Kim Brennan was a young athlete with a dream to compete in the Olympic Games. Leading up to the 2004 Olympics she was the second fastest hurdler over 400 meters in Australia. Catastrophe struck when her Olympic campaign was derailed through injury.
Brennan developed a stress fracture in her foot. She went through rehabilitation but the injury kept reoccurring until it became obvious that Brennan couldn’t run anymore. Her athletic career was over at just 19 years of age. She was forced to watch the 2004 Olympics on television.
From running to rowing
Brennan kept fit using a rowing machine during her recovery. A rowing coach happened to spot her and thought her technique was solid. Eventually she was persuaded to try out rowing on the water. Initially she wasn’t brilliant and commented, “I went from being one of the best runners in the country to being an absolute gumby in a rowing boat.”
After just 3 years of rowing, Brennan went to the 2008 Olympic games. She returned to the Olympics in 2012 winning a silver medal in the double sculls and a bronze in the single sculls.
In 2016 she won a gold medal in the single sculls at the Rio Olympics and carried the flag for Australia at the closing ceremony. Brennan would have been devastated when injuries ended her hurdling career but serendipitously her adversity guided her toward rowing.
Overcoming a hurdle
Adversity is never wanted and yet it provides us with unseen opportunities and can redefine our careers, even our lives. Kim Brennan had her dreams dashed at just 19 years of age and yet she found the champion spirit to overcome adversity. She didn’t allow her misfortune to have the last word.
Monica Seles had the opposite experience. Seles burst onto the tennis scene in 1990 becoming the youngest ever winner of the French Open at sixteen years of age. Seles went on to win 8 Grand Slams in the next 3 years.
Seles dominated women’s tennis and was number 1 in the world at 19 years of age. With the world at her feet she was expected to rule women’s tennis for the next decade. Despite her success, she hadn’t endeared herself to the tennis public.
She was a ferocious player who was hell bent on being the best and cashing in on the experience. Notorious for her glamorous style and designer outfits; crowds cheered for her opponents. She had won people’s respect but not affection.
A cowardly attack
In 1993 Seles was playing in a tournament in Hamburg when a spectator ran from the crowd and stabbed her with a boning knife between her shoulder blades. It took a few months for Seles to recover from the physical injuries but the emotional toll of her attack kept her away from tennis for the next two years.
To add insult to injury her attacker would be released without facing jail time. Seles wasn’t sure she would ever return to the game.
Making a comeback
Seles returned to the tennis in 1995 and willed herself back to the top winning her 9th Grand Slam. It was far from a fairy tale ending however, Seles had bigger challenges still to face. Seles would lose her Father to cancer and being unable to deal with the emotional pain of her attack she would face a nine-year battle with Binge Eating Disorder (BED). She would eat to numb the pain.
Despite her determination to succeed, she battled injuries and battled with weight and was never able to recapture her dominance of women’s tennis. Even with some success Seles was a shadow of her former tennis self. Part of her career was stolen from her; many wonder if she would have been the greatest of all time if not for the stabling.
A crowd favourite
What is remarkable about Seles’ career is how her struggles redefined her career and what people saw in her. She transformed from fierce teen tennis prodigy to a much-loved crowd favourite.
Seles said of her comeback, “The biggest difference was that I had the crowd on my side, until my stabbing I’d never experienced that.”
She became far more popular as a diminished player than she was winning title after title. Fans connected with her struggle; she became impossible to cheer against. One of her opponents said: “A part of me wants to see Monica win and I’m the one who has to play her.”
The greatest victory
It was hard fought but Seles won her battle with Binge Eating Disorder writing a book about her experience. She didn’t allow her misfortunes to have the final word. Seles managed to face her adversity and find a way to overcome and that is perhaps her greatest victory of all.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is a contributor for Christian Today and a sportswriter.