Olympian Ajee’ Wilson on staying focused: ‘Races are won and lost in your head’

Ajee’ Wilson talks about the Olympics and her approach to mental health and wellness. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Relax is Yahoo Life’s wellness series where experts, influencers and celebrities share their approach to wellness and mental healthfrom self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

If anyone knows the secret to staying cool and calm, it’s Olympic and 800-meter American record holder Ajee’ Wilson. Fully aware that her chosen sport is as much a main game as it is a physical one, she has an arsenal of tips and tricks for staying focused and consistent in life, on and off the track.

The New Jersey native, who admits to love pizza (“everything in moderation!”), also recently partnered with the wellness brand for the nutritional supplements she relies on to keep her in optimal shape, Yahoo Life tells me, “I love that the products I use meet my specific needs, while meeting the strictest standards of an NSF certification with no banned substances.” . Having that peace of mind is important.”

We caught up with Wilson to talk about how she stays focused.

What is your daily approach to mental health?

One of the things coaches and athletes say is that running is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical; sometimes i think races are won and lost in your head. Mental preparation is super important for training and racing, but also in my daily life. If you aren’t [feeling] good as a person, like physically and mentally healthy, there is only so much you can do in terms of physical demands on your body.

What gives you stress?

In training and in life, however broad and foolish it may sound, [what stresses me out] is the unknown and not knowing how things are going to turn out. One of the ways I fight that in racing is through visualization. I will go through five to ten different race plans and play different scenarios in my head of how it could go. While I don’t know what’s going to happen, at least I can feel prepared. It’s a bit of a mind game, fooling yourself into being calm and not letting in [nerves] come to you mentally.

Do you do that for every race?

I do it pretty much before every race with my coach; it is a joint effort. He will give me two or three different scenarios about the race, based on other athletes during the race. Having those thoughts in my back pocket — “whatever happens, it’ll be okay” — gives me confidence as I head to the line.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Consistency is key.” Whether on the track or off, showing up and being consistent in whatever you’re looking for – that’s some of the best advice or wisdom I use to get through life.

Is that your mantra for life?

Yes! If you’re bound by the process—rather than the results—your highs aren’t too high and your lows aren’t too low. It reduces stress because you can only control what you can control – and you can control your output.

Besides physical activity, what brings you more joy?

Family, connecting, being social. Either with friends, teammates, family – being around people and connecting with people gives me joy.

Also music. It’s a big part of my life, but it’s not a big part of the athletic side [of me]. I don’t listen to music while training, just before racing. I’m a huge Beyoncé fan, so my favorite pre-race song is “I Was Here”. I’ll put that on repeat. When I compete or train, I like to be in my own head and focus; because I love music so much, it’s a distraction… I’m singing along! [laughs]

Is there a wellness trend that you think is overrated?

I don’t know if this applies, but strictness around food seems to be passé. The idea that everything has to be so strict is overrated for me.

Where do you get wellness or health inspiration from?

I rely on USATF’s dietitians for the staff; Alicia Glass is my go-to for any questions. I follow many mental health pages on Instagram. I also follow some vegan pages; I like watching people cook. I was watching a YouTube series of [Olympic] shot putter Darrell Hill called Feeding the streets.

Do you have a secret skill?

I like to tinker and I like to think that I make nice things. Last weekend my niece had a drive-by graduation party and I made the letters. I am a “craftinista;” I have a Cricut machine, but most of it is small, annoying finger work. I was kidding that I want to get on Etsy [laughs].

What are you looking forward to in the upcoming matches?

Looking forward to seeing gymnastics like everyone else [laughs]. Simone Biles is incredible! Another Simone, Simone Manuel, swimming – looking forward to that… and fencing.

Screens?!?

At the last Olympics, I was randomly given tickets to other events. On my day off, there was a fencing competition. It was super cool… I didn’t know about it before. Since then I have become a fan and I look forward to that match. And of course follow; it will be a long week with great performances.