It has been dubbed the future of athletics. A phenomenon. He is arguably the best 400m hurdles runner the world has ever seen. But Sydney McLaughlin, two-time Olympian, 400H world record holder, 2020 400H Olympic champion, is more than her athletic prowess, accolades and medals.
McLaughlin is not the same athlete we met when she made her first Olympic team at age 17 in 2016, or when she broke the 400H collegiate record at the University of Kentucky. She has done the work—spiritually, mentally, and physically—and has experienced tremendous growth in all aspects of life as a result.
“Growth” is the key word here, as it has been the theme of his life for the last year and a half. After the 2020 Olympics were postponed due to COVID, she says “nobody knew what to expect.” Through it all, she accepted challenges gracefully, but it wasn’t always easy. She describes it as “somewhat awkward, but necessary, and obviously a bit challenging.”
Racing on the world stage, McLaughlin has spent much of her career pushing herself to limits she never thought she could reach, challenging herself to the highest levels both mentally and physically. And there, she says, is where the growth has occurred. “I’ve learned that when you push yourself into uncomfortable states long enough, they become comfortable,” she says. at a high level in that discomfort for long enough, it will become comfortable, and then you have to reach a new goal and choose a new place to push.”
Being a top contender in her class doesn’t come without pressure, but in recent years, McLaughlin has learned to manage the expectations and labels placed on her. Now, no matter what people say or write about it, it just blocks it.
“I used to hear all of that and apply it to my life like it was the standard,” he says. for an audience of one, which is God, and everything else is just background noise, it simplifies what I do to a place where I don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks.” With this mindset, he is able to navigate sport and life without bearing the unnecessary weight of other people’s expectations.
Mentally and emotionally, McLaughlin has found a way to cope with these internal and external pressures through his faith. “For me, that’s been the biggest source of peace in all of this,” she says, explaining that she now has a true understanding of what’s important. “It can be a huge burden when you’re listening to what everyone has to say and you’re putting all this added and unnecessary ‘pressure’ on yourself to perform to a certain standard,” she says.
Understandably, McLaughlin’s role as a world-renowned athlete has forced her to grow up faster than most 22-year-olds. After all, most of us have never experienced being the center of attention for doing something we enjoy without even asking. But medals and titles aside, she’s a typical 20-something who likes to read, write, shop, hang out with her friends and her fiancé, and watch Netflix.
“When you get to a place where you’re at the Olympics or you’re a professional athlete, people just see [a portion of your life]if it’s 51 seconds [of a race] or four quarters of a game,” he says. “But the rest of the day, when you’re not practicing or training, you’re still a person who has a life, a family and friends, and I think those are the things that make me who I am. I am, I think the track is really just a very small part of all of that.”
McLaughlin also learned the importance of finding and using her voice. When he was younger, he often kept his thoughts and feelings to himself, he says. But over time, he realized how important speaking up can be in every relationship in his life, both personally and professionally. “I had to start getting comfortable flexing that muscle, even though it’s one I rarely used,” she says, “now it’s making me a little less scary, and it’s also brought me a lot of clarity. It’s amazing to see how being direct and saying what you mean can clear up so many things.”
Though McLaughlin has been in the spotlight since he was a teenager, it’s obvious he hasn’t even begun to realize his full potential. More importantly, she is walking unapologetically and confidently (or really, running) in her purpose.
“If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said ‘my purpose is to run super fast and win medals and break records,'” he says, adding that this is not entirely wrong. But she believes that her true purpose is to love God and people. “I think the track is the opportunity and the space that she has given me to do those things, and the gift that I can have a platform to reach people,” she adds.
McLaughlin isn’t worried about what the future holds, on or off the track. “I just want to run,” he says. “I just want to cheer people up. I just want to share the gospel and live life while I can. That’s it for me… I can do without all that other stuff.”
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