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Women's National Team

June 6, 2016

3,000 Miles of Motivation

by Leila Tunnell


I live in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts about two hours (100 miles) west of Boston, where I play the regular season with Boston Brute Squad. For the past 3 seasons, I have been living and working on vegetable farms in Western Mass during the week and on the weekends trying to balance farm chores and traveling to Boston for practice, or around the country for tournaments. It’s been a grind. Trying to train for and compete in the club series on top of farming full-time has been tough. Tough on my body, tough socially, and really tough financially. However, beyond all of those challenges, one of the largest obstacles I have had to overcome in the past few years has been the mental challenge of training in isolation of my team and teammates. I miss a lot of practice weekends and can’t go to weekly workouts. 100 miles might as well be 1,000 miles when your team is constantly getting together–hanging and working out, learning about each other and developing chemistry–and you can’t be there.

In this way, playing for team USA doesn’t feel all that different from playing with Brute Squad, except instead of having teammates 100 miles away, I now have teammates spread out over 3,000 miles. Brutal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, competing has been well worth the struggle. We all make sacrifices to play this sport, and I certainly wouldn’t have made it through the past 3 seasons and still be playing if I didn’t love this game and my teammates. However, I have had to learn how to really dig deep and push myself without the physical, emotional, and verbal presence and support of my teammates.

There is a very special bond that is created between athletes sharing a particularly grueling workout. When you and your compatriots are really just in it, and suffering through a brutal track workout, and you’re pushing and supporting and challenging each other and cheering each other on, a unique and magical thing happens. You find yourself running a little faster and for a little longer. You can suddenly do a few more pushups. An extra minute of plank. You work harder knowing that you have friends working alongside you. So, what do you do to get your own ass in gear when you live 100 (or 3,000) miles from your team? You get creative.

IMG_5307Luckily, it turns out that the small agricultural community I live in also happens to be a mecca for youth and college ultimate, and there is no shortage of hard working Frisbee players in Amherst. Also, fortunately for me, I chose to work on probably the only vegetable farm in the world that can field a full game of 7 vs 7 (with subs!) of regionally competitive high school, college and club players. My boss plays in the Grand Master’s Division. Both of his kids played at Amherst High School. I coach one of them. We have a farm summer league team. We hire a part-time weeder crew consisting primarily of some of the top high school players in the state, or even the country. Clearly, I have a strong community of similarly-oriented jock-farmers. Whenever possible, I try to rope in the Amherst High School kids I coach into going to the track with me, or I’ll run a workout for the UMass men’s team. When I can’t organize that, I’ll convince Farmer Dan to run a sprint workout with me on the sideline of his son’s game, or before summer league. My partner, Jake, and our dog, Frankie, have done countless workouts with me ranging from hill repeats, to long runs, to stadiums, to core workouts on our living room floor. I have an incredibly vibrant and supportive network of friends and co-workers who are psyched to step in and train with me for an hour or two, here and there. I am overwhelmingly grateful for that support.

IMG_5313But, there is still something lost in training apart from your team. When you are working out with your teammates and see them sweating next to you and hear their labored breathing as you round the 300 meter line, you have a clear sense of what and who you are training for. Sometimes it’s hard to get a clear picture in your mind of the purpose, the reason for all of your training and suffering, if you’re not gritting it out with the people who you are going to step onto the field with. And sometimes, without your teammates to rally you, it’s really hard to get up for a workout, or to go 100% once you’re there. So, I visualize.

IMG_5311I imagine Surge two steps in front of me, busting her ass on our 200 repeats, and I speed up to catch her. I visualize myself trying to defend Maddog’s handler cuts as I backpedal and shuffle through agility drills, and I get a little lower and move my feet a little quicker. I picture Sarah Anciaux making deadlifts look easy, and I do a few more pushups. I see Amber racing up stadium stairs in front of me, and I fight through the burn to power up behind her. Sometimes I can almost hear their footsteps in the grass or on the track, or hear their breathing. These images make me want to work harder, run faster, jump higher, and I feel more connected and driven. When I visualize my teammates next to me, suffering with me, it becomes clear to me what I am working so hard for–to be a part of this incredible team of powerful, talented women–and I remember why it is all worth it.