“Visualization”, Kate Hall and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Visualization. The day before, or the day of a competition, I will find a quiet place and work on some visualization. I close my eyes and imagine every single step of my approach: leading up to my jump, the jump itself, and the landing. I try to visualize every aspect of my jump in my […]

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Visualization. The day before, or the day of a competition, I will find a quiet place and work on some visualization. I close my eyes and imagine every single step of my approach: leading up to my jump, the jump itself, and the landing. I try to visualize every aspect of my jump in my mind. This strategy has really worked for me because in that moment, I feel as though I am actually performing, which helps optimize my mind and body.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Hall.

Kate Hall is a record-breaking U.S. National Long Jump Champion and Olympic hopeful. At the age of 10, Kate was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and has been managing the chronic condition ever since. Kate uses her experience on and off the field to serve as a mentor, coach, and educator to other athletes.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Casco, Maine with my loving family. Ever since I was a young girl, I had a passion for sports. I played soccer and basketball throughout my early childhood years but was hesitant to try something new. My father always encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and broaden my horizons. So, at the age of 10, with a little bit of angst and a lot of drive, I tried track and field for the very first time. From the moment I landed my first long jump, I knew track and field was the sport for me.

I never imagined that at the same age I discovered my passion for track and field, I would also be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Even though this diagnosis would be a hurdle, literally, I was not going to let it stop me from following my passion. By the time I reached seventh grade, I was competing for state titles. In high school, I held the national record in the long jump. That’s when my dream of competing in the Olympics first manifested.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

I started track when I was 10 years old, so for me, it was the sport itself that inspired me. Ironically, this was the same time that I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Due to my diagnosis, I was forced to work really hard to try to control my diabetes, and this carried over to my track career as well. I had to be disciplined, reliable and consistent, three traits that definitely influenced my demeanor on the track. I didn’t want diabetes to stop me from doing anything, so that served as a source of motivation for me. My passion for track continued to grow over the years and at some point, it became apparent that my ultimate goal was to make it to the Olympics.

I also grew up watching the Olympics on television and I remember watching Allyson Felix, a 2012 Olympic champion, in the 2008 Olympic events and was amazed by how talented she was. Shortly after that, I began to hear about Brittney Reese, a long jumper and Olympic gold medalist. I had begun my own track career at this point and Brittney was a huge inspiration for me. Following along with her career and witnessing her incredible talent definitely motivated me in my own practice.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My dad has been with me every step of the way; I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. At a young age, he was there helping me with the things I couldn’t do on my own, like rake the pit and measure my jumps. My dad did everything possible so that I could be the best that I could be.

Another person who has had a major influence on my success is my coach, Chris. Chris was my coach throughout middle school and high school and is the reason I decided to move back to Maine after college. Chris is extremely knowledgeable and knew about my diagnosis with type 1 diabetes when we first started working together. He was constantly doing research to understand the best methods and techniques for me as an athlete. Chris was one of the individuals who encouraged me to get on the Omnipod DASH System, a tubeless, wireless insulin management device, which I’ve now been using foreight years. He helped me not only with my athletic performance but with my diabetes management as well. Chris was more than a coach to me, he is a mentor, and someone I trusted on and off the field.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was a junior in high school, I was headed to my conference championship competition and I remember checking my insulin levels and my blood sugar was really high. I wasn’t on the Omnipod DASH System at the time, so in order to stabilize my sugar levels, I injected myself with insulin to bring down my levels. I had about an hour before the competition started, but as soon as I started warming up, I felt dizzy and my whole body was quivering and shaking. This usually signaled that my blood sugar was low, but I couldn’t fathom how my levels had dropped so quickly as they had just been in the 300’s a few minutes before. I did everything I could to try to increase my levels, but my competition had already begun. As I started my run-up for my jump, my calf cramped up. I unfortunately had to withdraw from the entire competition because of this situation. This was a learning experience for me because this taught me that I can’t check my blood sugars so close to the time of a competition. Since then, I always check my blood sugar levels hours in advance.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

I have three very simple actions that I live by: Work hard, set goals and follow your dreams.

When I was just starting track and field, I got in the habit of writing down my goals for every season. After each season ended, I would go back and check them off to see what I had accomplished. For any goals I didn’t reach in a given season, I wouldn’t let it discourage me, instead I would just add it to my list for the next season and I’d be even more determined to achieve it. Developing this habit is also a great way to keep track of your previous goals and recognize how far you’ve come. I recently found one of my lists of goals from when I was in high school and it was very humbling to compare the goals I once set back then to where I am today.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

My journey with type 1 diabetes adds a unique layer to where I am not only as an athlete, but also as an educator and patient advocate. In my downtime, I’ve had the opportunity to travel throughout the country and participate in different types of speaking events where I share my story of living with diabetes. My story resonates very well with children who are undergoing a diagnosis or hardship, all while inspiring to be athletes, and reminds them that motivation and dedication are the only things you need to be successful.

Many people ask me how I am able to manage a demanding schedule and rigorous training regime while having diabetes. This is when I educate them on different types of management tools, like continuous glucose monitors and continuous insulin pumps. These tools are intended to simplify your life. Since I’ve been using the Omnipod DASH System, I am able to compete at my events and participate in workouts without the constant worry of my glucose levels. The device replaces the need for daily insulin injections, allowing me to live my day-to-day life without those interruptions. I have been fortunate to share my experience and give diabetes management tips with other individuals who are in similar health situations.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Visualization, breathing techniques and having some sort of caffeinated item are definitely three strategies I use to optimize my mind for peak performance before high stress situations.

Visualization. The day before, or the day of a competition, I will find a quiet place and work on some visualization. I close my eyes and imagine every single step of my approach: leading up to my jump, the jump itself, and the landing. I try to visualize every aspect of my jump in my mind. This strategy has really worked for me because in that moment, I feel as though I am actually performing, which helps optimize my mind and body.

Deep breathing. As part of my warmup, I will lay on my back in a comfortable place, elevate my feet, and breath in for five minutes, focusing on breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. This helps calm my nerves and relax and bring my heart rate down before competing.

Caffeine. If I’m ever feeling under-stimulated before an event or competition and need something to pump me up, I’ll have something with caffeine in it to give me a little boost of energy. I don’t do this that often, but it’s been helpful in times that I need a pick-me-up.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

In order to calm down my nerves, especially before bigger competitions, I use a special breathing technique. For this technique, I elevate my legs and pretend to blow a balloon. When doing so, I take three slow breaths blowing up the balloon and then I breathe out through my mouth. This technique lowers my heart rate which helps me to relax, but it also activates my core stabilizers to prepare me for competing.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

When you’re competing, there are a lot of distractions surrounding you, such as people in the crowd or other events taking place. One technique I use to develop a strong focus and drown out any distractions, while I am competing, is to think precisely about what I need to do, step by step. It’s a simple yet effective approach.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

Having type 1 diabetes brings an added layer of importance when it comes to prioritizing my health. Consistency is key for me. I plan my schedule days in advance, so I can figure out my meal plan and know where I’ll be eating, what I’ll be eating, etc. Consistency and planning ahead makes my life easier so I can worry less about my diabetes on the day of a competition.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

On the track, especially with the long jump, it’s all about consistency and replication when it comes to your performance and approach. This is true for my health as well. So not only is consistency important in my track career, but also in managing my diabetes. Ironically, I think my diabetes has actually helped keep me consistent on the field as well, because you never get a break from diabetes, it’s constant, and developing healthy habits to manage it makes it a little less tedious. So my diabetes already has me in a healthy habit mindset with a focus on consistency.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

One of the best ways to develop great habits is to practice it again and again. For example, I struggled with long jump for years, I could never get my mark on the board. I continued to practice by trying different techniques and once I found the one that worked for me, I continued to practice it and hone my skills. Once you find that right practice, all you need to do is perfect it. This method also ties into the importance of consistency in athletic training.

One way to break a bad habit is to try out different techniques to help you achieve your goal. If something isn’t working for you, find a new way to accomplish that task. Ultimately, this method will help you improve on the old and bad habits, while creating new and strong habits.

As a high-performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

When I’ve experienced this state of flow, I consider what is going on in my life at that moment. When everything is going well and I’m confident that I’m doing the right thing, it’s easy to experience flow. One example is when I was competing at the NCAA nationals and I won and everything felt right. Leading up to that win, I had been doing really well with training, my blood sugar was in control, and my mind and body were in peak condition.

However, when I was competing with a tubed pump, I was never able to get into that flow mindset. I constantly worried about my diabetes and what my blood sugars were doing. Since I couldn’t keep the tubed pump on my body during competitions, I would take it off and then my blood sugars would spike up, I never felt good because I was worried about my blood sugar and I wouldn’t compete well because I was distracted by my concerns.

Once I switched to the Omnipod DASH System, however, I was able to go out and compete and worry less about my diabetes. I felt like I could breathe again, as my blood sugar levels became stable and I didn’t have to worry about having something clipped to my body or disconnecting from my tubed pump for minutes or even hours on end with my blood sugar spiking up. The Omnipod enabled me to regain my strength, confidence and health.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

When it comes to practice and competing, I like to focus on breathing and visualization techniques. I tend to use meditation when I am trying to sleep or if I am having trouble falling asleep. I’ve found that closing my eyes and listening to something calming helps me let go of whatever is keeping me awake. It relaxes me enough so I can fall asleep. Sleep is such an important part of my routine and getting a good night’s sleep enables me to practice and perform better.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

This is something I’ve struggled with in the past. When it comes to competition, there’s so much pressure to succeed and the moment you make a mistake, it’s easy for those negative thoughts to take over. Negative thoughts can be especially difficult if the competition isn’t over yet; these thoughts tend to weigh you down and can distract you in your next event. If I ever sense negative thoughts coming on, I remind myself that I’ve worked hard and trained for this moment, so the only thing stopping me from succeeding is me. The best way to combat negative thoughts is to learn from them. If you made a mistake, what can you do next time to prevent it from happening again? Once you identify the problem, do everything you can to fix it.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Aside from my track and field career, I am passionate about sharing my story of having type 1 diabetes and not letting it stop me from being an athlete with others. My goal is to let others know that diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from achieving anything; you can set goals and work hard just like anyone else. If I could help change the lives of people struggling with diabetes, that’s all I could ask for. I’m grateful for the opportunity to educate people on living with diabetes and advocate for other people like me, aspiring to be athletes themselves, or just struggling with their diabetes.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Everything happens for a reason” is a quote that’s always resonated with me. There have been many times in my life where I’ve struggled and felt like the world was ending but, as it turns out, I had to go through those challenging experiences in order to improve. At the time of my diagnosis with diabetes when I was 10 years old, I couldn’t think of any good reason why this was happening to me. Looking back, however, I realize my diagnosis forced me to work extremely hard at a young age and develop skills and techniques others may not have. The important part is how you look at every situation and how you learn from it. So yes, I believe everything happens for a reason, and my unique journey has helped me develop lifelong lessons that I can pass on to others.

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