This year has placed unprecedented stresses and strains on people’s mental health across the globe. It’s been no different for the world’s best Short Track Speed Skaters but Poland’s Kamila Stormowska feels lucky to have had the tools in place to deal with such significant challenges, as she explains here, in the first of a new series.
Two years ago, promising young athlete Stormowska was struggling to get out of bed.
After the highs of finishing fourth in the 3000m Ladies’ Relay at the 2016 ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships, and winning the 1000m at the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival in 2017, Stormowska – a teenager at the time – was frustrated by a catalogue of crashes and penalties as she tried to make her way on the Senior circuit.
“I would wake up and go, ‘I don’t want to go to training’,” Stormowska says.
But then things changed. She sought out an expert. A move she would strongly recommend to anyone and everyone.
“She [her psychologist] has helped me a lot to motivate me or not motivate but celebrate that every step in training matters and what I am doing now matters, maybe not in one month, two months but for sure in two years,” the now 20-year-old explains. “We have the Olympics in one-and-a-half years and for sure it matters for this.
“We talk a lot… we do a lot of games… She has a lot of games for reactions or for concentration. I really need this, so we work on this a lot.”
It has not been like magic. Stormowska has had to work really hard on herself, with matters coming to a head midway through last season. After feeling in great shape at the second ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating meet of 2019/20 in Montreal, Stormowska imploded. She was penalized in the heats of both the 500m and 1000m. A few weeks later in Shanghai the same thing happened, although this time she was also penalized in the Mixed Relay.
“Because of my bad decisions in the race I couldn’t skate at the weekend. That moment was hard for me,” she says.
But it proved to be the turning point.
“I didn’t want to do it like that anymore. I had to find another way to skate, another way of thinking in the race,” Stormowska reveals. “She [her psychologist] helped me, my coaches helped me too, to think differently in the race.”
It led to a subtle but significantly different approach, one which has stood her in good stead through the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying lockdowns.
“Now I really enjoy skating and I really want to skate and I have fun with it,” she says, a smile clear in her voice. “I am excited about being in training and about competitions. I look forward to it.”
She has surprised even herself by managing to keep this new focus despite being forced to train alone throughout the lockdown in Poland, from March-June this year. She jokes that her dad would be “laughing when he woke up and I was already on the bike, training”.
With her siblings all able to continue to work throughout lockdown, Stormowska admits she found the loneliness difficult, but having her psychologist on the phone was invaluable. It also helped that she could lean on the inspiring memories of her final two ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating efforts of the 2019/20 season.
First in Dresden she made it to the quarter-finals of the 500m and then a week later in Dordrecht she made a huge breakthrough, storming to a 500m bronze medal.
“For sure this medal motivates me. I want to get more and work harder and skate with the best,” she confirms before turning her attention to the future.
“I am just looking forward. I want to know what I can show and I want to have fun competing, finally.”