Olympic 400m hurdles silver medallist Sara Petersen has taken many years to fulfil her potential. Here the 29-year-old Dane talks about how she overcame persistent injuries during her early career.
Overtraining, injuries and mental struggles
For me, my greatest challenge came from 2009 until 2012 when I faced a number of years of injury problems. I’d been talented as a junior athlete and many people had high expectations of me, but I found moving into the senior ranks difficult. I had the feeling I needed to train much more to reach that higher level, but all it did was lead to four years of injury frustration.
I slipped a disc in my back and suffered three stress fractures to my foot. During this four-year period, I could never train consistently for any sustained period. It was extremely difficult because I could see people I used to run faster than recording times much quicker than me, while I stayed at the same level.
I really started to doubt that I had this huge talent. I thought I was mistaken. It was mentally tough during those years.
The lowest point came when I suffered my third stress fracture on the same second metatarsal on the same foot. I was unsure if I was going to be able to run again and after the third break, every time I started running I thought it would break again.
Of course, I knew injuries are part of track and field but as you pick up injury after injury it becomes more difficult to convince yourself that it is okay. Yet as frustrating as this period of time was, I never thought of quitting. I was in my early to mid-20s at the time and I always knew I would reach my peak at about the age of 30. I also knew in my heart I was capable of better times. All I needed was just one season without serious injury.
I took time out in 2013 to have a baby and returned in 2014. Since then I’ve continued to improve, finishing fourth at the 2015 World Championships and taking silver at the Rio Olympics. Looking back, I’m really proud I kept on going and that I didn’t quit at, say, the age of 24. If I had, I never would have given myself a chance of fulfilling my potential.
Steve Landells for the IAAF