The Olympic podium is a place every swimmers dreams of standing one day. Canadian Brent Hayden got his opportunity in London winning a bronze in the 100 freestyle at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Like each athlete we witness collecting hardware at an Olympics there is more to Hayden’s story than just the 47.80 seconds it took him to reach the wall.
In his first appearance at the Olympic Games in Athens he suffered extreme disappointment in and out of the water. He not only let himself down, but he felt he let his team down underperforming in the relay events.
Out of the water it was even more disastrous. On the night before the closing ceremonies riot police in Athens mistaken him for a protester and he was subsequently beaten and arrested.
In 2007 he reached the top of the podium at the World Championships tying Italian Filippo Magnini for gold in the men’s 100 freestyle.
Hayden headed into Beijing as one of the favourite’s in the event, but once again failed to meet expectations. Wanting to redeem himself for his performance in the relay events in 2004 he put a huge amount of focus on the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. Unfortunately he narrowed his focus so much that he did not have the right mindset going into the semi-finals of the 100 freestyle finishing 11th and missing his shot at a medal in the event.
In 2011 he once again reached the podium at the World Championships finishing second in the 100 freestyle.
The lead up to London was anything but rosy. Hayden was past his prime and struggling with both chronic back pain and personal issues. At a training camp before the games his back was so bad he couldn’t walk for four days and fearing he would have to retire before reaching London.
Like other challenges he faced he took it head on with the final result being a bronze in the 100 freestyle.
There were many hurdles to overcome on his path to success. In facing the challenges it did taught him a lot and developed resilience that he has taken into life after swimming. In his newest venture Hayden has combined an idea born from his experience as an athlete with the lessons learned while pursuing his goals.
In May Hayden and his wife Nadina Zarifeh launched Astra Athletica a clothing line created for athletes that is both fashionable and functional.
Hayden first had the idea for the company when preparing for different camps and competitions. He found that he did not have enough room in his bags for both his training gear as well as clothes he was proud to wear away from the pool.
“Packing to go to a training camp was really tough because I had to pack my bag with team gear and then pack it with clothing for me to wear out socially as well. My problem was my bag ended up getting to full and I always wished I had clothes that were more versatile. Something I could wear to workout or I could throw on and go for a nice dinner.”
For Hayden the company is much more than providing athletes with functioning fashionable clothing. It is about sharing what he learned on his journey towards the Olympic podium while supporting others who have the same dream.
The Astra logo contains three stars strategically placed around the pinnacle of a triangle. The three stars represent what he feels all athlete need to develop when pursuing excellence; mind body and soul.
“The three stars are the most important part of the logo,” says Hayden. “They represent the mind, the body and the soul.”
“Being a success in anything you do takes that holistic approach. You can’t just focus on one or two parts of yourself.”
For Hayden the Olympic podium represents excellence and a journey worth sacrificing for.
“We positioned them in the tier shape to represent the Olympic podium the ultimate symbol of success. It is going to take the body mind and soul to get there.”
Hayden believes you need to approach the mental side of training with the same vigor and commitment as the physical, “You have to train your mind the same way you train your body.”
The most effective way he found to develop the resilience needed to achieve success was by going through the rigors of competition on a regular basis, “I trained my mind by going out and competing as often as I could. There are things in a competition mindset that you can’t train in practice.”
“In practice you can train your mind to push yourself really hard, but that is completely different then when you are standing behind the blocks. When you have to execute everything that you have been doing in practice while your heart is pounding, while the butterflies are turning in your stomach.”
“You have to be able to execute with precision in that time and you can only really do that by putting yourself out there all the time.”
The process of developing the physical element is about respect and balance. As an athlete you have to be able to understand and have the willingness to push past your perceived limits, “Your body is capable of doing so much more than you actually believe it can,” explains Hayden. “It is important to have the ability to push it beyond what you thought its potential was.”
On the other side of that equation he speaks about the importance of listening to your body when it is giving you the signalling you have taken it to its limits. “You have to listen to your body. I think a lot of athletes get scared of saying that there body is being pushed too far and they end up becoming broken.”
“That is something that I had to learn with my back. I had to learn to listen to my body to know before something happened. I had to be able to back it off a little bit before I hurt myself and then push through it again after that.”
When defining the development of the soul Hayden explains that it is about learning how to fail better each time you do not reach your goals.
“Failure. Learning how to fail successfully. I wouldn’t have succeeded in London if I didn’t fail in Athens and Beijing.”
Failing better is about learning from each set back and resuming the journey towards your goals with more wisdom than you had before, “That is where you really look down deep inside yourself and ask what did this mean, what is the lesson that I learned, what do I need to improve within myself and you find out what is important to you.”
Life after competing is one of the toughest transitions an athlete will ever have to make. Hayden has not only found a new passion to commit to, but he is also inspiring others achieve their goals through his experiences.