Paralympian Vanessa Low on how to cope when plans abruptly change

What has your training as an athlete taught you about mental resilience?

“When I cross paths with complete strangers, they will never look and me and think to themselves ‘Wow, this girl has been given an incredible opportunity’. No, the first thing that comes to their mind is the incredible adversity, hardship and challenges I must have been through.

“But somehow, when standing on top of a podium after a successful competition, even though all these strangers are still looking at the same person with the same physical challenge, with the same smile and the same heart, they first and foremost sense a story written by empowerment.

“The empowerment I have given myself over the disempowerment that a physical loss such as mine is seen to bring into one’s life. It is through my achievements in sport that I get perceived and judged by the things I have done, the life I have created for myself, worked for, believed in and fought for, and not by the circumstances that I found myself in, but the cards I have been given in life.

“Paralympic sports enable people to understand that we, as humans, aren’t what happens to us, the circumstances we find ourselves in, but the courage we show, the actions we take, the responsibility we take over our own lives. Somehow sports help people to imagine the incredible opportunities we all have, instead of focussing on our personal boundaries.

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“And that is probably the number one lesson I have learned being an athlete — most boundaries and limitations are in our minds, rarely ever do we access our full potential without expanding our minds to new ways and new possibilities. No athlete ever succeeded going by the textbook, we all need to find our own personal edge, our own little superpower, to live our life to the fullest and be the person we are capable of being.”

What are your favourite ways to practise mindfulness, especially in hard times?

“I love my morning routine; it sets me up for a mindful and intentional day.

“I love starting my day with seven minutes of heart coherence breathing/ meditation. It helps me to look inwards and feel into my heart. I then get my little journal out to write down things I’m grateful for, remind myself of my values, purpose and goals and set intentions for the day that will help me feel aligned with those values.

“I truly believe finding happiness is having a clear sight of your values, knowing what’s important to you, and aligning your day-to-day actions to those core values.”

Do you have any tips for maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle?

“I believe the key to a healthy and balanced lifestyle is intention.

“It’s not about weighing your food and saying no to every pleasure, but it is about being intentional about your choices, priorities and constantly reviewing your purpose, goals and vision.

“It’s knowing what you get up for in the morning, and then creating small little goals every single day that will bring you closer, while staying open to change, and understanding that balance requires some form of discipline while also allowing yourself to have fun and create space for enjoyment and pleasure.

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“The right balance can sometimes be hard to find. Being an athlete, sport takes up a huge amount of your life – it’s not just the training but also getting the right amount of sleep and rest in general, nourishing our body with healthy and wholesome food, and sometimes being on the road for 26 out of 52 weeks.

“When I prepare for a major competition, discipline is key, and athletics takes the first second and third priority on my list. But during all those times in between I make sure that I devote plenty of time towards my loved ones, have dessert once in a while, and go to that birthday party.

“Balance is a fluent state; constantly reprioritising and being intentional about our day-to-day actions and choices.”


This article was originally published on A Girl In Progress. All images courtesy Vanessa Low/Instagram.