Feeling drained yet? You’re not alone. Everybody has faced unique adversity this year, including Olympic hopefuls like Sydney McLaughlin.
When the 2020 Tokyo Games were rescheduled for 2021, McLaughlin, a 400-meter hurdles star, had to adapt her plans in preparing for her second Olympics. In 2016, at just 16 years old, she didn’t advance to the finals in Rio, but McLaughlin has gained valuable experience ever since. Just last year at the world championships in Doha, she finished 0.07 seconds behind teammate Dalilah Muhammad, who set the world record that day (52.16).
“Syd the Kid,” the nickname she was given for her status as the youngest member of the 2016 U.S. Track & Field team, is grown up now. At 21 years old, she has some valuable advice to share about how to recalibrate and still make the best out of challenging times.
Maintain realistic goals.
Even though McLaughlin has been unable to compete against other athletes during the pandemic, she’s still stuck to her primary goal of personal improvement. Through FaceTime and creative at-home workouts, she maintained her fitness.
“My goal every year is to get better, and that is still the case. When racing fully comes back, I will be ready and excited to get back out there,” McLaughlin says.
Gradually, as in-person workouts and practices have resumed, McLaughlin has started practicing every day, after taking a little time off.
“Right now, we are just starting back workouts,” she says. “I used this year to get much stronger physically and mentally gearing up for this coming Olympic year.”
Remain flexible, but focused.
We can all relate to the unpredictability of 2020. For McLaughlin, the rescheduling of some of the most important races of her career could have rattled her, but instead she chose to remain flexible about her training while focused on the ultimate goals. That also has meant just controlling what she can.
“It has been important to remain focused and adjust when needed to keep myself, my family and others safe while still training,” McLaughlin says.
But her motivation hasn’t waned.
“As an athlete and person, I am always striving to grow and improve,” she says. “With all that’s happening in the world, it’s helped me keep a healthy perspective, but haven’t lost my focus.”
Surround yourself with support.
Originally from Dunellen, New Jersey, McLaughlin moved to Los Angeles two years ago. McLaughlin’s family has gradually followed her out west, including her two brothers who now live a few blocks away.
“I have a very close support system, and I am lucky that my brothers live nearby,” McLaughlin says. “So that has been really great to rely on them to make times feel as ‘normal’ as they can.”
As we’ve been forced to draw our chosen friends and family members into our bubbles, certainly our circles have become temporarily smaller. McLaughlin is grateful for those in her little orbit. Her brother Taylor, who placed second in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2016 under-20 world championships, has been great company at the track.
“Luckily my brother is also an elite athlete, so we have been able to continue to train together where it makes sense,” McLaughlin says.
Remain as connected as you can.
McLaughlin, who would have celebrated her 21st birthday in Tokyo this summer, still ensured her big day was special.
“I made sure to take some time for myself,” she says. “I got away and was able to spend some time safely with some friends and family.”
Call it social or physical distancing—whatever it is, we aren’t getting together in person like we used to—but McLaughlin is a fan of leveraging technology to stay connected with the people she can’t see in person right now.
“I’ve made sure to keep in touch…as often as possible whether it be over social media or FaceTime,” she says, “it’s important to have your community and tribe during times like these.”
McLaughlin has also leaned on the running community at large.
“Hopefully I can inspire others to persevere and not rest on past accomplishments but reclaim the future,” McLaughlin says.
During the pandemic, McLaughlin has tapped into other interests that she may not have had time for in a typical year of competition.
One aspiration that came to fruition is her own YouTube channel. She posts entertaining and goofy videos for her 13,000 subscribers. In addition to YouTube, McLaughlin has a following of nearly 500,000 on Instagram. Her Goldendoodle, Laylay, makes frequent appearances and has served as good company during quarantine.
“My puppy has kept me busy,” McLaughlin says of the dog who turned one on November 6.
Also a self-proclaimed fashionista, the track star was invited to participate in New Balance’s campaign for a new collection collaboration with STAUD. The opportunity to pursue her passion for fashion was welcomed.
“I always practice and race in high-performance wear that feels classic, but reflects my personality, so this collection is the perfect combination for me,” she says. “I love that the clothes can be worn on and off the track.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misidentified McLaughlin’s coach. The story has been corrected.