In for the long haul

Shannon Reynolds was identified at the age of 14 as having the potential to make the Australian women’s Olympic kayaking team.

Reynolds was discovered through the National Talent Identification Program, a scheme run through the Australian Sports Commission aimed at discovering future athletes.

As a sprint kayaker, Reynolds was examined on her physical attributes matching the needs of the expanding sport.

“They identified me through my arm span, height, body mass and other attributes in terms of having the potential to go well in the sport,” Reynolds said.

“There was other tests I had to complete as well, but this was where it all started.”

As a high performing athlete, Reynolds, 22, is part of the Western Australian Institute of Sport program for kayaking.

She has spent the past eight years dedicated to achieving Olympic selection for the Australian women’s kayak team.

Her next opportunity will be the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Where most of us would be curled up inside the warmth of our blankets, Reynolds is on the river training at 5am.

“I train 13 times a week, seven on water, three gyms sessions and three crossfit sessions,” she said.

“The crossfit sessions include boxing, running and crossfit in a heat chamber where it’s meant to work as altitude training.

“Throughout the day I’m at uni, and work as a first aid officer at a local high school.”

But the road to selection has not been easy, with Reynolds missing out on selection for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

“Kayaking is a combination of strength, skill and strategy,” Reynolds said.

“You can be faced with any conditions on the day, for example a headwind and have to know how to deal with it.

“You can do everything right, and sometimes it’s just what you’re faced with on the day.”

Years of training and dedication can often lead to one race, where only the athletes who perform on the day make the cut.

Associate Professor in the school of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University Daniel Gucciardi, said an athlete’s mental toughness was “incredibly important” in overcoming setbacks or failures within their given sport.

Dr Gucciardi defined mental toughness as a personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of personal goals despite everyday challenges and significant adversities that athletes may face.

Perth sport psychologist and performance coach Cameron Norsworthy said an athlete’s resilience to setbacks was both a physical and mental requirement.

“The athlete’s resilience to setbacks can also be a mix of confidence, and the ability to manage the mind and emotions whilst under pressure,” he said.

After trials for Rio in 2016, Reynolds took the time to reassess her goals and stay in Perth to focus on university.

She changed her training regime, and started at a new gym which focused on core strength instead of lifting heavy weights.

“You just have to pick yourself back up, and believe in what you’re trying to achieve,” Reynolds said.

“I have a lot of support both from my family, Ramon Anderson my coach and from everyone who works at WAIS,

“You do it because it’s your passion.”

Out of the water, Reynolds is working with WAIS dieticians, nutritionists, a sport psychologist and a physiologist.

“I’m weighed weekly, and get skin folds every two weeks,” she said.

“Weight and nutrition is always important in sport as it’s linked to your performance.

“However, with the constant skinfolds and weighing it can definitely affect your own self-image and can leave me feeling down about not being the right weight I need to be.”

Former athlete and national swimmer Emma Regolini, who trained eight pool sessions, two circuit sessions and three gym sessions in a week understands the pressure placed on athletes to be a certain size.

“There is definitely pressure to conform to an image in sport,” she said.

“The image of an athlete being skinny, fit and healthy is obviously ideal but we all have different body types.

“Some athletes are naturally thin, whilst others are bigger or more muscular- we’re all different.”

Ms Regolini who at the age of 20 left the swimming world behind, still believes further education about body image would benefit younger female athletes.

“Constantly comparing yourself to other athletes and their body types does nothing for you,” Regolini said.

“You can train harder than everyone else, eat better and do longer sessions than your competitors but it still won’t change your body type, and this is something you just have to accept.”

Former WAIS kayaker Phoebe George said competitive sport gave her a different outlook on her own self-image.

“I think that sport offers a different perspective on body image,” George said.

“I was able to focus on building muscle and increasing efficiency which is higher muscle mass to lower body fat rather than my friends who didn’t do sport and felt the pressure to be thin.”

WAIS psychologist Adrian Schonfeld said he appreciated that many athletes felt differently about skinfolds than other measurements.

“The people who take the skinfolds are trained to be sensitive about it, but many athletes still feel pretty uncomfortable,” he said.

“It’s an outcome measurement which is meant to reflect the balance between training load and nutritional intake.”

Mr Schonfeld said assessors explain to athletes that skinfolds are just another measurement, similar to measuring other physiological and biomechanical aspects of performance.

“All athletes are able to consult with a psychologist if they need any assistance,” he said.

“In some sports, they have conducted specific group workshops on dealing with body image in sport.

“More generally it really is the meaning that someone attaches to the number that has an impact.”

Reynolds, who has sacrificed a lot toward achieving her goals, said the competitive lifestyle could also be overwhelming and at times isolating.

“That’s why we have the sport psychologists,” she said.

“I think it’s really good to be able to see a psych, and we’re so lucky to have them available to us as athletes.

“It’s important to know why you’re feeling a certain way, and how to deal with things.”

Trips interstate and overseas are just a basic part of Reynolds’ life as she races against the world’s best kayakers.

In June, Reynolds will train for a month in Italy before racing in Romania.

 In 2019, Reynolds will begin her campaign for Olympic selection for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Photography by Niamh Guy 

Categories: Sport

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