'I want an edge:' Canada's Alysha Newman finding form in a different mental space
Alysha Newman is seeing things in a different light — and more specifically, looking for an edge.
The London, Ont., native won the World Indoor Tour in Birmingham, England last Saturday, closing with a 4.78-metre performance in the pole vault — 0.04 shy of both her indoor and outdoor bests, and national records, of 4.82.
Newman has dealt with a series of lows over the last three years but feels the work she’s done mentally has gone a long way in finding her form in what’s been a strong start to 2023.
“I think my mental (focus) has broadened me and brought me up a level physically,” she told The Canadian Press. “I've always been a very, very talented and gifted athlete. But what separates you from being the best of the best, I definitely think it comes down to mentality.
"My mentality is just bringing me up a level of feeling like anything is very much possible again and I hadn't felt that way in quite a long time.”
Most of the 28-year-old’s previous success came before 2020 — her national indoor and outdoor records ranking in the top 12 and 17 all time, respectively, and a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with an event-record 4.75 showing.
Between the pandemic and injuries, specifically a lingering concussion suffered in April 2021, and a stress fracture in her left heel that prematurely ended her 2022 season, Newman has had plenty to work through.
After a tough showing at the Tokyo Olympics that saw her miss on three attempts in qualification and the 2022 world championships where she failed to make the final, Newman felt she had been written off by everybody — including Athletics Canada.
The two-time Olympian says the organization took her off the CAPP (Canadian Athletics Performance Pathway) list, cutting her funding back in October. However, she was able to win an appeal and the decision was overturned by December.
A key for the program is "to identify and support named athletes who have the potential to contribute directly to our Olympic and Paralympic success" according to the organization's website.
“I am capable enough and I am one of the best in the world — I should be funded by the government, so I did feel like my federation kind of gave up on me and some of the environments gave up on me,” she said.
Following all that's happened, Newman says she's found herself again.
“If there's anything I've learned in the last three years is having those goals and dreams — holding onto it and seeing it, that's like the end of the tunnel," she said.
"But then being consistent and showing up every day, even when it's not a good day, I think that is huge because I feel like it took me until about probably December, January … where I started feeling like myself again.”
Since October, Newman has worked with mental performance coach Dr. Beth McCharles and says it’s helped set her mind in a certain place.
“Her and I kind of worked more on deciding if I even wanted to do track anymore,” Newman said. “Because when you want to get to the elite level like, you know, an Andre De Grasse level or LeBron or Kobe Bryant levels, you have to be all in.
“And I think for me, it was very frustrating because, you know, I'm the best of all time in Canada. … I have these really high accolades, but it just wasn't enough for me. I wanted to be in that top three and be on the podium and I missed out on it twice — obviously in Rio (2016) and 2020 at the Olympics. So I just needed to understand … if I was going to put everything into it.”
With past failures adding fuel to her fire, Newman aims to be the one everyone looks at in the sport.
“I think I'm tired of being just right there, I want an edge,” she said. “I want to be the reason … Alysha shows up and they know, ‘OK, well then who's getting second or third place?’
“I want that edge on the sport. Not so much competition-wise because in pole vault, you're competing against the bar. But I just want to have a different, I guess you could say outlook of pole vault. I don't want to just make it, I want to be among the best of the best.”
Currently ranked eighth in the world, Newman feels there's more she could offer and has eyes set on achieving bigger things.
"I see myself being on the podium (at the Paris Olympics), for sure," she said. "I'd say Budapest world championships … being on the podium there will be a taste of what it's like to be on the podium at world champs, so that's another goal of mine."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.
Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press