You might say that 26-year-old Sarah Wells has had a pretty unbelievable career so far.
The Toronto resident made her Olympic debut at London 2012 in the 400m hurdles after a remarkable recovery from a stress fracture in her left femur the year before. After 9 months of recovery, the track and field athlete had just 6 months to get back into Olympic-qualifying shape. Not only did she qualify; she made it all the way to the semifinals. Last summer, she won silver and bronze at the Pan Am Games in Toronto.
Now, just two months before she’ll travel to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Wells has released an activewear collection, available June 1 at Winners. Consisting of colourful sports bras, patterned bottoms and trendy bomber jackets – many adorned with the word ‘Believe’ – the collection is a reflection of her personal style and fighting spirit.
We sat down with Wells to chat about the collection, her training and how she’s feeling with Rio 2016 a mere two months away. Read on for our interview and to see our top picks from the collection (from $15 to $60).
Many of the items in the Sarah Wells Collection feature the word ‘Believe.’ What’s the significance of that word to you?
The word ‘Believe’ as you said is tied into a lot of the pieces. It’s centered on my story as an athlete. The year before my first Olympic Games in 2012, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture, which took me out for 9 months. Basically it’s the deterioration of your bone and I had that in my femur, which is your big thighbone – the biggest bone in your body. It took forever to heal so I was sidelined for 9 months. I came back and had 6 months to not only get back to who I was before, but then improve upon that in order to qualify [for London 2012]. I had this seemingly impossible dream in front of me and my first day back to training I got the word ‘Believe’ tattooed on my wrist. I said if I ever make the Olympic Games I’ll complete this tattoo with the Olympic rings. So over those 6 months and many obstacles and many emotional moments and an amazing support network, I was able to make the Olympic Games and complete that tattoo. It’s really great to tie that in with the clothes because I’m hoping that that word resonates with a lot of people and that they’re able to believe in themselves and overcome obstacles and reach their goals, whether it’s athletic or career or family.
You had an impressive recovery after your 2011 stress fracture and you advanced to the semifinals at London 2012. What was it like to finally accomplish your dream of competing at the Olympics after overcoming an injury like that?
Achieving that goal was certainly a big relief to know that everything I’d poured into it over the past decade at that point was worth it. I made the Games July 1 and was heading out to London by July 20. It was a quick turnaround but I was riding that high and you’re also fit when you’re fit. So it’s nice to be able to use that fitness to compete at the Games and make the semifinal. There’s a picture I have of myself post-semifinal and I’m sitting on the track and I look disappointed. In hindsight now I’m mad at myself for only looking at what I didn’t do. I didn’t make the final and that’s all I could focus on in that moment. In hindsight I had just had this incredible journey to make the Olympic Games and then to make the semifinal. I really should have been focusing on that – and I did turn it around eventually but for those first 10 minutes after the semifinal, I just kept thinking, ‘Shoot, why am I not in the final.’ [T]his time I’ll know to appreciate every moment and hopefully make it into that final.
What does a typical training week look like for you these days?
I train about 5-6 hours a day. I get Sundays off. It consists of many things. My warm up alone is about an hour. Then we do reaction time drills, technical hurdle drills, interval training and that lactic threshold – that burning pain that makes you feel nauseous training. Then we do a lot of explosive med[icine] ball tosses, circuits and core work, weight training, and then of course stretching and cooling down. So, lot’s of stuff!
How do you stay on track when it comes to eating healthy and training?
Well I have some amazing people around me. I have a nutritionist, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and my amazing coach and my family and friends. That certainly helps the process. It also requires a lot of discipline on my part. But I have a great network around me that allows me to stay healthy and keeps me encouraged to make those appropriate choices that are going to lead me to my goal. And I think it’s also about setting smaller goals, and allowing those to motivate you as you see those mini achievements along the way.
And I image you still use ‘Believe’ and how far you’ve come as inspiration.
Oh yeah, that word will mean so much to me forever. Not just overcoming an injury but maybe it’s a different setback. Getting to the top is one thing and staying on the top is another. That added pressure of now being expected to win. There is a certain level that is no longer acceptable because of what I have achieved. That pressure can get scary but I believe that pressure is a privilege and that I only have that because of that belief I have in myself and clearly other people believe in me as well to expect that of me.
You’ve hit Olympic qualification time for this year’s Games. What are you most looking forward to about Rio 2016?
It’s going to be a crazy experience. The Olympic Village is always really special. I’m looking forward to bettering myself. Last time I was a semifinalist and hopefully this time I’ll be an Olympic finalist.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I always eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich before every single race. I have to eat it. And then before I get into my blocks I run up and down on the spot to get that quick reaction and remind my brain how to be fast. Then I get down on the floor and put my hair behind my ears like seven times or so. Then I make sure my ring is perfectly in position (a gift from her parents) and put my hands down. But the starter can’t say set until everyone is perfectly still so once I put my hands down I still rock back and forth until I feel like everyone else is already settled because I want to be the last one to be still so that way we go when I’m ready. Some people like to be ready and be calm for a second before the starter goes off but I hate that. I want to be in the box and then like ‘Let’s get out of here; let’s start this race!’