For Natasha Hastings, it’s only natural for her to live a fast-paced life. She is, after all, an Olympic gold medalist in sprinting. However, she had to hit the brakes after she found her world turned upside down from one unfortunate event after another.
In 2019, she was in a great place. She just had her first child, son Liam, and was set to get married months after his birth. She was preparing to retire from track and field and focus on family, training for what would be her final Olympics. And then all of a sudden, she wasn’t doing any of those things.
Six weeks before her wedding date, her fiancé called the wedding off and ended the relationship. From there, she was thrust into single parenthood while in the midst of training for her final Olympiad. And then that didn’t happen either, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am much better today,” she says with an exhaled laugh as she thinks back to that time. It was a moment of crisis that she says she was able to get through thanks to a recommendation from her mom to seek out counseling. She needed a level of support she wasn’t used to relying on before (fast-paced life, remember?), so she sought out a Black woman counselor.
“This time, given the circumstances, I really wanted to sit across from someone who looked like me and felt where I was coming from,” she says. “I can say that it really, truly made the difference.”
It was necessary as things unfolded and life became far too complicated to just figure out alone. She tried to continue training but was simultaneously caring for her son with help from her mother. She was juggling multiple things while her mental health was suffering. She wanted to be better, and happier, for Liam.
“In the process of the breakup I looked down at my son and I said, this is something that I want to do better for him,” she says. “Even from the perspective of like the breakup, we automatically go into, ‘He did this! And ‘it was this!’ And ‘it was that!’ For me it was, why am I making these choices? What do I need to do to be a better woman? How do I be a better woman to show up for myself and how do I show up for my son? What is it that’s happened in my past that I’m continuing these cycles and making these choices? Even for the sake of my child, I need to take the time to look myself in the mirror and at my counselor and kind of ask myself these tough questions and really kind of get to the root of what it is in me.”
And then, in the midst of that, as mentioned, she was told that there would be no last run around the track for her. No exiting the sport of track and field on her own terms — at least not in 2020 as planned. What she’d been in denial about in regards to the virus and how it could affect the Olympic games, ended up occurring.
“At that point, I just stepped back [laughs],” she says. “It was a lot. The postponement was the last straw. My mom lives here in Texas with me helping me with my son. She just took one look at me and she said, ‘I know baby, you’re tired.'”
Hastings was scared of how the suspension of the Olympics would affect her, including financially.
“I’m a walking business essentially. My sponsorship is me reinvesting in myself. Me paying my coach, my massage therapist. I need the support to do my job,” she says.
But there was nothing else to do but wait, and in Hastings’ case, do some internal work. She consistently worked with her counselor then, and still does now. Fourteen months after her first appointment, therapy got her through emotional heartbreak, delayed (but not denied) professional goals and a whole pandemic.
“I’m fresh off of my breakup, dealing with that. Dealing with being a new mom. My son was only five months when we broke up. It was a lot that just kind of happened at one time,” she says. “It was probably the first time in my adult life honestly that I said, ‘I need to take a step back.'”
It was for the best. What started off as a catastrophic series of events became something of a blessing.
“I did need that time. I didn’t know I needed that extra time but thanks! I did need it,” she says. “And being able to be at home with my son, too, I was blessed that my mom could be here with me. Sometimes she’ll bring him out to practice and when I’m not at home I know he’s in good care. It’s definitely been a blessing in that I’ve gotten extra time both on the track and with my son.”
She’s back training four to five times a week, preparing for races and for the possibility that as all sorts of sporting events have found a way to go on in the new year, so will the Olympics.
“I’m still going for it. I still have the support of my sponsors, my family,” she says. “My son’s healthy, and I’m in a better mental space.”
Her outlook on love is in a good place, too.
“I want to get married, want to have kids. All of those things are still on the table,” she says. “Liam needs a little brother or sister — or two.”
And she even has career plans in place for when she hangs up her spikes thanks to making caring for her mental health a must with therapy. Motivated by her sessions with her counselor, she now wants to help people in the same way therapy helped her.
“Being in therapy kind of inspired me to think about my life after track,” she says. “So I actually enrolled in grad school and I’m studying to be a counselor myself. I’m studying clinical mental health.”
Compared to where she was at this time last year, Hastings has new purpose, including her son, her gold medals, and her academic goals. She also has a new appreciation for a simpler, slower-paced way of living that allows her the space to check in with herself, mind, body and spirit.
“I’m doing the best that I can. Honestly, balance is not the word that I use. I just try to keep things simple. By that I mean, I’m a recovering perfectionist…but I realize that I have to give myself grace in all areas of my life,” she says.
“As women, we please other people without stopping to think, wait a minute, what do I want for me? How do I pour into myself and allow others to pour into me while I pour into them? I can’t continue to pour out to everyone else and I’m not doing for me,” she adds. “I didn’t like to say no very much and no became my best friend this past year. And it’s a full sentence. I don’t have to give an explanation, I just don’t feel like it today or I just can’t. Really, set those boundaries that are important to you and that make you feel safe. The better you can show up for yourself the better you can show up for everyone else who’s depending on you in whatever way.”