At the United States Track & Field Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon, 28-year-old Brenda Martinez was in prime position to win her best event, the 800-meter run, which would qualify her for the Olympics for the very first time. But with less than 100 meters to go, a trailing runner tripped and fell forward into Martinez, throwing her off balance. She was able to regain her footing, but not before being passed by a handful of other runners who would secure the three Olympic spots. It was devastating to watch.
Martinez could have been distraught and dejected. She failed (and largely due to bad luck) to achieve her goal of making the Olympics in her strongest event. But instead of feeling sorry for herself, Martinez told reporters that she was focused on getting ready for the 1500-meter run, the other event she was competing in. “The track doesn’t care about your feelings,” she said. “You’ve just got to move forward.”
And move forward she did. Less than one week later, in the 1500 meters, Martinez literally dove across the finish line to secure third place — by three one-hundredths of a second — earning her the opportunity to represent the United States in Rio.
It’s easy to see how Martinez could have lost focus and been sucked into a vicious cycle of rumination. But when I spoke with Martinez shortly after these events unfolded, she told me that it was the same mind-set that got her to the Olympic trials in the first place — after ten years of training, which included setbacks, false milestones, and close calls — that got her through it. “I just quickly let go of what happened in the 800m and got back to my routine, to focusing on all the little things I could do that would give me the best chance of running well later in the week.”