Biological Age vs. Emotional Age

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By Deanna Panting

When I heard a television announcer say that I was 36 years of age during the broadcast of the 2001 World Championships, I thought it was a mistake.  Then I realized “wait… I AM 36!”.  This scenario has happened to me again and again since. The fact that my age is an issue to almost everyone but me has become my biggest hurdle in my sports career.

In a Canadian Skeleton federation planning meeting for the Olympic season of 2001-2002, those running my federation reportedly stated “Deanna is too old, she will not race”.  And with that my Olympic dreams of 2002 were dismissed. Although I successfully returned from a devastating calf injury and was surpassing the times of some of my World Cup teammates, I was not permitted the opportunity to achieve my final top 5 World Cup finish to qualify for the Olympics.

There are many things an athlete learns to control… diet, training intensity, strategy for peaking for the season.  So much is directed, manipulated and analyzed so there is a pinpoint of results on race day.  I can control most of these things. I can be faster, stronger, more focused, have better equipment but I cannot control when I was born. It is this one issue that has caused me the most problems.

The much quoted Satchel Page once said “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”.  A brilliant question when you start to give it serious thought. In my adult life I have always said I feel about 10 years younger than I am biologically.  This feeling has been as frustrating to me as it has been encouraging.  There is also a level of misunderstanding that goes with this realization.  I have enough energy to out train most of my workout partners through the years as well as to find enjoyment in excruciating workouts. I continue to get faster in my sprinting regardless of the fact that I am now what is considered “middle aged”.  Unfortunately the biased attitudes to my biological age by my governing federation and it’s coaches has left me at times on the brink of retirement.

My relief to this frustration came with the introduction to the theories of Psychocybernetics.  In the training camp for the Canadian National Skeleton team in the fall of 2002, I was informed I had to take a test for age and it’s relation to sport. “Great”, I thought, “more reasons for them to say I am too old!”  I cannot say I was thrilled with the idea of giving more ammunition to the same federation that kept telling me I am too old.  The results were returned to me and I did not understand them until I met with Dr. Peter Guy, a renowned expert in the field of Psychocybernetics, to review the test. It was only then that it came to light… my thoughts and feelings were reinforced and I felt a relief that was amazing.

Although my biological age was 38 at this time, my emotional age was tested at 28.  Emotional age is related to character dynamism, one of hundreds of parameters measured through Psychocybernetics.  My dynamism explained why I am the way I am and react the way I do especially when put in the context of my teammates who have always had trouble relating to my reactions, energies and interests.  The best part is that I was by far the youngest on the entire team & the only one who measured younger… 10 years younger… than my biological age!

Equipped with this new knowledge of my reactions and their uniqueness to my character, it was time to apply this theory to my next racing venue.  This was to take place in Lake Placid, New York.  The trip to Lake Placid was a strange day.  Two uncomfortable plane rides & a long hassle to get the rental van only increased my irritability.  I was not even comfortable in my own skin.  Since our sleds were sent via truck & not on the plane with us, the extra day of training was cancelled for the Monday.  The decision was made that there would be 3 training runs/day for the 2 remaining training days & then the race on Saturday as scheduled.  This could work against me as I never do nor than 2 runs/training sessions.

Before the training runs started, Peter and I had the chance to sit and talk. After talking to Peter it all seemed to come together in my mind. Like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, it all started to make sense. I needed a problem to fix… a puzzle or a crisis.  If not with my sled then another piece to fit together to finally succeed.  Peter helped me see that I needed to keep racing fun, not to over-think.  Peter told me that I should approach the race as if there is no one, rather only the start and the first corner”.  Analyzing the track over and over may work for some but not for me.  It is only about enjoying it for me & when it is over, it is done.  No notes after the runs.  No visualizing. No over thinking.  Basically, I have to approach the track very differently than my teammates and competitors.  This can be attributed to my short attention span high energy and my ability to have extremely quick reactions which are related to my emotional age.  I cannot tell you just how liberating it is to feel that you are exactly as you are meant to be.

My first training run down the Lake Placid track was a surreal experience. It was a blur but not in a bad way.  Like a carnival ride.  I finally went WITH the track instead of fighting against it. Instead of thinking BEFORE a corner, I was feeling my way THROUGH the corner.  One of the amazing things with the track was that the time clock was not visible from the finish.  I would finish my run, climb out of the track, get on the truck and go back to the top of the hill without knowing my time.  This actually helped to reinforce to me that concentrating on time should not be my focus, rather just the moment, the experience.  This approach allowed me to achieve 2nd place for all 4 training runs.

Peter and I refined my mindset to recreate this every time: fun, fun, don’t think…enjoy, one run only – the start and into corner one… nothing else  .I started to feel comfortable with my sled (it had been so long since I felt that) & confident that I now knew my approach & that it was authentically mine.  Peter reminded me in the start house over and over again that “this is fun”, “move”, “smile” “don’t think” (the humour that a 38 year old – chronologically the oldest on the team- has to approach racing like a 6 year old has given me much amusement when I think about it).

As I went to the start, Peter positioned himself where I could see him at the side of the track & smile… FUN!! The run is relaxed and a joy…  After the first run I am in 3rd place.  I returned to the start for my second run & again looked at the spot where Peter stood and smiled again “yeah… this is fun” I say to myself. Again I finish in 3rd place, my first podium finish in 2 ½ years!  I was free and relaxed, as if on a high.

I have learned that for me it’s not about winning. Rather, it’s about finding my way of performing, achieving results and enjoying the experience.  But it takes guts to do it your way even if it’s radically different from “normal”.  I found that although others see me as an aging 36 year old competitor, I can achieve my race dreams by following my emotional age and the unique ways of approaching goals that it ”is me”.  Now nearing 40, I am continuing toward another Olympic year, my dream.