at your time in college, do you ever talk to any of your old teammates and were they going through things and they didn't talk about it then, but they talk about it now?

Colleen

Yeah, actually. And, I know that she'd be okay with me sharing this because now she has a website and a mentorship program all about RED-S. But, one of my teammates in college, Pippa Woolven, she's British, and she was dealing with some eating disorder issues in college, and she's super open about it now.

And, she's actually so healed that now she wants to help other girls who are going through the same thing, which is so cool. But, she recently, earlier this fall reached out to me. I hadn't talked to her in so long, and she reached out to say, "Hey, I've been wanting to reach out to you because, you kind of tried to help me when I was dealing with this stuff."

And, it didn't end well.  She was stuck in this really bad place and I wanted to help, but I didn't know how to help her in a way that she could receive it. And so, we clashed because of that. But, she came back and she was like, "I know that you were trying to help me and that you were looking out for me. And, I just, I couldn't see it. I wasn't ready. I was struggling or whatever." 

And yeah, it's so common and there's so many different roots of the problem of being unhappy, but it ate away a lot of her life because she didn't get the help that she needed. And I'm not trying to blame anyone in this situation, but she was failed. She did not get the support that she needed. And, I just think that happens a lot and now she knows better, but she's done a lot of work now to make it better. 

Stef

I think a lot of girls are in a similar situation, what advice would you give them to reach out to their teammates and help? So, if you've seen a girl that might be struggling, how do you see her and then truly approach her in a way that's going to help?

Colleen

Yeah, it's so hard because I did know that she was struggling and something wasn't right. But, there's so much going on in college. Constantly, you're studying and maybe you have other extracurricular things. I was in some honor society group and this other leadership thing, and then I've got running, and you're going to the weight room. There's just literally so many things that eat up your time in college.

So, it's important. You have to make that a priority both for yourself, but also for your teammates. And, it looks different in every scenario I think coming at it the same way for everyone is not realistic because people just have different personalities and respond to things differently.

And, that's actually something that I learned when I was trying to be a captain my senior year. The way that I was trying to lead the team was not the way that some of the girls on the team wanted to be led, and it didn't work. It was not a good result. And, I actually ended up stepping down as captain my senior year because my coach and I both felt that it wasn't working.

And, I've learned a lot since then about that interpersonal kind of relationship part where you have to meet someone where they are. And, you can't come at them with like, "I know what you need and I'm going to help you." They're just not there yet.  That could be for so many things that they're struggling with, not just an eating disorder or whatever, but meeting them where they are and giving them the support that they're asking for.

And not necessarily pushing your own agenda onto them. I think that's one of the best things that you can do as a teammate and as a friend for someone, if you see them struggling.

Stef

I think it's such great advice. And, I know that you had the best intentions, like all leaders do, but it's sometimes hard to put yourself in their shoes. How are they going to receive it? Are they ready to receive it? But testing and trying different ways is great, don't give up on your girl friends. Just try to take a step back and reflect, "Okay. How did I approach her that time? And maybe I should try something different than this time."

Colleen

Yeah. Or find a way to come at her through someone else. Maybe she can't hear it from you, but if you can get to someone else who loves her and supports her, another part of her support system who has a different way and a different relationship with her, maybe. you can go at it that way too, whether that's like an assistant coach that she really trusts or something, and you can confide in them and say, "Hey, I'm worried about so and so because of this, maybe you could talk to her." Maybe it just can't come from you sometimes. 

For Pippa, it probably just never could have come from me no matter how many times it went at her, it just was not going to work. She just needed to hear it from someone else and that's fine. And then you just have to put your pride aside and be like, "I can't be the right person for everyone. That's okay."

Stef

It's a great learning moment for life too. So, when you look back at your college career and see what other girls on your team went through, and how you approached your performance on the track and off the track, what advice would you give to other young girls that are in the college years and  want to perform well, but they're balancing so many things. What would your advice to those girls be to make it through college? Just knowing that there is that high rate of depression and anxiety.

Colleen

There's so much pressure that comes with being a collegiate athlete that sometimes you get lost in everything and you forget why you started doing it in the first place. And, all of a sudden it becomes something that you have to do, like your job, and it feels stressful and high pressure.

And yeah, you're going to have pressure. But, you have to figure out how to keep it fun and keep it light. And that maybe just means eliminating anything that you can identify that sucks the fun out of it for you, and it's going to be different for everyone.  Maybe you're the one that's making it not fun for you. And what do you have to do? Maybe you have to talk to someone about it and figure out how to do that and figure out how to change your mindset about it so that you're not putting so much pressure on yourself and taking the fun out, or, maybe it's the way that someone's talking to you, maybe it's the way that your coach is talking to you. I had one confrontation moment with my coach in college because she came at me in a way that I just didn't like. She was angry and I was already angry at myself. And so, I said something to her

like, "You don't need to talk to me like that. I'm already talking to myself like that." And she was like, "Oh, okay. Roger that."  

(laughs)  

And, she never did that to me anymore. And, that's a sign of a good coach too, that she listened and she changed the way that she was speaking to me. You're not going to be able to change everything, but if you can identify and make a list of things that take the fun out of it and then try and go through and eliminate those things, it hopefully will help you just bring joy back into it again. And, that will just take the pressure off and make it more fun.

Stef

So, let's keep talking about pressure because in 2015, your last year in college, you won the NCAA championship, which is amazing.  In 2016, your first Olympic    year, you PRed at the Olympics. Let's talk about just how you approached, your mindset heading into those two moments. And what did you learn from those two events?

And, you know, I want to talk about in the moment, how you dealt with that pressure because I think that will help a lot of girls. But, then I want to talk about post Olympics because, I don't know if you've seen The Weight Of Gold, but there is this discussion in that movie about how 80% of athletes feel this post-Olympic blues after these events that lead to a lot of mental health concerns. So, I'd love to know how you felt after your experience at the Olympics. 

Colleen

So I think one thing that kind of answers all of that is the idea that I am more than an athlete. I am more than a runner. And so, what that means for me is when I get on the starting line, Am I feeling nervous because I'm excited about the opportunity, and I know that I've worked really hard and that I can do big things if it all goes well, and I care about what I'm doing and I'm feeling nervous because of that? That's good; that's positive nerves. If I'm feeling nervous because I feel like my whole life rides on this race, and if I don't make the Olympic team today, I'm less valuable as a human being and people won't like me and, I'll be so embarrassed and I will have less value as human if I don't win this medal. That's bad nerves; that is not helpful and not true. And so, I think getting myself  to a place that I know that I am a whole human, I am a daughter, a sister, and a friend, and a teammate, and I love to dance, and I love to run, and I love to be creative. I like to write and draw.

And, I like to have coffee with my friend. I just do other things other than running that are also valuable. My whole life does not depend on my success as a runner. I'm still valuable human being outside of that. And so, I think that helps with the nerves and helps deal with a high pressure situation.

It also helps when things are over whether they go well or whether they don't go well, because actually this whole Weight Of Gold thing is it actually doesn't matter how well you do at the Olympics. That is not an indicator of how you feel afterwards. There are plenty of Olympians who have metals who still commit suicide because they've got the metal and guess what?

It didn't fix them. It didn't make them happy. It didn't make them feel fulfilled. And so then it's even worse, right? Cause they're like, I did what I wanted to do and I did what I've been working for my whole life to do, and I'm still empty because I was ignoring the real problem of not feeling like I was full of worth outside of my sport. And so, the metal is never going to fix that unless you really identify what's underneath. And then, If you don't get the result you want, then you also feel, so it's a lose-lose. If you don't solve the real problem, it's a lose-lose situation. So for me, it's always I have to stay in that place where I know I am more than an athlete and what I'm doing here is super fun and I love it. And, I want to be able to show my true potential and I want to work really hard and see what I can do.

But at the end of the day, it's letting go of the result because if I do everything that I can, and I do all the workouts, and I do the mental preparation and I give it my all, then I'm happy with whatever happens, knowing that I did everything. And at that point, it's just a piece of metal. It doesn't matter.  Everything that you need is inside you, all the satisfaction. you already have it. And so, that's hopefully the point that I feel like I'm at now. And I, want to make sure that no matter what happens going forward, I have to stay in that place.

Stef

Well, it's pretty powerful coming from you because you've been at the top of, the NCAA championships and you've been to the Olympic games and you're a hopeful for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. so thank you for sharing that.

I want to talk about it though, when you can't perform. How do you deal with that? How do you stay mentally engaged when you can't perform? Because, I know a lot of girls are going through that right now with missing their seasons and school and sports being canceled, but you also had a moment in 2017 at the world championships, where you weren't able to participate.

So, walk us through what happened there, and how did you stay mentally engaged?

Colleen

Yeah. So I've had a lot of moments where I couldn't perform, most of them have come from injury. I've had a lot of injuries as a pro, but this particular time I actually was not injured. I was kind of at the top of my game that summer, I had just started meditating. That was in 2017. I found what I was calling my "secret weapon." But anyway, so I was running really well, but there was an incident in the prelim at World Championships in London that summer where my pinky toe stepped on the white line on the side of the track, the line that differentiates the field of play from "not the field of play."

And when you are in the steeplechase, you go over the water pit on the inside of the track, and then you have to kind of take a little turn to get back onto the regular part of the track. And so, there's usually a rail on the inside of the track, but right after the steeple pit, there's no rail and there's just cones set up. And so, it turns out that one of the cones had been moved off of the line a little bit, maybe someone knocked it or a photographer had it, or something. It was nudged off the line. And, I was coming off the water pit with a bunch of other women, it was a tactical race, and I was running behind some people, and I didn't find out until later that, I had been disqualified because my pinky toe stepped on that white line and it was literally my pinky toe.  

There's really nothing else to say other than it was a mistake, and it happens. And, if it had happened anywhere else besides London, the officials there are extremely strict, and they were disqualifying athletes left and right that summer, I was not the only victim And, so that was it. That was the end of my world championships experience. I was not allowed to compete in the final. And, I was watching the final from the stands as my team USA teammates got the gold and silver medal, which has never been done in history of the United States track and field women's steeplechase, never been done. And yeah, I was in the stands with my boyfriend, bawling my eyes out. It was really hard to watch because I felt like I could have been there. I could have been in it. 

And while, I would say it's a little bit easier maybe now, for athletes who -- nobody can compete. So maybe they're not feeling left out as much. That's the only thing that I felt like was a bonus about the pandemic was like, we're all in this together. You know, an injury is so hard because you've had that experience of watching your teammates do what you love without you  But at least with this, it was like, nobody's competing and everyone's bummed out together. So at least, you have a sense of community. But, during that time, and during the times I was injured, I think the biggest thing was it was a challenge:  how much do you love this? And you could drop it right now. You could turn away, and leave it, and never come back again.  that is truly an option. And, how much do you value what you're doing? For the injury, are you willing to do the rehab and do the work and do the cross training that's so boring in order to get back to where you were again?

 And, I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say, it's going to be fun or easy because it's not.

(laughs)

But if it's going to be worth it, then you've gotta do it. You got to go to PT and you've got to get in the pool and do your laps or whatever. Or for that, like it sucks, but I know that the training that I did and what I did to prepare for this, I know that's possible now. I know that it's in me. And so, as soon as I was sad and I had that disappointment, as soon as I finally let that go, then I was like, I gotta figure out my next opportunity, because I know that all that I did is still in me, and now I just got to find an opportunity to  show it and that's going to be,  even better now because I've been waiting for longer so that kept me motivated but it was it's hard.  And, every injury that I've had has been its own unique challenge, those are always very hard.

Stef

I think it's important, what you said though, like, take a moment to be okay with the fact that you are injured, and  it's okay to recognize this sucks, and cry a little bit.  

(laughs)

And, it's important to do that because if you try to just shy it off and be super strong all the time, it's going to hurt you in the end.

Colleen

There's good days and bad days with that too. Like sometimes  I call swimming my of time as a mermaid.  That makes it sound more fun and I'm going to the pool to be a mermaid. And sometimes I really, truly am like, "I'm going to go be a mermaid," and I have a good attitude about it. And sometimes, I'm like, "I gotta go be a freaking mermaid today. I hate it!"  

(laughs) 

Stef

So after the disappointment of the many injuries that you have had, or the 2017 World Championship, we've all been facing sort of this pause this moment of just like what's going to happen. And, we know that there was no trials that were supposed to be in July, And you're sort of waiting to see if you're going to be making the Olympic team for 2021. So, how has that affected you and what have you been doing differently now that you have sort of this longer period of time?  How do you approach it? Because I think a lot of girls, whether they're going to the Olympics or not, are sort of trying to think about:  how do I take this time to reflect, reset, take care of my body, but also stay in the game. So how do you do that?

Colleen

Yeah, there needs  to be still a sense of urgency, even though the timeline is longer. But, I think for me, I have had so many injuries, and the bummer with injury is not only is it like at the time it's a step back, but if it happens enough, it starts to cumulate. And so, now I've missed a lot of  training because of that. And, I can't get good momentum because I get good momentum and then I have to take a step back because of an injury, and then I build that up again. So, I just haven't had consistent training, month after month and year after year, the way that some of my teammates have been able to do. And so, I see myself with weaknesses in certain areas, because of that. 

And so, I kind of thought when I first heard that the Olympics are going to be postponed, I just immediately was like, "Stay healthy for another year and get that consistent training in for another year, That's a blessing in disguise for me.I bought myself a little bit more time, and if I can stay healthy and stay on my feet, I have plenty that I can work on through that next year. And so it was kinda like, "Well, it is what it is, so you're going to have to just take it or leave it." But I was like, "Well, I'm going to take this as a sign that I have things I need to still work on, and I'm definitely not going to be going backwards over the next year." So, I'm going to find different ways that I can push forward and become even better, fill in those gaps that I might've missed when I was injured over the last few years. So, I kind of have seen it like a blessing in disguise.

Stef

And so how did that intersect with the moment where you ended up asking for help and determining, "You know what? I want to take the mental side of my career and my journey in sport and really put more effort and time into that and you started working with a sports psych, Dr. Mando.  So, when was that moment and is that something that you're probably spending a bit more time on now leading up to the Olympics then maybe you were in the last couple of years?

Colleen

Yeah. So, I started meditating, like I said, in 2017. And then, it wasn't until 2019 that I realized that was only the beginning. That was creaking open the door a little bit, but not busting the door wide open. And, I got introduced to an awesome mental coach, Armando Gonzalez, aka Dr. Mondo, and he's in Sacramento, and I'm in Portland. So, we mostly just do FaceTime, and before the pandemic, I was just all over the place traveling six months out of the year. And so, it totally works for me that we just do most things virtually, and I meet up with them in person every now and again.

But, I decided I needed to up the mental training. And now, that I look back on it, I'm like, "Geez! I spend countless hours a week running and doing physical therapy and doing stretching. I do Pilates and some yoga, and I lift weights, and I do all these little rehab band exercises and glute stuff, and pre-run things and post run things.

 I spend so much time working on my body, and then it became obvious to me that if I did all of that, and then I got to the track on race day, and I couldn't squeeze every drop out of the orange because I just didn't come with the right mindset to do it, it would be such a waste of my time, to be working on everything, just to have my body primed and ready and useless because it wasn't ready to use the tool. And, that was all because I just didn't take the time to prepare myself mentally. And, it's no extra time, you know, working things on my body. And so it's not really exhausting the way that all those other things are.

In fact, I have these Normatec recovery sleeves, and they're these big things that fit on your legs and they blow up with air and they pressurize and they kind of give your legs a little flush. So, my routine is on time Tuesdays at two  o'clock, I put those on, and I FaceTime Dr. Mando for an hour. And, I'm lounging on my bed recovery while I'm working on my mental game. And, how amazing is that?! It's only an hour a week. A couple seconds is all you need, sometimes, between being your best and being just shy of that.

And, just having more fun with it too, coming to practice being excited to be challenged that day instead of dreading it, and just having more fun with what I do can be so dependent on my mindset going into it. So yeah, that's relatively a new thing for me only in the past, year and a half 

that I've started to work with it. 

Stef

I'm really excited to see how that changes your performance. It's going to be incredible to watch. So, you mentioned to me that there's a couple of different types of therapies that you're doing with Dr. Mando. One is narrative therapy, but also brainspotting. Can you tell us a little bit about those two techniques and how it benefited you? 

Colleen

So in our weekly sessions, it's kind of a normal talk therapy. And, then sometimes when we're talking, a pain point will come up, and Dr. Mando will identify, "Hmm, We might need to dig into that a little bit more." And so, at that point we would schedule a time or we can meet in person. You can do brainspotting over zoom and stuff, but I think it's probably more effective in person. 

But, the idea there is that you have a trauma, and trauma doesn't necessarily mean  you got into a car accident or you went to war or something. Trauma could be anything that's traumatic to you. It could be when your parents got divorced or when you've had that really bad injury, you tore your ACL:  that's trauma. Anything like that could be considered trauma. And so, the idea of brainspotting is you go in and he can identify and get you to identify where are you physically storing the trauma in your brain? And, he does that by you talk about it, you talk about the incident, what happened, and how you felt, and you put yourself in that position again, and get yourself to that emotional place where you're feeling it. And, when you do that, your eyes will go somewhere while you're talking about it. It's like all of a sudden you're talking about it and you're talking  to the right hand corner that's your spot.

And he's like, "Alright, that's where you're storing it. And so then, you can clear out that trauma, not so that you forget what happened but so that it doesn't hold that charge for you anymore.  When you talk about it, you don't feel  that tightness in your chest and your throat is closing and maybe you're feeling tears behind your eyes. And so, after you kind of work through it, it's, "Yeah, that happened to me. It was upsetting..." One of my things was the DQ in London. So it's like, "Yeah, that happened to me. I stepped on the line, I got disqualified. Doesn't make me a bad person or a bad athlete." 

And, it was hard for me to talk about it for a while, even just to tell an interviewer about what happened, I would get choked up and it would be really emotional. And now I can just be like, "Yeah, I mean, I'm not even trying to say it didn't suck, but it doesn't feel  Unbearable to me to talk about it or to think about it anymore. And so then, it doesn't hold me back anymore, and it doesn't bog me down anymore. And so, you can be lighter, and breathe deeper and just as be more truly yourself, 

Stef

All of those things -- if you address those traumas and you come face to face with them, whether that's through therapy, through the narrative work or the brainspotting, it gives you sort of that ability to move forward. And, I think that's going to help anybody on the field or on the track.  Okay, so not all of these girls in college and high school have the access to amazing sports psychs. But, what are some of the tools that you can pass on to these girls that they can start sort of doing  for the mental side of the game? Because you are part of one of the most elite group of women, at the Bowerman track club.

And,  it must be  pretty incredible to be around such powerful female athletes all the time. So, I'm sure you guys have passed around the tools. So, I'd love you to spill, a little bit for the girls. What could they be doing on their own?

Colleen

Yeah. I mean, you might not be ready to swing that door wide open and go talk to someone. And so, I think you start small, you start like I did. I started with a meditation app, so I wasn't just sitting there in the stillness with a timer on,  being like, "Am I doing this right?

I'm thinking about what I'm gonna buy at the grocery store later," and you're lost. Right? So the apps are great and there's a few of them. I've used Headspace and Calm; both are great. And, they guide you through meditation. So, it's great for beginners or for people who just aren't comfortable with that yet. So, that's a great tool.

 But also, journaling is a great way to just start opening up things for yourself. Just maybe, again, set a timer, but it's like, "Okay, for five minutes, maybe I'm gonna write about: What is holding me back from being happy in my sport?" And starting, to, like I said before, identifying those things that are making the sport not fun for you anymore, if you feel stuck in your sport. Just start writing things down or write down how you felt when you used to do your sport and we're having fun with it. What did that feel like? What did that look like? What were you doing? Who are you with? I think just writing things down that are in your head or in your heart to flesh it out. And, I always do it with pen and paper. I prefer that over typing. I think there's something more just opening and creative about putting pen to paper.

But, if you want to type it out if that's your thing, do that too. And I think just as simple, it's not even every day, but maybe once a week, you sit down and spend some time dumping your thoughts onto a page.

I think that can be really helpful, and it doesn't cost anything. Neither of those things cost anything.  

Stef

And, it's so important to also lean on each other, right?  I'm sure you see some of your teammates doing this and part of being on a team, like the Bowerman track club, is you guys have a lot of resources just within each other, just as teammates. I think that we never want girls to forget that, you have each other  and that's an important thing.

And I love what you said, I think it was another podcast, where you talked about iron sharpens iron. And, I just wanted to talk a little bit about that because I think this hits another area of mental health for a lot of young female athletes, which is confidence, and it can be sometimes hard when you're around other talented women who are also training at this high level to not compare yourself. And, I think unfortunately, within a lot of female athletes, this comparison can really take you down a deep dark path when it comes to body image eating disorders, and it's all kind of connected. 

So, I want you to share your experience of working and being so close with these other elite women and what that has taught you about  how do you have that internal dialogue around the confidence and, have you always been in a good headspace there, or have you had moments where you're like, "Ah, I'm comparing myself  

Colleen

Yes. I don't think there's anyone on our team, and we have a lot of confident, badass women on our team. anyone on our team could honestly say that they've never had moments of self doubt or caught themselves doing the comparison thing, even though at this point. we're pro athletes. We all know that comparison is the Devil. You can't do it, but you find yourself every once in a while still doing it, especially when you're feeling self conscious or you're feeling low in confidence for whatever reason, if you're having a bad day or if you've just came back from an injury and your back at practice, your self esteem is going to be  kind of wavering and you find yourself getting caught in the comparison trap. 

But, I think, being surrounded by so many amazing, talented athletes, it's so interesting to me because I can see that we're all very successful and we're all in the same sport and in very similar events in the same sport,  yet we all have different bodies and we all have different, specialties,  we all have different strengths. And so when you come into a practice, depends on what the workout is and whose  strength that plays into, who's going to be feeling really good that day, and who's going to be feeling a little bit, self-conscious or a little bit "Ooh, I'm doing speed today, and that's not really my strong suit. 

And, so, I'm going to be feeling a little bit threatened today or whatever, and even just recognizing that that's your thing. And, that it's maybe not going to be your day to shine. That can help you even just let go of the tension that that brings but knowing that you have your own strengths too. And even if that's not your strength, being able to be confident that you do have strengths and identifying clearly what those are can help you let go because you're not going to be good at everything, no matter what you do.

And so, I know for me, I like speed days. I don't like long runs and I don't like tempos.  

(laughs)  

But, there are plenty of people on my team who are very good at that. And, I just follow them around the track as long as I can.  

(laughs) 

Stef

I think it's a great message though, to send also. You know, you're at the top, you're one of the most elite runners in the US, you're talking about how you have strengths and weaknesses, and we're all going to have that.  In any team, there's going to be that dynamic and it's kind of how you approach it with your mindset, in order to get through it in a positive way.

So thank you for sharing  And so, I was wondering a little bit if that's why you started Fast Braid Friday, because I know that you care deeply about helping young girls in the sport of running, but did that have something to do with starting Fast Braid Friday and maybe share a little bit about that?

Colleen

Yeah, Fast Braid Friday started as a fun thing, but now just because of the reaction to it and how people really responded  you know, I braid my hair too, and posting their photos and having that be a connector. I was like, "Whoa. Yeah, it is a connector and this is way more powerful than just braiding your hair.

We have a community going now and people are cheering for each other, through braids. It became more meaningful, than I ever planned or thought it could be. I think it just goes to show how hungry girls are for that connection, for that community.

Like there, they were just ripe and ready to accept that. we have this thing now, and we're in the braid game together. And so, it became so much more because I think there was a need for it to be more.

Stef

I agree. That's why we started Voice In Sport. The community aspect is so important for sport and these young girls don't get enough support. So, I love that you're doing Fast Braid Friday and that you're super open to talking about your mental health journey. And I think it's just so important. It's unbelievable that you really just started to get into this and you've been so successful prior to not focusing on mental health. And now, I feel like this is going to be a game changer for you,  and it's also exciting for your future outside of sport. I love that you're now starting this new startup,  which is exciting to talk about a cheat code. And, that's gonna help so many amazing athletes now leading up to the Olympics, but also after.

So, what was the impetus of starting that new company?

Colleen

Yeah. So, Dr. Mando invited me to be a part of it. And, I was so glad that he did, and probably three or four years ago, you would have been like, "That chick is not the right chick to start a mental health  company."  

(laughs)  

But, things have changed. And,  we have two components to it:  Cheat Code for Elite Athletes is one part and it's a concierge mental health service. But then, there's a cheat code foundation; that's for those who either are in underserved communities who have real trauma and don't get the access to mental health services that they need.

And then, a whole other side project that I have, that's close to my heart, is helping Olympic athletes who aren't  making millions of dollars to, support themselves, and don't have funds to spend on  mental health services that can be pretty expensive, but they need real help.  Olympic athletes are struggling a lot with mental health, and then they either don't have access to the help or they've asked for it. In the documentary there's athletes who have asked for it and they're not taking it seriously.

 You know, if you say "My leg is broken," you'll get care right away. And it's very serious. But, if you say like "My heart is broken" or "My brain is broken," they're like, "We'll figure it out eventually."  

(laughs)

There's just not that same sense of urgency in finding a solution, but it's equally as important to you as a person but also to your success as an athlete. So, we're going to hope to try to make a dent on that and just in general help as many people as we can learn basically what I've learned over the past couple of years, about how important it is to treat your mental health as seriously as you treat your physical health. 

Stef

Oh, it's so important.  I'm excited to see you creating that and leading up to the Olympics, how many athletes that will help. So let's end our podcast on two questions.  The first one is: what is one thing you would like to see change for the future of women's sports?

Colleen

I want to see more female coaches. In general, there's only one that I can think of who coaches pro women, in track and field. It's just not common. And then of course, in the NCAA, there's a few, there's the woman who coached me who actually doesn't coach anymore, but they're just not as common. And, interestingly enough, they never coach the full team. It's always like they're the women's coach. They go to the women's team. You never see women head coaches. We need more females in athletics and leadership positions. For sure.

Stef

I couldn't agree more, and I could see a future for you as a coach at some point too.

(laughs)

Colleen

I actually don't want to be a coach, but I would be interested in getting into sports broadcasting, or something in media, which is also underrepresented for women. So, you know, there's a lot of areas where we need to be more involved.

Stef

Yes, there is. And so, the last question: what is one single piece of advice you would tell your younger self as a girl in sport?

Colleen

Keep it fun. Even in high school, I think I got a little too stressed out about running sometimes and just realizing that it's supposed to be fun. And so, if you're not having fun, you have to figure out why and address that because at the end of the day, that's why we do sport. And again, if you didn't have fun and you get the metal, guess what? It still wasn't fun. So, what are you doing?  

(laughs)

You have to keep it fun when you have to figure out what it is, that's stopping you from having fun.

Stef

And so,  because this whole episode is about mental health, would you have a piece of advice for a younger version of you on mental health?

Colleen

Yeah, I think just being open to exploring the possibility that maybe your performance is affected by your mindset.  There have been times a few times in high school, and a couple of times since then, where I've gotten so panicked in a workout that I get this hyperventilating, panic attack in a workout.

(background music starts)

And it's like, It's running, you know. At the end of the day, it is literally just running. This is not life or death. It's not rocket science, you are literally running.  At that point, you are overthinking it, Colleen, you were totally overthinking it. I think I just never let myself even imagine that that affected me. And now it just seems so obvious, but, I would encourage anyone who's young in sport to just consider it. 

Stef

Great message.  We are so excited to see what you're going to do in the next year, leading up to the Olympics, and we're always here for you. So, thanks for joining us.

Colleen

Thank you, you guys are doing amazing things. I'm really excited to watch Voice In Sport grow, doing incredible things for young women. So, I'm happy and proud to be a part of it. 

Stef

Thank you so much, Colleen, for the great conversation, mental health is so incredibly important, especially right now during the pandemic, we are isolated in distance from many of the comforts that usually help us cope with stress, including many of our teammates. Colleen reminded us that we must always take care of our mental health.

Just as much as our physical health. When we do that, we stay in the game for longer. As Colleen mentioned at the end, there is still so much work to be done in the sports world. We need to see more women in head coaching positions, not just in running, but in all sports. We also want to see more women in GM roles, CEO positions, and leading media coverage in the sports industry.

At VIS, it's our mission to bring more visibility to female athletes, and we need more female leaders in the sports industry to help us get there. And so we invite you to join us, leave us a review, subscribe, share our podcast with your friends to show support. If you're a female athlete, 13 to 22, we'd love to have you join the community.

When you sign up, you have access to exclusive content, mentorship from amazing female athletes like Coleen, and advocacy tools to help drive change. We appreciate you so much, Colleen, for raising your voice in today's episode. You can follow Colleen on Instagram at steeple underscore squiggles, and of course, check out her Fast Braid Fridays.

You can find us always on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok @voiceinsport. And we hope to see you next week at the Voice In Sport podcast!

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creator™ Anya Miller 

Colleen Quigley, Professional Runner and Olympian, shares her incredible journey navigating the mental side of sport. Colleen discusses the power of journaling, meditation, and therapy in sport and beyond.