The pressure was on. After a COVID-delay of more than a year, Alexandria sprinter Noah Lyles was finally racing against the top runners in the world at the Tokyo Olympics. The gun fired, and 19.74 seconds later he was the winner of the bronze medal.
Lyles returned to his alma mater, Alexandria City High School, on Tuesday (September 7) to talk about his unexpectedly long journey to the Olympics. In a frank, TED Talk-like speech, he talked about the importance of mental health, and described talking about being depressed with his therapist.
“When 2020 started, it felt like a normal year,” Lyles said. “I’d just come back from doing a whole bunch of interviews and photoshoots with NBC and they’re talking about the Olympics, and ‘How we’re going to be plastering you everywhere. It’s gonna be the biggest thing that summer,’ and (I’m) like, ‘Yes! So excited, This is fun.”
Then COVID hit, Lyles said, and he was forced to put his plans on the back-burner and keep mentally and physically fit until the games were rescheduled.
“All that energy that we had built up in a 2020 year, we had to save on to that stress and that pressure and push it on for a whole other year,” he said. “A lot of people will look at the Olympics this year like something was different with the athletes… Well, it was a lot of difference because we had so much weight that we had to hold onto — about two years. I was no different.”
Lyles continued, “I was disappointed that I didn’t get what I wanted. And I was disappointed that it happened like that. I didn’t get to show my greatest self. I knew walking into Tokyo that I was ready to PR, but I didn’t get to show that. I didn’t have a team with me. And that hurt in the whole Tokyo experience. It was very emotional. And I always thought in my head four years ago, when I went through this, it was going to be others. I was going to be able to celebrate, I was gonna not be alone. But it felt very alone.”
Just weeks after the games, Lyles was asked to return to the track in the Diamond League Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. At first, he says, he didn’t want to race and spoke with his therapist about it.
“She said, ‘I think you’re scared,'” Lyles recalled his therapist saying. “‘You don’t get defeated often. So, when you do, you didn’t know how to react.’ I said ‘You might have a point.'”
The 24-year-old ended up defeating his Olympic rivals and running the ninth-fastest 200 meters in history, clocking in at 19.52 seconds.
“I feel that even though we’ve been going through this 2020-21 year, and we’ve all been feeling a little bit of pressure that maybe this can help you guys out a little more,” Lyles said of his story.
The event was sponsored by the Lyles Brothers Sports Foundation, Lyles’ mother, Keisha Caine Bishop, also spoke at the event and said that she introduced mental health therapy to her children at a young age.
“We are huge advocates for mental health,” she said. “Sometimes we all need help.”
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) September 8, 2021
— Alexandria City Titans XC/Track & Field Boosters (@ACTitansTrack) September 8, 2021
Photos via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr.
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