The last fourteen months or so have been very busy as I have undergone intensive integrated flight training at FTE Jerez in Spain. As the time has flown so quickly, it is only now I have been able to reflect on how much my life has changed and how far I have come in such a short space of time. Since finishing my training, I’ve finally been able to process everything and consider what I have learnt during my sporting career and pilot training. Being at flight school, I was very much distanced from my athletic past, immersed in the world of aviation. Going forward into my new career, I thought I would leave it behind me as I began this new chapter to my life. I felt it would be of little use to me, and rendered it as irrelevant. I stopped telling people about what I had done previously with my life and just said I took two gap years upon finishing school and went travelling.
A couple of months ago, I received an email from a member of the International Olympic Committee enquiring about my current situation. During our correspondence, I started to reflect on my past; what I had learnt from the Youth Olympic Games and my overall experiences as an athlete, and how I’ve taken those lessons forward into my new career. Competitive sport taught me a lot of key skills and life lessons, it is only now I realise just how much. The Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect are not only centric to the Olympic Games, but can be taken forward by participants into their everyday lives and careers beyond their sporting endeavours.
The 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck were a once in a life time experience which I shall cherish for the rest of my life. At the time, I was only sixteen and I felt so lucky to have been part of something really special. The event enables young people from all over the world to come together and share a unique opportunity in union, bringing the Olympic values to life. A couple of elements of the Youth Olympic experience which stood out to me were the Culture and Education Programme (CEP) and the mixed nation team events. The CEP has since been rebranded as Learn & Share and is based on five key themes: Olympism, skills development, well being & healthy lifestyle, social responsibility and expression. These are available to a wider audience, not just to the athletes who take part but also to the local community, volunteers and many others, allowing the Olympic Movement to be shared amongst those who otherwise would not be touched by it. Regarding the mixed team events, although there were none for my own sport at Innsbruck, I thought they were a fantastic way of putting Olympism in action and teaching young people the importance of international cooperation and respect for other people. Away from the field of play, those who participate in the Youth Olympic Games realise learning and growing together is just as important as competing against each other. Getting to know your competitors breaks down the barriers and fosters friendship. Instead of being rivals, young athletes learn to respect their fellow sportsmen and women and appreciate each other’s cultural differences.
Olympism is a philosophy of life based on the interaction of the body, will and mind expressed through actions which link sport to culture and education. It is a concept which can extend far beyond the Games and those who participate in them. With a tendency for funding allocation being based on medal potential and people focusing on who is top of the medal table at the Games, I feel we often forget what the Olympics is actually about. Pierre de Coubetin, founder of the Modern Olympic Games, said “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part. Just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” This is the single most important lesson I learnt from sport and it helped me perform well on my flight training course. It is something we can all embrace and strive to demonstrate in our everyday ordinary lives. You don’t have to be extraordinary to do the extraordinary. Young people, in particular, are the future and have the ability to achieve great things. The world is their oyster. The important thing is to discover what you love and to strive to make that career, that dream, become reality despite the challenges and barriers you may face.
Athletes have this inbuilt determination and drive which enables them to succeed in life beyond sport. You hear of many amazing achievements athletes have accomplished after their sporting careers. I believe it is because they are capable of achieving whatever they put their mind to as they have learnt to strive to achieve their best and apply maximal effort to everything they attempt. You don’t have to be an Olympic Champion, you only have to do your best, which is exactly what Olympians like Eddie the Eagle Edwards and the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team accomplished in the 1988 Calgary Games. They took part, gave their performances maximal effort and achieved personal bests, despite the negative opinions of others and obstacles blocking their paths. We must remain positive within ourselves and believe we are capable of attaining our goals. People may have heard about you, but this does not mean they know you. Those who are alongside you every step of the way are the ones who understand you, feeling the disappointment of your failures and the elation of your achievements. I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of people who have supported me in this way.
There is a paradox which exists between the concepts of failure and success. When I was competing, I would sometimes fail in achieving my goal, despite giving my very best effort. When I was successful, I had still given my best effort, the only difference was I had achieved my goal. Therefore, a very fine margin exists between failure and success. The common factor is having fought well, which is ironically what Pierre de Coubetin believed was important. Hence, the paradox between failure and success is that failing is actually the true goal. Failing gives you the opportunity to learn far more about yourself than success does. I failed at skiing because I did not achieve any of the goals I had set myself long term. However, reflecting back on my journey as a ski racer, I was actually successful because I failed. I gave skiing maximum effort and overcame many of the hurdles which were thrown my way, demonstrating high levels of resilience and determination. Upon taking the decision to no longer ski competitively, once I had accepted the natural disappointment associated with not achieving my long term goals, I discovered the satisfaction which came with knowing I had been so dedicated to my ski racing career and how remarkable that is for someone so young. Everyone faces failure and success throughout their lives, how we deal with them is what defines us.
A common interview question is “What is your biggest achievement?”. Whilst preparing for an airline assessment in April, I pondered over how I would respond to this question because I could not think of a single outstanding achievement. A couple of obvious answers could have been attending the Youth Olympic Games or winning the Best Overall Pilot award for my course at flight school, but these two achievements just didn’t feel as if they were the answer I should give. The awards and trophies I’ve won or the high academic standards I have achieved over the years are only material accomplishments. What holds more value is the personal growth and development I have attained so far. Taking the athlete and adapting her to the flight deck environment, that is perhaps my biggest achievement for the time being. As an athlete, the enthusiasm, dedication and work ethic I developed, have really helped me build a solid foundation to my career as a commercial pilot. My competitive nature helps me strive to achieve and deliver my best performance. However, I also understand I will not always be able to be at my best and will make mistakes, but I know how to learn from them in order to develop and become a more competent pilot. Having lived in multiple countries and trained alongside many different people from all over the world, I thrive in a diverse international environment. This has helped me adapt to the aviation world and will continue to do so in my future working environment. As someone who has represented Team GB at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, I fully comprehend the role of an ambassador. Airline pilots are representatives of their airline and their behaviour will influence the public opinions of their employers. I will be just as proud to wear the uniform for an airline as I was proud to wear the sports kit for Team GB.
Looking back as I have, I’m amazed at how far I have come in just a short two years of my twenty-one year life. Something I never learnt as an athlete, but have thanks to flying, is to live in the moment, taking each step as it comes and being fully focused on the task in hand. Being responsible for just under two hundred lives every flight as the pilot of an A320-type aircraft requires certain skills and behaviour. The Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect apply to the flight deck of an airliner as much as they apply to competitive sport. Prioritising the safety of that many people at a single time requires pilots to do their work to the highest standards, striving for excellence regardless of any issues. One must be able to leave these outside of the flight deck, focusing on living in the moment and portraying the appropriate polished attitude. Airline pilots ought to show a certain level of professional friendship to their fellow crew members in order to allow effective teamwork to take place and make the working environment enjoyable. Pilots should be respectful to other personnel involved in the operation of a flight and their passengers as they are ambassadors for their airline. Additionally, they should respect themselves by looking after their body through adopting a healthy lifestyle and know their limits.
In our lives we face choices. The choices we make define the life we are going to lead. A while ago, I once wrote in a blog post “things do happen for a reason (both good and bad) which help us develop as a person”. When faced with the bad, we may not know why these things are happening at the time, but life has a strange way of guiding you along the path you are destined to follow. In May 2015, I made a choice which was to completely alter the course of my life. I decided to take up flying…two years later I’m now a fully qualified commercial pilot awaiting a type rating, where I will learn to fly the aircraft of one of Europe’s leading airlines and I cannot wait to begin this new adventure!