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Why Mindfulness Matters with Kendra Harrison

The 100m hurdle world record holder shares how she remains mentally strong and healthy during a crisis.

2020 should have been a year of redemption for Kendra “Keni” Harrison. Having missed out on the Rio Olympics in 2016 and then beating the world record just two weeks later, this year’s Olympics in Tokyo were supposed to be hers.

While the title has to wait, the US hurdler is far from giving up on her plans. With a mindset of optimism and faith, she’s making the most of the time made available to her and staying confident in her priorities during this crisis.

Waiting four years for this event, I felt this couldn’t be happening…

Representing my country this year meant the world for me. I was ready, a lot more mature and my country was rooting for me. When I heard that the 2020 Olympics were going to be postponed, I was very upset as I felt I was finally going to be able to achieve my goals, but once I let it sink in I realized that this pandemic is serious and that our health is more important. It’s difficult for everyone.

As a very structured person, the uncertainty made it hard for me to stay focused at first. It was important to realize things are going to happen and it’s okay. You have to keep a positive mind, know that things are going to get better and find people who want to get the best out of their lives.

Getting back up after defeat…

Not making the Olympic team in 2016 was the most challenging moment of my career. I was faced with so much disappointment and sadness, the feeling of letting my country, my coach and myself down.

I let the outside world get the best of me, and I started thinking things that I don’t normally think about. That’s why it was so important to have my family, friends and coach around.

You have to have a group of people who go with you through the ups and downs to build your confidence back up. Those people will show you how to believe and trust in yourself.

Coming back, the most valuable piece of advice came from my coach who said, “Turn your brain off”. For me, that means in training I put in the hard work and I think, but when I compete, my body already knows what to do.

Routine is important, but we need to be flexible, too…

Having parents who both come from the military, I know the importance of setting goals and having strict routines to get things done. But I also know the importance of taking time to myself, whether that’s writing in my journals, lounging around on my couch or catching up on some shows.

Especially in times of crisis, it’s important to find things that you enjoy and make the most of your time. Do the small things that make you a better athlete and a better person.

I stay mentally healthy by having my best friend and training partner Jenna Prandini around me. For my physical health, I’m doing what my coach wants me to do to keep in shape, but I also need to stay flexible during this time and do things around the house and unwind. It’s important to both trust the plan but also have the confidence to adapt, because we have to do whatever it takes to get back up.

Stay positive, the future is bright…

I stay positive thanks to my faith and support system. Having a strong group of family and friends – together with my coach – gives me all the confidence I need. They know what to say to get me to think positive.

Find people who are positive. Being mentally strong means not listening to the doubters, setting goals and going after them.

Sometimes, you have to stay in your bubble and make the most of the situation. Things are going to get better and you should take the time to become the best person you can be for yourself and for others, so that when life gets back to normal, you’ll be ready.