World and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod has been at the top of the pile for some time. However, life at the elite end has not always been straightforward for the Jamaican superstar. Here he offers an interesting twist on our regular Advice To My Younger Self series.
As a kid I remember being fearless. Back then I didn’t worry about expectations. I was unafraid. I was wild and free but also very driven and I played many different sports: cricket, basketball and soccer. I lived in a very disciplined, strict household, where we may not have had everything we wanted but we had everything we needed. We weren’t a rich family but growing up in that environment taught me life lessons about how to work hard and be grateful for what I have.
Since I was young, I was never afraid of a challenge. I always wanted to test myself. I’d run against the older guys. At church I wanted to sing the most challenging songs. I was always keen to be around elders at bible studies because I wanted to learn more. In the streets I used to lay down buckets and cans to jump over in races. Sometimes I used to put one bucket on top of another just for the challenge. I was a crazy, wild kid and that fearlessness has grown with me as my track career has developed.
My mum always advised me not to change and, for the most part, I haven’t. I’m still that same goofy kid I used to be. However, as I’ve grown older I’ve sometimes become so caught up in expectations, I’ve lost that sense of self.
Last year I think I lost that sense of fun. At the time in my career I was coping with several ‘what next’ questions and struggling to find answers. I had injuries and I was becoming consumed by track and field.
To fix this, I had to do some serious soul searching and ask what works for me. It was less a case of giving advice to my younger self; it was more about what I could learn as an adult from my younger self. How could I reconnect with that feeling of fearlessness? I realised to rediscover a happy Omar, I needed to be in a happy environment. This would help me become a healthy Omar which translates to a fast Omar.
I was missing home, that family connection. So I moved closer to Jamaica - to Florida from Kentucky. I also changed coaches to join Tony Ross, the son of the great Wilbur Ross, former coach to Renaldo Nehemiah (the former world record holder). He’s super smart and really knows his hurdling. I established a great team, which has slowly rebuilt my confidence and allowed me to rediscover that fearlessness I’d felt for so much of my youth. I hope this feeling will stay with me for the rest of my career because I know it will help me reach my goals and fulfil my potential.
Steve Landells for the IAAF