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Samantha BoscoJune 5, 2024 at 2:28 PM6 min read

The Hidden Job of Elite Athletes: Mastering Mental Challenges

The Hidden Job of Elite Athletes: Mastering Mental Challenges

“I’m done,” I said through sobs as tears soaked my shirt. “I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m not good enough to do this.” Andrew, my rock of a husband, and I were sitting in the sunroom of the house we were staying at in Silver City, New Mexico. We were there for the 30th Edition of the Tour of the Gila, me to race and him to be the bicycle mechanic for the team. It was a five-day stage race, in which you had to make the time cut to compete in the next stage. As the sun started to paint pink and orange across the desert sky, the idea that I wouldn’t be toeing the line for stage two with the other ladies making themselves dinner in the kitchen was sinking in.



Source: Samantha Bosco

It took my husband, my coach, and my sports psychologist to help me move past that initial pain of missing the remaining stages of that race and hang up my cycling shoes for good. I spent the next handful of days taking off to ride solo before each stage started to still get training in for future races, spending the alone time to continue working through the mental anguish.



The beauty of sport as your career, though, is that continuous breaking. When it comes to any sport, just showing up and doing the work isn’t enough.



As athletes, we spend a lot of time in our actual sport, practicing hours upon hours for a race that takes a fraction of the time. We travel, learn to adapt to environments, block out noise, and quickly react to what unfolds during the race. You only get so far with actual the physical work; if we don’t work on the mental aspect our attention diminishes in stressful situations in and out of competition. Having a bad day? Not getting enough sleep? Have an argument with your partner? Have a sick dog? Your workout is bound to suffer to some degree. Cold outside? Battling injury? Looking at a hard workout on the training plan? No workout buddies? Don’t get along with a teammate? Race hotel accommodations not up to your liking? If your mental game isn’t strong, the motivation isn’t either. Neither is the desire to not hang it up and find a new path.



With the low moments, we can see where the cracks in our foundation are and work towards repairing and making them stronger. But what can be the biggest help in fixing those cracks? Our mental grit. 



7457B815-52A2-42BD-B033-2BBA41606BA5Source: Samantha Bosco


Without the mental practice incorporated into our athletic career, we hinder our ability to apply all the physical power we’ve gained in the hard work we’ve done in the lead-up to the event. We hinder our ability to cope to any situation before, during and after the event. We hinder our ability to reflect on our performances, both in training and in racing, to be better for the next one. We hinder our ability to reach our true potential.


Mental work can be a struggle, though. It’s so easy to focus on the workout, putting in your best efforts to complete them to the level requested of you. When you’re done, the focus becomes fueling and recovering to be ready for the next workout. It’s easy to fall into a pattern that blocks out other things like working on your mental game.



I don’t want to be introspective; my muscles are aching, and I just want to sleep.



But we can’t just go home and put work behind us the second we walk through the door. And, when it comes to our competitiveness, we can’t just complete a project to complete it — we have to have completed it to best of our abilities, and still wanting it to be better. Most times, though, that project is a competition or important event related to our bigger targets for the season. 

It's important to remember that our mental fortitude is also a project, and something that is hugely important to being successful in our career. And it often takes more work than the physical. While putting in the work to learn the ins and outs of your job, we also need to be learning the ins and outs of our mental health to keep progressing in our field of work. You may not see it right away, but one day the light bulb will go off: wow, I was able to get through that workout and not even have to convince myself to push through the pain.



The determination, the focus, the perseverance, the grit? That doesn’t come from the physical work, it comes from the mental work. 


When I first started cycling, I’d feel guilty for taking a day off the bike. Now? Half my workouts are designed for me to potentially fail. Some days I’ve even had to adapt the workouts and push other workouts to the next day because I know I will get more out of them and myself if I listen to my body, because I have done the work mentally to be able to let my mind, my heart, and my legs get me to the next level. By doing the work physically and mentally, I’ve learned “bad days” at the office can actually be good ones. I continue to treat both aspects of my career as job requirements, continuing to push limits physically and mentally to continue to grow as an athlete and to be more prepared to be the best version of myself every time I swing my leg over my bike and clip into the pedals. We work on our physique, our nutrition plans, our recovery work, physical therapy if we’re injured. Why shouldn’t we also work on our mental health? 


IMG_1983Source: Samantha Bosco

Challenging days happen regardless of how I am feeling physically. I have had incredible days where I felt weightlessly flying on a bike, fully in tune with everything around me while also feeling like I was the only one on the road. And I suffered terrible days, including serious injury that ended my season and left me not being able to do my job. It is a culmination of all these moments that I am a better athlete. Moments that I’ve celebrated my strengths mixed with moments I’ve had to work harder than ever before on my mental fortitude whether I wanted to or not. Now it is easier to remember to celebrate successes and the journey it’s taken to get there, adjust my attitude to positively impact my performance, intuitively maintain balance, and know that there is no such thing as perfect.



I have a better ability to persist through difficult workouts, be committed to goals I’ve set, show gratitude for the support I receive along the way, talk nicer to myself, learn how to let anxiety and nerves help my performances, control emotions, tune out distractions, and focus on the moment.



2022+-+Double+World+ChampSource: Samantha Bosco


Because I treat the mental work requirements as important as the physical demands, I can show up fully committed to pushing my limits and enjoy the rollercoaster journey that is my cycling career, knowing that I am unleashing my capabilities with the hard days just as much as — if not more than — with the good ones. And come race day, all I have to do is show up.


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Samantha Bosco

Samantha Bosco turned a childhood dream into a remarkable career despite facing significant physical challenges from surgeries needed to correct a leg-length discrepancy at age 11. She embraced paracycling in 2013 and rapidly ascended to the top, winning a bronze at the Paracycling Road World Championships and claiming two bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Samantha continued her success by capturing the 3K individual pursuit world championship in 2017 and, despite a severe setback from a traumatic brain injury in 2021, returned to win every para-cycling road race she entered in 2022, securing double world championship titles in Canada. Beyond her victories in para-cycling, Samantha has achieved 16 national championships, three ParaPan Am Games gold medals, and multiple medals in World Championships and World Cups, showcasing her dominance and resilience in the sport. Her story extends beyond cycling; as a mentor, she inspires classrooms across the country with her journey, teaching resilience and determination. Married to fellow cyclist Andrew Bosco, Samantha uses her platform to encourage the next generation of athletes to overcome adversity and achieve their dreams.