How this Athlete Turned a Shot at the Olympics into a Career in Biomechanics
- Rachel Sovka
Some people know exactly what they want in life. Michael Bawol, a sport biomechanist and performance analyst, is one of them.
Not many people turn down a chance to go to the Olympics, but Mike knew it wasn’t for him.
In 2010 he tried out for the Canadian bobsleigh team, performed very well and was pursued to go to the Olympics.
“But honestly,” says Mike, “I didn’t really care that much.”
A friend of his who also tried out for the team stayed with it and went all the way, but Mike says he didn’t see the Olympics as something that would add value to his life at that stage.
“I was going to school and didn’t want to put all of that on hold,” he says.
His choice didn’t mean Mike wasn’t one of the most hardworking and determined athletes out there, he just had the confidence in his self-awareness as well.
“I think a lot of athletes want to do sport but don’t know why they’re doing it,” he explains, “you see a lot of athletes with their self-worth tied to their results, rather than the joy of training.”
Mike says training is where you develop, build character, discipline and a rich social circle.
Although, Mike can’t say that’s the reason he himself got into sport either.
Mike didn’t begin his career as a track sprinter from a classic childhood dream or divine inspiration, rather, he admits to not being very interested in sports throughout high school. He still worked out, probably for the same reason most teenage boys workout in high school. But after a break-up he resolved to set new goals for himself, so he tried track.
Although he didn’t start until his third year, he knew he wanted to compete and there weren't many resources where he was in Ontario.
“I had a hard time finding a good coach to show me what’s possible,” Mike says about that time.
That’s why Mike got into coaching a few years later, at Dalhousie where he competed and coached; he wanted to be there for athletes who didn’t have the resources.
His interest in data and performance analysis began shortly thereafter to guide training for himself and other athletes.
“A lot of athletes use tech to get better,” Mike says, “wearables provide a lot of data, but someone needs to interpret it so that athletes can apply it to their training.”
Sitting across from Mike at Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic gave technical sport data a more human (read: handsome) face. Mike has a great smile and a great ability to bring the abstruse jargon of high-level performance stats into plain language. CSCA, a not-for-profit for high performance athletes, is well-served by both.
Mike is a likeable guy, in part because even through his modesty you can tell he’s very honest with himself. He didn’t compete beyond the university track and field level because he knew that wasn’t what he wanted; a mindfulness respect by many.
Now he makes athletic performance better for the athletes wanting to go further. Mike works closely with people in a coaching capacity, and works closely with data behind the scenes to supplement nutrition plans and strength & conditioning training.
Mike’s background was in sport with a masters in kinetics, areas of study he says have contributed to his own athletic performances as a former elite sprinter.
“I started out in energy, but was very interested in the technical side,” Mike says, “It’s definitely made me a better athlete,” Mike says.
Although the words ‘data monitoring’ may not sound riveting to you, it’s what gets Mike most excited, and after talking to him about it for any length of time you’ll realize why.
It turns out, understanding exactly what you do in training is the best way to discover the physical limits of human capacity and thereby allowing you to push your limits in a measurable way.
Even the smallest increments make a huge difference in high-level competition.
Mike’s races were the 100m and 60m sprints, which are two very different sports, by more than just a difference of a few meters. Mental and physical training vary as much as diet and work-out strategy.
“There’s a reality to how much improvement an athlete can make at high level performance sport,” Mike says, “you’re fighting hard for gains that are diminishing.”
Mike says he became obsessed with how to maximize these gains for himself and for those he coaches.
“Seeing ideas translate into results is really rewarding,” he says “it’s amazing to study the numbers and then see them manifest as improvements.”
For his own journey of improvement Mike plans to revisit the track as a Master in track and field for adults over the age of 35.
But for now, he’s making everyday better for the athletes under his guidance, turning complicated data into accessible and constructive training tweaks that make athletes faster and stronger.