As someone who has spent much of her life working towards structured goals in sport, Paralympian Madison de Rozario has been adjusting to a whole new world of uncertainty.
Like many athletes in Australia and around the world, de Rozario’s dreams of Tokyo 2020 were taken from her in an instant. It was a shock at first, de Rozario admits, and it took a toll on her mental health.
It was the unknown that created the most anxiety for de Rozario, who says she felt relieved when the Paralympics were rescheduled with a new starting date of August 2021. But with more than a year to go until that becomes reality, de Rozario is focusing on the smaller details to help get her through.
“My performance team has been a little concerned about the monotony that comes with training from home, with no events or goals to train towards,” she told Women’s Agenda. “We’ve been trying to focus on smaller details so we’re still working towards something and seeing results.
“It’s just been a matter of shifting focus and priorities over the last few months, creating our own structure rather than relying on the one the race calendar usually provides.”
Recent research from Allianz revealed that just over two-thirds of Australians believe Olympians and Paralympians should speak up about mental health. It’s something de Rozario wants to be more conscious about as we all move through the uncertain waters of a global pandemic.
“I’m being more conscious about speaking out when I’m feeling down and talking to those around me about what I need in day-to-day life and while competing,” she says.
de Rozario, who made her Paralympic debut more than a decade ago as the youngest athlete on the 2008 Australian Paralympic team, is attuned to facing challenges head-on. She says she takes this same head-on approach when it comes to her own mental health. Being vulnerable and embracing the idea of mental, not just physical, strength is also really important.
“It’s definitely something that I learned through sport, but it’s also something I try very hard to apply to the rest of my life,” she says. “It can be really confronting, but I think it’s something that every single one of us needs to be doing and supporting others to do.”
de Rozario is one Australia’s best athletes. She is the reigning women’s 800m T53 world champion and has no less than 10 World Championships medals under her belt. She’s won three silver Paralympic medals and in 2018, she became the first Australian to win the elite women’s wheelchair race at the London Marathon.
Competing on the world stage has always been an intense experience for de Rozario, one that makes her feel fulfilled but also fearful.
“It’s drives me more than anything but also a feeling that terrifies me to think about,” de Rozario says.
“It’s an absolute privilege to put on the green and gold and to have an entire nation backing you, but it’s also a lot of pressure. A lot of self-inflicted pressure, admittedly, but you definitely feel like you’re out there on the track and the road representing more than just yourself. There is definitely a lot of fear that accompanies that.”
Self awareness is key for de Rozario, who finds her own self-criticism can easily go unchecked if she lets it.
“Myself and so many others spent so much time being critical. What if it’s not enough? What if everything that I have in me for this race, what if it just isn’t enough?
“Once you have this awareness around who you are and what you need and what you struggle with, you’re really able to demand the things that you need to make that a space where you’re able to thrive.”
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