Ryann Krais Hierholzer, NBC-HWC
National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach
Collegiate Track & Field Athlete, Nike Heptathlete
NCAA D1 Champion, USA Runner-up, 7 x All-American
Mother of Shiloh and Brooks
What parallels can you draw between motherhood and athletics?
For one, the day to day process may be a grind, but it’s totally worth it.
Two, it can feel like there is no time or energy for anything else which may result in neglect of other critical areas of health.
Three, a support system is essential.
And finally, we are often our own greatest critics. Perfectionism can drive us to be better, but it can also cause emotional distress in both realms, sports and motherhood.
The Struggling Athlete
The deepest pain in my life was a battle with this controlling perfectionist voice. I was an Olympic hopeful with an obsession with my goal. The harder I chased this dream, the easier it became to sacrifice other realms of health.
The lack of balance combined with some faulty thinking patterns led me into a 6-year long struggle with body image, nutrition, and exercise. Due to an incorrect correlation with high performance, I was relentlessly striving to maintain the lowest percent body fat (and weight) possible. The perfectionist voice kept saying “You are not good enough yet. Do better. Do more.”
During that time, I felt as though I had lost part of my personality including my happiness, youthfulness, ability to maintain deep relationships, and my love for the sport. I had an extremely rigid exercise routine and eating schedule (created by me, NOT MY COACHES) which I absolutely dreaded.
Every morning I woke up with ‘first day of school’ anxiety. I didn’t enjoy the life I was leading, but I felt like I NEEDED to do these things in order reach my goal. I was afraid that letting up or relaxing would mean quitting or failing, so I continued to tighten the reigns. The perfectionist qualities that had led to early success were now making me miserable.
At my most defeated point, a coach said to me “you will not find success again until you find peace”. I had enough evidence of poor performance to believe him, so I gave it a shot, one step at a time. Spirituality, social connection, shifts in perspective, and a re-evaluation of purpose all played a vital role in diminishing the painful emotions. This sparked my original interest in health and wellness as a holistic construct.
Spiritual Health: The first thing I did was search out a church that could help me grow. A spiritual journey is impossible to summarize in a few sentences, but a deep dive into scripture helped me solidify my beliefs and greater purpose. I worked through a lot of emotion with my prayer journal.
Social Health: It required intentionality and vulnerability in order to increase my social connection. The perfectionist didn’t want me to let down my guard, but it was well received by my friends. The relief of nonjudgmental acceptance gave me confidence, but creating and maintaining connection took effort. At times I had to make the effort even when I didn’t feel like it, but I always felt uplifted afterwards.
Physical Health: Shifting my perspective on exercise and nutrition was the hardest and longest part. I knew what the science said, but I also had an extremely strong tie to my illogical beliefs about what worked. I had to take risks. I experimented. Never once did my feared outcome occur. Slowly, and with a lot of support from coaches, friends, a psychologist, and my family, I was able to shift to a healthy routine.
Emotional Health: My perspective also had to shift when it came to my ideas about perfectionism. Prior to this point, I was proud to be called a perfectionist. To me that meant I was dedicated, disciplined, persistent, and committed. In reality, those characteristics are separate from perfectionism.
Perfectionism caused me to be focused on the outcome. Perfectionism caused me to care excessively about what people thought of me and my efforts. In truth, it’s much more fulfilling to let the outcome be a result of a process-focused life. It’s freeing to show up and do the best you can do on that particular day without stressing about the year-end competition. As my coach would say, “sometimes it’s okay to be okay.”
The quest for peace ultimately helped me redefine my purpose and identity.
Yes, I was (I am) an athlete, but that’s not all. I learned to appreciate my identity as a Christian, friend, daughter/sister, wife, coach, mentor, and an outdoor-lover too. It doesn't end there. I started to name, reclaim, and live by my true values of being loving, playful, nurturing, and determined.
Fast-forward a few years later into motherhood. Same girl, bigger toolbox.
I had the misconception that I could maintain my same life and just add a baby. I returned to high-level training for my sport, worked a part-time job in order to satisfy my desire to financially help, cooked nearly every meal, and pumped around the clock in order to feed my cleft-palate baby. The perfectionist voice inside of me took advantage of the crazy hormones and lack of sleep. “You need to do it all in order to be happy.” Lies. I was trying to nail down a routine during a phase of life that requires flexibility and patience.
When that ‘first day of school’ anxiety returned, I recognized the need to take a look at my holistic health. I felt misaligned, unsatisfied, and confused about my purpose. Thanks to my previous experience, I knew that pushing harder wasn’t the answer.
I sought help. My husband, my parents, and a fellow Wellness Coach all helped me to organize my thoughts, define my current values, and take action. The perfectionist voice was in conflict with my heart’s true desire. I needed to honestly examine my ‘why’ for each activity and then fill the gaps in my holistic health.
I struggled to make the call, but the reality was that my athletic dreams were just not possible with the injury I had acquired years beforehand. The hard truth was that I kept training because I identified so closely with being an athlete. I was afraid to leave that. It was a leap of faith to redirect my passion for sport into my own Wellness business. I could not have done this alone.
My holistic health still had gaps. Thanks to the advice of that Wellness Coach and a coincidental (is anything really coincidental?) connection, I joined a recreational soccer team for the sake of a competitive outlet and social connection. Although this may seem like an insignificant change to many, it created a balance that gave me peace.
I believe life is an on-going process of adjusting the balance and refuting the negative messages from the inner perfectionist.
Calling all Mom-Athletes
What is your inner perfectionist telling you? If you were an athlete, you may have been trained to have an all-or-nothing approach. How is that mindset serving you as a mother? Most likely, it’s not serving you at all. Life happens in the middle of all or nothing.
“If it’s not perfect, don’t even try.”
“Do better. Be better.”
“You must accomplish ____ to be happy.”
“You have no purpose.”
I’ve heard them all from my inner perfectionist. Have you? I’m here to help other Mom Athletes calm the demanding perfectionist inside your head. I’m here to help you align your life with your true values, whatever that may look like for you. I’m here to help you find the right balance for your life by working through the holistic component of health and wellness.