Undeterred | Sirena Alise

Undeterred

J Keith Hall

Sirena Alise Williams isn’t easily discouraged…. That’s an understatement!

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When it comes to un-deterred determination and a knock-down, drag out work ethic Sirena Alise is hard to beat.  Just jotting down her titles is a chore.  Sirena, who goes by Sirena Alise to limit the confusion between her and the “other Sirena Williams” does so many things.  She is of course a professional track & field athlete, running the 60 meter hurdles (indoor) and 100 meter hurdles (outdoor) she was a 2015 Nationals Finalist both Indoors and Outdoors.   Sirena is also a blogger, app developer, and the lead marketer of her finance’s (pro soccer player Quincy Amarikwa) book ‘The Perfect Soccer Player Blueprint‘.  

Of course most of her seemingly endless energy is concentrated on training to improve her performance on the track.  Like so many athletes, Sirena’s start in her chosen field came because her family had been involved in track and field as a youth as well. “I first started running track and field in middle school because it’s the sport my mom did as a youth”, Sirena says.  

But Sirena’s athletic journey didn’t start in track.  “I grew up competing in gymnastics.  It was the foundation of the attitude I have towards sports.”  Sirena tells me that gymnastics taught her that if you work hard you’ll get results. “I competed up to level 10 and after that I was forced to stop because I tore some ligaments in my lower back. My nickname was baby Dawes. I was at the point in my gymnastics career where the next level was Elite level gymnastics or Olympic level. After my doctor told me the news he said if I decided to continue to compete that there would be a chance that by the time I was 16 that I wouldn’t be able to play in any other sports like normal high school student.”

At the very young age of 11 Sirena decided to end her gymnastics career due to the risk of further injury.   “That was devastating for me because it’s something that I grew up doing.” Sirena recalls, “So after the news I decided that I would just try each and every sport that I could.  I tried soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, you name it.   I pretty much tried everything when it came to sports.”

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“What inspired me the most was the story my uncle told me about my mom running track. which is why I think I love track and field the most because it was something that her and I could have conversations about.  She would tell me her experiences and how far she made it.   I could see how happy she was watching me run track, competing, and just having fun.”

“Gymnastics drove her crazy.  She worried about me getting hurt all the time when I was in gymnastics.   I could tell that she was more relaxed watching me run.”  

After being told that she could no longer do a sport that she fell in love with, Sirena appreciates every opportunity that much more.  “It was my life. It was what I did after school it’s something that I literally spent hours perfecting. To be told at that age that you can no longer do something you love is really hard and I think that’s why I put so much heart into everything that I do because to have something taken away from you it’s just really hard.” So when given the opportunity at something else to succeed, Sirena is going to make sure that she gives it everything that she has. 

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For someone that is so determined and focused, I always wonder if they have ever considered quitting.  Most of the time people (even the most successful of people) can quickly come up with a story about when they were considering quitting.  For Sirena, it’s a struggle to come up with a story about contemplating quitting.  

“When it comes to thinking about quitting I don’t necessarily think about if I’m going to quit.  It’s more so wondering why you’re doing something or why I’m not necessarily taking action on something I’m thinking about.  Everyone has their down phases where they’re questioning why they’re doing something. When it comes to questioning why you’re doing something, that is when you need to remember why you started.”  

“I have to say that I placed more pressure on myself, this Olympic year to qualify because it’s something that I have been training for for the past 3 years and dedicated all of my time towards. This year, I felt, was a defining year. Where all the hard work that I have been doing over the past several years would flourish and that’s exactly what I was on pace for.

“At any time where I was feeling doubtful, I didn’t quit because I reminded myself why I started. That’s how I feel about anything that you start.   You need to understand why you’re doing it because that is what’s going to keep you sane, grounded, and focused when those times come when you’re feeling doubtful.”

The affirmation for me was when I ran 13.24 really early in the season and that kind of let me know that this was going to be a great year.  I was on the right track.  

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Advice to your younger self

“Trust the journey.” – the advice that Sirena would give her younger self

“The only advice I would give myself if I had to do it all over again is to do it the exact same way. Trust that things are going to go well.  I think I can say that because I understood why I started and I took all the necessary steps that I needed to take in order to achieve the goals that I set before I even started the journey.”

Advice to someone starting on a similar journey

Focus on a healthy mental mindset. My coach always says track and field is 90% physical and 10% mental.  What controls the 90%?

The Impact of being in a relationship with another professional athlete 

It most definitely helps to have someone who is on the same page as you when it comes to athletics.  I have someone who understands how it can be after a tough workout, before a major competition, after a major competition and just understands the athlete mindset.  Quincy has been huge in the amount of success I have achieved by being extremely motivating, uplifting and supportive of any and all decisions I choose to make.  Good or bad. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive partner and best friend.

Training off the track

My off the track training regimen just includes long runs, pool workout, yoga, bike work and pretty much any other cross-training that you could possibly think of.

Beliefs on performance diets

When it comes to dieting I don’t really have a philosophy. I naturally eat pretty healthy. I eat a lot of fish, baked chicken, and noodles.  I try to cook vegetarian meals every now and then.   Eggplant lasagna is one of my favorite.  

I’m not super strict about my diet.  Sometimes I go for those viral food videos and every now and then I’ll find one I like, I’ll make it, and it usually turns out amazing.  

So yeah, I guess that’s my take on diet. Put good in and get good out.

I don’t eat fast food.

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Overcome Your Hurdles | Kristi Castlin

Overcome Your Hurdles | Kristi Castlin

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Kristi Castlin is a professional track and field athlete, 100 meter hurdler, and a 2016 Olympic medalist. I spoke with Kristi shortly after she returned from Rio, Brazil where she finished 3rd in the 100 meter hurdles finals.

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Childhood

Kristi was always involved in athletics and physical activities in some way. As a child she says she enjoyed PE, field day, and even cheered.  It wasn’t until she was 14yo that she started running track though. She was a freshman in high school. When running track for the first time, she had a lot of success from the start.  Once she was able to dedicate herself to track, she was almost unstoppable. She won 4 state championships breaking a state record at her High School.

When choosing the events she wanted to take part in, Kristi dared to be different. ” I gravitated towards hurdle because I wanted to be different. It was something a lot of other girls weren’t doing,” Kristi says.

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Transition from College to Pro

Kristi went to college at Virginia Tech. When choosing a college, she had over 10 different scholarship offers. She was the first child of her mother’s children to go to college. She envisioned herself creating a legacy of her own.  She chose her univeristy with this in mind rather than following in the footsteps of legends at programs that had a long established legacy of champions.    She felt Virginia tech would be the perfect place to do just that. Indeed she picked a great school to do so. She broke records and won championships. She later went on to become the first medalist in track and field for Virginia Tech.

Transitioning from college to the pros wasn’t easy. Kristi says she struggled from a sponsorship stand point. She first received a small sponsorship from Adidas right after college. Track, like tennis for example, is a bit different than team sports where you sign with a team and agree to terms of payment.  With individual sports, you rely on sponsorships to support your training and travel so you can give your training the attention you need and travel to events to earn purses (monetary winnings).    She couldn’t find another significant sponsor to support her training.  She went on to have an amazing year in track and field in 2012 while training at Clemson. This sparked interest from other companies to pursue sponsorships with her.

Unfortunately, she suffered a minor injury just before the 2012 Olympics. This injury halted her progress for that moment. Going through the injury only made Kristi stronger in the end.

“I had to learn patience and independence as well.”

After the injury Kristi moved from Clemson, SC to Los Angeles to be with her coach. Later she decided to make another change and left to train in Atlanta at Georgia Tech.  “My coach (when I was at Georgia Tech training) helped me to learn a lot about myself.” He helped her to mature, she says. She then returned back to her previous coach back in Los Angeles.

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Mindset

“Track and field is primarily an individual sport. You have to have a strong mindset. It can be difficult to make mistakes because you have no one else to blame.”

“There is little room for error,” Kristi explains.

You have to capitalize on every opportunity. There is a lot of pressure.  Track and field also takes a great amount of accountability.” You train and manage your body, paying attention to every little detail for weeks and months on end.  All of this training and management boils down to a 12 second race that will set you off in one direction or the other.  “You need to  have a strong mental capacity to deal with the results of a race.” It takes a lot of stress management.

Kristi deals with the pressure through prayer and faith. She also works to keep a disciplined schedule. It’s important to make time for things that make you happy, but you must also stay focused and organized.

“Be flexible but always have a plan.”

Routine

A typical day for Kristi is a long one. “From the time I wake up until I finish is about a 12 hr day.”  In the morning, Kristi wakes up and goes to training. She trains about 6 hours a day. Her training includes everything from running, jumping, hurdles, drills and plyometrics, and more. She take about a 15 min break for lunch then heads to weight training for about 2 hours. After a long day of training, she will frequently see her massage therapist. She also makes time to stretch and have an ice bath to soothe her body and prepare for the next day.”

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Kristi Castlin

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