Three-time Olympian Phylicia George knows what it means to be adaptable. From forgoing med school to chase her Olympic dreams to completely shifting her training regime in response to a global pandemic, Phylicia knows that as long as she trusts her instincts and steps up to a challenge, anything is possible. Here, Canada’s first Black woman to compete in both the summer and winter Games in hurdling and bobsleigh tells us exactly how she stays focused and dedicated so she can achieve her goal of adding a summer medal to its winter counterpart.
STRONG Fitness Mag: How did it feel to win bronze in the bobsleigh event at PyeongChang 2018?
Phylicia George: I remember crying when I stepped out of the sled after our 4th run. For me, it was a surreal moment. I was looking back on where I was when I started and how I persevered through my doubts, to get to that moment. It made the journey and process feel all that more special. And on top of that, we had a crazy amount of Canadian fans in South Korea with us, so that energy and excitement for winning a medal for Canada felt amazing.
SFM: How have you had to adapt your training because of COVID-19?
PG: There have been a lot of differences. Firstly, my coach isn't in Canada with me, so I now have to do all my workouts by myself, and it’s been challenging to take care of all the little things my coach typically would, such as timing myself, setting up hurdle spacing, and filming runs. Also, just staying motivated and pushing myself as hard as possible is more challenging when you're at the track by yourself. But I've found it helpful to really tap in and be in tune with myself.
My coach and I have tried to be as flexible as possible during this time, since he isn't here to look at how my body is moving or check in with how I'm feeling. It’s up to me to remain aware of those things so I can ensure I'm always working out at optimal intensity. He sends me a list of suggestions for the week and I have the freedom to fit them in as I best see fit, which is very different from my more structured routine.
Lastly, without any weight rooms open, we've had to get really creative about building strength and power. We switched to power-based jumps, like bounding and hops. We incorporated a lot of bodyweight circuits, with exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and pistol squats. It’s actually been great because we've been given the opportunity to work on a lot of the small stuff that usually gets overlooked in a competitive season.
SFM: You were slated to become a doctor. Was it a leap of faith to pursue athletics instead?
PG: When I graduated I was not running at an elite level, but I just really believed in my potential to be a great hurdler. I had written my MCAT, and I got a great score. I had all my recommendation letters. I was ready for med school. But there was a part of me that knew I would always regret it if I didn’t at least try for the 2012 Olympics. I had a lot of people telling me to quit, that I’d probably never even make a team. But I’ve never really been one to take the path well travelled. The wildling in me wanted to take the path of uncertainty, understanding that I may fail, but I was also opening myself up to new possibilities. It was 100% a leap of faith.
SFM: Who or what would you say are your biggest sources of support?
PG: I’m very fortunate to have so many amazing people who support me. My family stands as my rock, and I know that if I ever need anything I can turn to them. My close friends are my cheerleaders and emotional support. I have an amazing coach and IST team who pour their genius into everything they do to help make my dreams come true.
SFM: How do you define success?
PG: I think my drive to succeed comes from my interest in exploring different parts of myself. I’m always interested in pushing myself to new limits, and to new places. There is something very rewarding about accomplishing what you previously thought was impossible. I personally define success as being your authentic self, especially in the moments where it feels hard to do that. Doing the things that truly set your soul on fire, no matter what.
SFM: Do you have any rituals or tactics you use to keep grounded?
PG: Meditation has become a big part of my life. I meditate morning and night, and I practice mindfulness throughout the day to keep myself present and in the moment. I observe my breath, and I observe things happening around me without judgement.
I love to dance. To me, dancing is literally an expression of joy and gratitude. I have many dance parties in my house by myself so I can just allow myself to be free and feel my love for life. I love watching nature shows or anything about Earth to remind myself that I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself, and to see the innate intelligence of nature so I remember I don’t have to try that hard because I have that same knowing within myself.