Runner Aisha Praught Leer describes herself as not being the greatest athlete and as an underdog, but it is her humility and perseverance that make her Unlike Any. After meeting her birth father in 2013, the Illinois-born runner decided to run for his native Jamaica. Since then, she’s competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2017 World Track and Field Championships in London for the island nation. She set her personal best in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Doha Diamond League in Qatar this May.
As one of the newest additions to the Unlike Any campaign, we sat down to talk to her about what inspires and motivates her, how her lowest moments have fueled her success, how important sleep and hydration are and her tips for the perfect three-egg omelet.
Check out the video and read the interview to learn more about Jamaica’s only female steeplechaser:
Q: Who inspires you to be Unlike Any? What’s the driving factor that fuels your motivation?
Praught Leer: I’m not sure I can say one person in particular, but something that inspires me to be unlike any is the legacy of women I’ve trained with throughout the years in high school and college, in particular, what goes on in the life of a professional athlete and what each goes through in being an athlete and doing it as themselves.
Specifically, my summer as a pro in Europe watching these women, my teammates — not superheros, not anything more than exactly who they were — was empowering for me. Through this, I learned what I have is unique and what I have is what can drive me.
Q: What fuels your motivation? How do you make it happen?
Praught Leer: I have big long-term goals. This year I want to put myself in a position to win the Commonwealth Games and I want to lower my personal best in the steeplechase.
But what gets me going is a chain of smaller, achievable goals — daily, weekly, monthly goals. By making smaller goals, it’s powerful to see your accomplishments by putting these links together. Every day I try to maximize how I can be the best I can be today: knocking out my nutrition, getting my rest, getting my training in. By showing up for my training partner, my coach, my husband, myself.
I try to maximize all the small moments I get as an athlete. By taking things step by step, hopefully at the end of that staircase is something amazing.
“By taking things step by step, hopefully at the end of that staircase is something amazing.”
Q: What makes you leap out of bed every day?
Praught Leer: My 11-month-old rescue, Leuven, named after the Belgian city where I met my husband. He puts perspective on my days, because I’m in charge of this living creature. It takes you out of yourself. It’s sometimes tough on the days when you’re really tired, but it makes you present. Having a puppy is meditative.
Q: What was your lowest moment that ended up launching you to success?
Praught Leer: My turning point as an athlete was my college team. My best friend and I were the two top performers on the team. We trained together, we worked together all the time. At the last second, she decided to transfer to a bigger and better school. It totally changed how I went after my goals, and it was almost like I had decided in that moment to prove anyone wrong who thought we weren’t serious and that these goals can’t be accomplished. That sort of twisted the screw for me to take things to the next level. I really ran and trained with a chip on my shoulder because we were underdogs. No one had heard of us — of me.
I have realized in my own experience that I firmly believe that wherever you are is a starting point. If you start stringing together a series of goals there isn’t anything written in stone saying what you can and can’t do. It’s totally about your mindset, your commitment. I haven’t always been the best athlete; I wasn’t a million-times All-American. And I’m now one of the fastest steeplechasers in the world, and no one would’ve pegged me as that. I am proof you can do whatever you want.
“If you start stringing together a series of goals there isn’t anything written in stone saying what you can and can’t do.“
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Praught Leer: I really like people and the human story. Just being in a high-performance environment with other people chasing their own dreams is really cool to me. My training partner won the world championships this year in the steeplechase competition. Watching someone so close to you do something so amazing from the inside of the race is something I flash to a lot. Now I know exactly what it takes.
Q: How do you channel competition and sometimes losing?
I thrive in competitive environments. Of course I get anxious and nervous because that’s part of the game. But you can always take something away. I go in with the mentality that I’ll give 100% of my effort. I make a plan of how I’m going to attack it and I get really excited for people when they have great experiences.
If it sucks, it does suck, and it’s important to feel that and deal with that. I give myself plenty of time, I talk it out with my friends, training partner, coach, husband. I’ve had a lot of disappointment, but it’s important as an athlete to have a goldfish brain. It happened, it sucked, now I’m moving on.
Q: What’s your personal mantra?
Praught Leer: I’m smart. I can do this. I’m in control.
Q: Do you have any rituals or habits that keep you grounded and focused on achieving your goals?
Praught Leer: I think something that really helps me, especially leading into competition, is being a well-rounded person. Racing is the most important thing in my career, but for me, I can’t give it 100% power over my life, so in the days leading up to a race, one of my favorite things to do is make a point and go to the airport bookstore and buy myself a new, exciting book from the National Book Award list.
I listen to a couple different meditations and leading up to something important, if I’m having trouble sleeping, I go on YouTube and find sleep meditations. The nature of what I do means that I’m not with my friends and family — I use travel time to catch up with friends. I get lost in my world when I’m so focused on training. It’s grounding when I come up for air and can reach out to other people.
“It’s grounding when I come up for air and can reach out to other people.”
Q: What are your favorite healthy go-to foods?
Praught Leer: I tend to focus on eating real food and not stuff that comes out of a package. Especially after my time in the Pacific Northwest, eating sustainably and locally is important to me. If I could make one meal it would be a wild-caught salmon that I’ve caught myself, seasoned with salt and pepper, lemon, fresh ginger and then oven roasted and topped with beautiful greens, some chopped nuts and seeds and drizzled with a fresh, homemade dressing.
Another staple is a three-egg omelet that I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting after watching YouTube tutorials. I cook it with olive oil and eat it with a thick slice of sourdough bread, smashed avocado, spinach and fresh-squeezed lemon.
Q: Cooking in important to you. How do you make time for it with such a busy schedule?
Praught Leer: My husband (pro runner Will Leer) tackles breakfast and coffee, which is usually granola with a bunch of grains and berries and almond milk. For our wedding we requested one crowd-sourced gift — a really nice espresso machine. From there on, I take over cooking duties for lunch and dinner. We cook most of the time, but there’s always room to have a burger and fries on occasion.
Q: What are some tips you could give to MFP users to achieve their health (namely weight-loss and fitness) goals?
Praught Leer: Three things: First, sleep is the most underrated and important health and wellness tool. I find that when I’m most rested my body functions the most optimally. I’m in a better mood, my metabolism is revved, my body feels better, my mind works better.
Second, hydration is also another thing people neglect. When I wake up in the morning I have a glass of water and then a cup of green tea with a wedge of lemon — always before breakfast and even coffee. When I start my day this way I’m much smoother, my body works better. Hydrating during the day is important, too. A lot of the time your body doesn’t really know what it wants. So if you’re completely hydrated, you know whether you’re hungry or not.
And third, goal-setting and goal-sharing is really important. For a long time I found it really difficult to share my goals because I was so concerned that if I didn’t hit my goals it’d be really embarrassing. I found when I shared my goals (written or verbally), I was more likely to achieve them. It also establishes a community. Maybe the people you share your goals with will share theirs back with you. They can help you and check in with you. I find that things come easier once you declare goals.
“I found when I shared my goals (written or verbally), I was more likely to achieve them.“
Q: How do you unwind and celebrate your successes?
Praught Leer: I dress up, put on normal clothes, put on makeup (which I don’t do often because I’m training so much), and go out for a great glass of wine or margarita and hang with friends. When you’ve done something well to drive, drive, drive, it’s so important to pat yourself on the back. That’s something my training partner is really good at making sure we do.
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