Cat Hardman recently competed in the 2022 GoPro Mountain Games and had a fantastic finish taking home 3rd place! She shares with us how she tackled her own mind game prior to the games so she could enjoy the competition and remember how fun kayaking is.
"The GoPro Mountain Games is the country’s largest celebration of adventure sports, art, and music. Professional and amateur athletes from around the world join upon the mountains and rivers of Vail to compete in outdoor sports. This is my 6th time coming to this event and for me, it has been the best one yet! Not only with the results, but my mental game.
During the past when competing, I have struggled with the mental aspect of it. For me, I felt that if I did not win, I was unworthy of sponsors. Even though that is not true, that was my head game. I would beat myself up if I did not win, and I couldn’t be friends with my competitors. In my mind, it was me against everyone and my goal was to win. I rarely did with this mindset… I never had fun competing because it was always hard for my mental health when I did not do as good as I thought I should.
The Covid break was a blessing in disguise. This two-year break gave me a chance to work on my mental game. I went to therapy and spent time working with a sports psychologist. My goal was to learn to have fun kayaking again because it was no longer fun. I felt every time I went out, I had to perform at my best. When I started paddling as a child, it was always fun, then at some point, it was no longer fun, and I had to be the best. I no longer went paddling, and I live 15 minutes from a great whitewater park… I would make up excuses to not paddle, most of the time, I would say I am tired and take a nap. This was because I did not want to deal with my mindset of paddling, with a lot of my friends support and my therapist, I worked on being able to go paddle for fun.
When I decided to go to the games, I was nervous. I had all these thoughts running through my head, what if I don’t do well, what if I get frustrated with myself, all these what if’s scenarios. I had to push all these thoughts aside and breathe. The event that gave me the most anxiety was the freestyle kayak rodeo. I had my girlfriend with me, who has been my biggest supporter in the last year and helped me work on being calm and relaxed in the water. Her and I would talk about the event, and she would give me a hug and say go have fun. For me, she taught me to have fun for myself and worry less about how other athlete compete.
When it was the day of freestyle competition, I got in the water and I could hear my heartbeat, my stomach felt like butterflies, I was so anxious. All the background noise, the people cheering, the announcers talking, it was all muffled by the water and the thoughts racing through my head. Before I knew it, I had the thumbs up to go into the feature and all eyes were on me. This was the moment I have been working towards for years now. The moment to just have fun. I went in, and everything was different. I went for few tricks and landed them, I went for a more complicated trick, and I fell on my face. I rolled up and I wasn’t frustrated, I laughed it off and tried again. I missed it, and I gave it one more shot. I managed to get the phoenix monkey, but it didn’t score because I did not stay in wave. Though, I was not upset, I was stoked that I manage to throw the trick. I could have cared less if it scored.
This was the preliminary round, and when I heard the places, I was sitting in 4th. I was so happy and proud of myself, but prouder of my composure. Throughout the next two days, we did semis, and I kept 4th place. When it hit finals, my goal was to have fun, and keep the 4th place spot. However, that all changed, I did my best and when I got out of the water, people congratulated me. I thanked them all, and when it came time to hop on the podium, I was expecting my name to be called for the 4th place spot… it wasn’t, I got called for 3rd place. I couldn’t help but cry tears of joy. I couldn’t believe that I managed to go up in placement. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was true. I was so happy to have podiumed top 3 but I was prouder of my mental game. I never got frustrated, I never got upset with myself, I just had fun competing. It paid off in the finals, I was able to impress myself and do better than semi-finals.
I also competed in a few other events, which were the Gore IV Kayak Race, the GMC Down River Race, and the Celsius Citizens Climbing Comp. I podiumed in all these events as well! I was very surprised with my 3rd place finish in the Gore IV Race, as I had never seen the course prior to the race. It was a super fun section to sprint through and get to see another part of Gore Creek that I had never seen before. As well as I placed 3rd in the downriver sprint. I had raced this course in previous years, and in 2019 I won the junior division for this race. I had a blast getting the sprint this course again! Lastly, I competed in my first bouldering comp. I started climbing back in late 2020 and the citizen comp was an open event. I signed up and it was a ton of fun, I met some cool people and I even managed to win my division!
The 2022 GoPro Mountain Games will be one I will not forget. Not because of how I podiumed, but because of my mental game. I had a lot of fun competing with my friends and seeing how my skills have grown and how everyone else’s skills have grown. I cannot wait to go back in 2023 and see if I can improve my score from this past games!"-Cat Hardman