Jenna Burkert: What's Your Why?

 photo: richard immel

photo: richard immel

What is your why? Can you even remember anymore? When you do something for so long, its almost inevitable for your 'why' to come into question. Your why is the reason behind your effort. It is what keeps you driven, if you don’t have a why you may be weak when things get hard. 

Take me for example, I have been wrestling for nineteen years. Now 25-years-old, that’s almost my whole life. I say that with a laugh, can you believe I have laced up my wrestling shoes almost every day for nineteen years? Well I have, but not without the reminder of my 'why.' I emphasize the number of years because it's a long time to keep motivated. I’d be a liar if I told you I never wanted to quit. There have been days that I was so sore, so beat up from practices and workouts, that heck yea I wanted to quit. After those hard days I had to work hard to remind myself why I still compete in wrestling. 

My why is my pure love for the sport. 

My why is the countless hours I have dedicated to become the best.

My why is because at almost 5 years old I saw the Winter Olympics on tv, and knew I had to be there. It didn't matter to me that wrestling wasn't in those Winter Olympics, because the Olympic movement is what set the fire in my eyes and ignited the passion in my heart. I knew I wanted to be the best, and the very best competed at the Olympics. 

 photo: tony rotundo

photo: tony rotundo

On the hard days, weeks, and months, I have to remind myself of why I began wrestling in the first place. Your own personal why can be anything. When you fall down seven times, it's the why that gets you up on the eighth time. Some of my greatest victories came right after huge challenges which had made me question if I should leave the sport. Digging through those thoughts helped me realize I didn't want to give up on my goals. At some point, I won’t be able to keep competing and I will have to retire. This reality helps ensure I make the most of every time I am able to step on the mat. I don’t know a single athlete who have never had thoughts about quitting. Take comfort knowing it is okay to question if you want to continue on. Maybe that’s a sign you need a break, or time to do cross-training. Whether you are wrestling or competing in any sport, your why is your biggest weapon. 

Life is hard. Those three words are the honest truth. There are going to be many hard times in your life. It may be sports, school, relationships, or maybe even filing your taxes. Something out there will make you question if you can do it. Your why is your back bone, and it’s the strength that will help you continue on. With social media dominating our every move, it's easy to think everyone else lives perfect, happy lives. This is deceiving and is never the full truth. We don’t see the struggles or the bad days, we only see an image or a ten second video.

I’ll give you guys an example of life throwing curveballs. Three and a half weeks before this year’s U.S. Open, I fractured my ankle along with a high ankle sprain. Let me tell you, my heart ached and I was absolutely devastated. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. As I sat in the hospital listening to the orthopedic surgeon tell me the news, I couldn't stop shaking my head. The doctor told me I would be in a boot, and I most likely should not compete at nationals. With the qualification system requiring us to compete at the U.S. Open, I knew I had to compete because missing nationals would end my season. My eyes fill up with tears, but I knew I had to find a way to be at nationals. I walked out of that room with my mind set on competing. My physical therapist and athletic trainers came up with a plan heading into the open. I would have to be extremely cautious and the most disciplined I had ever been. I had rehab exercises before and after every workout, and I taped up for wrestling practice. If I wasn’t on the mat, I religiously wore my boot. Fast forward, I ended up placing third at nationals, going on to win the world team trials, and then ultimately fell short at Final X. Despite not representing the U.S. at worlds this year, I overcame so much and I stand with my head held high. It’s tough doing what I did, I had to compete with little to no strength in my ankle to push off, but I found a way. I may not have made the world team this year, but I proved to myself just how strong I am. I will rise again, and just like they say, the sun still comes up the next day. So, keep pushing, chase those dreams, and always believe in yourself. 

Life is tough, but so are you.


Jenna Burkert is a 4x National Team Member, 3x Junior World Team Member, and a 2014 & 2018 Senior World Team Member. She wrestles for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and was 4th at the Military Worlds in 2017. She was 5th at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games as the only female representing the U.S. 

Jenna wants you to reach out to her through social media! She loves working with and answer young athlete's questions, so send them her way!

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