The Feature Post: Kara Lang

Hello and welcome to everyone’s favorite day of the week – Saturday! This of course means that it’s time to settle in and get comfortable with your favorite Saturday past-time, The Saturday Post. As you know, this day features a bit more of a unique spin on the training, nutrition, fat loss, and motivation you get here the rest of the week. Today won’t disappoint you I’m sure, as I am happy to bring you a story on Canadian Olympian Kara Lang. I think those that read here regularly know that I have an attitude of absolute inclusion. We are all members of the same team in our interests of our sport, and the sharing of the knowledge that is specific to it. As such, our nationality is of no importance. With that in mind, this is a story about a Canadian Olympian yes, but the real story is who she is.

I’m going to give you a little background for context, but this will not be biographical in nature. The real essence of this story is going to be about Kara as an athlete and a person. I’m fascinated with those that I consider to be in that top percentile when it comes to athletics in any capacity. I’m intrigued with the intangibles that make these people who they are and what it is that makes them so unique. What is it exactly that makes them tick?

The reason I’m excited to have the purely coincidental option to do this story is because during the 2008 Olympics, I watched the Canadian Women’s Olympic soccer team quite a bit. They had that feel of a team that was going to do some damage, and as a result received a fair amount of the country’s support. You know that something that those teams have that draws the casual fans interest? They had that something.

One of the players on the team who’s style of play I was drawn to was Kara’s. She had this fire and desire that only the great possess. It was obvious even to a soccer watching newbie like myself. I mean I get soccer, but in truth I haven’t watched enough of it to understand all of the nuances. I know all the rules and what it is I’m watching, and the strategy of any sport is fairly easy to get, but the game within the game stuff – it would be fair to say that part would be lost on me. So when someone can get my attention under those circumstances, they had to have that something, and Kara did.

The coincidence part that led me to write this is the fact that we live close to each other. I see Kara around occasionally, and that set the mental gears in motion for me to make this possible. Kara answered a bunch of questions at my request, but this won’t be an interview. I’ll be using that information to shape this story, because as I said the essence of this is to understand what it is that makes her the person she is. Of course I’ll be lucky to get an understanding of only a very small part, but I’m hoping that may be what it is that I’m looking for. Here’s hoping for the best! On with the story.

Her childhood sounded typical enough in that she obviously was very devoted to to the game of soccer, and of course had great parents that supported her in every way in that regard. They also apparently instilled a strong work ethic. From a very young age Kara understood that anything was possible, but only if she put the work in. By her own account she more than put the work in, but I’ll elaborate on that when I talk about her training and her views on that particular subject.

She describes herself as competitive from a young age, which seems likely if you have ever witnessed her play. The games she played as a child didn’t matter, only winning them did. Whether it was playing basketball with her brother, or hide and seek with her friends – she had to win. She claims it comes from a certain level of innate determination and competitiveness, and goes as far as to call her own competitive drive as probably being annoying to her childhood friends. In her own words, ‘I always wanted to be the best’.

What I found interesting about her description of her youth was her childhood dreams. Kara said she always dreamt of being an Olympian as long as she can remember. That is a pretty specific dream on one level, and a general one on another. Most kids dream of being a specific something, like a firefighter or an astronaut. Kara’s dream was a bit more general in that she wanted to be an Olympian, but an Olympic what?

Kara said it wasn’t until she began traveling in the US while playing in tournaments that she realized that it would be soccer that took her onto that Olympic stage. This again is that point I get hung up on – she wasn’t sure which vehicle would take her to the show, she just knew she was going. Kara lived her life until that point not knowing what would propel her to the place she knew was her destiny, but knew full well that something would. I make this point a few times because it was this first clue, the first of many, that helped me begin to understand what it was regarding that something that she had.

Another more tangible element to her character is her overt patriotism. Some people have it, and some people don’t. Kara became aware of her own on the soccer pitch. Knowing you have always wanted to represent your country in the Olympics is obviously a link to that pride one would have to have inside for one’s own country, but it took the game of soccer to awaken it for Kara. She explains that it felt good to beat American soccer teams in their own country, as the teams she was on were often the only Canadian teams in the tournaments. At those moments she knew she wanted to represent Canada one day. Patriotism seems to go hand in hand with Olympians for obvious reasons, and makes a lot of sense in this case given Kara’s dream of becoming an Olympic athlete.

By her own admission she is a determined person, and I think that kind of goes without saying when someone devotes as much of themselves to a singular goal. Kara never talked a lot about her goals or intentions growing up, which is a trait among those that are successful. There are talkers and there are doers. There are dreamers and there are those that make their dreams a reality. I’m paraphrasing here, but she explained it to me in words to the effect of it being just the way that she is wired.

From what I can understand there really isn’t any considering or rationalizing or weighing of the pros and cons when there is a goal on her horizon. There is just doing what is necessary to get to that goal. An example of this that I found really amusing was a moment that she explained happened when she was in high school. She decided in grade 10 she was moving to Vancouver to train with the National team. This was a decision she made on her own without consulting her parents. She got off the phone with the coach and let her parents know what was happening. Obviously she must have had very supportive parents in order for this to have taken place. That has surely factored into her development as the person she is, but still that drive and focus was obviously well honed even at this relatively early stage.

There is of course the other side of the coin that comes with an early life devoted to her passion. Living away from home for ten years, either at school or with the National team was both likely amazing, and probably lonely at times. It would have been hard to maintain close relationships when the only time she had during the course of a year was Christmas and a few days during the summer. When Kara did get time she liked to spend it with her family and friends.

Not going to the prom, or graduating with her class is another one of those moments that she didn’t get to experience. She was focused on preparing for the World Cup at that time, and the thought of prom or school was probably far from her mind. Kara did get memories that could be considered even more valuable if such things can be measured, as her time with her teammates is something that she cherishes and would not trade for anything.

One of the things I’m always interested in is an athlete’s relationship with their training. An athlete trains specifically for functional enhancement. The program that any athlete in any sport would follow is tailored to them with the express intent of making them better at their sport. That can be monotonous, simply because there is a limit to how much variety is going to be used when such a specific result is desired. Of course there would be variation, but it would be somewhat limited. Kara says her own feelings toward training were of the love/hate variety. She didn’t necessarily love to train, but she hated to lose and therefore describes herself as a grinder. She hated the thought that someone might be outworking her so she always pushed herself, too hard sometimes.

By her own admission she was likely guilty of overtraining often. She would always stay late to get extra reps in, or come in on rest days to do even more work. That’s just her competitive spirit though. It is pretty hard to convince yourself that rest is going to help you to improve. Anyone that trains seriously knows that fine line that we all try to straddle. She says that she didn’t really understand, or I’m going to suggest accept, the value of rest and recovery until the later stages of her career. I don’t think she is alone in that regard. Youthful exuberance can compensate for overtaining for a long while without any serious repercussions.

Getting into the reason that I pursued this story with Kara at all is a memory that I have of the dying seconds of a game that Canada lost. If I had never seen this powerful display of real passion and love flowing from Kara literally the split second the final whistle blew, none of this would likely have been written. This moment that I will explain to you is the real essence of what I wanted to understand about her.

The second that whistle blew, the camera just so happened to be on her as she dropped to her knees and broke down. I can’t remember the specific game and to be honest that minor detail isn’t important. What is important is the lasting impact that moment had on me personally. I’ve seen athletes cry due to fatigue, or adrenaline, or just being so in the moment that losing really upset them. This wasn’t like that. This was different.

When Kara fell to the ground, it was like her whole world had just caved in. It was like it hurt her down to the core of her soul to lose that game. It mattered that much. It looked like it was the only thing that mattered. She explains that when you work so hard for something and it doesn’t work out that it’s devastating. She explains that beyond her teammates, she felt like at times when her team didn’t win that she was letting other people down. In her words, there has been no one that has ever broken her heart as bad as the game has.

When I first entertained the idea of approaching Kara to do this story, it was the above post game moment that I had in my mind, and I was hoping that maybe I could figure out what that something is that someone like this has that sets them apart from the rest. What is that difference in character or internal drive that allows them to flourish where others would whither? I definitely did learn a few things that factored into making her the athlete, and ultimately the person that she is.

One of the key differences between Kara and her peers at a young age was that she seemed to know who she was and what she wanted. Kara didn’t waver from her understanding of herself and the goals that she sought. That requires a great amount of belief in oneself. It requires one to really know themselves on a level that takes most of us much longer to accomplish. Considerably longer in some of our cases. That is the thing that she has. That faith that Kara has in herself is what has allowed her to accomplish all that she has and will.

On a personal note, this was a real pleasure to work on. It’s rare that one crosses paths purely by chance with someone that made a lasting impact on them in some way, shape or form. I’m grateful for the opportunity to look deeper into the athlete and person, and to try to draw some conclusions based on the information that Kara was kind enough to share with me. I’m sure there is an awful lot more to Kara as a human being, and I wish her nothing but the best in whatever she pursues, be it on a personal or a professional level. I’m sure her passion for everything she does will make her a champion in whatever it is she sets her mind to. I for one will not at all be surprised to see her take on a great many things as she continues forward in her life.

I hope you all enjoyed this weeks Saturday Post, and will join me tomorrow for The Sunday Quickie, where I’ll be serving you some more MattToronto original recipes featuring this weeks Wednesday Super Food: Raspberries. Until then my friends,

Happy Lifting!

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