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  • Joy SpearChief-Morris

Coming Home: Moving Back to London Ontario

I have tried to write this post a few times. What is the big deal anyways? People make moves and decisions like this all the time, so why would people care? Why am I feeling so self-conscious of my decision and the way I think it could be perceived? I was feeling that I needed to justify my choice to others, but being afraid of others opinions I was preferring instead to sneak in the back door and just show up to the party, hoping people wouldn't really notice or ask questions. It took some time and help to realize that this need to justify my decision was not coming from those other voices, but from my own. So over everything else, this post is really written for myself, because I don't need to justify my choices to anyone. Rather, I am helping myself move forward.


I had just gotten back home from the AthletesCAN Forum in Ottawa the other night and after a busy, exciting and inspiring weekend (more on this later, I promise!), I felt the need to do some writing and reflecting. So while sitting in a coffee shop downtown, escaping the rain that had started pouring outside, I began writing down some thoughts as well as my goals for the next few months. In the process, I started flipping back through some past entries and I came across an entry from May when I was trying to work through this big decision. At the bottom of the page I had scribbled "September 24, 2018 will be 1 year from moving to Santa Barbara, California." I stopped suddenly and looked at the date on my calendar which just so happened to read "September 24, 2018." I sat back in my chair and thought, wow... 1 year since making this huge move; a move I thought would be the biggest transition in my athletic journey to a place I where I thought I could settle down into in the future. Instead, here I sat exactly one year later in a coffee shop in downtown London, Ontario and how did I feel? Sad? Disappointed? No, I smiled, feeling very relieved. I was sitting exactly where I needed to be in this moment.

Now it has taken me some time to get to this feeling. I still have those days where the stress takes hold as I still struggle to get myself readjusted or I get that overwhelming feeling when answering that question. In fact, just a few hours earlier on this day I had been sitting in my psychologist's office, working through some of these feelings like we tend to do now since making this decision. Well, actually we have been working through many of these transitional feelings for almost 2 years now, just in different contexts...

At the start of my fifth year at Western back in 2016, I found that I was feeling restless. As much as I loved Western, my friends, my team and my coaches, I felt that I needed a change. I said I hated London and I wanted to be somewhere that was more suited for how I thought I saw my life and personality. I felt that I was outgrowing my training environment and needed a challenge. But most importantly, I wanted to live out my childhood dream of living in California and be back in the West. These reasons and others for wanting to leave London and move to California I have written about in my first blog post just after I had moved last year. Reflecting back now and over the last few months, I can see that there was a much deeper reason for my wanting to move and that reason has a lot to play into why I eventually returned.

I needed to leave and learn what it was I wanted with my life, both as an athlete and as a person. I was searching for my place to belong and for how I wanted to see myself in it. In my search I decided to run fast and hard, almost single-mindedly, towards this ideal I felt was the best for me. I am not a quitter and so I stayed trying to see out this ideal to the end, despite the fact that it was clearly not working for me. I couldn't see how much the amount of stress I was dealing with was affecting my health emotionally, mentally and physically. I shouldn't have to feel overworked and yet underpaid, struggling to pay $950 US a month to live on a mattress on the floor of a four bedroom house; all my clothes scattered across my suitcases on the floor for months because I couldn't afford basic furniture to keep in. I shouldn't have to decide between paying for groceries and paying for physio care. I shouldn't feel alone on the track even though I was surrounded by a group of people each day. I shouldn't feel that I couldn't enjoy my life outside of track because I couldn't afford it. I shouldn't be constantly looking for escapes from my reality. I shouldn't be crying after every single track meet, wondering what I was doing wrong. I shouldn't be so stressed out that I felt like I was having anxiety attacks at practice. But all this I pushed aside because I felt I had to see this all through, because I had wanted this. I couldn't admit that this wasn't working and that I was incredibly unhappy with where I was and that I felt completely alone.

It took being in the Boston airport about to fly back to Santa Barbara from my brother's law school graduation that I realized that I didn't want to go back. This led to two very important conversations which forced me to ask myself what I wanted with my life and also the big question I was afraid to answer: was this really working for me in California and if it truly wasn't, what was I going to do about it. Almost instantaneously my answer was "well I would move back to London." As soon as I allowed myself this possibility of moving back, the idea became more and more prevalent in my mind as what I wanted the most. So in my journal I spent almost a week of reflecting and asking myself, what do I need, what do I want, and where do I need to be to have that support to accomplish all this? In my mind, London was the only answer. Here was a place where I knew I had full support to achieve my goals. A place where I knew I could feel comfortable, be happy, be able to work towards achieving my goals on the track and also have the connections and support to find happiness and success off the track as well. All I kept writing was that I wanted to go home. Yes, while Lethbridge, Alberta will always be my home with my family and have that irreplaceable piece in my heart and of my being, there was a different sense of home I was missing. I had spent the last three years building this little community, a family for myself, and I just picked up my bags running in the opposite direction, telling myself I would never look back. Now, I wanted nothing more than to go back to my community. I am lucky that, as all good families do, they welcomed me home with open arms.

But leaving after not even a year, wouldn't that make a me a failure? I had tried the full-time athlete lifestyle and learned it wasn't working for me. I couldn't sustain my happiness this way. I was missing that joy in training and competing I had before. Something bigger was missing. With some help I am learning that leaving after one season does not mean that I failed. Instead, I am working to see my successes. By looking at my journey over the last year, I can see that in the end, I got exactly what I needed from moving to California. I discovered what it is I need to be the most successful athlete that I can be. I know what it is I want with my life at this point in time and I am ready to go after it. I want to be where I am supported in all aspects of my training, but also be supported in every aspect of my life and be fulfilled in all who I am. This is my success. I am proud of my decision to leave, and more proud and excited by my decision to return.

One year later and what I thought was one of the most important moves for my track career did kind of end up being true, but for far different reasons. Like I said, I was wanting to live out a dream, but also learn about where I belong and who I want to be, and I did. I learned that sometimes we need to let go of some things to chase after the bigger dreams. I learned to let go of the way I thought an athlete had to live to be successful so that I can live this journey the way I know is best for me. My biggest lesson this year was that people make a home and not the place. Sometimes we end up in places we least expect.

So here I sat, drinking my third cup of coffee of the day and smiling to myself feeling very calm, relieved, and happy to be exactly where I was. There is no other place I would rather pursue my Olympic dream. While it may still take me some time to say it as confidently I know I can, the journey to reach this point over the past year, with all its struggles and tribulations, wasn't a failure but a success because I came out of it having a much stronger sense of self and purpose. I am still chasing the same dream, now with a better sense of where I belong. Man, does it feel good to be back home.

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