UD junior is so close to the Olympics that she can almost taste it
For athletes of any level, competition is only a small piece of a very large puzzle.
Associate Sports Editor
For athletes of any level, competition is only a small piece of a very large puzzle. The large majority of that puzzle consists of a journey, with changes, trials and tribulations at every corner that test more than the physical ability of an athlete.
University junior Alex Tett is well-versed when it comes to the journey of competition. Tett competes for the nation of Zimbabwe in the equestrian sport of three-day eventing and has traveled all over the United States. Three day eventing is an equestrian sport that tests both a horse and its rider’s abilities in three events over a three day period.
Tett, originally from California, moved to West Grove, Pennsylvania when she was 16 to work for a U.S. team rider. Three-day eventing is popular on the East Coast and Tett saw the move as a way to help her jump-start her pursuit of the sport.
“That’s where the foundation of U.S. eventing is,” Tett said. “That is where you get a lot of your top professional riders, the show circuit is bigger, bigger competitions, bigger international competitions.”
Tett’s first taste of large-scale competition came at the end of 2017 in the Junior Olympics where her team placed second in its region. In December of 2018 she knew she had the opportunity to compete at the international level. By February of 2019, Tett began international competition.
Tett’s training not only involves her own physical training, but also focusing on the health, fitness and the relationship she has with her horse companion of four years, Denzel, who’s competition name is Hawks Cay.
Tett’s training plan has her ride seven days a week, six of those days are with Hawks Cay. In the sport of three-day eventing, Tett must have her horse trained in mental aspects such as obedience and intelligence, known as dressage, which takes place on the first day of competition.
Tett must work with her horse to build stamina in order to compete in the second day event of cross country. In this event, a horse and its rider must cover a distance of up to three miles in 10 to 10.5 minutes.
The horse also must have the agility to compete in the third and final phase of the eventing competition known as show jumping, where the horse must leap over obstacles in a smaller arena setting.
For Tett, the hardest event of the three to train a horse for is cross country.
“You’re asking [the horses] to jump into water, you’re asking them to jump off of banks that can be up to six feet high, it’s like basically asking them to jump off a cliff,” Tett said. “For a horse to trust you and process it and perform it is really challenging.”
In the six days of working with her horse, Tett addresses dressage, cross country and show jumping at least two times per week. Included in her training plan are exercises such as lower, “gymnastic-related” jumps, a “heavy gallop” that focuses on speed and a 15-minute “fitness” jog to help build endurance.
Along the way of any journey comes doubt and questioning from other individuals. A U.S. eventing coach even told her when she first considered trying out for the Olympics, “you are not ready for this, and you shouldn’t try.”
“That was probably one of the lowest of the lows when it came to my mental state,” Tett said.
Failure and setbacks are also bound to happen. Tett did not qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics due to a combination of her horse suffering a tendon injury and a poor score in the dressage phase. Even with the injury, Tett was able to have her horse back for the end of her important qualifying year and posted the best cross country record on her team.
Tett sees failure differently than she once did and looks at it as a way to better herself and uses her losses and defeats to improve her training and planning as an athlete.
“I’d say the biggest change in my person is that I use that information in a productive way, rather than using it in a detrimental way,” Tett said. “I now have new information, I implement it into my program, I move forward, I train more and I do better next time.”
As Tett’s journey continues, the main goal on her mind is to compete in any of the upcoming Summer Olympics. With the recent quarantine period, Tett looks to take advantage of this extra time to improve upon everything related to the sport.
She even recently moved out West to work with her horse in the high altitudes of Colorado. The state is known to help athletes that focus on longer distances in sports such as running to develop a higher endurance capacity.
In terms of her journey, Tett has grown as a person. At the end of any journey, growth occurs, whether mental, emotional or physical. For Tett, her journey is not over, it is just getting started.
“Being able to be patient, resilient and grow as a person has been my experience with all of this.” Tett said. “I’m still very young for what I do.”