Stanford University

Spirit in Sport: Peak Performance & the Zone in Sport (from a World Champion & Olympian)

Spirit in Sport: peak performance & the zone in sport

Book Intro (Preface)
By Fiona Taylor, 1992 Olympian, mystic, coach and former World Champion Windsurfer

“The board glides smoothly across the water.
Under my feet the board feels light and responsive. It is purely an extension of me,
there is no resistance.
The sail is an extension of my upper body. It feels comfortable.
The rig feels right. It responds effortlessly to the increase in wind.
My body feels lean and strong.
I love being on the water. I love being here.
I have an inner knowing of all that is today. I am at home on the water.
The wind, the waves and the water are my friends.
I am at One with them.
Unity. No hesitation – just inspiration
A feeling of Lightness of being.
Joy, a rush of energy as I accelerate in a 3 knot gust………
Whee. I am free.
The six minute start signal is about to go.
My timer is set for the 6 minute count down to the start.
It is about the wind and me.
There are other boards around. I know who they are, and I know that I know this place better than them and I will win this race. There is no doubt whatsoever.
My focus is on just being in the moment..
I am not thinking.
I am just feeling. Everything feels surreal, my focus is not on any ‘one thing’ but simply being at one with all that is.
Intuitively I approach the line. I have already chosen where I want to start.
No one is in my way. I have claimed my starting position.
As I look up wind towards the top mark, the wind has remained steady. I have a race plan and I just know. I am just in the now moment.
Bang – the start gun, with four pumps I am off the line with a clear start.
I am fast, I feel fast as the board glides up wind……………
My focus is on being at one with the wind, as I round the top mark first.
My focus is on feeling light and at one with the board. I am so far ahead now that I can still sail completely free, me and the wind, without needing to protect my position from the windsurfers behind me. This race is mine. I knew it was before the start……
I love windsurfing……I love just being out here on the ocean………..”

This was the natural state that I was in when I was spending every spare minute of my day at Davey’s Bay Yacht Club as a young teenager.

In 1983 I was a 12 year old who spent her entire summer either in the water swimming, snorkeling or in boats. My dad had introduced me to sailing as a young girl and had thrown me into a sabot which is about 7 feet in length with a small sail. It is the first boat usually that kids learn in. My sister and I used to call them ‘bath tubs’. Dad bought a sabot for my sisters and I to sail in and we called it ‘Bubbles’. Bubbles was a sturdy, heavy and slow sabot.
I was the middle child of three girls and my older sister Anna was three years older than me, so she got to steer the boat, and I was the crew. I have a vivid memory of dad sending us of to sail in Sabot Week at Frankston Yacht Club when I was 9 years. The first race Anna and I spent arguing and fighting on which way to go and who was better at steering the boat. We were so engrossed in our own chaos that we had no awareness of the rest of the fleet.
After some time a rescue boat drove up to us as told us that the race was finishing (as all the other boats were finishing) and that we had better head back to shore. We had not even made the first mark yet because we were absorbed in trying to get our own way in our boat. After that I realized that I really was more suited to sailing on my own, and was much happier that way, being my own person and making my own decisions.
Soon after that when I was 12 the sport of windsurfing came along and it was the ‘new thing’ to do. In 1983 and 1984 more and more people at the yacht club and other clubs started windsurfing and there was soon a regular weekend windsurfing race that was attracting more people than sabot sailing.

Our good friends the Gold’s lent me their windsurfer and gave me my first go at it. I could hardly reach the boom when I first started, and as a 12 year old I had to use the adult equipment with larger sail, as the manufacturers had not yet made boards for kids. My fierce determination allowed me to overlook the bruises, cuts and sore hands to keep on trying to pull the sail up out of the water. I eventually did, thanks to the support from those on the beach who egged me on. The first time I managed to get going and glided along the surface of the water I was on a high. I only managed to go 20 meters before I fell off, but that was enough to get the feeling of it. I was hooked on the thrill of windsurfing across the water on my own.

It used to take me a long time to pull the sail out of the water because I was small, but once I got it up and going it all felt so natural to me. I had a natural feel for the board and the wind and by the end of that summer it just seemed to ‘click’ for me and I could sail in all directions, go where I wanted to go, and more importantly get back to the beach! I lost count of how many times I fell in, crashed, dropped the sail or got stuck out at sea needing to be rescued. One thing that worked for me was that I did not have any fear of the sea. We grew up 200 meters from the beach on the Mornington Peninsula and I learned to swim at an early age. In fact I felt more at home on or in the water, than on the land.
At the end of that summer mum bought the family our first second hand windsurfer. But you can guess who used it most of the time. My poor sisters, mum and dad had to really work hard to get me away from it, and actually have a chance to use it. Soon all my friends and I at the yacht club were having fun, mucking around on windsurfers, trying new things, new tricks and racing against each other every weekend.

I am eternally grateful to the wonderful support I received from the members at Davey’s Bay Yacht Club. Everyone was so supportive in helping me learn to windsurf. Very shortly after I starting racing I started to win the races. Men and women of all ages entered. I vividly remember sailing towards the finish line and I was coming second. Another guy Ashley was winning the race and he was about 50 meters ahead with only about 200 meters to go. The finish line was just inside the cliff face where the wind started to shear away and get gusty. I naturally kept an eye on the wind and where the next gusts were coming from. I could see Ashley sailing a bit too close to the Cliff, even though it was a more direct route to the finish line. But there was less wind in there, so I decided to stay in the gust a bit further out, and then turn towards the finish line inside the cliff at the last minute. This paid off and I passed him and won the race. He had not seen me coming and was quite surprised to see me pass in front of him. There was no doubt he was stronger than me and had good windsurfing skills, but I was able to read the wind better on the day. I rushed home and told mum that I had won the race. Her comment was “Gee darling, were you the only one in the race?”

Such faith I thought. But mum and dad soon realized that winning the race at the club was a weekly occurrence for me. I then moved on to race the regional clubs and in those days 120 windsurfers would turn up to race, people of all sizes and abilities. I ended up winning those too, to the surprise of all the strong guys with the latest and fastest equipment. But again it was my ability to read wind shifts that enabled me to win the races. In the early days, a lot of the people who started windsurfing did not come from a sailing and tactical background with knowledge and understanding of the wind and so they could not quite work out why I used to win, even though I was 13 and they were 25.

From the beginning I always windsurfed with the guys and always aimed at beating everyone. Because of that I never saw myself as weaker or lesser ability by being a girl. And in the old days men and women raced together, but they were scored individually, so that you could be the ‘first woman’ or ‘first man’. When I was 14 I had the opportunity to compete at the Australian Windsurfing Championships in Adelaide. Mum and dad decided to make a family holiday out of it and we drove over to Glenelg in January that year. I had recently placed third in the women’s event at the State Championship but the Nationals were a little more daunting and the ocean waves at Glenelg caused me to come to grief on the downwind legs. Anyway, I met some wonderful fellow competitors who I became friendly with and I placed 8th that year. From 1986-1990 I won several Australian Open Championships. During that time I would go out and windsurf around all on my own as training and I had no coach or lessons or feedback from anyone. I just went about it on my own and did well, won and never really analyzed anything about my performance. I watched and learned and just did what I always did, felt how I always felt and had an unquestionable knowing that I was the best out there and that I would win.
And I did. The space I was in when I raced was like being on auto pilot, I felt the wind, I felt when to tack or turn; I did not have to ‘think’ about it.

In 1988 the International Yacht Racing Union had managed to include Women’s windsurfing as a Full Medal Sport to be introduced at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. The men’s windsurfing event had been included in 1988, and the sport was an exhibition sport at the LA Olympics in 1984. In 1988 I was studying for my VCE (Higher School Year 12), in my final year of high school and I was ranked number 1 in Australia. I made a decision then that I would go the 1992 Olympic Games.

During my final year of High School I was windsurfing after school each night to train up for the World Youth (Under 19) Championships in Spain in July that year. I had been selected to go, and the whole trip was funded by the Australian team. It was my first international event and the standard was very high. There was a team coach which was new to me, as I had never had a coach before. He was a nice guy but mainly focused on the boat classes as he did not know much about the Mistral Windsurfing Class so he left David, my fellow male counterpart, and me to do our own thing. David was a brilliant windsurfer and he won every race at the Youth Worlds and I only won one, to finish 6th overall. I returned to Australia, back to homework and the world of school.

On finishing high school Mum and dad at the time were concerned that I get a proper education and not be side tracked by this ‘windsurfing thing’. But nevertheless I convinced them that I would travel for a year overseas, compete at some events, work and have some fun before I return the following year to start University.
My first event after high school was in Palermo, Sicily. It was the World Windsurfer Team’s Championships where they have two men and one woman from each country. We made the final against the Sicilian Team and there was much cheering going on from the side lines for the Sicilian Team. A floatilla of boats came out to watch as we raced the best of three races. It came down to a grueling last race win, whichever team won would win the event. I was coming ahead of the Sicilian girl and all I had to do was cross the finish line and we won the regatta. However, the Sicilian team wanted to win ‘at all costs’ and Alfredo decided to sail downwind and try and stop me from crossing the finish line before Giarda, the female member of their team. Team tactics can get pretty nasty, especially in Sicily where the race committee did have a reputation for turning a blind eye to what was going on. There was much yelling as Alfredo came down and literally pushed his boom into my head to try and knock me off. In the end I dropped my sail unable to keep my height towards the finish line and Giarda crossed in front of me. It was pretty obvious to all the other teams and the jury boat that Alfredo had broken a rule. After much commotion and yelling, in Italian and English the protest flag went up. We had no choice but to protest. After two hours of testimony the jury awarded us with the win. This was a good start to my first campaign over seas winning the World Team Windsurfing Champs. From 1985 to 1999 I won a total of seven world windsurfing titles in the Windsurfer and Mistral Classes and thirteen Australian titles. There were many times where I felt in the zone and in my magic, where winning was effortless and enjoyable.

But there were times, particularly from 1994 onwards where I lost my magic and sense of feel. I had illness, injury and chaos which I could not pinpoint the origin of and the flame of my inspiration went out. By the time I retired in 1999 I was angry and exhausted feeling that I had never actually realized my dream of Olympic Gold, particularly when I knew I had the desire and the natural ability to achieve it.

On retiring from competitive windsurfing at the end of 1999 I launched myself straight into a corporate sales role. It was the first time I had been a full time employee in the corporate environment. During my windsurfing years I had run my own event management business and had been self employed since I was 17 so I was used to being my own boss. Within a year I realized that I was not suited to working for a large corporate and decided to go back and do contract marketing and sales work instead.

Up until this point in my life I had always lived with clarity of purpose. I made decisions and had the determination and drive to make them happen. But in 2000 and 2001 every thing I touched seemed to fail. Within 12 months my personal relationship finished, my health had deteriorated significantly and I had clients who failed to pay me which sent me into to the red financially. My stomach had swollen up, I had pain in my pancreas and liver all the time, my face had bloated up. I was now twenty kilos overweight. I felt terrible. My self esteem hit the floor. Financially I worked one sales contract after the other trying to play ‘catch up’ financially. I worked seven days a week. As a result I burned out completely – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

During this time I read every book I could find about health, psychology and spirituality. I attended workshop after workshop: including Qi-gong, emotional freedom technique, heart coherence, quantum physics, sacred geometry, spiritual manifestation and emotional intelligence. I was spending over twenty five hours a week on research. I was desperately searching for answers.

I then went to a doctor who practiced western and eastern medicine who threw the book at me. He told me that my body was shutting down. He said I was a toxic waste dump. My lymph system was not working efficiently. I had a build up of cancer cells in my body. He wanted me to go on his strict diet and have treatment each week at his clinic to get me back to health. At the time I had no money to even pay for extra vitamins, let alone weekly treatment. I was under huge stress and as a result had begun to drink too much alcohol. For a period of 8 months I had buried all my pain in drinking to numb myself from feeling.

When I left the doctors clinic that day, after he threw the book at me, deep down I knew that even if I did everything he told me to do it would not have made any difference. An inner voice told me I had to find the answer at the spiritual level. I felt that I would slowly die if I did not find the spiritual answer. And I felt so exhausted at the time that I did not really care if I did die. In fact at the time all I wanted to do was to curl up in bed go to sleep and not wake up.

My search continued and I went to a naturapath healer who did a chakra balance on me and helped clear my body at the astral level. This seemed to help me for a short while. Very soon after this I went to Sydney to meet a French lady who had a new electro-magnetic machine that could bring your spirit back properly into the body. I was willing to try anything at this stage. When I arrived at her clinic I held on to these two metal handles and she said my spirit was eight metres away from my body. In other words I was not spiritually grounded and balanced. Somehow she brought my spirit back into my body. Within two minutes my lymphatic system started to gurgle and move. I went to the loo about ten times that day emptying fluid. I certainly felt more grounded after her treatment.

But still a deeper part of me kept searching for answers. My stomach was still bloated and I still had constant pain in my pancreas, like a knife in my back. A year before I had prolapsed a disc and had a knee reconstruction to mend my ACL that I tore snow skiing. I had never felt the same since being on anti-infalammatory drugs for my prolapsed disc. These injuries had also caused me to lose confidence in my physical ability to exercise. As a result I had lost all the fitness I had taken for granted in all my years of windsurfing.

Finally I met a metaphysical counselor and mystic Yvonne Evans who also worked as a corporate coach in Melbourne. In one session with her she cleared my energy field (aura, mind field, at the astral and spiritual level). Immediately after she cleared my energy field my hips shifted back to their correct posture and the pain went from my pancreas.
She told me to rest afterwards and I went home and had the deepest and most restful sleep I had had for a long time. A week later I had the first mystical experience that woke me up about the nature of the soul and past lives.

I was sitting in a coffee shop with Yvonne and we were talking about what could be the cause of my swollen stomach. We had discussed much of what had happened to me in this life including several operations I had had as a baby and child on my small intestine. (At four weeks old the doctors cut out one fifth of my small intestine because of a cyst. I then had plastic surgery on the scar tissue that spread right across my stomach when I was eight.) The answers didn’t seem to reside in this life time. Then out of my mouth came “I think I have been stabbed in another life.”
Yvonne, being a mystic, was able to tune into my soul story and access the relevant information at that level. She said that I had been disembowled on a battle field as a soldier. I immediately felt a shiver up my spine as I saw flashes of this past life. I went home and went to bed. I felt exhausted. For over two hours this past life trauma was released from my memory at soul level. My body shook and trembled and contorted as the memory was released via the physical cells in my body. This is called a physical catharsis. All I could do was surrender to it and consciously allow it to happen. Meanwhile I had the visual images and memories of being disembowled. It was not physically painful, but extremely overwhelming and exhausting.
After I released this memory my body literally morphed. My stomach went in three inches, all the aches and pains I had been feeling for two years disappeared. My face changed back to its normal state and I felt spiritually grounded for the first time in over three years.
The physical change in my body was so profound that my neighbour saw me the next morning and couldn’t believe the instant change in my appearance. This was when I realized that if we change at the mind-field level, in this case at the level of the unconscious – the soul, then our body can change instantly. A friend of mine had also done this herself when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She tuned into her Soul Self to get the answers. She received the answers and released the energy (in the mind) that caused the tumour in the first place. She went back for an x-ray a week later and her brain tumour was gone.

I had read a lot of material including books by Dr. Valerie Hunt from the Bio-energy fields foundation and Professor William Tiller, head of materials science at Stanford University who all confirmed that mind precedes matter. I had read that we create our own reality with our thoughts and our feelings. But it was not until I connected with my Soul did I realize the truth, that yes, we create reality. The good, the bad and the great.

(Quantum scientists have confirmed since the 1920s that we create our reality. Spiritual mystics and teachers throughout time have told us that we in fact create our own reality. The mind/body/spirit and new age movement have repeated over and over again that what we think about, we bring about. It is only when we connect to our spiritual intuition do we realize the truth of this. The rational mind, or ego, cannot fathom that we create our reality.)

From this point on I was able to reconnect again with my spiritual intuition and inner guidance from Soul. I was able to wake up to all the unconscious themes that had played out for me in my windsurfing career. I realized that I had caused, or allowed in the chaos, illness and so called ‘bad luck’ at the unconscious level when I competed in windsurfing. I was responsible for it all. There was no such thing as bad luck.

During this time I had started to facilitate workshops on reality creation and transforming unconscious themes that were holding people back in their lives. My mystical abilities returned and I was able to assist others to heal past lives that affected their current reality. (A mystic is someone who can access information at the level of the Soul whilst remaining grounded in physical reality. Information at the Soul level vibrates at a higher frequency than the information we receive via our five physical senses.) I realized that two in three clients had deep Soul themes playing out for them that originated from another lifehood (or past life). Once we healed these deeper themes their reality would change instantly. They would be free of pain and fear.

My clairvoyance, clairsentience and clairaudience returned and I was able to communicate with the Arch Angels again. I had had this ability as a child but had lost it in my teens. This enabled me to help people heal physical ailments together with assisting them to intellectually understand the origin of their pain and crisis. I could vibrate them up so they could access this information and transform it to higher awareness.

I had read as much as I could find on emotions and emotional intelligence and one of the people who discussed emotions in a way that I understood them, and had worked with them, was Dr. Valerie Hunt. She too had helped people heal past life (or lifehood) themes. She understood the nature of emotions held at Soul level that were deep and profound and shaped all other perceptions and behaviour. In her book Infinite Mind she shares over forty years of research into the human energy field (the mind) and the spiritual nature of who we are. She stated that emotions were the organizer of the energy field (the mind). Her work greatly appealed to me as it blended the scientific research together with the spiritual, eternal, nature of who we are.

I realized that you could not change limiting beliefs, that resided at the subconscious and unconscious mind, by using the power the conscious mind alone. I discussed this with two friends who were both NLP experts and hypnotherapists who had also done the deeper spiritual healing work on themselves. They both agreed that you could not heal these deeper themes without going first finding the cause of the theme – the origin of behavior.
You could use self affirmations until the cows came home but they were not going to change unconscious behaviour. Traditional psychology also did not discuss the nature of ‘past lives’ or the fact that we are multi-dimensional in nature. And most psychologists assist people from the perspective that they are victims of their reality, rather than the fact that they create their reality. So they treat the symptoms rather than the cause.

After healing my own Soul themes I was finally free from regret and the disappointment of never attaining my dream of Olympic Gold. I thought about all those athletes who had retired from sport never having realized their own dreams. If only I had understood and healed my unconscious themes (beliefs and emotional wounds) whilst I was at my peak in windsurfing. What could I have gone on to achieve if I did not have sabotaging behavior?
I thought about those athletes that have ‘accidents’, ‘illness’ or keep coming second when they have the ability to win. If these athletes healed their own unconscious beliefs they could change their reality and performance quickly.

The times when I had won in windsurfing I realized were the times when I was physically, emotionally and spiritually coherent. When I felt in the flow where everything felt easy; I was spiritually connected. My mind was present and I was more in a feeling, rather than a thinking state of mind. To me being in the zone was a spiritual experience.

In 2004 I decided to write a book about the nature of ‘spirit in sport’. Rather than simply sharing my own story I wanted to speak to other athletes about their own personal experience of the zone. I was intrigued as to whether or not other athletes felt that the zone was a ‘spiritual experience’.

After speaking with other athletes I realized that each of them had their own understanding of how the mind works; their own relationship with their own mind, the Self, spirit, and a higher source or God. Some athletes referred to the zone as being fully prepared and doing the training necessary to win. Others suggested it was when they were able to mentally focus without chatter in their head. Whilst other’s shared that their experience of the zone was more a spiritual or an out of body experience.

In my book ‘Spirit in Sport’I share some of my experiences and those of fellow world and Olympic Champions about the zone in sport. There are times where I share my story from the perspective of me the windsurfer and there are times that I put my ‘teaching hat on’ and share it from my perspective now – Fiona the mystic.

From the perspective of an athlete I realize that all we really want to do as an athlete is achieve our dreams, whether it is to win, be top three or top ten. As an athlete I was totally focused on my training and competition schedule. I would plan for four years ahead, each Olympiad.

Whereas today I can look back in hindsight and have the luxury of seeing my windsurfing career through the eyes of my own Soul’s evolution. I understand the nature of Soul purpose, divine timing and the spiritual lessons I needed to learn.

Which leads me to pose the following questions:

What makes athletes great vs just good?

Are we pre-destined to be great, or do we become great?
Why do some people have more chaos than others?
What are our own spiritual lessons to learn in this life?
Can we change our destiny?
Can we fast track our evolution?

These are all questions that all of us ask at some point in our lives. Are the great athletes throughout time born to be great or is it by pure chance that they are great?
If we view our life through the eyes of the ego self, or rational mind, we do not know. But if we connect to our Soul Self, our bigger story, we are able to feel our divine truth and Soul purpose, whether it is to be a great athlete or simply be a competitor and learn along the way. If we take responsibility for our own reality creation we can transform any unconscious themes that are getting in the way of winning much faster than if we deny we have them.

From the perspective of our Soul we choose the story of our life before we incarnate. At our highest level of play we choose the major events and wins in our sporting career and any chaos that we experience. Chaos provides the experience to learn and grow. For without chaos and challenge the ego experiences very little growth in consciousness.

We all have a bigger story, a divine Soul purpose with spiritual lessons to learn in this life.
Sport provides a play ground for this learning, growth and self awareness.

I postulate that the ability to experience the zone in sport, and reproduce optimal states of performance over and over again, relates to a person’s level of consciousness. The more spiritually evolved we are, the higher our consciousness level. The more we can access power at the universal/spiritual level the more we can access the zone.

This brings us to the nature of authentic power vs force. When I personally accessed the zone state in my windsurfing I felt ‘spiritually powerful’, like I was connected to All that Is. In my book I have written about this as being Authentic Power as opposed to force where we feel we are forcing things to happen. Authentic power feels effortless.

When we compete with pure desire from the Soul and spirit we not only achieve greatness in sport we live a fulfilling and rewarding life.

I share my story and those of 15 other World and Olympic Champions in my book ‘Spirit in Sport. The book is for fellow athletes, sports coaches, psychologists and the sports fan who want to discover the ‘missing pieces of the puzzle’ in performance.

Fiona Taylor
March 2007
www.barakaya.com

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