Natalie Allport competed in slopestyle snowboarding for the Canadian National Team before retiring in 2015, though she stays active today by competing in CrossFit. She posted the following on her Instagram @natalieallport in July 2020. Natalie also founded 93 Agency, a social media marketing agency for athletes, as well as The All In Project, a podcast that interviews athletes, coaches, and high performers on mindset, motivation, training, and other related topics.
Watching the Weight of Gold documentary this morning triggered me. I watched Shaun White talk about how he felt competing after the 2014 Olympics and the video clip they showed was a competition I competed at as well. It was one of my last.
I spent 4 years (age 17 – 21) in the Canadian national snowboard team program. I told my parents I would go to the Olympics when I was 3 years old, and since that day, it became it my singular goal. For years, the quote in my Facebook bio was “The only party I want to go to is in the Olympic village.” I set high expectations of myself and felt pretty shitty at the end of the day because I didn’t achieve them. This became a cycle of never being enough, not enjoying the moment, and being deeply unhappy.
From the age of 13 until 23, I never had a day where I wasn’t in pain. It become normal, to the point where you don’t know what normal feels like. I glorified these mental and physical struggles as something that would become part of the story I would tell when I became an Olympian. So what happened when I decided to retire 1 year after failing to qualify for the 2014 Olympics and not train for 2018? How did I feel when I saw my friends and ex-teammates competing and winning medals at the 2018 Olympics?
Broken. Insignificant. Lost.
So why did I retire from snowboarding? I had other passions, I had physical injuries, I had a fear of bigger crashes and injuries, but ultimately, it was because I was struggling with my mental health. Something wasn’t right and I was becoming someone I didn’t want to become, and at the time I couldn’t deal with it all whilst still competing.
The athlete transition is hard. Most athletes start at an early age, and our pursuit of greatness becomes our identity. Only I know how dark the summer of 2015 got. Definitely not my friends at the gym who only saw smiles and PRs. Not even my therapist I saw once a week after I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t see any sort of future for my life now that I was done snowboarding.
To be honest, I still struggle with feeling like my story is not worth telling because I don’t have the title of “Olympian.” These are the thoughts I still struggle with everyday. Who am I without sport? What is the point of everything I have been through?
I dove into a new sport (CrossFit) right after snowboarding to replace that emptiness. It hasn’t been until this past year where I’ve taken time off that I’ve started to deal with everything. Last year, when I stopped taking anti-depressants, I had such bad withdrawal symptoms that I couldn’t train, couldn’t drive a car, and felt like I was getting electrical shocks in my brain and would nearly pass out every few minutes.
I still worry about the stigma of sharing this all. I thought I was past feeling like I’m not worthy of sharing my story, but this past week, it started creeping back into my head as people have asked me what my goals are. I’ve always wanted to be more of an advocate for athletes, but I have doubted my authority of sharing my story, being I’m not an Olympian or a big name pro athlete.
I’m not saying chasing those big dreams aren’t worth it, but if I could go back, I would had spoken to a therapist about my mental health earlier. I would have tried to have hobbies just for fun, and enjoy the moments and the people around me more. Moving forward, I will speak up and advocate more on mental health. It’s important for young athletes to know that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. After all, everyone thought I was living a dream life from the outside.
There are so many athletes, OF ALL LEVELS, who have struggled with their mental health and have felt like they couldn’t speak out, seek help, or share their story. More than that, there are so many HUMAN BEINGS that struggle with their mental health in similar ways. I want you to know that it’s okay not to be okay, and it’s okay to not be fully healed, or still have triggers.
As the sweater I am currently wearing so elegantly states, #IAmMoreThanAnAthlete