And in October at those races, it blew up in my face. So Smith needed to take a step back. She needed space. She needed to recognize that she was not OK.
“I think racing is like this pressure cooker,” she added. “It will identify or reveal weaknesses that might not show up or that you might be able to ignore in daily life, but (that moment) really revealed the pain that I was in.
Smith admitted she didn’t handle the beginning of the pandemic very well in March 2020. While bouncing between training in B.C., family homes in Ontario and Nova Scotia, and events overseas over the past year, her relationship with mountain biking went from once being her “saving grace” in her mental health journey to manifesting more into a mental and physical grind.
“The reason I got into mountain biking in the first place was to recover from my eating disorder.
Smith knows she’s not the only athlete who balances that delicate tightrope between sports performance and well-being. That’s why she decided to take a page from her role model and one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians ever, Clara Hughes. When #BellLetsTalkDay arrived in January, the Canadian Olympic Committee asked her to share her story. Smith didn’t hesitate.
“For the most part, mountain biking is what keeps me alive,” she said. “Professional sport is not necessarily a balanced or healthy approach to active living. But at the heart of it, it has always been my biggest mental health strategy.”
It wasn’t her first time speaking out about her mental health — she has done talks at university and high school events in the past sharing her experiences — but it was a moment that was crucial to getting back into gear on her road to the Games.
To her, speaking out in January reminded Smith of why she gets on the bike in the first place. Joining Smith in Tokyo later this month is the largest contingent of cyclists Team Canada has ever produced.
And after an arduous two-year qualification period, what was Smith’s initial reaction to finally being named to Team Canada? She quickly paused, thought about it, then unleashed the emotions: relief, disbelief, wonder — and pure excitement.