News19 Mar 2020

In the midst of uncertainty, Taylor making time to share hope


Christian Taylor in Monaco (© Philippe Fitte)

It doesn't take long for Christian Taylor to adjust to his immediate circumstances or surroundings. If it did, he wouldn't have battled his way to four world triple jump titles and back-to-back Olympic gold.

Like most of us, he's been forced to recalibrate his regular day-to-day routine - finding new places to train, modifying his schedule, maintaining his motivation and keeping his morale high as the spread of the new coronavirus continues to hold its grip on the planet.

"Our training has had to change, as many athletes use collegiate or public facilities to conduct their workouts, but now these locations have been shut down," he said.

For Taylor, who is based in Jacksonville, Florida, that meant the track and training facilities at the University of North Florida which has locked its doors for at least two weeks. 

"We have found hills, fields, beaches, bridges, and a place to lift weights. (Coronavirus) has allowed us to be a bit more creative and get in the necessary training while keeping ourselves and others safe.”

Taylor said he’s managing to adjust to the uncertainties surrounding sport and life as best he can.

“The competition schedule continues being pushed back and no one has an idea when the outdoor season will begin,” he said. That has forced modifications to his training. “Due to the uncertainty of the schedule, the planning of peaking and recovery has changed a bit. But the daily effort and attention to detail remain the same.”

And for the moment, his motivation remains.

“I am very motivated as this is an Olympic year and I will treat it as such until I am told differently. My coach and I are preparing for the Olympic trials and do what we need to do to simulate a competition environment while at practice to substitute the missed competitions.”

He admits though that athletes he’s been in touch with are finding it difficult to keep up their spirits.

“The morale of training groups all over seems to be in a puzzled state,” he said. “Every group wonders what tomorrow will bring. What ban will come or be lifted? Who may become ill in their group and put others at risk? Or, wondering if their coach has properly prepared for this situation.”

In the meantime, he’s accentuating the positive.

“In times like these, I try to focus on the opportunities as opposed to the negatives. How can I adapt and adjust to put myself in the best position to succeed? This is both on and off the track.”

Taylor’s made time to share his optimistic attitude, along with a bit of hope, through Classroom Champions, a programme that uses a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum and mentorship programs to improve engagement, build growth mindsets, and inspire positive classroom culture by matching Olympians and Paralympians with classrooms from low-income primary schools across the United States.

“The programme is using the online platform to encourage and motivate kids in this time of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty.” Taylor said. “Athlete mentors are sharing their stories of the uncertain times they have gone through and explain how we must all work through adversity and persevere, by focusing on the importance of obtaining the right state of mind.”

The mentorship programmes integrate goal setting, leadership, and community involvement into the respective local curriculums. It helps train teachers, develop athletes as mentors and aims to engage families in the conversation as well.

Founded by Olympic bobsled gold medallist Steve Mesler, and education researcher Leigh Parise in 2009, the programme has since entered partnerships with 1,803 schools. Results have been noteworthy: 83 percent of teachers have reported that the initiative has helped improve students' grades; 85 percent reported improved student attendance, and 93 percent said that being a part of the programme has made them more engaged in their work.

“This organisation is very close to my heart and I am extremely passionate about helping and inspiring the next generation,” Taylor said.

“Though I don’t have the same eyes on me in training, I can use social media or live chats to share positivity and a bit of hope. There is great power in hope. We will all get through this and can hopefully learn from it.”

Bob Ramsak for World Athletics