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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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John Ashley Null may be known as a prestigious religious scholar, but he’s also known as something else: a source of groundedness, support, and stability in the Athlete Village at the past five Olympics. Where others may see athletes as heroes, inspirations, or competitors, Ashley just sees them as people. Like the rest of humanity they are wired to need connection, relationships, purpose, and value, but more often than not these basic desires get tangled up with their giftedness. “When you are gifted at something, it’s so easy to get your sense of wellbeing from how others respond to your giftedness,” said Ashley. This performance mentality can be true of any vocation like arts or academics, but is especially prevalent in athletics.

Ashley got his start working with competitors in college when he was invited to lead a Bible study for athletes on his campus. Unfortunately, so many individuals look to glean from the popularity and status of athletes and so few are there to help them thrive as individuals and work through their issues so that they can be free to perform to their potential. As he began studying theology, he continued to work with athletes to help them return to their roots: joy in playing sport. He wants them to “hold on to [sport] as an ability to express who they are, not trying to use it to become something that they are not yet.” He finds that athletes who are constantly chasing a medal often, “burn out before their talents give out.”

Of the Olympic Village he says, “it’s like attending ten funerals and one wedding.” More often than not, people’s dreams die at the Olympic, not come to fruition. The range of support for athletes in the village varies; some have a great network of family or friends cheering them on regardless of the outcome, but some are racked with fear and anxiety from the pressure of representing their nation, coaches, and team. “Victory becomes not so much an exuberant realisation of fulfillment, but a desperate relief that the fear of shame and failure has passed this time,” said Ashley. He often starts by asking athletes, “Are you complete now? Or do you have to win something to be complete?” Athletes often live in the allusion that winning a medal will make their lives better, more whole, lacking nothing. But Ashley says, “the greatest day in an Olympians life is the day that they win the Olympics; and the worst day is right after when they realize the medal didn’t solve their problems.” No victory will ever make a person feel complete or fulfilled without meaningful relationships in their lives. When any competitor wins a medal or a championship, where do they look instinctively after they win? They look to the stands, to an important relationship, to the people they are connected to. The affirmation that comes from influential relationships will always be more powerful than a victory. Sports is a great venue for making these deep, withstanding relationships, especially among teammates who sacrifice, suffer, and serve one another. But when the performance and end result begins to take precedence over the relationships then unhealthy patterns begin to emerge.

In his role, Ashley regularly encourages athletes to look at their relationships in and outside of sport as a key component of their performance health. Their ability to be a good friend and teammate will attract others who have the same set of values and expectations of relationships. They also need people in their lives who will treat them like normal individuals, not champions. Friends and family ties can bring immense fulfillment in the present day and they aren’t something an athletes need to chase or achieve. Affirmation is not earned among great friends and this does wonders to bolsters their attitude and confidence. “When you know you’re loved, you can develop resilience to the adversities of the world,” said Ashley.  

He is available to all athletes at the games and afterwards for ongoing support. He positions himself as a resource so that when the disillusionment of the victory wears off, when the story becomes old news, and when the anxiety of having to win again sets in, he is there. “Repeating an Olympic victory is incredibly difficult when you’re not the underdog,” says Ashley. And unfortunately, these emotions of anxiety and fear don’t respond to direct orders. Even if 90% of the body can be controlled, emotions can not. Unfortunately, in the past athletes have been taught to block out their emotions in order to concentrate on the task. When rejection, fear, or stress creep in competitors focus on pushing them away in order to manage what is under their control - their bodies. They can escape relational issues by training, pushing themselves harder, and concentrating on their sport rather than tapping into and engaging with emotions that seem threatening. Controlling emotions is not a selective process, if the bad are kept out then so are the good. Slowly, experiences of joy and happiness are dampened to the level fear and pain are, until the person just feels nothing. “Numbness is better than pain, but numbness is not peace, numbness easily becomes depression,” says Ashley. Perhaps they are avoiding the pain of a loss, but they also miss out on the joy of a big win. “Victory becomes not so much an exuberant realisation of fulfillment, but a desperate relief that the fear of shame and failure has passed this time,” says Ashley.

The final element that can help athletes remain grounded is a sense of spirituality, a connectedness to a higher power. It helps when this spirituality also follows a growth mentality; wins and losses both present equal opportunity for development. Ashley says that athletes often express that “victories seem momentary, but the pain of defeat seems eternal.” Changing that internal narrative can release athletes to view their lives and career as a large arc of experiences and growth, not just one goal after another that is either one step forward or backward. In his book Real Joy he elaborates on the false expectations that athletes have of what a particular victory will give them and that, often, their disappointment is due to their own unfair assessment of what winning will provide. He also works with the Caritas Foundation to serve athletes in spiritual and emotional formation that will help them make these mindset shifts.

Of retirement, Ashley says “it will always be a shock.” He recommends beginning an emotional journey years before retirement to prepare as much as possible. Finding a counselor, mending relationships, finding joy in competition instead of identity; it is all essential to ending a career well. If not, the floodgates of emotions that have been kept at bay through training regiments, goals, and mental fortitude will be opened and it will all come barreling down, guaranteeing to be far more than one can handle. His biggest piece of advice for athletes that want a long, healthy career? Cultivate gratitude. He encourages athletes to look around themselves and acknowledge all of the people who have helped them get to the level that they are at - the trainers, coaches, friends, family members, event volunteers, sponsors, agents. Recognizing that, although their gifts have put them in a unique position, they are still a part of a large team of individuals who all have value and meaning and who are serving others. Developing that perspective is incredibly grounding and centering. He also reminds athletes, “there is a community of people who understand and love you and have walked this journey before and who will walk it after you.”

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS24-NASCAR-Racer-Michael-McDowell.mp3

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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From as far back as he can remember, Michael McDowell was racing. Whether it was on foot, on a bike, or in the driver’s seat, he was chasing down the front of the pack, fueled by speed and victory. He raced BMX bikes before he started preschool, and was racing go-carts nationally by age eight. Over the next ten years he would rack up back to back international titles, a world title, and enough of a reputation to be sponsored in Formula One racing. Not long after, however, more opportunities presented themselves in NASCAR and Michael made the shift, picking up a Rookie of the Year award in his first season.

Despite the accolade, Michael remembers that year being incredibly humbling. He came from circuits where he regularly finished in the top of the pack on a regular basis. NASCAR was bigger, fasted, and more frequent leading him to feel lost in the pack at times. It didn’t take long for him to because a household name among NASCAR fans, but as he says, “I got famous for all the wrong reasons.” In 2008 at Texas Motor Speedway Michael hit some oil, skidded, overcorrected, and hit the wall head-on at 190 mph. Spectators cringed and held their breath as first responders pulled him from the wreckage. Miraculously, he walked away completely unscathed and even raced the following day. The crash instantly brought national attention; Michael was on the Today Show, Ellen, and across every sports section. “I had a crossroads,” he says. For some, it would have been the perfect moment to build his brand, highlight his career, and gain sponsors, but for Michael, a recently committed Christian, he chose to use it as a platform for sharing his faith in God who saved his life. “It was a turning point of surrendering the spotlight and refocusing on what I wanted to represent and who I wanted to build a brand for,” he says.

Shortly after his crash, Michael was signing a multi-year, million dollar deal. But the security was only an illusion; six months later with his pregnant wife at his side, he was jobless, sponsorless, and prospectless. But one thing Michael was not was hopeless. “I believe that God works things together for the good of those who follow him,” he says. It wasn’t easy to navigate the unexpected terrain of being cut from his contract, but he never doubted that something good was on the horizon, whether that was in NASCAR or not. In 2010 he went with his family to Monterrey, MX to get some space to discuss and discern their future in the sport. He even felt that perhaps his time with NASCAR was coming to an end, but remembers hearing God nearly audibly say, “Keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll take care of the rest.” When they returned to the States he was released from his team, but that same night was offered a prestigious position with another company. That experience has set the tone for how Michael and his wife navigate the field of professional racing -- with gratitude and open handedness. Each November they re-evaluate whether or not another year of racing is what God has for their family.

Throughout his years racing, Michael has noticed a shift in the way that community is developed. When he started ten years ago he remembers the cold, competitive vibe between driver. Despite seeing the same faces every single weekend of the year, drivers tended to keep to themselves, in their trailers, and out of each others personal lives. In an effort to reach out to other competitors, Michael partnered with Motor Racing Outreach to start a bible study among athletes that he still participates in to this day. Over the years barriers have come down amongst the drivers, but most of the credit is due to their families. Once everyone started getting married and travelling with their kids more community developed as people were pulled from their trailers to chase the kids around the grounds.

Michael continued to diversify his passions as he and his wife began to explore how they could support orphan care and adoption ministries around the world. They always had planned to adopted and started looking into adoption from Ethiopia, but were forced to turn towards Central American as Ethiopian adoption programs were closed. Unfortunately, yet again they were turned away by Honduras who also shut down international adoption options. Eventually, they were put in contact with an agency in China and adopted their son, Lucas, when he was four years old. They love to tell their son that God choose him even before he was born and see their drawn out struggle to adopt as a road directly to him.

For Michael, racing with NASCAR is more than just a privilege, it’s a calling. “I almost tried to ‘escape’ to the mission field at one point because we thought it would be easier,” he says. Racing forty weekends out of the year, traveling all over the country, and being away from his family is never easy. The schedules are a non stop juggling act and it can be difficult to balance all of the elements, but they are in it as a family. “With racing, I just know that I have this year,” says Michael. And as the pages in the calendar turn, they know that they’ll again ask if God is planning another year of NASCAR for their family. But as always, Michael remains grateful, hopefully, and assured that this is exactly where he’s supposed to be. Keep track of Michael and cheer him on this season on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS22-Olympic-Runner-Abbey-Cooper-DAgostino.mp3

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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Despite her years in the pool as a swimmer, it was destiny for Abbey to become a runner. Both of her parents were avid marathoners and her mother a triathlete, but it took until high school for Abbey to muster the courage to lace up with them. She joined the cross country team as a freshman in high school mainly because all students were welcome and she didn’t have to brave a tryout. The first day she recalls being so nervous that she could hardly get out of the car. But she was quickly welcomed into a jovial, family atmosphere among the girls on the team and her first two years she experienced one success after another. Unfortunately her final two years were marked by several coaching changes and health issues, but her love of running persisted and she was recruited to run for Dartmouth. She looked forward to working with an entire team of woman who were equally invested in their sport and their studies and came into her first year just hoping to add some points to the team. She never anticipated having the incredible season that she did, which culminated with her qualification for nationals. Empowered her to see her own potential as an athlete, Abbey began dreaming a bit bigger.

The support of her parents, her collegiate coach, and her faith community gave her the resources in every area of her life to flourish. She invested in a faith community through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which allowed her to develop her sense of identity and purpose outside of her splits and standings. Her coach, a former Olympian himself, reinforced the narrative that they had the potential to achieve more that what they considered possible and Abbey rose to the challenge. In 2012 after her sophomore year, she qualified for the Olympic Trials and says that it was, “like the icing on the cake at the end of the season.” Her underdog status gave her the ability to relax and just enjoy the experience - a posture that she credits with her impressive performance. She qualified for the finals and took fifth place, less than one second away from qualifying for the Games. Even though she was disappointed that she narrowly missed those Olympics, running better than she could have ever hoped gave her a confidence boost and renewed vision for her next few years. “I set my mind on taking it one year at a time and enjoying the rest of my collegiate experience and then going on from there,” says Abbey.

She graduated from Dartmouth in 2014 as the most decorated Ivy League runner in history and with seven NCAA titles to her name. New Balance signed her to their team and she moved back to Boston near their headquarters and, conveniently, her family. But her first few years as a professional were not seamless. For the first time in her career she began to struggle with physical injuries. Stress fractures and muscle injuries plagued her which deeply refined her character as she dealt with her own frustration, anger, and perceived loss of control. Running had become an idol in her collegiate years and it was being repeatedly stripped away. “If running is my ultimate source of satisfaction and identity, then I won’t ever be satisfied,” says Abbey. The challenges recovery built in her a sense of humility about her abilities. Just weeks before the 2016 Olympic Trials she experienced a stress fracture in her shin that nearly removed her from competition. She placed fifth at the trials, but two woman who had finished ahead of her forfeited their spots in order to run the 10,000m race instead of the 5000m and Abbey was granted a spot. More than ever, she realized that her place on the team was truly a gift.

But in the weeks between the trials and the Games while recovering from her shin injury, she suffered a stress fracture in her pelvis. Not wanting to give up her spot, she soldiered on and was restricted to non-impact workouts in the pool only; she wasn’t allowed to run at all until her actual event. Her mental space was one of peaks and valley as she wrestled with her training limitations. She stepped up to the line of her preliminary run not confident in the status of her fitness, but determined to run a race of which we could be proud. As 5000m races typically go, the pack started at a conservative pace, but picked up speed abruptly around the 3000m mark. This sudden pace change caused a collision in front of her tripping New Zeeland runner Nikki Hamblin who caught Abbey’s foot under her as she fell. Both women ended up in a pile on the ground, but rather than continue on with her race Abbey made the split second decision to run backwards towards Nikki to encourage her to get up and finish. The two woman proceeded together, despite the fact that Abbey was visibly injured. She would later learn that this fall had torn her ACL and meniscus, an injury that she is still recovering from today. The woman embraced at the finish line and video footage of the event immediately went viral. Abbey had absolutely no idea that anyone would see what happened on the track that day, as preliminary races harder garner any attention, but her sense of sportsmanship and unity was praised as “The Most Beautiful Moment” of the Olympics. Around the world her actions were applauded, but she says, “I was just thankful to be an instrument in the larger story that the Lord was telling.”

Earlier in the week before that race she had heard a story from Olympic chaplain and former distance runner, Madeline Manning. Madeline shared about a time that she got hurt during a race and instinctually prayed for help to finish. She doesn’t remember the last 100m of the race, but knows that God carried her through the end. Madeline shared a verse from Ephesians with the athletes present at her session and Abbey held on to that story and even had the verse written on her hand during that preliminary race. When she fell, she instantly thought of Madeline, thought of that verse, and without hesitation went back to her competitor because it was the right thing to do. The media attention and publicity was overwhelming for both woman, but has been an incredible part of Abbey’s story and has given her a platform to share about her faith and the values that she believes to be at the core of the Olympics.

The past two years Abbey has been working to regain her strength, balance, and stamina after undergoing surgery to repair the damage done by that fall. At times she still faces frustration at the pace of recovery, but is confident that she will work her way back to Olympic standard in time for the 2020 Olympic Trials even if it’s not how she envisions the journey. “God can take our dreams and reroute them for His glory and our ultimate benefit,” says Abbey. To younger athletes she shares this advice: “Be sure that you’re cultivating joy in your pursuit.” Sport needs to remain fun, a passion, and with the richness that comes from knowing worth and purpose. She advises athletes to not try to do too much too soon, saying, “so much of success if just layers of consistency.” Through it all, she can testify to the fact that challenges will inevitably come, “so the earlier you can start finding your identity in the right things, the better.” Abbey is on her way to the trials for the 2020 Summer Olympics, so be sure to follow her recovery on Instagram,  Twitter , and Facebook so you can cheer her on.

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Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we believe sport can give you the freedom to be your best. All too often the fear of failure takes the fun out of the game. We're here to help you discover the real joy and freedom to compete for your best. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. I can't wait to jump into today's conversation. But before I do I want to tell you about a really cool way that people are engaging with this podcast. We're giving a big old shout out to Courtney Spencer's 7th-grade writing class at maybe Junior High in Texas. Courtney found the Hope Sports Podcast and created an entire project around it. Her students have been listening to different episodes and then writing the athletes from those episodes they listened to with what they learned. And we are loving it. You guys are amazing. Keep believing in your dreams and pursuing purpose and you guys are bound to change the world. Speaking of believing in your dreams we have such an inspiring guest on today. Abbey D'Agostino Cooper is the most decorated Ivy League track and distance runner. She has seven Institute titles and runs professionally with Team New Balance. But she is most well-known perhaps for what was named the most beautiful moment of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. In the preliminary race of the 5000 meters. Abby was tripped up when another runner fell in front of her. But instead of continuing on she went back to pick up the other woman to finish the race. Her actions are the epitome of sportsmanship and they represent the heart of the Olympics. And today on the show she shares the story behind that moment. She shares her less than the perfect run-up to the Olympic Games and her own struggle to recover from an injury. And through it all she shines this incredible humility that I'm so excited to share with you. So let's dive on in.

 

[00:01:53] Abby Cooper, welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast. It is such an honor to have you here with us today.

 

Abbey:

[00:01:58] Thank you, Laura. It's an honor to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:02:01] OK. Well, let's just kind of start with what made you fall in love with running? Kind of take us there.

 

Abbey:

[00:02:07] I have kind of in the background where I didn't start off running when I was like three years old if there's anything like that. I grew up in a family of runners both my mom and dad. I was growing up when marathons and my mom was actually a triathlete as well. So I was raised in an after just kind of exercise enthusiast environment. I was actually a swimmer growing up. I swam competitively through 8th grade. And when freshman year in high school rolled around. Honestly, the reason I first went to cross-country practice was because that was the only sport that I didn't have to try out for. And I had never been to a sport with individuals who were so much older than me. And I think I know that I was a bit intimidated by that. So I didn't even want to get out of the car the first day of practice. But very quickly found that it was such a welcoming and jovial group of girls. And quite a big team actually too. So it felt like a family and I learned pretty early on that I had a natural talent for it. So yeah just worked out.

 

Laura:

[00:03:22] Oh that's so cool. I love it. Was there a specific moment do you think in or out of the competition that kind of changed the trajectory of your running career?

 

Abbey:

[00:03:31] Well, I think there was probably a series of those in the time that I've been running. My first couple of years in high school I had quite a bit of success. Those first two years where I actually ran my best times. My sophomore year in high school and had continuous coaches in those first two years. And then after I think it was between my sophomore and junior year in high school. We started having quite a few coaching changes even within seasons. And I started to struggle with some health problems of mono and anemia. So running wasn't going quite as well for me those last two years. And you know school was getting harder. So although I was still an active participant in team captain and still involved very involved with the team. My love of it started to just become a bit more. There were ebbs and flows I think and how enjoyable it was. Then again I think that now as I look back it was a blessing in disguise because it really set my heart on competing in college. And looking forward to this new start where I was going to be around a whole team of people who were equally as invested in the sport and in their academics.

 

[00:05:12] I love my high school team but there weren't many of us who were looking to compete at a more serious level. Yeah, really my first two years of college were just exploring what it was like to buy into this mentality. As you know running is not just an extracurricular activity but actually a lifestyle what does that look like on a day to day basis. So that really changed my trajectory in that I was able to more fully realize my potential over the course of those first two years. I was actually quite surprised by the jumps I was able to make in my performance. As well as the love of the sport where I'd never imagined at all. My goal entering freshman year was to just contribute to the team and be able to score points. So when I qualified for a national championship and then was able to go on after that. That was not anything that I expected. So I haven't been pretty quickly.

 

[00:06:25] Just over the course of those 4 years that's when I grew to realize that I was capable of competing on an even grander scale and look toward professional running. So I'm really thankful for my coaching. And the support system around me that embedded that allowed me the resources to realize that and grow in such deep ways.

 

Laura:

[00:06:55] So who was that support system like was it just a coach? Was it the whole team? Was it one person in particular? Like who really kind of helped to grow and change? And like you said really make that your lifestyle.

 

Abbey:

[00:07:08] Right. So yeah. It was a collection of amazing people. And of course, my family was behind me the entire time really. In allowing me to choose the school where there are no athletic scholarships at Ivy League schools. So you know that was a huge sacrifice on their part. It started there. And then I was actually recruited by a different coach than my collegiate coach Mark Coogan. And the other coach had gotten pregnant and resigned the summer before we arrived on campus. But then found out that Mark had an incredible experience and background being an Olympian himself. And he was really a great fit for our team at the time. And helped us learn how to ask more of ourselves and believe we had the potential to be a national caliber team. So he again was hugely instrumental. I had no idea what it looked like from a physical standpoint from a psychological standpoint emotional to compete at that level. So he planted the seeds. And he was also a perfect balance personality wise where I'm by nature a type A personality and he's a validly type B. And so where I tend to overdo it he was always there to balance me out. And help me to remember the joy of it when I started to get a little bit too dialed in and just self-destructive way.

 

[00:08:59] And then aside from my incredible teammates who are still some of my best friends to this day. I think one other huge component of my support system in college was the faith community. In college was where I came to faith. There were a lot of outlets you know Christian groups on campus. But the one I was most connected to was called FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) which I'm sure many listeners are familiar with it. But yeah I had great discipleship and mentorship through that program. And really just learned what a personal relationship with Jesus could be. You know in part through my experiences but then also the way I was drawn to the people in that community. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:09:55] It's interesting that you said you came to faith there and through Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But why did you start going if you didn't already have that faith. Like what brought you there?

 

Abbey:

[00:10:06] That's a great question. So I did grow up in the church. I was raised in a Catholic home. And you know like we were regular churchgoers and I attended CCD. And I had a very much intellectual understanding of who God was. And as a first born as a natural perfectionist I kind of understood God as prescribing a set of rules that I had to follow. And I was always good at following rules. So it really was kind of a work based understanding there. And then you know when I started to struggle in high school with my health and running wasn't going as well and school was harder. It just became less intriguing to me. Because if I'm not reaching that standard that God is supposedly setting. Of course, I'm going to run the other way if I don't know who he is. And so I didn't really at the time. So entering college I had a few teammates actually which is amazing to think back of such a small team. I had multiple teammates who were believers and were regular members of FCA. And would invite me to their Bible studies and larger group gatherings.

 

[00:11:31] I'd gone not on a regular basis but again I was enticed by the people there. The message that I heard. And yeah. I just sense that it was real for those involved. And it wasn't until I started to experience the pressure that came with the success I was experiencing in running and in school. And the sense of internal emptiness that I felt. It wasn't until then that I really started to seek help from that. All that I had heard who Jesus was and the freedom that he provided. So that's really what it started to become personal.

 

Laura:

[00:12:22] Oh That's awesome. I love it. And you did have a very successful collegiate career. You were the most decorated Ivy League track and cross-country runner. You won 7 NCAA titles. That's insane. So where did your pursuit of the Olympics begin and all of this?

 

Abbey:

[00:12:39] So in 2012, of course, that was an Olympic year. I had just finished my sophomore year in college. And another teammate of mine Alexi Pappas she was senior that year and she had also she and I both qualified for the Olympic Trials in Eugene. And she in the steeplechase and I'd qualified in the 5000. So we really just went to that race. You know as I said we were done with our academics. I was living on campus at Dartmouth that summer. So we just enjoyed that as kind of an opportunity as the coach would call it icing on the cake at the end of our season. He had spoken of course so fondly of his experiences in college at the Olympics. But then in college at the Olympic trials. And how much of a benefit it was to be an underdog in that environment. And so we both were able to compete there. And I very honestly had I mean again I told you I was at times by what I was able to accomplish in college.

 

[00:13:58] But I think that experience at 22 miles trumps all. In terms of just being so shocked but I able to handle that type of competition. So yeah. It took me to really process. For those who don't know, I qualify for their trials and finals. I qualified for the final. So I was about less than a second shy of qualifying for the Olympics that year.

 

Laura:

[00:14:37] So heartbreaking.

 

Abbey:

[00:14:39] So yeah. Honest. I really didn't know it was. But I really felt like emotionally I'd gone from zero to 100. I wasn't mentally prepared to be in that place at all or even close. So it took me a while to digest that experience, recognize, and feel thankful. This was introducing me to this potential that I didn't realize was there and so. Yeah. I mean I was very content and satisfied with my experience in college. And I wanted to though I knew within my heart I wanted to do anything I could to be there in 2016. I really set my mind up taking it one year at a time and enjoying the rest of my collegiate experience and then going on from there.

 

Laura:

[00:15:37] Smart. So you said going into 2012. I mean kind of like you said you weren't really sure what to expect there. So I mean were you actually happy with the result or were you still upset? I just hear a second often it sounds heartbreaking to me but like wasn't in your headspace. I mean maybe that was really exciting. And Dan Jansen telling us that he got 4th in the Olympics his first Olympics. And he was stoked like he thought he did great and everybody is like oh that’s a shame he didn't win a medal but he was excited about his performance. So yeah. I guess I should have asked you what exactly was your headspace going in there?

 

Abbey:

[00:16:09] Yeah. I mean really? Like I remember I kept actually a pretty religious journal of kind of the happenings. And you know because we had been out in Eugene ten days before the race so we're able to experience the vibe of the Olympic trials. And I remember actually writing that the goal was really just to make the final. And I actually ended up winning the prelim. So it's not that you know with a prelim I was just like I was so stunned but by how relaxed I felt. I think just because the stakes for me were so low and it was actually really beneficial evaluation tool. For me to see Oh I actually perform well. When you know you hear about as an athlete like the optimal arousal for competition. And then I walked away from that experience realizing that I actually perform better when I'm a bit more relaxed versus hyped. So yeah to answer your question the goal was just to make the final. So then when I was able to do that and then come so close.

 

[00:17:26] I think the best word is just surprised. You'll see if I were to rewatch an interview you know I'm crying in the interview of course. I think that was more just this like paralysis. It's hard to say I was disappointed. Because I truly believe that the Lord's will was not for me to be there that year and for three other amazing athletes to be there. But as I grow older and more mature in my career I recognize just how few and far between those opportunities are. And so it is challenging not to look back and feel a sort of sting from that.

 

Laura:

[00:18:13] So interesting how the perspective changes. I totally get it. I totally get it. Well, so what changed you when you finished college and you started running professionally and aiming toward Rio 2016. So kind of take us on that journey.

 

Abbey:

[00:18:27] So when I graduated in 2014 I signed a contract with New Balance and was able to move to Boston which is right near where my family lives. And really just was such a seamless fit in terms of training environment. I was part of a newly developed team and the New Balance headquarters are in Boston. So it really seems to be almost too good to be true. And then pretty much right off the bat. You know later on that fall when I started training after the summer for the next season I started getting injured. You know it was like first a soft tissue injury and then a few months later I got my first serious stress bone injury. And then a team that every six months or less I was getting the same sort of thing in different areas. And in college I never had longer term serious injuries like that. So yeah that was new territory. It challenged me to say the least. And you know provided a right opportunity for God to reveal my heart to me.

 

[00:19:52] And just in the way that I would respond to the continuous cycle of those things happening. And the anger and bitterness that I had to wrestle with. And just revealing that just how powerful running can be as an idol in my life. It just kind of stripping away layers of control and comfort. And graciously showing me that you know if Running is my ultimate source of satisfaction than identity then I won't be satisfied.

 

Laura:

[00:20:32] Oh such a good lesson.

 

Abbey:

[00:20:36] Right. And it was so humbling to go through it so many times and also realize my pride in that. Like I started to develop the sense of like I've been through this before you know. I feel like I've learned this lesson and God just showing me like when we struggle with some good thing that brings us joy. And then it's taken from us and we have to kind of shift and replace you know remind ourselves where our true identity really lies in Christ. It takes a long time to at least for me I'm stubborn you know. I don’t want to speak for anyone else but it took a long time for me. I hesitate to even say to learn that lesson. I think it's just gonna be a bunch of relearnings.

 

Laura:

[00:21:27] Yeah. Right there with that.

 

Abbey:

[00:21:30] Yeah yeah. So that was kind of the road to Rio in 2016 was just kind of like this total ebbs and flows of health and injury. Really up until you know 10 weeks before the Olympic trials I got another stress fracture in my shin. And it was the first time that I really felt like desperate before the Lord with the injury like I'm just tired. You know like I felt emotionally fatigued from all across training and thankful for that time because it taught me a lot about just relying on his word as manna. You know as like my food during that time. I'm just trusting that it would be there for me freshly every day. So getting to the starting line at the Olympic trials itself like the fact that I was able to get healthy. And with very limited training on the ground you know I was actually doing a lot of swimming. I was able to still get to the starting line. And then I actually didn't even place top 3 in the 5000 I placed 5th. But then to the gals in front of me forfeited their spot. So I was able to sneak in fifth place.

 

Laura:

[00:22:51] Why would you forfeit a spot on the Olympic team.

 

Abbey:

[00:22:54] So two of the other women Molly huddle and Emily Infeld had also qualified in the 10000 meters. So they both decided they didn't want to run the 5000 and that was essentially what allowed me to run in the games. So that was an enormous gift. I still think about you know the moment that Emily came over to me at Team processing and shared the news you know. Super super emotional.

 

Laura:

[00:23:24] So did you find out at trials or not until way later?

 

Abbey:

[00:23:29] I found out the same day as the race. It was just like 3 hours later or something like that.

 

Laura:

[00:23:37] Wow.

 

Abbey:

[00:23:40] Yes. So just getting a spot on the team felt like a gift in and of itself. And then there were 3-4 weeks I think from the trials to the games. And I got another stress fracture in my pelvis between that Tucker in that period of time. So you know in light of what happened in Rio. You know like I think it is really important to share actually this part of the story. Because you know what I always say is like everything that happened in Rio was a product and was made possible because of what God had done beforehand. To prepare me for that event and just giving me a season of trial. I was on crutches with the pelvis injury. I was told that I could still go and compete at the Games. But like I couldn't not run until the week before I could just get on the track a couple of times just to make sure my hip wasn't going to break during the race. So needless to say it was just like I was so thankful to be there. You know it's like you can't go wrong you're an athlete village just kind of soaking it in. But internally it was challenging just not to be in the same routine. I had people asking what event I was swimming because I was out in the pool. God just continued this work that he was doing it in my heart to make me fully dependent on him through that time.

 

Laura:

[00:25:22] And I know because I've been through a lot of these seasons too. It's hard sometimes to know that in the middle of it he's actually equipping you for something. Did you recognize that? Or were you just frustrated like OK I thought I got it, you know. Like where were you walking into Rio in your head?

 

Abbey:

[00:25:40] Yeah. That's a really great question. I would say it would depend on the moment. I felt that one of the things I noticed most you know I'm an avid journal. And I really value my devotional time in the morning. And I just like I would start off the day. So just incomplete enjoyment of devouring the word and because it was all I had. It was like it really spoke so deeply to my heart. It always does. But like in such a powerful way through that season. You know it took a start off the day feeling assured of why I was there. And that you know God had clearly just because of the way things had happened you know he clearly wanted to be in Rio for a reason. And I challenge myself to not stop looking for that reason and just be where I was and trust him with how it would unfold.

 

[00:26:43] So yeah there were there were peaks and valleys in terms of like feeling assured of why I was there. But then also you know by the end of the day this feeling discouraged and frustrated and honestly annoyed. You know it was just hard. Like a solo sessions in the pool you know that they have no translation to what you're you know it really is so hard to tell where my fitness with that. So yeah there were ups and downs. Absolutely.

 

Laura:

[00:27:16] [00:27:16] At Hope sports we know that you want sport to be fun. But in order to do that you need to compete with freedom. The problem is you believe that everything hinges on your score performance or medal count. But we believe that athletes should be able to experience joy regardless of their win - loss record. Because sport is more about the process of who you're becoming than the end result. We understand what it's like when the pressure to perform exceeds the passion for the game. Which is why hundreds of athletes rediscovered their love for the game with hope sports. We have a workshop coming up November 15th through 17th in San Diego California. And you do not want to miss it. It's so easy to get involved go to HopeSports.org sign up for the November workshop and win like never before. So sign up today and can figure out what you've been missing. It could be the key you need to find success in your career.

 

[00:28:12] So walk us through Rio. You actually got to compete but as you were being prepared it was not exactly what you were expecting I don't think. So walk us through. Because you made headlines worldwide it was one of the biggest and brightest stories of the games but not for reasons you would expect. So tell us what happen.

 

Abbey:

[00:28:31] During the preliminary round of the 5K we start off pretty conservatively. And that's exactly what happened which was completely to my benefit. As I said I've been working really hard in the pool but I wasn't quite sure where my fitness was at. So we started off at a pace that I could handle. And about 3K into the race right where it usually starts to pick up. It did. And I was in the very back of the pack. And you know I guess there was just some sort of sudden pace change up front of the pack and there was a domino effect. And a couple people the gal in front of me fell and my foot got caught under her. And little did I know I had torn my ACL and meniscus. But yeah. I was able to get up. And both of us this woman Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand and I were both able to help each other to our feet and then finished the race. And then later when I couldn't walk I found out that I had torn my ACL and meniscus. So in short that is what happened.

 

[00:29:54] But you know there were so many small moments and big moments throughout my experience. Even before that the race in Rio where got to just place people in my life or encouragement in my life. To like give me strength in the moment where I had to make a decision like I'm hurt. What do we do? And it just happened so quickly that the decision to get up and help this other girl from New Zealand like that is not. It happened so quickly. I know from the bottom of my heart I can't take any credit for that. That's not the way that I'm wired. You know I had the same goals as everyone else out there to go and to compete in the final. And so the fact that it was an instinct to get up and help her is just the work of the Holy Spirit. As I said he had made me so dependent on him in the time leading up to it. And things have been so hard that I had no choice but to rely on his strength and be fueled by his joy. As I said there were so many little things that had happened.

 

[00:31:18] I'll just share one quick thing. There was an Olympic chaplain named Madeline Manning Mims who had shared a story. So she's an Olympian she ran in the 68 and she had several time Olympian. She just shared an experience of back when she ran in the big games and she was in a relay and she had hurt her knee. And in the middle of the race it was a 4x4. And like coming around the bend with 100 meters to go she could feel her knee. I mean it was affecting her stride and she remembers praying Lord help me. And she finished the race but she does not remember that last hundred meters. And several years later she went back to the track where that Games was held. And she just realized, I don't remember it but this is where the Lord carried me through. And she shared a verse from Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or think. And then it goes on. And I was so inspired by that story. And I'd written on my hand actually that day “Now to him who is able”.

 

[00:32:41] And so when I fell I remember like it was this is just the work of God. Like everything's happening so quickly that I was just like Madeline. I thought about her. I thought about how the Lord had carried her through. And that really I mean that just spoke through me and allowed me to continue on despite you know knowing something was seriously wrong with my knee. So yeah. I'm just so thankful to be an instrument in the larger story that the Lord was telling through what happened there.

 

Laura:

[00:33:18] Did you realize in those moments that it was a big deal?

 

Abbey:

[00:33:23] I had no idea that it would receive the media that it did whatsoever. No idea. Of course this is the 5K prelim so it's like 8:30 in the morning or something. You know there were barely any people in the stands. Until I think that is such a testament to the way the Lord is too. I mean the way that it happened I am thankful. I believe that I belonged at the at the Olympic Games and you know what I like self-deprecating. But I was not in a position to medal or even close that year. And so the fact that it would happen to me and another gal who was in a similar position at the you know the problem of a race no one is there. Like that's just like the Lord has just wrapped himself in humility. The whole situation was wrapped in humility. And so I think that's such a cool piece of like how it happened and the fact that it points to him. So yeah. It’s really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:34:29] I love reading because of course I have to do my due diligence and stock you a little bit before you know we talk. But I was reading some things that Nikki had said too. And she just curled up into a ball when she fell in front of you and in slow mo. I can totally see your knee go out too. That’s ah! Yeah. That kind of felt good. But she said she was just curled up in this ball and you kept saying you have to get up. You have to finish the race. And she said if you hadn't told her that she said I might still be laying in a ball on the track you know. But you just like you said God was preparing you and feeding you that message like you just have to get up and finish. And she got up and then that's when your knee started to get out and you collapsed and she helped you back up. And you eventually went on. You had four laps left I believe is that right?

 

Abbey:

[00:35:13] Yeah. Something like that. Yep 4-5.

 

Laura:

[00:35:15] You ran the last 4 laps on a torn ACL and meniscus. I mean it was just incredible. And you guys embracing after it was over. Those are the parts that the world the rest of the world saw you know and understood immediately. And that's why it was so beautiful about the Olympics right. So it's amazing and people to whom do these great feats and someone win these medals. That there's those moments is really human humble moments where you realize that just your humanity is way more important. And then just being a person of love and to not worry about what's happening to your result. But you care enough to pick up the person next to you and help them cross that finish line or get up and go. You know I mean that's why it's so beautiful I think.

 

Abbey:

[00:35:56] Thank you. Yeah. Like I said I can't take any credit for the event itself and how it went down because it doesn't belong to me. But at the same time I agree with you. I do think it's amazing. I'm stunned by it and grateful to just be a part of it. Because it really has broadened my platform and ability. A means through which I can use this sport to point to the Lord and point to what really matters.

 

Laura:

[00:36:28] So cool. Well afterward I mean I'm wondering. I want to hear about your kind of post Olympic experience. Because I know like President Obama you know even said you guys are exactly what the Olympic spirit in the American spirit should be all about. You and Nicki were nominated for the Laureus World Sports Awards you were nominated for the best sporting moment. I mean was it like a whirlwind? What happened after that? And what was that experience like?

 

Abbey:

[00:36:53] Right. Oh so overwhelming at first. You know I know for both Nikki and I had a chance to speak with her a few times afterward. And both of us are pretty introverted. You know despite opportunities like this we have to speak to larger audiences. But yeah I mean the next day we had a slew of interviews and we were still just emotionally processing it ourselves. And Nikki actually was still gearing up to run the final a few days later. So I can imagine what it was like for her. But yeah I mean even going home afterward and just having to get surgery and thankfully was able to. My mom is a nurse and was so cared for and just kind of nourished in that time. I was able to just be like you know have a small circle around me. Because it was so overwhelming and just it allowed me time to digest the experience and feel thankful. Yeah I mean just process all of the emotions that came with it.

 

[00:38:12] And since that time I've just kind of having surgery and recovering from that. I do still feel a calling to a deep calling to continue clearly. You know I'm still running now and still doing the best that I can to make it to the Olympic trials in 2020. Yeah I just I sense that the Lord isn’t done with me in this realm yet. And I know there is still potential to be released. So I have been continually humbled by just how long it's taken for me to just feel like myself again. I feel like I've had glimpses of it. But you know my injury is such a unique experience for an Italy distance runner. You know there aren't many practitioners who have worked with someone like me before. So I'm sort of a case study and taking time to find the right people. And then of course you know I've gotten married and moved in that time as well. So just a lot of transitions and adjustments. And so what I just continue to again re-learn is just that it's OK to sometimes they get frustrated. Because when you care a lot about something.

 

[00:39:42] You know I have this dream of reaching my potential and making it to the 2020 Olympics or another Olympics. And when I still can do to have little glitches and things pop up because my body isn't quite balanced yet. I do some get frustrated. And God's reminding me that it's OK to still have that dream could still believe it. But you just can't envision what it looks like together. You'll never know you know. And if I've learned one thing from Rio it's just that God can take our dreams and rewrite them for His glory and for our ultimate benefit. And that's exactly what he did in Rio and so I just need to trust that. From now probably for the rest of my life never gonna happen as pictured or as anticipated. And I'm just learning to find his peace and joy in that.

 

Laura:

[00:40:48] Yeah. That's so beautiful and so true. Yeah. I totally understand where you're coming from. I've been through a lot of these seasons myself so I'm relating a lot of what you're saying. So what kind of advice would you give to an up and coming athlete?

 

Abbey:

[00:41:05] It's a great question that I get asked quite a bit. And I always feel unsatisfied with my or dissatisfied with my response because it's a little bit cliched. But one thing that I always caution against is just getting to. I guess the best way the best advice is to be sure you're cultivating joy in your pursuit whether it's sport or anything else. Because I think you know the trends now in our culture is just early specialization. And just hyper-focus and hyper volume especially in runners early on. And the potential for burnout is so strong physically and psychologically and emotionally. So yeah I look fondly although sometimes in my high school experiences I wouldn't have said the same. But I do look back fondly upon those experiences because we just kept a really lighthearted atmosphere at practice. And I was not overdoing it in terms of my actual physical training. And yeah it just takes time. I think so many of the athletes that I compete against will say the same thing. Where it just so much of success is just layers of consistency. And so if you squeeze too much out of yourself too soon there's a definite risk in that.

 

[00:43:05] And then another thing that I think is even more important is just along the way asking the WHY question. You know. Why is the sport so important to you? And why does it bring you joy? And can it ultimately satisfy you? You know it's so hard. I certainly didn't have the maturity to ask that question when I was in high school. But I think the simple like WHY? is a great place to start. And hopefully you can start getting the wheels turning about like the deeper things. Even if an athlete hasn't experienced a challenge in their sport quite yet it will come inevitably in some form. So the earlier you can start finding your identity in the right things the better.

 

Laura:

[00:43:56] So good. Well, so I guess how can we follow you online or cheer you on the way to Tokyo in 2020?

 

Abbey:

[00:44:07] So both my Instagram and Twitter handles are @abbey_dags my main name. And I'm on Facebook as well Abby Cooper I just have an athlete page on there. So yeah. I would appreciate your support.

 

Laura:

[00:44:29] Of course we'll make sure to link to that in the shownote so everybody can just click on that and follow you because we definitely want to cheer you on. Abby thank you so much for coming on for inspiring us for sharing your journey for being so open and vulnerable with all of those things we really appreciate it. And I think it's going to help all of us grow a little bit more.

 

Abbey:

[00:44:47] Thank you Laura. Thank you for such insightful questions. Just being able to relate through your experience.

 

Laura:

[00:44:55] Isn't she incredible. Hearing her whole tumultuous road to Rio gives so much backstory to that moment on the track that went viral around the world. She had already been through so many trials and difficulties and was building her identity throughout it all. So falling at the Olympics was just an opportunity to once again get up and keep going. I hope that you feel inspired today to keep going through those hard moments and to remember that your words isn't wrapped up in your situation or your performance. If you're an athlete in these themes are hitting home for you then check out the work that hope sports is doing. Hope sports has upcoming workshops and programs for athletes looking to develop a value based performance mentality. Just check out the show notes for more information. Up next week we have Jonathan Horton sharing about the ups and downs of his 28 year career in gymnastics that includes two Olympic medals. I'm your host Laura Wilkinson. Thanks for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit HopeSport.org

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About This Episode

Sarah Wells didn’t get into track and field because she loved running, or was inspired by a particular athlete, or dreamed of standing a podium. As a Canadian high schooler she really just wanted to be “sporty” like the cool kids, but unfortunately didn’t succeed in any sport that she tried. She was cut from dance, volleyball, basketball, and field hockey. Eventually a high school gym teacher encouraged her to give track and field a shot and she decided to give athletics one last, triumphant effort. Just running around in a circle didn’t appeal to her, so she gravitated towards hurdles since they offered a fun distraction from sprinting. Her track coach was a former hurdler and the Varsity coach for a local university. He immediately noticed her natural ability to pace herself -- something that most athletes spend years perfecting. He encouraged her to focus on the 400 meter hurdle event and even drove her to practice with the collegiate athletes that he coached. “It was great to be very ignorant to my ability at that time,” said Sarah. Training with collegiate athletes set the bar so high from the beginning that she didn’t necessarily feel unique; she was just in step with the athletes around her. Within a year she was ranked nationally for her age group and she began setting higher and higher goals. “Thanks to that teacher who believed in me I started to see my own ability over time,” said Sarah.

For nine years she trained with her original coach and followed him to the University of Toronto where she had practiced with the team through high school. She had never really considered the Olympics as a possibly until a close friend and training partner qualified as a decathlete for the 2008 Games. Having observed him put in the hard work, focus, and dedication to his dream and see it come into fruition planted the seed in her that she could do the same. The next four years were defined by sacrifice and discipline and, though she wasn’t at Olympic pace yet, she was inching ever closer. Unfortunately, while at a training camp, she woke up to searing pain in her leg. When she returned home, an MRI revealed that she had a stress fracture in her femur. Stress fractures among hurdlers are not uncommon, but usually they are in the foot and typically require only six weeks of rest. But the femur is the largest bone in the body and training on that injury could risk a clean break which carried complications as serious as death. To allow her bone to heal properly, the doctor recommended three months of complete non-weight bearing which suspended not only her training, but her entire life.

This news crushed Sarah. “Every night I wouldn’t go to sleep until I cried myself to the point of exhaustion,” she said. She was just under two years away from the Olympic trials and couldn’t fathom the repercussions of halting her training plan. Not only would that have an impact on her performance, but she began to question her self worth without hurdling. The recovery was an emotional roller coaster; the mood of everyday was determined by the status of her leg and her progress. The temptation to quit struck her daily, but she continued to attend physical therapy, attempted to stay in shape, and battled through it one day at a time. When she arrived at her doctor’s appointment three months later she was elated to have survived was she considered the most challenging part of her career. But an MRI revealed that the bone still wasn’t healed and she was placed on another month of bedrest. This didn’t just happen once or twice, but month after month she was turned away with disappointing news. “Every time I would climb to the top of the mountain thinking that I’d be cleared, to just fall off the edge of the cliff on the other side,” she said. For nine straight months she stayed off of her leg. “I felt like I was watching my dreams slip away,” said Sarah.

With only eight months until Olympic trials, she was finally given clearance to compete again. She remembers the exact day that she stepped back on the track, because it was the same day that she drove to a tattoo parlor and got the world “Believe” tattooed on her wrist. Despite the practical realities in front of her and the kind people encouraging her to be realistic, Sarah believed in herself. In the following month she not only got back in shape, but improved upon her time, and vividly remembers the day that she qualified for the Olympics as the best day of her entire life. “Everything seems worth it in that moment,” she said. She represented Canada in the 2012 Olympic Games, was a semi-finalist in the 400m hurdles, and promptly came home and added a tattoo of the Olympic rings underneath “Believe” on her wrist.

“I had a strength inside of me that I would have never recognized without that experience,” said Sarah. Working through such a lengthy recovery and building back her strength at record speed uncovered a unique fortitude that would carry her through more trials to come. Upon returning from the Olympics she felt a shift in the way that she viewed herself. “I saw myself as ‘Sarah Wells the Olympian’,” she said. She started to expect a certain level of performance from herself every day, didn’t allow herself to show weakness or reach out for support, and lacked physical and mental compassion for herself. “When we achieve a certain level of success we instantly assume that’s our new baseline; that nothing except that or better will be a success,” said Sarah. This battering led to a recurrence of the same stress fracture and she was back on bedrest. But knowing that she overcame the injury once gave her the strength to persevere again. She was able to return to hurdles to tie her personal best and snag a silver medal at the Pan American games. Just two months before the 2016 Olympic trials she chose to push herself too hard in practice when her coach recommended for her to back off, which resulted in a tear in her hamstring. Despite getting back up to 90% of her strength by the time the Olympic Trials rolled around, Sarah came in 4th place, narrowly missing out on the team. When she got home from the event she remembers pulling into her driveway and not being able to get out of the car to walk inside; it was too symbolic of the fact that her dreams were over. She just laid on the driveway and cried, feeling foolish, defeated, and like all of her effort was a waste.

The following year Sarah took time off from training completely to focus on healing emotionally and physically. She began sharing her story of victory and perseverance, but her audience always resonated most with her moments of defeat. “We can all remember our ‘lay in the driveway in the fetal position and cry’ moments,” she said. So many people know how it feels to work hard, but not achieve every single dream and in that, she could relate deeply. During this year she founded the Believe Initiative which helps kids learn to believe in themselves. During Summit Days at school, Sarah brings in keynote speakers, hosts workshops, and leads group discussions. “We help students connect a passion that they love with a problem that they see in the community,” she said. There is a ten week curriculum that follows the event which culminates in a Passion Project for each student that is shared at an Inspiration Fair. She challenges others to consider the question: “What if you believed that you could?” Sarah recognizes the power in speaking out dreams, writing out goals, and sharing them with others. It requires immense vulnerability to let family and friends in on a big dream, because there is always the chance that it won’t happen. But the fulfillment in journeying together towards our goals is worth it. Sarah likes to tell students that “You don’t build self-belief through achievements, you build it through action.”

Be sure to follow all that Sarah is doing through her Believe Initiative as well as on Twitter and Instagram as she has returned to training and is believing in a spot on the team to Tokyo in 2020.

 

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About This Episode

Like a lot of kids, Michael began swimming at the age of seven. But what started as splashing in the pool quickly became club meets, and what started as winning a few races in a row became breaking multiple youth age group records by the age of ten. When politics on the local club team began to threaten his enjoyment, Michael’s fathered stepped in as his coach. He researched the sport, attended a few conferences, and eventually stumbled upon their unique methodology - Ultra Short Race Paced Training (USRPT). It wasn’t just how he trained that was nontraditional, but also where he trained. At one point his father built a four lane pool in a condemned night club in their hometown in South Dakota and when they moved to Kansas and lacked a proper training facility there, they built a two-lane pool in their backyard. It wasn’t all for Michael, though; his father also taught private lessons, hosted training clinics, and supported the swimming community in each town they lived.

 

Michael continued to use USRPT which promotes training at the speed of a race to build the muscle memory of repetitive movements at high speeds. Rather than swimming thousands of yards in a given practice and subjecting his body to high levels of fatigue, Michael approaches each training session mentally and physically as if it’s a competition. The results speak for themselves as Michael has broken over 100 National Age Group records and the methodology is starting to spread throughout the sport. At age 14 Michael became the youngest swimmer ever to sign a professional contract. He sacrificed his opportunity swim in high school and his NCAA eligibility -- a move that launched a wave of scrutiny. Critics vilified his parents for “forcing him” into the decision and lamented at all he would lose out on in the college sports arena. But for Michael, giving up his NCAA eligibility was an easy choice to make. Both of his parents had immigrated to the US from South Africa where the trajectory of professional athletes does not mirror the American standard. Instead of competing in high school and college before hoping to have enough love of the sport to go pro, athletes pursue their dreams at a much younger age. Michael knew that no university would follow the training style that he clearly excelled with and attending college just because “that’s what everyone did” was of no interest to him. That’s not to say the situation was taken lightly, though. “We gave the decision a lot of thought and prayer,” says Michael. But still, the comment sections of swim blogs imploded and their family philosophy was picked apart. Thankfully, through exposure on the pool deck, time together at meets, and the development of personal relationships with the Andrew family, members of the swimming community have come to realize they are all just working together to support Michael’s dreams.

If anything was difficult, it was the step up in pressure that Michael felt when he arrived at a meet. “Because I was sponsored and I felt like had something to prove,’ he says. He began to struggle with feeling anxious and nauseous before events. “I felt like I had to impress everyone,” he says. It wasn’t until he was invited to a professional athlete retreat in Texas with Olympic Chaplain John Ashley Null that he realized how much of his identity he was placing on his results. He knew that he could never thrive if he continued in a performance based mindset; what he needed was a shift towards purpose. He began by revolutionizing his mental game. He reminded himself that he has worth and value regardless of the outcome of a race. More investment was put into passions outside of swimming, like his friends and family, and he developed a more well rounded attitude toward the sport. This shift gave him freedom to show up to a meet, do his best, and not have his identity tied to the outcome. “I am not defined by what happens in the pool,” says Michael.

A lot of the credit for his mature attitude comes from his father, Peter. Critics often wonder if their relationship becomes strained as Peter juggles being a parent and a coach while Michael navigates being a son and a competitor. Michael remembers clearly when his father realized that he didn’t have to choose roles. “He heard a message called ‘Coaching Like a Father Loves’ and it changed our relationship,” he says. Rather than putting on the coach hat and then the dad hat, Peter wears both at once and coaches from a place of encouragement and edification. This has allowed Michael to take more ownership of his performance and doesn’t carry the worries that other athletes shoulder about whether or not their coach likes them or is proud of them; he knows that his dad loves him no matter what.

Heading into the 2016 Olympic Trials, Michael was aware that no one expected him to make the team. “I was awesome because I could be the underdog,” he says. Despite not making the team by a mere .64 seconds, he was proud of his performance. He was the only swimmer to progressively get faster as the meet continued and he broke a World Junior record. Those Trials put him on the map in the professional and Olympic world and the momentum still carries into today. In 2018 he picked up national titles in the 100M butterfly and 50M breastroke as well as several other big wins. “I put in the work and got up on the blocks and knew that I was capable,” says Michael. The confidence in his training, his coach, and himself have paved the way for swimming to remain fun; and that clearly shows. He openly shares the ups and downs of navigating professional swimming with fans through his YouTube channel. Filming, editing, and storytelling are all hobbies of his that he keeps up with, giving his followers a vulnerable peak into an elite athlete’s world.

Not only is Michael putting in work at the pool, but with his mindset. He says, “I have to constantly remind myself that I am more than swimming.” At the 2020 Olympic Trials, all eyes will be on him to post amazing times, but he says, “I work so hard for a result, but in the end, I have to be able to give it up.” Because he knows that a single race can last less than a minute, but he is Michael Andrew for a lifetime.

 

Be sure to follow Michael on his Vlog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to cheer him on to victory.

 

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About This Episode

Her father was a professional baseball player and her mother a ski instructor; Katie grew up with sports all around her. Her strongest memories as a kid weren’t of learning how to swing a bat or carve a perfect trail down the slope, but of how her attitude and effort mattered far more than her ability ever would. She remembers sports being about integrity, work ethic, and teamwork. After she graduated from high school she became friends with a bobsledder that she had approached in the weight room who invited her to give skeleton a try. Just four weeks later Katie found herself at the top of the track at the Junior National competition. In her eighth week ever sliding she was ranked sixth in the nation and on her way to the Junior World Championships. It was a whirlwind, but Katie is a self-proclaimed “go big” kind of person and would have had it no other way. She walked away from her conservationist aspirations in order to chase her Olympic dreams.

Much like the luge or bobsled, skeleton racers slide down an ice track, but do so face first on their stomachs, hitting average speeds of 70-80 mph. For some this might sound terrifying, but Katie describes it as similar to the feeling of flying in a dream. Rather than the fear of injury or error, it’s weightlessness and freedom that stick with her the most. Her natural level of comfort with the sport, coupled with her impressive physical ability, easily landed her a spot on the team for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. She remembers those games as “magical”; she took sixth place, was surrounded by family and friends, and even had the opportunity to travel around Europe afterwards.

Katie was a rising star in the international arena and at the cusp of an incredible career, snagging medals at the next two World Championships and boasting a 75% podium rate in the international circuit. However, in 2008 her father was diagnosed with cancer and her focused shifted from times and training to the health of her father, her family, and her self. She was abroad racing when she received the news that he was ill and her requests to return home to be with her family were denied. Katie found herself torn between her desire to represent her nation and the urge to abandon it all to be with her family. Pressure mounted from the Olympic Federation for her to compete; her record was just too good and with each win came more and more funding for the next Winter Olympic Games. She stayed in close contact with her family during this time, but her performance began to suffer. “I just didn’t want to be there,” says Katie. Her coaches and the Olympic Federation encouraged her to just make it through the end of the season which culminated with the World Cup in Utah. She agreed to stay, but the worries about her father’s condition only further clouded her emotional landscape, leaving little room for thinking about skeleton. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario came true; her father passed away while she competed in her final race of the World Cup. She got the news of his death when she stepped of the track that afternoon.  

Katie flew home as quickly as possible feeling devastated by his death and infuriated at the position she was put in by the sport. Her time at home was short lived, however, as she was expected to return to her team just four days later for the World Championships. She hardly even wanted to race, much less face the media storm that was brewing. “I felt like the story was getting exploited for sponsors and for the media,” says Katie, “In that moment I felt like I had to swallow all of who I was in order to say the right things that they wanted me to say.” There wasn’t space to grieve his loss, there was only the track, her performance, the funding, and the medal count. In order to just survive it all, she stuffed down all of her feelings about her father, became numb to the pain, and buried herself in the sport. The “win at all cost” culture of elite sports had demanded of her something more precious than time or effort; it had stolen final moments with her family that could never be replaced. In retrospect, Katie felt incredibly underserved during that season. She recalls no offers for grief counseling or encouragement for a sabbatical, and felt that in order to hold on to her dreams of competing, she had to consent to the negative culture around her. “I bought into the lie that my performance mattered more than anything else,” she says.

Following the World Championships she carried on racing through two broken knee caps, several surgeries, and without ever giving herself the space that she needed. Despite her traditionally competitive times, she only finished 11th at the following 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, something she still feels was a strong indicator of how her emotional health was affecting her athletic performance. In 2013 she suffered a severe concussion that required 18 months of recovery. She was sent to a military facility for traumatic brain injuries and claims that her time there really put things in perspective for her. “Recovering with them really revived my courage,” says Katie. She went into the 2014 Olympics with fresh energy, but narrowly missed the podium by only .04 seconds. The saga of that medal standing would drag on, though, as evidence of a state-wide doping scheme by the Russian Federation came to light. Katie was beat out by a Russian woman who was known to have participated, so for a brief time she was awarded the bronze medal. Unfortunately, months later an international court rendered the medal returned, and Katie walked away unfairly empty handed. It wasn’t the loss of the medal that really bothered her, but the greater glaring issue of individual athlete rights. She lamented with athletes being put it situations to do things that they would prefer not to, but feeling like they didn’t have a choice; it was a situation that hit close to home. Katie has continued to be an advocate for anti-doping regulation that will protect athletes in the future. She testified in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on the subject of doping and in support of the Rodchenkov Act that would further tighten down on how cases such as this are handled.

Not long after, Katie experienced another emotional blow when she discovered her best friend, Steve Holcomb, dead in his room at the Olympic Training Center. Steve was an Olympic bobsledder and had been a friend, confidant, and rock for her; the events surrounding his death were traumatic. The experience, however, jolted her from the shell that she had created around herself. For the first time since her father’s death, she gave herself permission to grieve, she reached out to friends, she rediscovered her faith. She began asking herself what she needed and wanted, and began standing up for herself again. “The only one who knows if you’re OK is you,” says Katie. It was an uphill climb to the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang as she battled PTSD, panic attacks, and night terrors. The Games were steeped in emotion; the sadness over missing Steve, a surprise reunion with her estranged mother, and a richness in exercising her own agency again. She credits good friends and her faith for carrying her through those two years, but was again struck by the ways she was persuaded to put her emotional health second to her performance.

All of her frustrations in regards to the treatment of athletes were only further catalyzed when over 250 women came forward with claims against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. “Athletes have no one to mediate for them,” says Katie. When an athlete feels threatened, exploited, or unheard, the only place to go is often to those who are either committing the abuse or directly benefiting from it. Athletes are forced to swallow their concerns and intimidated into competing as a duty to their country. Their dreams are held ransom in exchange for their silence and their medals. The injustice of these situations moved Katie to support the development of the Athlete Advisory Counsel that would be recognized by the Olympic Federation. This would provide a space for athletes to be heard, advocated for, and represented by other athletes when they have a concern with the way they are being treated. “Athletes have no one to ensure that this culture is changing,” says Katie. The first meeting of this board was in February of 2019 and she hopes to see it develop into a fully functioning element of the Olympic culture.

Katie continues to train for skeleton and looks forward to the 2020 Olympics, but says, “if I go to another Olympics it will be for myself and for completely different reasons.” She remembers one of the final pieces of advice from Steve before he passed away, “Remember who you are. Be the Kate your dad said you are.” She is on a journey of setting boundaries, redefining her identity, and exercising her voice. “I am remembering what it’s like to do something for myself,” she says. In addition to the skeleton track, Katie can be found on another track - a velodome. In 2018 she picked up team track cycling and won gold at the USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships and hopes to make back to back summer and winter Olympic appearances. But no matter where or how she races, she is confident that she is doing it for herself and for the right reasons and will continue to fight for the rights of other athletes to do the same. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and Twitter and cheer her on as she trains for the next two Olympics.  

 

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Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we believe the best way for you to unlock your full potential is by living into your purpose. We believe discovering your purpose is the only way for you to live a meaningful life. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. Each week I have the privilege of connecting with a different elite athlete to discuss how they win big in and out of their sport. We want you to compete better and live into your purpose as well. So stick around to hear about an amazing opportunity that we have for you. But first, let's talk about today's episode. We are so honored that Katie Uhlaender on our show today. I personally remember her for that flaming red hair she squirted at the last Winter Olympic Games. My daughter and I both agreed that she must be totally awesome because of that hair. And we were right. Katie is not only an incredibly decorated skeleton athlete but she's also doing important work advocating for athletes rights and cheerleading others to find confidence in their own identity. Her story is filled with some seriously painful seasons but her vulnerability with us on today's show it's truly impactful. So thanks for joining us and let's dive on in. Katie Uhlaender thank you so much for coming on the Hope Sports Podcast. We're excited to have you on.

 

Katie:

[00:01:18] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I feel honored. Really appreciate it.

 

Laura:

[00:01:21] So for our audience who may not be familiar with your background. Tell us a little bit about how you got into sports and how that led you into the skeleton.

 

Katie:

[00:01:28] My father was a major league baseball player named Ted Uhlaender. My mother was also very active. That's how they met actually. My mother taught my father how to ski.

 

Laura:

[00:01:38] Wow!

 

Katie:

[00:01:39] So yeah. I'm like the perfect blend of the throwback traditional cowboy and then hippie ski bug from Colorado. But I got a good mixture like I grew up in Texas and my dad was very supportive of me as an athlete. I think he helped create my identity as a person how I approach life and sport. He was very clear on his expectations of me and was very adamant that I hold integrity above all else. Of course, I want to go out to do my best and win and try to win. But he was more concerned about my effort and what I learned throughout that process of putting my best foot forward than he was about my results. And I think I feel so grateful and blessed to that especially now at 34. Because it gave me a really solid foundation and I think especially now it's coming in and big-time youth. It's given me a whole new perspective. It's something I didn't really realize that’s the kick.

 

Laura:

[00:02:43] Right. What wisdom. That's really cool. So how did you get into the whole skeleton field?

 

Katie:

[00:02:50] Oh sorry I forgot that part.

 

Laura:

[00:02:53] No problem.

 

Katie:

[00:02:55] I was graduating high school and I walked up to this girl. She had shaved head, tattoo, piercings like I just to everyone else she looks scary but I just saw an athlete. And I was like oh you're squatting a lot of weight which would probably mean you're a fast sprinter. So I walked upturn as hey you sprint? And she's like yeah. And I, you wanna race? And she goes who the blank are you? I was like oh sorry yeah I’m Katie. I was kidding as a be was just like I would love. You know trying to be an athlete although not there yet. But I haven't gotten the sprint in a while and I just I thought would be fun. And she was like you're a nut. So we automatically became friends. And she had to be a bobsledder and she talked to me into trying skeleton. Four weeks later I won junior nationals went to junior world championships. My 8 week ever sliding I won Senior Nationals and ended up ranked 6th in the nation within 8 weeks of starting the sport.

 

Laura:

[00:03:51] What?!

 

Katie:

[00:03:51] Yeah. So the federation was like I was 18 or 19 at the time. And they're like hey if you want to do this sport well we'll give you free housing, free food, and a scholarship for school. All you have to do is work out and go sledding. And I was like I thought about it. I was hmm do I wanna go get my Ph.D. and be the next Dian Fossey? And for all of the millennials out there google her and watch Gorillas In The Mist? She's awesome. Or do I wanna go to the Olympics? And I chose to pursue the Olympics thinking I could go back to college. Well, 4 Olympics later I am now studying for my essay piece.

 

Laura:

[00:04:29] Nice. Hey! Better late than never. That's cool. Oh my goodness. OK, so that's awesome. That's just crazy awesome. I love your story. So most of us have never tried skeleton. So tell us what exactly it's like to go face first down the track of ice at 90 miles an hour?

 

Katie:

[00:04:47] You know I don't know the speed. I think the record for women is like 92. I think the average is like 70-80. But we have some tracks that you go hecka fast. So have you ever had those dreams where you're flying?

 

Laura:

[00:05:01] Yeah?

 

Katie:

[00:05:02] And you feel free and your stomach kind of goes into your throat and it's just awesome fun.

 

Laura:

[00:05:11] Yeah.

 

Katie:

[00:05:12] Goldens like that but a little bit more restricted. So you start going down and you get a little scared at first because you don't have brakes. And you can't stop but then you realize that you get a little scared at first. But if you're able to embrace it you find yourself chasing the speed and going with gravity dancing down the track and craving more of it. And it's something I definitely love very much.

 

Laura:

[00:05:38] Oh wow. So cool. So like from four weeks in your nationally ranked. Was it getting you to the Olympics like kind of your first goal? Like was that immediately something you saw you could do?

 

Katie:

[00:05:55] of course. I mean that was basically I didn't think of anything small. It was either go and get Ph.D., be the next Dian Fossey and study gorillas in the jungle or go to the Olympics. Like that's how I looked at it. There was no in between. And I was excited to discover how to do those things and figure out how to become my best self. So yeah I mean I wouldn't like start something and be like Well I don't know what I want to do you just care cause it's cool. No. I'm definitely gonna attack awkward. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:06:29] I love it. All or nothing. So what was it like then making that first Olympic team in 2006?

 

Katie:

Oh my gosh. I remember seeing Pavarotti sing. And Ferrari's doing doughnuts to create the Olympic rings. You know crying and holding hands with someone I didn't know that was experiencing the same thing. Jeremy Bloom causing the Olympians to get roped in because he kept climbing outside a little circle they put us in. I mean it was such a great experience. My father was there my family my boyfriend and then as soon as we traveled to Europe because you could go anywhere in 4 hours in Paris-Milan. Where else do we go? Carina Venice it was like the most amazing experience ever. I think it's one of those moments in life that you're just like did that really happen? Because it is really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:07:26] So awesome. Now OK. You mentioned your dad Ted was a major league baseball player. And that he was very supportive and it just sounds like he gave you so much wisdom which is beautiful. But was it ever an issue of pressure like when media started to get involved? Because I'm sure it was always like Katie daughter of you know Dadada. Like was that ever difficult to handle?

 

Katie:

[00:07:49] It wasn't until he passed away. I think that moment is when the Olympic environment swallowed me whole. It's really difficult. I had asked to go home to see him when he was diagnosed with cancer. Well, we're on tour and the federation said no. I was not allowed to leave because they needed me to perform so they could get funding for the Olympic year the following year. The U.S. is the only funds' federations that have medal shot and I was a huge portion of their performance plan. So I had to stay and compete. And he passed away while I was competing. It devastated me. I have no words. I mean I could go into the details that season but it was psychologically damaging and man it just hurt a lot. And when he passed away they finally let me fly home for the funeral. And I had to return four days later and compete in the world championships. And I just I remember I didn't want to go because the media and the federation insisted. So I did and the first question out of the gate was how does it feel to lose your father. What do you think you would think? How do you think you would feel about your performance. And I just remember at that moment I felt like I had to swallow all of who I was to say the right things that they wanted me to say. You know the whole reason they put me in front of the media was that they were going to exploit this story to get publicity and sponsors. And it's big for NBC, right?

 

[00:09:21] It was a year out from the Olympics and I was ranked 3rd in the world. Despite all the trouble they had competing on while he was sick. And I didn't get to say the things I want to do. I didn't get the process degrees. It was pretty much from that moment on I had cameras in my face talking to me about my father who said what it meant. They even asked to come. We had a memorial service after the funeral like in November the following year. And spread more of his ashes. And NBC tried to insist that I have cameras there to film it. And I just like never got to deal with my grief for what happened because it would have been one thing if I had chosen to stay and compete and not been forced to stay. Or I guess worst in any word coerce. You know I asked three times to go home and the first time I thought they couldn't do it because they needed me. The second time he just said we can't. And then I think the third time I realized that you know they said they couldn't because winning so coming in 4th every week. I don't think it was like consciously on purpose but subconsciously. I think I was doing it because I was bitter I was mad. I did not want to be there. And then they said you know your performance must be important to you. You know your dad would want you to keep competing and you can’t make it if you are weak. So I said and then he died. And I remember like it was the last World Cup so I thought I'd meet it. I talked to him that morning and I remember him just telling me about the cattle we'd brought together and the ranch. But he would see me next week and how much he loved me like he said he loved me I think. A usual amount of time. And I won my first medal of the season because I was relieved that I had made it. I thought I was going to see him again. And when I finished the race they told me he had passed away.

 

Laura:

[00:11:26] Oh man.

 

Katie:

[00:11:27] So. sorry.

 

Laura:

[00:11:29] No. I can't even imagine.

 

Katie:

[00:11:32] That kind of puts it into context like. But the coaching staff in the federation they didn't really ask if I was OK. They didn't know there was no I could use a grief counselor or something. And I think it was really apparent that you know throughout the season that I wasn't okay because I had been winning everything up until that point. And then I just thinking back I was just like man you know making me talk to the media go to NBC do all the stuff that they didn't offer. They didn't ask how I felt and my true feelings were that I was kind of mad at the sport. I blamed it for taking because I didn't value winning or performing over my family over my well-being. And I got to the point where I think that is what's expected of you to perform. To perform at all costs. Win at all costs. And that was not who I was that was not my identity. That's not what brought me to the sport. So there was a good period of time where cancer question that some I did remember it. My identity and who I was was challenged significantly. And it was mostly influenced by the generalized other. Or in other words the expectations of what the federation wanted me to tell the public of what was what people wanted to hear versus how I felt and what was really going on. I kind of lost the humanity that I think I need personally need to be able to perform well.

 

Laura:

[00:13:00] Oh yeah. I can't. I mean you said you had to compete like four days after the funeral? Like at what point did you grieve?

 

Katie:

[00:13:10] I am not sure that I ever was given that opportunity really. And I remember I spoke out at the Olympics about how upset I was. They'd find me, took away my stipend, my housing and told me I had no OPEC privileges or trading privileges. Until after I made the team again the following year. I no longer had like my sounding board I was pretty lost. And I didn't know how to let go of the sport and start something new. Because I've been in this weird place that was like Oh I love skills and I want to do skeleton but I love my father. And I want to be with my father and my father was gone. And then I was like I was left with this lingering feeling while I was supposed to win an Olympic medal and I didn’t. And if I want to do that I have to be OK with doing these things they're putting in front of me. And it was like a state of cognitive dissonance that I didn't become aware of. I think honestly until after Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. So. Yeah. Lives live am I right?

 

Laura:

[00:14:16] Wow. Like you know I'm just trying to process what all you went through. I just can't even fathom that. I mean he's not even long after you lost your dad you broke your kneecap twice and you had 4 surgeries on it. And you still came back and competed the next year at the 2010 Olympic Games. I mean at some point did you just disconnect or is that when you really dove into it? How did you get yourself together to do that?

 

Katie:

[00:14:46] I never did. I don't think I understand. I still am working on it. Like I was winning 50% of the time statistically. 75% of the time when I went to a race. 75% physically I was going to I was gonna win a medal. There was only a 25% chance that I'd walk away from a race without a medal. So for me to go to the Olympics like it wasn't even a question in my mind. Of course I was going to make it but when I get the medal. And I ended up like 7th I don’t know 11th I think.

 

Laura:

[00:15:22] So you just go and went through the motions. Is that kind of?

 

Katie:

[00:15:25] Yeah. That sort of thing. Like I was top 3 in the world. I had 22 World Cup medals, 11 gold, 6 World Championship. That it's like the most medals of anyone in the history of the sport up to that point. And I think that it was a huge indicator that something went wrong. I don't think I snapped out of it truly until after this past Olympics because something similar happened with my best friend passing away. So now I'm left at this point where I'm like OK well now I'm regaining my own agency. Like I'm remembering what it's like to do things for myself for me. Like who I am what I'm about and I can start saying no. I can start creating boundaries. And if I do go to another Olympics it'll be more for myself and for completely different reasons. Like I feel invigorated again. But yeah. I mean like I think that shattering my kneecap 6 weeks after my father passed. It was a symptom. Another symptom of what I was going through mentally. I crashed a snowmobile I think I was just kind of lost and numb and died. And I didn't have anybody. I was alone. So I don't really know how to describe it. That was like.

 

Laura:

[00:16:42] No. I think that was a very good description. Yeah, I think it just goes to show us that like you can't just block things out then perform like you know things in your life have to be together and it's important you know who's in your life and what else is going on behind the scenes. Like sometimes we just forget that we think oh I can block it out and I can just do this thing. But it's no. It's your whole person right? I mean that's kind of what you keep saying. It's like everything has to kind of be together to make it all work.

 

Katie:

[00:17:07] For me. I mean there are some people and that's what I think that's the difference. Like some athletes begin as children, right? And they become taught that performing is part of who they are like winning it defines them. That was never me. What I loved was discovering more of myself more of the world. And like I felt like God was taking me on a journey that I was meant to do you know. And that integrity like those things is all more important. And I somehow I think I got trick. I don't know. I got sucked into the other aspect of it. It swallowed my identity and I became an Olympic product. A commodity. And I think for me it's telling like for me personally. Because if I'm not true to myself and what I believe and what my essence is. Then I think it results in injury. Results in poor performance. Results in just a state of cognitive dissonance numbness. And I think it was like over this past season a good friend of mine was like I feel so bad for him. He was just there for me when I was like sorting through all this mentally poor Giddeon. I don't know if you know Giddeon Massie a two time Olympian for cycling. And I texted him all season long. I found my relationship with God again. But I didn't even really explain to him everything I was going through because it's pretty emotional and pretty dramatic. And I even talking to you about it I feel like this is a comfortable setting because people are gonna know. They're listening to like hear something. Significant something. Deep something. That’s to take you to the core.

 

[00:18:51] But in real life it's really difficult to find people that are willing to listen or engage because it shows vulnerability. Like for you to show your emotions they’ll talk about the way you're processing life. I don't think wade you're focused are the things you're facing. I think it's really rare to find the right people to do that with. And it's important for me personally to have a relationship with God. And I think that whole process I'm so thankful to have had a friend like that. But you know I'm coming back to realizing and this is really important guys. This is an important part of the lesson that the only one who knows if you're OK is you. And it truly comes down to being honest with yourself about what you're OK doing and what you're not. And the thing I forgot was in that moment when I said I didn't want to speak to the media I should have just stuck to that and said no. When I said I wanted to go home I should have stuck to that and pushed and not moved on my ground on that. I started to buy into thinking that it was my duty to go to compete for to make sure that the team could get money. I thought it was my duty to win a medal for my country and sort of go home to see my family and for some people that might be the right choice.

 

[00:20:11] I'm not saying that there is a right or wrong. But if you do something that you truly don't feel in your heart is the way for you then you're putting yourself in a state of conflict. And if you're in a state of conflict it's really difficult to hear the Holy Spirit. It's really difficult to hear God guide you the way he wants you to go. And I think that was the biggest epiphany I had. Was like whoa if I'm more honest with myself if I'm more true to myself about what I want to do my mistakes and make my commitment to my choices then I'm much more at peace than I can see clearly in my path forward.

 

Laura:

[00:20:50] At Hope Sports we know that you want to be the best athlete that you can be. And in order to do that, you train hard and dedicate yourself to performing at your peak. But sometimes it can feel monotonous. Every day has a similar routine and when you win well no victory feels as good as a loss feels bad. It doesn't have to be this way. We believe athletes can compete at their full potential and reach their dreams while feeling lasting satisfaction from their accomplishments. We understand what it's like when you've dedicated your life to something. But you feel like you're never living up to people's expectations and you don't feel satisfied with your achievements. Hundreds of athletes have told us that they've discovered how to compete at their best while finding lasting fulfillment in their achievements during our interactive international service trips. Our next trip is coming up June 7th-10th in Rosarito Mexico and we want you to be there. It's so easy to get involved. Just go to HopeSports.org sign up for the June 7th-10th home build and build hope for a family and win like never before. So sign up today. It could be the key you need to find success in your career.

 

[00:21:57] Well I'm guessing so the next four years you made your third Olympic team in 2014 in Sochi. And it appears that you were kind of doing a little bit better emotionally, mentally because you did amazing there. And you just missed the podium by a fraction of a second for 100th of a second. I love how you put that in perspective and you say it's faster than you can even blink. Walk us through that experience.

 

Katie:

[00:22:20] Sochi. [00:22:21] Oh my gosh. Well obviously that into athlete right? Because that's where that goes. I got a concussion and I spent some time with some combat veterans at a TBI clinic which is a traumatic brain injury clinic in Dallas. And I was like getting down on myself like here I am injured again this always happens like blah blah blah. And those guys told me their stories. Marcus Luttrell was there about how they'd been blown up. Crawled on their hands on their elbows for 7 miles to get to safety. And some of them were blown up and continued fighting. And I was over there with a head injury like still going to the Olympics acting like my life was over. And I was like OK So that just put everything in perspective. I'm still going to the Olympics and I'm capable of putting my best on the line. So my mentality shifted because I had men that served their country and put their lives on the line. To show me that I was serving my country but I wasn't putting my life on the line. And if they could do that I could definitely go with a new sense of courage and fortitude and just bring everything I had and let that be that. And that was the lesson my father had originally taught me. It kind of just revives that for a moment. Unfortunately, there was a Sochi doping scandal which was if you all could go watch it that will explain it in depth.

 

Laura:

[00:23:46] That’s a powerful documentary. Yeah.

 

Katie:

[00:23:45] But the Red Corn Russian KGB and the sports minister of Russia conspired to cheat. So they helped the athletes take this Austrian and different performance-enhancing drugs at the Olympics. And then they switched out the doping samples with clean ones and destroyed the dirty samples so they could ensure they won medals. Now the girl who beat me was named in the investigative report as one of the athletes who is doping.

 

Laura:

[00:24:17] You didn't know that at the time though did you?

 

Katie:

[00:24:20] No I had the time on my leg. I mean I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get a medal but like it’ll be best Olympic like it was super fun like could have put on a great show. But in 2015 they disclosed all the stuff and Wrench a buddy of mine with friends Bryan Fogel the director of the movie. Texted and said that 100% Elena Nikitina on the girl who beat me was doping. And it broke my heart and I wasn't. My heart wasn't so much broken to the medal. It was broken because that Olympics was fake. I was just like oh my gosh everyone that participated in the race participated in something that wasn't real. They went to such long extended lengths to make sure they won. And it breaks my heart. And then you know like those pretty crazy like. It was exposed the IOC decide to strip the medal in November 2017 which made me a bronze medalist. I was like wow this is awesome you know. But the day I arrived in Pyeongchang they gave the Medal back. So I arrived at my fourth Olympic Games thinking I was a bronze medalist. And then when I woke up to go through processing I woke up to hate mail. And I mean some of whom are kind of funny but not nice. It was like you're not an athlete.

 

Laura:

[00:25:33] Wait wait wait. Just back up a minute. How did they take it back? Like what exactly happened?

 

Katie:

[00:25:41] That was through the court of arbitration of sport. So the athletes appealed to the higher court. And so the court of arbitrational sport ruled there wasn't enough individual evidence to show the athletes knew they were cheating. Or knew about the conspiracy. So I mean I'll just skip it. Skip the god Pyeongchang part. But I read a letter after the 2018 Games after experiencing that and I said I appreciate that you are attempting to protect the individual athlete right. However, I think you've done the opposite. You have not set any parameters in which the state can treat the athlete. And by giving them back the medals you're rewarding an abuse of power. It is not the reason that there is a conspiracy to cheat. It's not disputed that they distributed drugs. And it's not just that they destroyed the samples and replaced them with those athletes. That evidence is 100% factual by you rewarding them the medal. You have now allowed Russia to force their athletes to participate in a conspiracy to cheat against the Olympic movement. Olympic spirit and their health.

 

[00:26:48] What happens in 10 years when they can't have children. Some of them are having severe health issues or some of them pass away. Their friends their family and potentially themselves will come to you asking why you didn't do anything. Who is protecting the athlete from how the state can treat them? And that kind of set me on a pathway this fall where I began investigating the Olympic movement and the systems and processes in place. All the way from the top to the from the IOC down to the USOC. And I'm on a mission to create an independent athlete commission or association like a player's association for athletes in the US. I'm hoping it can be recognized by the 96 Olympic Committee. Acknowledging that there is a cultural issue that there is a problem. That the athletes have nowhere to go outside of their federations or any and National Committee is open to NSC. that can negotiate. Mediate on their behalf or hope their well-being first. We really truly need to define athlete right? And ensure that the culture is changed from a win at all costs. Performance at all costs to you. Your well-being is as important as your performance.

 

Laura:

[00:28:03] That would be huge. That's awesome. I'm glad you've made that part of your mission. That's really really cool. I mean I don't like that you've had to go through these things to learn that and become passionate about it. But I mean just think of all the people that you're going to help in the future because of that. That’s really cool.

 

Katie:

[00:28:19] I think the only reason people are listening is due to what happened to the gymnast. And so I think that I'm hoping you know I think one of the girls Jamie I don't remember how to say Well I think the thoughts of a D. She was one of the first ones to speak out against Larry Nasser. And the sexual abuse he did. And because of her slowly the rest of the girl started to stand up and speak out. It was like 1to 10 to 15 now 300 over 300. And because of them, Congress is listening USSC is listening. And I can't imagine what it was like to go through what they went through. But I think the solution like this like I spoke to her last night actually and she was like oh my gosh I had no idea. I was like you know our experience isn't unique. But the susceptibility to neglect. To neglecting our needs. And the culture pushing that on us to believe that that's what it takes to become an Olympian. That’s what it takes to perform is real. And I think that this is a great solution that can bring us all together. And kind of bring some empowerment to some of those victims or people that have suffered you know. It makes me feel better to come up with a solution to the problem. And I see that I could have easily been one of those administrators that believe in that process too. Like I can't imagine being put in a position where it's like my paycheck or the depends on this athlete performance. I actually want to recheck that statement because I would want to make sure that athletes were OK. But I think that you know the environment's gone. The culture has gone a little too far.

 

Laura:

[00:30:01] Mm-hmm. For sure. Well, now that lead up to we're talking about to Pyeongchang. Your fourth Olympic Games can't leave you in for that's so cool. I mean it was difficult on so many levels. Obviously you just talked about the whole finding out about the medals from Sochi. You mentioned earlier your best friend Steve Holcomb his Olympic champion he passed away. You've had you had five surgeries. You struggled with an autoimmune disease. I mean you have quite the story to athletic career you know. How did you handle emotionally, physically, and mentally going into that games?

 

Katie:

[00:30:40] Well like I said I had really great support. Giddeon was someone I spoke to all the time and it was really great for him. I had this other friend Leah Oriel she is my sister in Christ. And then she came on tour with me like a month. I had another friend that I met out there. His name is Manny he used to be a minister. So I mean like it was really important to me for me to have God in my life. I think that really got me through a lot. And then Elana Meyers was on tour with me and she was a huge support. But honestly like I didn't share with either anyone really what I was truly going through. I was diagnosed with PTSD. The only people that I told were the Federation and the coaches. So I don't know if I handled it really well I didn't really know how I ended up just kind of going numb and I was still pushing transport through things. There's no real black or white answer there. You know I was feeling I would have triggers so I would have anxiety attacks panic attacks and then you know I was trying to sort through a lot. So I just tried to put my best foot forward but I went numb.

 

[00:31:55] To be honest I was exhausted by the time I got to the Olympics. And I can't say that I was really excited to be there but I did my best. And I was very aware that I was a role model for a lot of people so I made sure to be clear about that good thing. Like I was really happy about the fact that I got to start a relationship with my mom again. That was really happy to have really had a come to Jesus moment on that year. I was really grateful for my friends and family but that doesn't change the fact that I was dealing with a lot. And I was emotionally exhausted. And like there are plenty of moments I didn't feel like I handled myself well at all. I spent way too many long texts to Giddeon.

 

Laura:

[00:32:44] Giddeon if you're listening. Thank you.

 

Katie:

[00:32:47] Yes. But I mean that's what friends are for right? And if they can really understand who you are and what you're going through like and not judge you for it. That's pretty awesome. I mean it's tough right? I don't know how I dealt or process it. I think I still am. Like I finally got thanks to talk space and Michael Phelps. I got some real help. The USOC doesn't have any true mental health resources. So when I told them I was having panic attack anxiety attack. They didn't really know what to do and then when I ask for help they just kind of brushed me off. So. I'm really grateful that you know I have the right people in place to help now. And but it's still a process. Like I'm just starting to get back on ice and I get triggers every once in a while or a nightmare and I can't sleep.But I think it's definitely getting a lot better. It's much less intense than it was. I should have clarified I got PTSD. Because in May 2017 I found my best friend Steve Holcomb passed away in the Olympic Training Center from an overdose. He accidentally took too many sleeping pills and drank and it ended up being lethal.

 

[00:34:08] So that was I think the whole situation though I think that's what woke me up finally. Because it paralleled with my dad and I remember Holcomb said to me right before he passed away. Remember who you are. You said be the Kate your dad said you were which was fierce. And you would go to the line dancing your own music and not really care about winning and thought and relax. Like the performance was never my focus and you should stop looking for people to assure you that you know. Stop looking for your dad to be or for people to be who your dad was you. No one hope you passed away. I was like. It kind of snap me out of it I think. And like I said I'm regaining my own agency and you know going through these therapies and stuff. That's when I started I realized like Wow that's where all my trauma came from. Was when I swallowed who I was to perform I lost my identity. So I think currently I am rediscovering that. I'm on a mission of personal discovery.

 

[00:35:16] And I'm grateful to have rediscovered God along the way. Which I think is huge because it was always a huge part of my life in the past. And I'm rambling now but I think that was one of the things that I realized was that when my father died I stopped praying as much. I stopped doing a lot of reflection and intersection and the things that took care of me. Like you have to make time and create space for yourself and create space for God. And I think that was one of the things I didn't do when I became overwhelmed with sadness or you know. Like I said if you're in a state of cognitive dissonance a state of conflict really hard to hear the Holy Spirit. Hard to hear yourself. So you know facing those things to clear that out and create faith that's going to be a constant job I think.

 

Laura:

[00:36:09] I'm glad to hear you're on the right track and you're figuring out how to sort through it. And like you said talking to God and having those important relationships. And having therapy and talking. Like working through those things that's so huge. And you said you're back on ice so are you still competing and looking forward to Beijing?

 

Katie:

[00:36:30] Oh my gosh Beijing so far away. Just pick your day and time.

 

Laura:

[00:36:34] Well, you also I picked up another sport in this process too, didn't you?

 

Katie:

[00:36:39] I did. I am currently a national champion in 2 sports back to back. And I'm gonna try and do it again. When I try to win skeleton Nationals and then cycling Nationals again it’s like you've done?

 

Laura:

[00:36:48] That’s amazing.

 

Katie:

[00:36:51] I don't know. I'm just gonna take a day of time like I got injured and I'm just now getting back on ice like tomorrow. So I have about 6 weeks to prepare for national and everywhere else has been sliding since October. But I'm just like. I'm just starting to think that my career numbers are coming up on most people stages. So I should be at all. They’re like calling me grandma skeleton at this point. I'm like I am 34 and offended.

 

Laura:

[00:37:22] Grandma Skeleton I like it.

 

Katie:

[00:37:24] Ouch. But I'll take it. So then I'll do nationals. And then if I win I get to buy on to the world team next season. And then I'm gonna head back to L.A. immediately and start training for Team front. Which is like you go in this little circle and a velodrome it's like a fishbowl. The sport getting in bed and my teammate is Mandy Marquardt I think. I like calling her Marquardt because it is French. But so we won nationals and if we win again in my time is within the league standard then I'll get a Pan Am games. And hopefully help us attempt to make the summer games Tokyo 2020. But I'm like a second offer I need to be which is quite a bit of time. And I haven't had a lot of experience on a bike but I'm really enjoying it and the community is fantastic. I love being a part of a team. I love that I can do it and stay in one place like skeleton I’ve travel non-stop. So I think I'm ready to like transition into not traveling as much. And I was in L.A. up until like last week. I have to say 70 degrees in January was pretty awesome.

 

Laura:

[00:38:38] A far cry from the skeleton you know area I'm sure.

 

Katie:

[00:38:43] Yeah. I mean like Christmas was super rad. I wanted to get a palm dream and put like a Charlie Brown decoration on it. And then just wear an ugly sweater because the flake warm enough where you don't need a coat. But cool enough to wear like a sweater is appropriate. I was like This is great. This is business Christmas.

 

Laura:

[00:38:53] That would be perfect. Oh That’s awesome. Well cool. Well, where can we follow you because you're absolutely incredible you're awesome. So where can we follow you online to continue to be inspired and encouraged by you and cheer you on toward Tokyo and Beijing perhaps?

 

Katie:

[00:39:16] Instagram @kateu11 and all the other ones there @KatieU11 Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. It's not hard to find me. So is there another platform missing?

 

Laura:

[00:39:30] No. That's perfect. We'll make sure to put those on there. Katie thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your story and just encouraging and inspiring all of us.

 

Katie:

[00:39:42] I really appreciate the opportunity and thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:39:46] Wow. I love how vulnerable Katie is willing to be with her story. Knowing that her openness can encourage others to take an honest look at themselves. As well and perhaps even be bold enough to engage with where they're at. At one point she said the only one who knows if you're OK is you. And men that is so true. If you're feeling off or unheard or you resonate with Katie's sense of neglect then I encourage you to just like she did to go on a journey to discover who you are again. Reach out to a friend or a mentor and get connected to those who can remind you of your identity. Seriously Katie that was some amazing wisdom and we're so grateful. Be sure to follow her on all of her socials that are linked in the show notes so that you can cheer her on as she aims for her fifth Olympics and shoots for back to back Summer and Winter Games. Don't forget to subscribe and join us each week for more raw honest conversations with athletes about how their journeys have shaped them and how they are engaging in things that give them purpose. And if you're interested in getting outside of your normal day today and you want to pursue purpose then consider registering for an upcoming trip with hope sports. The link is in the show notes and a trip is coming up this June that you do not want to miss. Next step is swimmer Michael Andrews who is a young up and comer who has broken over 100 national age group records. He's blazing a trail to the 2020 Olympics and he'll share more about his story right here next week. On behalf of Hope Sports, I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit HopeSport.org

 

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About This Episode

As a sixth grader, Guy East would wake up every morning, put on a medal from one of his novice races, raise his arms high, and pretend that he won Olympic gold. Inspired by Lance Armstrong’s heroic return to cycling after cancer, Guy knew that someday he wanted to be that: a champion. He was bullied at school and remembers using his anger and frustration to fuel himself. Instead of running away, he channeled his pain into his training. He viewed cycling as a way to show his worth to his biggest critics. “I wanted to prove that I was better than all the names they called me at school,” recalls Guy.

The tactic worked. At age 16 he was invited to a training camp with the US National Cycling Team and soon after was hand picked as one of a dozen rising stars to be a part of Lance Armstrong’s development team. He began to realize that his dreams might actually become a reality. But the anger that once drove him began to wain and as he got further in his career the performance culture of the sport ate away at him. “I was only as good as my last performance,” says Guy. Coaches and teammates echoed the fears that were already inside of him -- that he wasn’t worthy of love if he didn’t win. He pushed himself harder to become faster and be ranked higher, but the constant scrutiny led to eating disorders and the brutal self talk robbed him of the joy of riding.“I was competing out of a desire to prove to people that I was worthy and capable, rather than because I loved the sport,” says Guy.

All of these feelings came to a head when he was 21 in Mexico City where he was competing. Instead of reserving energy like the rest of his teammates, he stepped outside of his Five Star hotel and was struck by the immense poverty that was directly across the street. Families were living in shacks, children didn’t have shoes or clothing, homes were crumbling. His instinct was to turn away and never think of it again, but that moment changed something for him and he genuinely wanted to help. “At that point I started to question what I was doing as an athlete,” he says. “I realized that I didn’t want to just be remembered for being fast, but for making a difference in the world.” Coming from such a cut-throat, “all in or all out” mentality of elite sports, Guy didn’t believe he could do both. After a year of inner turmoil and soul searching he decided to sell all of his possessions and equipment, and quit the sport all together. It wasn’t an easy decision, however. With so much of his identity and worth wrapped up in his athletic abilities, he deeply feared being rejected as he walked away. “I believed that people only liked me because I was a cyclist,” says Guy. And that rejection did come as teammates and critics reminded him that he was giving up his greatest talent, that all of his efforts over the years were for nothing, that he didn’t have a clue what he was going to do next.

Without a college degree, without a plan, and without any prospects on the horizon, Guy combined the only two things that he knew he loved: serving others and cycling. He bought a one way ticket to Puerto Rico and hung out with the homeless on the streets, served in soup kitchens, lent a hand at non-profits, and helped in churches. He brought his bike and journeyed for two years through Central America with no real agenda. “I never felt more connected to people, my faith, and my purpose,” says Guy. After two years he felt more free and content than he ever did racing a bicycle, but he also realized that he deeply enjoyed competing. He finally bought a return ticket to the States with the goal of returning to the professional circuit, but this time it would be with a much bigger perspective on life and what was important.

Guy went on to compete professionally for several more years, but was committed to sharing what he learned. All around him he saw athletes who were like him; they didn’t believe they had any purpose beyond their athletic ability and saw themselves only in medal counts, scores, and standings. Passionate about helping transform the mindsets of his elite athlete friends, Guy started gathering groups to travel to Mexico and work with Homes of Hope, an organization that builds homes for families with volunteer teams over a weekend. “I kept seeing light bulbs go on for people,” says Guy. He recognized that there were plenty of people pushing physical development programs for athletes, but very few supporting their development in emotional, spiritual, or psychological ways. In 2015 Guy founded Hope Sports which regularly brings teams to build homes in Mexico and is committed to training coaches to challenge the negative framework of elite sports.

In Guy’s opinion, the performance culture is only going to get worse unless we actively work against it. It communicates that hard work and sacrifice can help an athlete earn value, acceptance, and love. Unfortunately, this line of thinking extrapolates itself into all relationships, from coaches and teammates to parents, friends, and spouses. And there is never an end to the winning. If a victory at the next championship will finally bring a sense of worthiness, what happens when that is won and there is a next one? “If our purpose is winning, then we’ll never be satisfied,” says Guy. Elite athletes need to find a way to be content and happy now, not after some medal, some ranking, or some championships. “We want to free people of that mentality so they can believe that they are great for who they are,” he says. We live in a high performance society and sports will always be about hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, but Guy says, “yes, you may have to earn your medal, but you’re never going to earn love.”

Guy retired in 2017 to focus more on the work of Hope Sports and is constantly seeking new ways to reach the next generation of athletes with this message. Through trips, seminars and training for coaches, and the Hope Sports podcast, he hopes to wield his platform for good and encourages other athletes to do so as well. Learn more about the work of Hope Sports by visiting their website and following Guy on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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About This Episode

Growing up, Ryan Hall trained for hours upon hours on his swing, his pitching, and his catching; he dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. Unfortunately he could practice all he wanted, but it would never change his physical build enough to be a viable candidate for baseball. But, as he would soon learn, practice would indeed make him faster. His dad had always been a distance runner, but Ryan didn’t share the same passion for hitting the pavement. In fact, he didn’t enjoy it at all. But one day while sitting on the edge of a lake near his home in California, Ryan says, “I felt God tell me to run around it.” With no training or preparation, he and his dad ran the slow and painful fifteen miles around the lake. It was from that day forward that he says that he knew he would run in an Olympic Games.

He dedicated himself to training and was an all star high school athlete. Despite his reservations about attending a trendy, powerhouse running school, Ryan signed with Stanford University after he graduated. He had always been a decent student in high school, but was utterly unprepared for the rigors of college and wasn’t cut any slack for being an athlete as well. His undergraduate years were brutal. At one point his professors weren’t even confident that he would pass his classes, injuries plagued his racing, and his entire sense of identity was compromised because of it. “I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw because I wasn’t performing well,” says Ryan. He wrestled with relentless negative self talk and depression that drove him home midway through his sophomore year. Knowing that he needed to confront his destructive performance mindset, Ryan began pursuing his faith in God to rebuild his identity. “I needed to see myself how God saw me,” he says. He returned to Stanford with a new confidence in his self worth; what started as an inward transformation began to work its way outward, resulting in faster and faster times.  

He signed with ASICS right out of college and continued his running career on a whole new level. He had always dreamed of running alongside the very fastest individuals in the world, and now he was training, traveling, and racing his dream alongside his wife, Sarah, who was also an elite runner. Ryan soon realized that his 5K times were simply not competitive, which led him to up his race length. This proved to be the perfect move for him. In 2007 Ryan made history at the Houston Half-Marathon as the first American to break the one hour mark for a half marathon with a time of 59:43. He describes that race as feeling enfortless, a “mountaintop experience.” Unfortunately there is no half marathon at the Olympics, so Ryan upped his distance once again to the marathon length. That same year he logged the fastest debut marathon ever by an American at the London Marathon, where he took seventh place. He followed that up with a first place finish at the US Olympic Trials and qualified to race at the 2008 Beijing games.

Of the Olympics, Ryan says it “completely lived up to its hype.” From the athlete village, to running with some of his heros, to the ceremonies - it was a dream come true. His dream also included him running the race of his life, which unfortunately isn’t what happened.  Three months prior to the Olympics fatigue caught up with him, his times lagged, and he couldn’t overcome feeling sluggish. He mixed up his training, nutrition, and sleep rhythms in hopes of breaking out of the slump, but, in his opinion, his fitness wasn’t as good as it could have been. Feeling the weight of the difficult journey to that starting line, he decided to hand over the outcome to God knowing that it didn’t change anything about who he was. “I told myself that I’m still of worth and value even if I don’t have my best performance on the day that I want it more than anything else,” says Ryan. During the first half of the race he fell behind the pack, carrying burden of the heat, humidity, and his own discouragement. He prayed as he ran and felt God prompt him to start encouraging others athletes along the way. So as he caught up with another competitor he would encourage them, pray for them, or run with them until they caught a fresh wind. “As I turned my thoughts out to other people, I wasn’t focused on my own suffering or pain,” says Ryan. This perspective shift worked; his splits improved and he picked his way up to a tenth place finish, something he is still very proud of.

A year after the Beijing Olympics, Ryan and his wife, Sarah, ran the Chicago Marathon to raise money for World Vision. Following the race, they had the opportunity to travel to Zambia to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the clean water well that was built from what they helped collect. At the event a community member shared with Ryan that the availability of clean water would add ten years to the life expectancy of the 90,000 people in their village. It was in that moment that he realized the impact that running could have on people who truly needed it. The following year Ryan and Sarah founded the Hall Steps Foundation, which raises money for a variety of projects around the world - from foster care development in Ethiopia, to microloans for widows across a variety of countries, to health clinics in Kenya. Runners can fundraise for a race and all of the proceeds go directly to the programs through this volunteer-run organization.

As their foundation grew, Ryan and Sarah continued to run professionally, but unfortunately, a domino effect of injuries afflicted Ryan. He qualified to run in the 2012 London Olympics, but had to step off mid-race because of a pulled hamstring. The injuries didn’t relent and after four years of nursing one after another Ryan decided to step away from the sport. Despite his love of running, his body made it clear that it was time to retire and honestly, he was ready for it. “It was kind of a relief,” says Ryan, “I had a powerful realization that my journey wasn’t all about me.” He looked forward to a new season of teaching, coaching, writing, and speaking, finding it incredibly fulfilling to pour into others and see them succeed, almost more than his own successes. He also took time to heal his body from almost fifteen years of elite running.

During this time the Hall family also grew in numbers. After spending time training in Ethiopia, Ryan and Sarah grew to love the people and culture, while simultaneously feeling convicted by the poverty and growing orphan crisis. They were originally interested in adopting an infant from Ethiopia, but while serving at an orphanage there, were confronted with the need for adoptive families for older children and sibling groups. When they returned to the US they switched adoption agencies and were matched with a group of four biological sisters who needed a home soon to avoid being seperated. Overnight they went from a family of two to a family of six. “It was almost an easier transition than the traditional route,” jokes Ryan, “I have never changed a diaper and have probably only been woken up twice in the night.” It may have seemed like a big move, but they were ready. “If everyone chooses to take their own personal step, then we can see big change,” says Ryan. He hopes that their work can encourage others to look around and find ways to have a positive impact in their own communities. Ryan shares more of his journey in his upcoming book, Run the Mile You’re In: Finding God in Every Step that releases this month. Packed full of insights on identity, purpose, and calling, he writes about how to pursue a relationship with, and direction from, God, no matter a person’s journey.

Ryan’s personal race has come full circle; he heard from God on the side of the lake in California that someday he would help others through running, and that vision has come to fruition. He has traveled the world, grown his family, competed with his heroes, and yet still realizes that the best race is the one run not for himself, but for God and those around him. Keep up with all of the amazing things that Ryan and Sarah are doing around the world on Instagram, Twitter, their website, and through the Hall Steps Foundation.

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Laura:
[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcasts where we believe the best way for you to unlock your full potential is by
living into your purpose. We believe discovering your purpose is the only way for you to live a meaningful life. I'm your host
Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. And each week I have the privilege of connecting with a different elite athlete to
discuss how they win big in and out of their sport. We want you to compete better and live into your purpose. So stick around
to hear about an amazing opportunity that we have for you. But first, let's talk about today's episode. This week we're joined by
Olympic marathon runner Ryan Hall. And it was such a treat to connect with him on the show. You'll hear about his incredible
accomplishments throughout his career and his mountaintop experiences as an athlete. But what I hope you really take away is
how he overcame seasons of immense struggle in his life. He has so much wisdom to share with each of us as we run our own
race and his message is so encouraging. So let's go ahead and dive on in. Ryan Hall thank you so much for coming on the Hope
Sports Podcast today.
Ryan:
[00:01:07] My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Laura:
[00:01:09] OK For those listening to that may not know your background. Can you kind of take us through how you got into
sports in the first place and how that led you to running?
Ryan:
[00:01:16] Yeah. So my dream growing up is to play professional baseball. The problem was I was you going into high school
like 100 pounds and 5 ft tall. So it's not the ideal frame it turns out for baseball. So you know like I was training really hard and
remember I would throw pitches against a backstop. My daddy built for me in our backyard for hours and hours and pretend
like I was like we need to make the World Series or what not you know. So like I had the dream I had the drive but I just didn't
have like the physical makeup to make that reality you know. And I was grateful that like I learned that at a really young age
because if I would've kept going down that road I probably would've felt like I said my head against the wall for a long time.
You know that's just not how God designed me so it happened one day when I was going down to basketball game and I never
played. I always sat on the bench and basketball was gonna get on the team but that was about it. And I remember looking at it
like in my hometown Big Bear Lake in Southern California. And I just felt like I'd just kind of planted this little seed of a
desire to try and run around the lake which is 15 miles around the lake.
Laura:
[00:02:26] That’s a big lake!
Ryan:
[00:02:25] So it's a big first round. For a first time runner, it's not a good starting point usually. But that's just kind of who I am
is like I'm a dreamer I love to dream big dreams. But I felt like this one was like there's something different about this dream?
Because I hated the run like I didn't like it at all. Like every time like as in P.E. class and kids have to run the mile like I'd be
just like all my classmates go No I don’t wanna run the mile today. But then I'd go and I'd run hard and I'd run well but it
wasn't my passion I didn't enjoy it. So there's hope to any listeners out there that maybe think you're not ever going to get into
running coz you hate it. That can change. That can change for me that day. So you know I went out and I ran the 15 miles
around the lake with my dad the following Saturday and.
Laura:
[00:03:15] Wait. So like there was no preparation for this? You just went out and ran it with him?
Ryan:
[00:03:19] Yeah yeah yeah. So I got home from the basketball game and told my dad what I wanted to do and then the next
weekend we went out and did it. And it was a long slow painful effort. I feel like I was out there for days and days like it was
just like I just went I'll just breeze through it no problem. You know it wasn't that way at all. It was like really really

challenging. So I came home and I collapsed on the couch and super tired super fatigue. And I felt like I was like he'd give me
a gift to run with the best guys in the world. But he gave me that gift so I could help other people. And I think that was the
launching point my entire career you know. And I knew what it means around with the best guys in the world like I'd seen the
Olympics. So like right off the bat like I was like that's where I'm going. You know I always had that belief from that moment
was 13 but I didn't understand how you can help other people around you. Now it happened you know come on down the line
actually right after the Beijing Olympic swim. I learned how powerful and impactful sports can be to change people's lives on
the other side of the globe from us.
Laura:
[00:04:26] Yeah. I love that. I do have to ask though. Is your dad a runner?
Ryan:
[00:04:30] He was. Yeah yeah. And he still is. He's actually like the only one still running our family. We all ran like all the
kids stopped and he's still going. I think that run took a lot of patience on his end because he was a bit like running marathons
and so he felt like we were out for a walk a long long walk.
Laura:
[00:04:39] That's awesome.
[00:04:50] We'll that’s call father-son bonding right? That’s good.
Ryan:
[00:04:53] Yeah. Exactly.
Laura:
[00:04:54] Awesome. Well so you ran through high school then and it led you to Stanford. Like what made you decide to go to
Stanford?
Ryan:
[00:05:01] Yeah it's like I feel like God does this to me all the time to the one squad ruled out is like I'm not going to Stanford.
At the time they were like the running powerhouse school on like the trendy place to go in. And like I have never been one of
those people who likes to follow trends you know. So it was like all pride you know like all my pride is like I'm not going
everyone goes there. And then there is also like the academic piece because you know I got good grades in high school. But I
took a very basic level classes like it and take like on a research a P.E. stuff in high school. So I wasn't prepared for the
academics at Stanford at all. So I knew that was going to be a stretch for me if I end up going there.
[00:05:44] But then one of my friends Drew Ryan he introduced me to the coach we're up there a cross-country meet during
my senior year in high school. And the coach like Hey we should just go around I'll show you the campus and stuff. I talked to
my really like the coach and then I did go on like four more recruiting trips to different schools. And ultimately I remember I
sitting in the church at Stanford. Have you been to the church?
Laura:
[00:06:06] I haven't.
Ryan:
[00:06:07] Oh, it's amazing! And the quad there's this beautiful beautiful church like something that you'd see in like Italy or
something. And I remember sitting in there and then I was trying to decide where to go to school. And again I felt like kind of
the prompting of God to go to Stanford and again like it was not an easy road at Stanford. I struggled hard like in every aspect
of life. The only thing that was really stable for me during my four years at Stanford was my relationship with Sarah who's
now my wife. But we dated all throughout my time at Stanford and her time at Stanford. And without that like literally like
nothing would have been going well for a long long time. Just academically like my teachers were very very very concerned

that even like make it through. Just so far behind everyone else. And then you're trying to just juggle so much as a student-
athlete and at Stanford, they don't cut you any breaks. You know in the same classes same expectations as we're not getting any
special treatment. So it was a real struggle.
[00:07:10] And then there's like all these injuries that came up into that point like early on in my career at Stanford. My whole
identity was kind of wrapped around how I perform. And so when I looked in the mirror like that's what it was all about. And it
worked out when I was in high school except performing at a really high level. Like set a state record in 1600 my senior year
and not a very good high school career. But then when things are going downhill that just totally it's like someone took the rug
out from under me because now I know it's in there. I didn't like that I wasn't performing on the track. So that was a huge shift
that happened. Actually, I got really depressed in my sophomore year at Stanford left school. I thought that I could change
what was going on inside of me by changing the circumstances of my external situation. So I went home back to Big Bear after
winter quarter in my sophomore year. I didn't know if I didn't come back.
[00:08:07] I didn't know what I was going to do but I knew I had to sort stuff out inside me. So I could just feel this like real
happiness. And this really kind of like lack of love for myself you know. So I ended up choosing to go back to Stanford and
just spend a lot of time with God. And in really like learning to see myself how he sees me. And as I kind of was able to adopt
that view was super powerful. And like getting away from that performance burden that I'd been carrying around my whole life
really. And in sports kind of started become fun again because I was OK with family and messing up and getting it wrong you
know. And it wasn't an instant change you know. It's not like I went back and got all this figured out in like a week. And then a
week later it was running fast like there's a long slow gradual shift that kind of happened and started from the inside. Then it
slowly started to come out externally and then start performing better and better in cross-country and track. And I was able to
sign a contract with these six come out of college. And I run professional for 10 years and got a Campbell Olympic Games and
some pretty cool experiences. But you know it was a tough road getting there and I learned through so much through it all.
Laura:
[00:09:22] I love that. I love that you said it wasn't just an overnight thing like that stuff does take time and a lot of times you
just get frustrated we try to run away. Just I mean just like what you were saying I had just resonates so much with me and
athletes that I know. Yeah and I love that you just stuck with it and you knew the change was coming because it had to. You
had to start from the inside to make any kind of difference. That's awesome. And your wife Sarah who is your girlfriend at the
time was your stability I guess through college. So what was it like kind of you know I mean your dating her then you get
married. And you guys are both runners you know is that a good thing or is there some conflict there? I mean what is that
dynamic like?
Ryan:
[00:09:57] I definitely think it's a good thing. You know like to be a professional runner it's not just like a sport or hobby it's
like an entire lifestyle. So if you're married to someone who's not willing to allow you to live that lifestyle? Like you're running
wouldn't work at all. Like you'd have to like stop running to make that work you know. Or you just have to sacrifice and not
like to develop your talent to the full level and the running round. But for Sarah and I nice because we were both going after
the same thing the same lifestyle. I mean I feel like sometimes I was like you're constantly like eating healthy, sleeping a ton,
going to bed at like 8:30 at night, getting up at 7, taking afternoon naps and stuff. So it was a blessing for us because we got
spent so much time together. We're both literally like she's out training and then at home together. So it's a really cool season of
life. And even now still like I'm retired but my lifestyle hasn't shifted a whole lot. You know I don't take as naps in the
afternoon or sleep as much anymore. But we're still together all the time and I coach her. So I don't even out there when she's
running and only I'm on a bike now. It's only going to be alongside.
Laura:
[00:11:11] Nice change of pace there. That's cool. Well in 2007 you won the Houston Half Marathon in a time of 59 minutes
and 43 seconds. The first American to break the one hour mark for a half marathon. And you still hold the American record for
the fastest half marathon. Was that the event that you had to record. That's so cool. So what was that race like?

Ryan:
[00:11:32] Yeah. That was you know telling the story of like running with the best guys in the world. That was kind of the first
time that that was an actual reality. I had competed at the World Championships in track and competed in Europe on the track.
But I was never really in the race like I can remember running five games against the best guys in the world and I'm like
watching on the jumbotron. There's Ching and I like on the other side of the track you know. So like this isn’t really running
with the best guys in the world. Maybe in the same race I'm not really the same race. But as I moved up to the longer stops
things just really started to click and see at the time when I ran that time 59:43. That was one of the top ten times like ever run
for that distance. So like now it's more commonplace to see a lot of guys under an hour. But at the time that was kind of their
territory so that was kind of the moment whereas woah like you have the vision for a long time you're kind of chasing the
vision. And then you have that moment where you realize it and you're in it and you're kind of like at the top of the mountain.
That was kind of the experience there.
[00:12:37] But it was the same as what you hear most athletes talk about their greatest performances. It was it felt really easy
you know I felt like I could have done another one afterwards. And you finished the race and you're like oh I can definitely run
faster than that. And then you know I never even got within a minute of that time after that. As an athlete you have those
mountaintop experiences. And with athletes I'm working with now I'm like guys like soak it in because you may think you can
run faster and you might. I hope you do. You know I hope I'm wrong. But even if you don't like let's make sure we enjoy this
moment for what it is because we don't know what the future holds.
Laura:
[00:13:17] Exactly. Well just a couple months after that in April you placed 7th and the London Marathon and it was your first
ever marathon on 208 and the fastest debut marathon by an American. I mean that's pretty insane. Had you been planning on
doing marathons for a while? What made you kind of graduate to these longer distances?
Ryan:
[00:13:37] Yeah. There's actually the experience I was telling you about being on the track in Europe and watching guys finish.
That the moment where you know for a while as an athlete you're kind of developing. You don’t really know where your gifts
and talents really truly are. You know especially in the running realm you don't know how fast your foot speed is and that kind
of dictates a lot with the elite distance running. But it was at that time where I realized like 5 game I was not gonna be
competitive. So I need to be humble enough to move up even though I didn't necessarily want to. And then like I said it seems
like you moved up like things just really really clicked. And so I was actually training for my first marathon when I ran 59
minutes and a half marathon. So I just changed my training up and is running more than I had ever run before doing harder
workouts. And that's when things really really clicked in my body and took off.
[00:14:31] And I was planning on running the Los Angeles Marathon actually was my first one. And then Houston happened
and then the doors kind of opened for me to get to go to London. That was such a cool experience because I got to race against
guys like how they gave us slots. You know these are guys who were the greatest runners of all time in that era. And it was just
really surreal to be running next to them at mile 14 going across Tower Bridge. You know with all my heroes of running and
stuff. Another one of those moments were like this is what what I pictured you known when I was 13 on that couch.
Laura:
[00:15:06] That’s so cool. So epic. I love it. You paint such a good picture of that. Well at that same year in November you won
the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the marathon in 209. I mean that's pretty insane. You just started running marathons that year
and you made the Olympic team. I mean what was that like? I mean I know you said you wanted to run against the best guys
in the world. Was the Olympics always part of that dream? Or did not just kind of come up as you ran these longer distances?
Ryan:
[00:15:33] Yeah yeah. That’s part of the dream you know. They still don't have a half marathon in Olympic. So if you're going
to run longer than 10K it has to be the marathon distance.

Laura:
[00:15:43] So what was it like at the Olympics? I mean was it everything you dreamed of? Was it totally just for you kind of in
shock or at all? Like what was your race like? Was it what you expected or what you hoped for?
Ryan:
[00:15:56] Yeah. You know it lived up to its expectations in many ways like the hype being in the village like you know I'd
watch Cool Runnings a million times.
Laura:
[00:16:06] I love that movie.
Ryan:
[00:16:08] Yeah. It’s so good. And you always wondering was it actually like Olympic Village and stuff you know. And like
that part of the experience was I remember like walking out of the closing ceremonies next to Yao Ming you know he's like
super tall who we're in China. And so like all the people are just going crazy on and stuff. So there is moments like that. Was
like wow this is like really really amazing experience and like I feel so honored to get to be here. But then in terms of you
know what I dreamed of as a kid I didn't necessarily have to win the gold medal or even podium. But I just really wanted to
have my best stuff on that day. You know like be the best version of myself be as fit as I'd ever been like. Like have my
Houston day but at the Olympic games like that's what I wanted the most you know. But what I've learned in sports is
sometimes like no matter how much you want it. No matter how well you prepare. No matter how good of a coach you have.
You have everything in place. Like sometimes things just don't click. Like I haven't figured it out completely you know.
[00:17:15] But I've certainly just experienced that it's like I didn't change anything up on the same person. I'm training the
same way. I'm eating the same way. I'm sleeping. Doing everything same. And having two very different results you know like
one just effortlessly floating through a race 6 months before that. And then 6 months later I'm just struggling in my fitness. So
that was kind of my story leading up to the race. My fitness wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be. Training had been rocky
kind of up and down and just been kind of kind of struggling you know. So on starting line I was nervous but I still had like the
outside hope of trying to grab a medal you know. Like I just run the London marathon again for my second time and personal
best in 206 and finish 5th. And so you know those are the the best guys in the world we all go to London. So it’s like in
London. You know maybe I could pick up a couple more spots and grab a medal in Beijing.
[00:18:11] But that was him I my experience unfortunately you know. I wasn't at my best upon Bigfoot. But still such a great
experience to immediately grow through. I remember doing a warm up run the day before a marathon. We always just jog like
30 minutes, do some drills and strides. And during that time I like to sometimes do it by myself and just have a little
conversation with God and be like What do you have for today? You know like for tomorrow? Like what do you want to tell
me? And you know I was always like hoping you can give me some like verse about David and Goliath or something like that
you know. Or soaring on wings of eagles and effortlessly flying through the race. But you actually reminded me of this story
during that moments Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. Which there were the guys who were being thrown into a fiery
furnace. And the king because they wouldn't worship the king's idols. Nebuchadnezzar idols and this is in way back in the day.
And I just love their response to the King.
[00:19:11] They're like even if God doesn't show up we're not gonna bow down to worship. And I think that was really like the
word God had for me for my race the following day. Was like you need to set your heart in such a way. So even if you don't
perform how you hope dreams, planned it out, drew it up in your head. It's not going to change your heart towards me. Or even
like my heart towards myself you know. Like finding that I'm still a worth I'm still a value even if I don't have my best
performance. On the day when I want it more than anything else you know. I could order on one day be today. But how might
you respond if that's not the case. So it really helped me during that race. Nothing to help me because I found myself about
halfway into the Olympic marathon back way way back. So I went out really fast even though it’s super hot and humid in
Beijing. Now it's back in like 30th-60th I don’t remember what place I was in. It was way back and it's kinda pouting myself
like what's going on? I'm so frustrated and how come I'm so far back. You know these are the thoughts are gone through my

head.
[00:20:18] And again I felt like God was gonna tell me like I want you to start encouraging people around you. Which is really
odd because in our sport that doesn't happen you know. Usually guys aren't cheering for each other when they're running which
is fine you know. I get it. But I just started to do that. I started just I’ll catch a guy and it's been okay good job man you're
doing great. Let's work together and try to catch a group in front of us. Rather say a couple of words. You know just try and
encourage them a little bit. But again it was like getting to my heart and it was making me get outside of myself. And think
about other people and trying to help and encourage other people. And as I did that I stepped out on that I found that I started
to gain courage. I started to feel better about my situation. I think it was because whenever you're internal and you're in a lot of
pain and suffering like you are in a marathon. The more internal you are the more you're aware of all this pain you know.
[00:21:11] I found thinking about other people other things I'm outside myself in things I'm able to push harder. Coz I'm not as
aware of the pain. Coz I found like whatever you focus on it's going to increase the sensation. So just really let me go outside
of myself and start encouraging some other people. And I started to work my way up and ended up finishing intense position.
Which still wasn't what I hoped for but it was the best that I could do on that day. And you know I'm still very proud of that
performance even though it wasn't everything I dreamed of.
Laura:
[00:21:47] I totally get that. We had a guest on one of our first episodes is a performance scientist Dr. Ben Houltberg. And he
talks about purpose based identity and performance based identity. And just like what you were saying just having that purpose
beyond yourself makes such a big difference. You know for the people around you but also for you. That's really really cool.
You could walk away even though it wasn't maybe the finish you wanted like you walk away with that amazing experience. So
cool. So a year after Beijing you and your wife Sara co-founded the Hall Steps Foundation. I would love for you to tell us
about your foundation.
Ryan:
[00:22:22] Yeah. So this actually happened kind of in the wake of Beijing. Sara and I became spokespersons for Team World
Vision. And their goal for the Chicago Marathon that fall after the Olympics was to have about 500 runners come together.
Fundraise to bring clean water to a community in Zambia 90,000 people didn't have access to clean water. So we are just like
spreading the word about it like just trying to tells me people as we could. And just a part of that team. And so we have
opportunity after the Beijing Olympics to go to Zambia. And watch them like cut the ribbons of these boreholes that had just
been poured you know. And they had access to clean water for the first time in their life. And I'll never forget I was at a ribbon
cutting ceremony just like way out mistakes in some old tiny village. And this guy this village guy and they all speak English
there. It's like the business language you know so they learn in school. Which was really cool because I didn't think I'll talk to
anyone going over there. But he is telling me is like hey because you guys brought clean water to us like everyone in my
community their life expectancy is going to go up by 10 years.
[00:23:38] And that was kind of the moment for me where going back to my 13 year old self and hearing that like I'd been
given a gift to help other people. That was kind of moment like this is how you help other people through running. It's like I
was a part of a team of people that did some fundraising ran a race. And as a result now 90,000 people in Zambia are getting to
live 10 years longer. Like you're actually adding years to people's lives because you ran a race you know. And I was just such a
powerful moment for both me and Sara like I went back home and I'd start training. And I'd just be thinking about these kids
that I interacted with ran with over there. That are in tattered clothes which is the biggest smile on their face you know. I guess
a very interesting interaction whereas like I wanted to help them in terms of like health, wellness, school, education,
empowerment, all of that.
[00:24:32] But they also had something that like I think we're lacking here in the States which is a real sense of community.
You know it's like when things are tough over there like they have to rely on each other. And that just builds a really really
strong community. And as a result at least this is my opinion they're just super happy people. Like I hadn't seen Joy like that
anywhere else in the world. Despite such like amazing poverty you know. So were able to help on bringing clean water to

them. But they really challenged me to find joy in my life and find joy through community. So you know we came back home
from that trip and Sara and I knew we wanted to do more. And we knew we wanted to continue to support World Vision and
the work they're doing which is amazing work they're doing all over the world. But we also wanted to support other kind of
local organizations. And some of our own projects that we were excited about doing so we started the Hall Steps Foundation.
[00:25:30] And so it's basically set up the same as like Team in Training or something like that. Where you can run any race in
the U.S. you just go to our website thestepsfoundation.org sign up and create a fundraising page. And then every single dollar
that you fundraise for your race goes towards our projects so we're 100% volunteer run. So that's a really cool thing about our
organization is you know every single dollar is going towards the projects we're supporting. And we've gotten to support some
really cool projects along the way. Like we partner with one of my friends in Kenya we helped to build a health clinic in his
community that didn't have access to hospitals or health clinics. People have to take like buses for like 8 hours at a time. Like
his brother actually died of a snake bite that shouldn't have taken his life you know. But you just didn't have access to the
medicine he needed to to fix the problem.
[00:26:46] So we partnered with my friend Wesley Korir he's actually Boston Marathon Champion. And we built this health
clinic and now people in that community have access to meet their medical needs. Things like that. We love doing stuff with
empowerment as well. So we partner with Cuba leading microloans to women in developing countries. Help them start their
own businesses so that they can work themselves out of poverty. And then we're doing a lot in Ethiopia as well with mainly
with child care and trying to help them. Kind of get going a foster care system actually because they just closed down
international adoption which really kind of changed things in their country. They still have a ton of orphans in their country but
now they're trying to figure out how they can take care of all those orphaned kids within the country. So we're kind of
partnering with local organizations there to help bring those kids into families.
Laura:
[00:27:31] That's awesome. So many great things that you guys are doing through your foundation I love it.
[00:27:37] At Hope Sports we know that you want to be the best athlete that you can be. And in order to do that, you train hard
and dedicate yourself to performing at your peak. But sometimes it can feel monotonous. Every day has a similar routine and
when you win well no victory feels as good as a loss feels bad. It doesn't have to be this way. We believe athletes can compete
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don't feel satisfied with your achievements. Hundreds of athletes have told us that they've discovered how to compete at their
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HopeSports.org sign up for the June 7th-10th home build and build hope for a family and win like never before. So sign up
today. It could be the key you need to find success in your career.
[00:28:44] The running side of things now I know in 2011 you set a new PR the Boston Marathon. You made the 2012
Olympic team like things were looking good. But then you had to drop out of the marathon at the London games around the 11
mile mark because of a hamstring injury. You've dealt with injuries you dealt with not feeling good. What was that like how did
you do that at the Olympic Games?
Ryan:
[00:29:06] Yeah. It was definitely like one of those surreal moments where you feel like you're in a movie or a dream like that
just really happened. I'd never dropped out of any race in my entire life you know. Like I never even stopped and walked in
any race and my entire life. So like that was never an option in my mind. But just having this sharp pain was out running and I
just decided after having a little conversation with God is better to live to fight another day. So you just stepped off the course
almost started running again just did it felt so wrong I was like this isn't right you know. Not at all what I was picturing
happening but I stepped off and it was hard you know. But I've been through so much discouragement and hard times before
that. It really kind of prepared me for that moment. So I was down as disappointed afterwards for a couple of days. But I like to

do something that actually my wife's kinda taught me. Like she allows herself to be really down to disappointed for a certain
amount of time. So it could be a day could be two days whatever she feels like she needs. And then after that it's like OK now
moving forward and like I'd grieve the loss now I’m moving forward.
[00:30:25] So I kind of did that you know I had a couple of days or maybe a couple weeks I don’t know exactly how long it
was. I was really down and bombed out. But then I started moving forward and the good thing about running is there's always
big races look forward to you. Whether it's the Boston marathon, in New York City Marathon, Chicago, London. You know
there's all these big great opportunities for runners to get to try and win a title. So I just kind of kept moving forward but we
kind of started this nasty string of injuries. So the hamstring thing started because when I was running actually training for the
2012 Olympic trials I developed plantar fasciitis on my foot. And so I had to just run through it coz there's like no instant cure
for plantar fasciitis like usually just last a while and then eventually get better. So I was running through it and just like very
small alteration of my stride caused an injury on the opposite side of my body. So with the hamstring and then I heard my
hamstring and then literally it was almost comical how ridiculous it was. I was always really hard didn't have a lot of injuries
before that. Then I tore my right quad and tore my left quads and I got all sacral stress fractures on my right side. And it was
just like this ridiculous string of like compensation injuries. So I learned a big lesson there about running through injuries and
how detrimental that can be to your body. I did eventually come out the other side of that were stopped getting hurt.
[00:31:59] But then I kind of started of struggle with just I call it extreme fatigue. So I'd been running at that point for 16 17
years and running like 100 miles a week see running like 15 miles a day. And that's a long time to be running that much and
not just easy running. It's all a pretty high quality not all but we have three high quality workouts for weeks. Just demanded a
ton of my body and it is kind of at that point where my body is like there's nothing on the left side. So I'm free to start slowing
down and start giving back to your body. So after about that it was 4 year time and you cramps at my injury at the London
Olympics all the way. So I was training for the 2016 on big trials and still just like having really bad fatigue issues. And I tried
everything I could think to try. I work with a whole bunch different coaches and tried mixing up my nutrition. Tried rest. I tried
everything and I think to try nothing was working. My body was just clearly like tired and fatigue can ready to for me to get
back to it. So that's when I ultimately ended up deciding to retire from running. And I kind of move on into this next season of
life.
Laura:
[00:33:15] Was that a hard transition? Or were you just kind of ready at that point?
Ryan:
[00:33:20] Yeah. I was always nervous about the day I was gonna retire you know. Because like running had been my craft, my
passion, everything for 20 years you know. So I didn't know how’s gonna react when I hung up my shoes. But with how it
ended and just having it be kind of a long slow gradual four year process of coming to this realization. That I'd gotten
everything out of my body and there's nothing else there allowed me to make the decision. And actually feel a kind of a sense
of relief with it which I was surprised by I wasn't expecting to feel relief. But it kind of felt like I could finally look back on my
career and be thankful for what I got to experience and the performances I did have. And then stops striving to try to get back
to those you know I could finally just like fully appreciate it. And then also during that time and actually while I was writing
my book kind of powerful realization came to me that my journey wasn't all about me you know. And now like I needed to
take the things I learned in that season in my life and pull them into my next season of life. Which is in writing, speaking,
coaching, and trying to help other people along on their own journeys that they're on.
Laura:
[00:34:43] Since retiring you've transformed your body gaining what like 40 pounds of muscle? I'd love to hear about this.
Ryan:
[00:34:51] Yes. It's funny cause I feel like there's a big theme in my life where I don't enjoy doing something and then it kind
of becomes like my passion in crafts. So before like I do weight training for running but never upper body. I just always try to
get through it as fast as I could because it just wasn't specific for running really. Like I didn't see the correlation between lifting

more weight running faster. Which was a wrong way of seeing it in hindsight. But all that to say like I didn't enjoy the weight
or not. And so when I retired from running I retired at about 3 1/2 years ago has 5'10” and 127 lbs which was too light for me. I
just needed to find something to get back to my body. And running is so cattle bollock in nature just strips your body of
everything it doesn't need to run fast. So I kind of got into that weightlifting as a way to give back to my body as a way to build
it up and make it strong. And then also to just because I was curious like any time I'd be around some big strong person I was
always really curious. Just like know what that would feel like to be big and strong.
[00:36:02] So I kind of started the journey and it was really really fun. Because one of the things I love about sports is seeing
results and seeing progress. And I wasn't seeing that in running for 4 years and then finally with the lifting. Like I was so bad at
it I had nowhere to go. So I was encourage people like if you want to find a sport that's fun try something you're really bad at.
And then it's me so much fun coz it gonna grow and get better and better and better. So that's kind of the journey I've been on
it's just fun. You know the other day I was squatting I hit three 90 for the first time. And it's just fun to see growth. It's fun to
get underweight you could just failed at it like 100 times in a row. And then finally be able to give it up is just such an amazing
sensation. It kind of feels that I need to see personal growth and to see physical growth in my body.
Laura:
[00:37:00] I love your. I love your attitude. I love how you always try stuff that you really don't want to do. And so cool. So
cool. There’s so many things that I just love and admire about you and your wife. But there's one especially that's near and dear
to my heart because I'm also an adoptive mom. I have girls from China and Ethiopia. And I know you and Sara adopted four
girls from Ethiopia. And I wanna know all the things. What made you want to adopt? Why Ethiopia? What was that process
like? And how in the world did you survive going from childless to parents of four girls overnight?
Ryan:
[00:37:32] Yeah. I love telling the story because again like I just didn't see adoption at all growing up. So it wasn't so much like
I was opposed to it. It just wasn't on my grid so I didn't have any desire to adopt until I met Sara. But then Sara's story is very
much the opposite of that where there is adoptive kids and your extended family. And she'd been around it seen it and always
wanted to adopt ever since she was a little girl. So she actually mentioned it on our first date. And I was like oh well I've never
even thought about that you know. So it's kind of like when the ball started turning on my mind started considering it. And then
you know fast forward years and years later after we're married and training professionally. One of the things I loved about
running was you got to train all over the world. And go to beautiful locations to train and train with just you really inspiring
incredible people from every different culture. And so we would go to Kenya and train. We ended up going to Ethiopia to train.
[00:38:34] And there was just something about Ethiopia that just kind of grabbed us and gripped us. Where we just fell in love
with the people and the culture and the country and this food and the music just kind of everything about it. The running was
fabulous. So just kind of like really grabbed us by one of the things that also grabbed us was being on the streets in Addis and
driving around. And seeing all these kids out on the streets orphans and in tattered clothes and shining shoes. And kids would
come up to me and asked to shine my shoes for like 10 cents. And they'd be so stoked if I gave them like equivalent of a dollar
you know. So that really pulled on our heart and we're like with our foundation you know we're all about just taking our step
you know. It's like we can't force other people to take their step but if everyone chooses to take their own personal step we can
see big change and big results. So our step was moving into the adoption phase of our life where we felt ready to take on
Parenthood. And so being in Ethiopia and seeing orphans and having opportunity to adopt from there. We decided we'd try and
adopt an infant just one in fact was our original plan. And so we're number like 76 on a waitlist it was going to be a couple of
years before we'd have our our infant.
[00:39:55] And then what happened is we're overtraining in Ethiopia and we went visited the orphanages. And we noticed that
there is all these older children in the orphanages that were waiting for families. And so I was like this doesn't make sense I'm
like number seventy six on the waitlist all these kids are waiting for families. And after it was the face to face interaction that
really broke my heart and made me decide to adopt older children. Because after meeting the kids, playing with the kids,
hangout with the kids I was like man I take anyone's these kids home you know. So we went home we changed up all of our
paperwork how to change agencies even. And became aware of our daughters through like a friend in Facebook page is kind

like around about what they're really looking for a family for these four biological sisters. They'd been looking for a family for
3 years weren't able to find a family. And they're talking about maybe sending two of them with one family in like Australia
and to another family in Italy or something like that.
[00:41:02] And so you know coming from a big family I'm in the middle of five kids is like you know separate siblings like
you know. They've already been through so much and they don't need to lose each other. So you know we just felt kind of love
in our heart for our girls. And I always like to tell people like there is a very real fear that was involved with adopting and
mainly a fear of my own inadequacy. You know like for example our social worker. She wouldn't even approve us to adopt the
4 girls because she didn't believe we could do it. So you talked about something that shake your own confidence you know.
But instead of following that fear I just followed like the love that God had put in my heart for my girls. And I knew if I had
that love in my heart that's what I needed. I chose to follow the path of loving when I'm at my best and making decisions based
on love not based on fear. And so that's what we did is a leap of faith you know. But it's just been such an incredible road. The
girls have blessed us so much.
[00:42:08] And you know actually going from 0 to 4 was I think it a lot of ways easier than like the normal round that you
could take. Because so like for example all we knew previous to this was just like Sara and I in empty house you know. And
then our normal just changed just once. It changed from 0 kids to 4 kids. It didn't change like four separate times or is like
you're getting used to 1 kid and you get used to 2 and then 3 and then 4. It's like every time you kind of shift your normal
there's always like a stirring and shaking that's like kind of like initially hard you know. But we just kinda have like one. One
and done. So in a lot of ways I feel like I'm going to cheat the system. And also our kids when we adopted them were 5, 8, 12
and 15. So I've never changed a diaper I've gotten woken up in the middle of the night maybe like twice in my life. So a lot of
ways like I have it pretty easy like our kids are already like almost like you know babysit each other, home and stuff. So we
could go out for training and stuff and they would be totally fine.
Laura:
[00:43:22] Now you also have a new book out this month as if you're not busy enough with those four girls and it's called Run
the Mile You're In: Finding God in Every Step. Please tell us about it.
Ryan:
[00:43:32] Yeah. I'm really excited to share the story you know like Tom Dean at Zondervan. He's a runner and he had
approached me about writing a book you know years and years ago. But I still like very much in the middle of it telling them
my story. And then once I retired he reached back out again and the timing just felt right you know. I felt a sense of closure
with that chapter of my life. And I felt ready to share this story with people. And I found it to be a really therapeutic process for
me to go through to sit down and write every morning. It's kind of like make sense of my entire career and try and pull out all
the biggest lessons from my career and share those with other people. Just in the hope of helping people on their journey. Like
I kind of wrote it from the perspective of how’s my 13 year old self getting in to sports. Like what things would I wanna
become aware of. And like I remember being super curious like what does it take to get to the Olympics you now. And so like
a lot of this is like my story of like learning what it does take to get to the Olympics. Or just for you to develop your own
potential and your hobby, your craft, as a dad, at work. Like just for you to become the best version of yourself. And these
were just like kinda lessons that I've been learning in all my journey and continue to learn as I continue on my own journey.
Laura:
[00:44:58] I love it. It sounds so good. Where can we grab a copy of it?
Ryan:
[00:45:02] Yes you can get it on Amazon and then also Barnes and Noble. And whatever else fine books are sold I believe.
Laura:
[00:45:12] All right. Run the Mile You're In: Finding God in Every Step. Well Ryan where else can we follow you online to
just continue to be encouraged by you? To learn more about the Hall Steps Foundation. All of the thing.

Ryan:
[00:45:22] Yeah. So you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram my handles @ryanhall3 on both of those. And then our
foundation is thestepsfoundation.org And then my wife now we also have a website ryanandsarahall.com So those are all good
places to track us down.
Laura:
[00:45:41] Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the podcast for just sharing your absolutely incredible story
encouraging us and just inspiring us.
Ryan:
[00:45:50] My pleasure. Thanks for having me Laura.
Laura:
[00:45:53] Wow. There is just so much powerful stuff in there. I know I've said that before but these athletes are just sharing
truth bomb after truth bomb. What I love most are the two strategies that Ryan shared that got him through difficult moments
in his life. The first, is solidifying his identity the regardless of the results he still has value and worth in the world. And
second, is turning his gaze outward. Remember when he ran a marathon and encouraged other people along the way? Not only
is that an incredible blessing for those other people but in turn it shifted Ryan's own attitude and improved his morale and his
results. Sometimes we can get stuck in a rut and just by lifting up our eyes and looking to those around us that need help it
frees us. And all the work with the Hall Steps Foundation is so compelling. It has me wanting to strap on a pair of running
shoes and raise money to 5K. Maybe that'll be a great warmup before I go dive in the pool. You should definitely check it out
too and get involved. How awesome would it be to have a group of hope sports listeners mobilized to do amazing work in the
world just by running. Drop a comment on our Instagram or tag us at your next 5K. We want to shout it from the rooftops. And
if you want support in ways that you can grow as a competitor to overcome obstacles or to rock that 5K? Head on over to
LauraWilkinson.com/performance to grab my free guide 5 things that you can do today to become a more confident
competitor. Again that's LauraWilkinson.com/performance
[00:47:20] Thanks to Ryan for joining us today and I hope you tune in next week for our chat with Olympic Cyclist and hope
sports founder Guy East. As he shares about his journey through professional cycling. What caused him to hang up his bike for
a few years and what eventually led to the conception of Hope Sports. Be sure to hit that subscribe button because you do not
want to miss that episode on behalf of Hope Sports I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for tuning in and have a great week.
This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete
archives please visit HopeSport.org

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About This Episode

David Boudia started his athletic career as a gymnast. Although he progressed quickly and showed potential, by age 11 he was already looking for something different. When a friend won diving lessons at an auction and invited him along, he didn’t expect that after just a few dives he would be hooked. It only took a few years before his Olympics dreams began to seem tangible in platform diving. He worked harder than ever before and, in every area of life, had goals to be the best, be known, and be favored.

At only 19, Boudia was bronze at the World Championships and made the 2008 Olympic team. He set the bar even higher for himself - he was fixated on gold. Unfortunately, he took 5th in synchronized diving and completely bombed his individual competition. He went home disillusioned with the whole experience. The Olympics hadn’t produced a medal, glory, or the fulfillment that he craved. He had dedicated every day for twelve years to that experience and came home empty handed and disheartened.

That fall he started at Purdue University and scoured his existence for something to fill the void inside. He chased popularity, partied excessively, and drank heavily, but none of it brought him peace of mind. After a year and a half, Boudia fell into such a deep depression that, at one point, he considered ending his own life. He turned to a friend who recommended approaching his coach, Adam Soldati and his wife, Kimiko. David went to them looking for tactics to beat depression and a clear strategy out of his current state, but instead, he was surprised that they expressed simply support for him at this stage. His self-destructive, self-centered behavior had, in his words, “brought me to the end of the pursuit of myself.” With their mentorship, he began a journey back to faith in God. He grew up “using” God for things he needed or wanted, but that he always placed himself at the center of his world. He began asking questions about his purpose: if life isn’t about my glory and always winning, then what is it about? As he reevaluated his priorities, sports started to take a back seat and almost seemed pointless. He considered quitting so that he could dedicate himself to serving others more practically, but realized, that his abilities could actually become a platform for him to share openly about how his faith saved him.

He went back to to the sport a changed person. “I wanted to be different around the pool deck,” shares Boudia. He continued training and competing, but viewed it as an arena to serve others, be a mentor, and have fun. The 2012 Olympic Games “were a roller coaster,” he tells Laura. “When you’re low, you have to learn to ride back up. And when you’re on top, you have to learn to stay grounded.” He won bronze in synchronized diving and went into the preliminaries for the individual event ranked second in the world. But he completely botched his dive and barely scraped through to the semi-finals, snagging the very last qualifying spot. He focused on his mental game, put his pride in check, and reminded himself that regardless of the outcome, he could walk away proud of his performance. With his perspective in line, content no matter the result, he stepped on to the platform and rose from last place to win gold in the individual event.

Despite the fact that his happiness no longer hinged on winning a medal, it was a dream come true. Keeping to his word, David used his victory to share his faith with others. He released a book entitled Greater Than Gold that chronicles his personal redemption as well as his professional one. Before the 2016 Olympics he got married and welcomed his first daughter, Dakoda. He learned to be a husband and a father while being a competitor and a mentor. Discovering passions and purpose in areas outside of diving brought him to Rio de Janiero feeling even more grounded, confident, and prepared. He walked away, proudly, with bronze and silver medals. After welcoming his second daughter, Boudia took some time off from the sport and worked in real estate. It didn’t take long for the itch of competition to return. Soon in to training, however, he experienced an accident on what he considered a comfortable, standard dive and was sent to the emergency room. He was forced to reevaluate the emotional and mental load he was carrying as he tried to be a husband, father, provider, and competitor.

In June of 2018, he chose to walk away from the 10m platform and focus on the 3m springboard. He hasn’t competed in this event since a short stint in 2014, but the shift has rejuvenated his love of the sport and heart to mentor younger teammates. The Boudia’s will welcome their third child in April of 2019 and he is excited to see his family and athletic aspirations grow at the same time. Regardless of how his 3m career compares to that of his years on the platform, David knows that he dives for God’s glory and not his own.

To keep up with David follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_toggle admin_label="Transcript" title="Read Episode Transcript" _builder_version="3.19.18"]

Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the hope sports podcast where each week we are chatting with elite athletes about their pursuit of purpose beyond their sport. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. This week I'm especially excited to have a fellow diver on the show here with us. I feel like I've watched David but I grow up in the sport as our careers overlapped. I competed alongside him in his first Olympic Games and then I interviewed him on the pool deck after his fourth Olympic medal. David is an incredibly decorated platform diver many would say he's already a legend and he's earned eleven Olympic and world medals in his career. But his journey isn't over and it hasn't always been easy. Today he opens up about his battle with depression. The mentors who helped him through it and the mental shift that got not only his career but his life back on track. If this conversation resonates with you and you're looking to dig deeper into exploring purpose and performance then I have a really great resource for you that I'll tell you more about after we hear from David. I'm so glad you're here. Now let's dive on it.

 

[00:01:04] Welcome David Boudia! I'm so excited to have another diving athlete onto the Hope Sports Podcast.

 

David:

[00:01:10] Hey Laura thanks for allowing me to be on it and I'm excited to jam with you.

 

Laura:

[00:01:15] I love your background by the way to a little Beijing Olympic poster there. Yeah. Now as we were on that team together so.

 

David:

[00:01:21] We were. We were.

 

Laura:

[00:01:23] Bringing back memories there. Well now not everyone in our audience is divers like we are. So give us a little bit of your background so we can be familiar with you because I know you didn't just start out in diving. So how is your sports beginning?

 

David:

[00:01:33] So sports beginning was more of the dream of going to the Olympics so 96 I wanted to watch. I was watching the Olympic Games. And that's something I wanted to do. So I was involved with a lot of different sports and gymnastics was a big one. So it kind of is what ignited the dream. That's the highest teaching me you can do in that sport morphed over time in 2000 or 2001 I began diving and from that point it was kind of a transition from gymnastics to diving. And now this dream can become a reality in this sport. After four years doing it.

 

Laura:

[00:02:16] Well how did you switch from gymnastics to diving? How'd that work out?

 

David:

[00:02:20] It was more of a burnt out in gymnastics so I went from 5 to 11 years old and did a lot of gymnastics and.

 

Laura:

[00:02:29] You're pretty good were you?

 

David:

[00:02:31] It wasn't bad. For 11 years old I don't know what's good what's bad. But I was able to I had body awareness I was acrobatic and I was progressing in those levels quickly. But it was just I did it too much and I was looking for something else. So actually one of my friends their parents bought diving lessons in an auction and they knew I was looking for something else. The friend said Hey why don't you come with me and join along and I started with one little trial and I I started doing it a little bit more and I fell in love with the sport.

 

Laura:

[00:03:04] Well that's cool. I love that. So just buy some lessons at an auction and you never know you might tear your dream there.

 

David:

[00:03:10] You don't. You never know.

 

Laura:

[00:03:12] That's cool. Well in your book which we're going to get to a little bit later but I just finished reading it so I'm very excited about that. You mentioned that you're a pretty active child and a pretty mischievous child. So I want to give your parents Sheila and Jim a big hug next time I see them. But what were you. Were you the instigator of all this trouble?

 

David:

[00:03:30] Well first I can't tell you how many times I've apologized to my parents. Like Man Mom Dad I'm so sorry. You know it's funny I have a 4year old little girl named Koda. And I can see like glimpses of me and then I'm like trying to shut down like assassinate and sort the end it. But God bless my parents. But I don't know it was kind of a friend group and so everyone played off of each other and. You know the human nature at heart is corrupt. And so. I didn't know God at that time. And when I was growing up this was something my friends did. This is something that I thought was normal and I enjoyed it. So I think Cindy's is fun in the season right. But at that time that was everything that I live for. I wanted to be that popular guy I wanted to be good looking and I wanted everyone to think that I had it all together. So to do that I would give in to peer pressure I put peer pressure on somebody else. And it turned out to you know there weren't total train wrecks but there were just little pieces that turned into some destructiveness later on life.

 

Laura:

[00:04:41] Gotcha! Gotcha! Well, I remember you as a little rug rat back in the 2004 Olympic trials. And then at the 2005 world championships. Because I was too at the end of my career and you were just kind of coming on the scene. But by 2008 I mean you were 19. You were you know you're kind of getting it together. You won a World Cup bronze medal earlier that year and then you made that Olympic team. So kind of take me through what that experience was like? Because I thought you were kind of you know an outside you’re a young guy but I thought you were an outside shot at a medal for us. So kind of take us through your very first Olympic experience.

 

David:

[00:05:15] Yeah. So it kind of more so I guess like you said in 2004 that was kind of the maybe ignition to this dream could become reality get to the games. And there was no pressure at that trials because there was no expectation of myself from anybody including myself. But I merge onto the scene international scene in 2005 and then it kind of took off there. And I looked back and every single year leading up to those 2008 Games I progressively started to work harder. I progressively started to look at my mental game as something that was crucial. And started to see progress and competition and finally got to the 2008 Games. And this was a possibility to medal so why am I shooting so low on just trying to make the Olympic games why don't I shoot to possibly winning an Olympic medal. And at the Games it came close and synchronized I was fifth with my senior partner Thomas Nelson like 10 points from Silver. Maybe 3-5 points from bronze and it tastes good. I loved it. I craved it and so I was hopeful glowing in individuals and then individual I just was a total bust.

 

[00:06:27] So finished and did not perform anywhere close to my ability and I think that's what looking back after those games I think that's why I went bankrupt with a couple of things. I didn't live up to what my potential was so I did not reach the greatest attention but I knew I could. And a second I bought into the lie of this is going to fulfill me on every single level of who I am. So I have success at the Olympic Games. That's going to bring everything that I've ever wanted in life. That pursuit of happiness is going to be built.

 

Laura:

[00:07:00] Well so I guess yeah. And from there I mean you went to Purdue you started going University at Purdue and I guess that carried into a kind of a sound like a bit of a depression. And like a lack of purpose like kind of walk us through that. So you didn't realize all those dreams like what is that like walking that out?

 

David:

[00:07:18] It's kind of like what you said it led to depression. And I think it's very common with the Olympic athletes. I don't know if it's spoken about enough and people are aware of it. But you get off of this high roller coaster where you're exalted above everything else. Where you are the man or the woman in that particular week of the Olympic Games. And it's something that you crave it's what you want more after we came home from the games just kind of like that door shut. And I looked around like that was it? Everything that I've wanted from my 7years old to 19 when I made my personal big gains was evolved around this experience of the Olympic Games. And once I walked through at those kinds of an eye-opener. No this can't. This can't be right. This can't be where the purpose is found. And so I left with a mouthful of sand with the hope that it would bring me something better. But that's what it left me went into my college trying to just push this side like oh that’s no big deal I got another 4 years. And went hard on the college scene trying to make friends. Trying to be the popular guy again and heavily drinking. And just these little things that I thought would fulfill me and they did for a while. Until it was just wasn't satisfying anymore. So it led to some deep depression and I could not have been at a better place to go through depression than that Purdue University.

 

Laura:

[00:08:50] Why is that?

 

David:

[00:08:51] There's a particular coach here name Adam Soldati and his wife Kimiko Soldati. And at the time I think I would mock Christianity. For me, my religious background is kind of like I need something God so I'm coming to you and I want you to give it to me now. And I'll do some good things that are on the side. And then when things are going well I'm going to put you back up on the shelf. And so I was trying to play God and started to realize like this wasn't working. And Adam Kimiko who Adam is my coach just lived something differently and it was enticing. I looked at his life. I looked at their life and it wasn't like they had it all together. It was they have something different that I don’t have. And eventually after a year of college at Purdue University I started to fall deep into depression to the point of wanting to commit suicide. And you think of that like that's crazy. You went throughout the games you've had so many accomplishments you have a family that loves you and affirms you and encourages you. Like how did you get to that point? And think when you bowed down to something that is never gonna fulfill you eternally it leaves you bankrupt leaves you without a purpose. And so the thought freaked me out. I immediately contacted another diver that I saw that same change in and she recommended that I speak to Adam.

 

[00:10:20] The next day I went over to Soldatis and it was kind of this going into like ah this is gonna be great. They're gonna give me this like quick fix that's gonna get this go get it, David. That pursued this first Olympic Games back up on its feet. And things are gonna be great and they did the total opposite. They were talking about how they were super encouraged and excited that I was at this point in my life and I'd like you are absurd. I'm depressed. I'm miserable. Nothing. I think my life is going the way that I wanted to. And you're saying that you're excited that I'm in at this point my life. And looking back at it now I would say that to anybody on that point because you're coming to the pursuit or the end of the pursuit of yourself. And from that point, they began to teach me what my purpose was what. I was created for. And it was kind of just eye-opening. I grew up in the church but it was like something I haven't heard before because my eyes are blind. My ears were plugged and that was just not something that quite frankly I wanted to hear because things were going well. After that, I started to investigate this myself and I started to see the Bible for what it was. Evidence of who God was and his promise and love story of Jesus. And since 2009 my life has been completely changed from who I was at 19.

 

Laura:

[00:11:53] Oh that's so beautiful. And I have to say just knowing Kimiko and personally Kimiko used to be a teammate of mine. And she's actually the matron of honor and my wedding and Adam coached alongside my coach Kenny Armstrong. So I love them dearly and it's not surprising to me at all that they did that. But I loved hearing it from your side and getting the full story is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. So what happened after that? I mean you kept diving and you're going for another Olympics like was your head in a totally different place? Well, I mean what was that like? I mean things must have changed.

 

David:

[00:12:25] It's interesting that once I came to know who Christ was and accepted him into our lives and just acknowledge that. I'm living a life that's only centered around David. Recognizing my rebellion against him. Recognizing that he came to take that place so that I can have a union relationship with God. It looked completely different. So I was like I was learning life again. And initially when I found the purpose of my purpose is to pursue God and to love him. And through that I'm able to look at others and how I can serve and love them and so that was foreign to me. It was almost meaningless. My sport was almost meaningless. I remember going into practice just after this conversion or my new life of in Christ started and I was like What's this? This is pointless. Like what am I. Why am I diving? Why. I need to be doing something else for the gospel for Jesus and.

 

Laura:

[00:13:21] It’s like a complete 180.

 

David:

[00:13:23] It was. And it was interesting. It was David as a baby again. And I had to learn how to live life. I had to learn how to reorganize my thoughts that wasn't centered around what David was syncing but it was centered around what God was syncing. And we can do that through his word in the Bible but. So it was a big transition. It was a lot of sitting down with Adam and Kimiko who just mentored me through that disciple me through it. So going into kind of that first year was a whirlwind of how do I function. How do I live a life that's pleasing to God? I'm not saying I've figured it out but I've started to learn just different attributes of God and what God sees as pleasing. And so that morphed into I can use my sport as a platform to show his glory. And that's not to say God's going to let me win. I very well think that God is able to put you in a position to win in order that he can get the glory. But just my contentment level was different. I had more of peace. I wasn't anxious all the time. But I started to see that diving can be used as a position where I can promote the name of Christ. And just be different around the pool deck. In that perspective change was dramatically different in 2008 and I think really it just changed my whole experience in 2012.

 

Laura:

[00:14:53] Well so tell us about 2012. I mean you have this kind of second chance you're like a new person. But it didn't exactly start off. I don't think the way you were planning or expecting.

 

David:

[00:15:04] Yeah. So 2012 was I think every Olympics and I think you can attest to this. Every Olympics or every big experience is a rollercoaster. And something I learned in 2008 is he had to learn how to ride that rollercoaster. So just like life just like the Olympic Games. It's it's a rollercoaster and learning how to when you're down low how to ride that backup. But when you're on that high how do you stay grounded. But having the experience from 2008 I went into the 2012 games the best shape of my entire life diving the best that I've ever dove before. And just the perspective that I've changed and so I was hopeful going into those games. And right off the bat Nick McCroryand I my secret partner we won bronze. So I won my first Olympic medal ever and was ecstatic. I was over the moon and then it was this flip of a switch like all right I got one more event to let's keep this going. Went into the prelims ranked second in the world going into the Olympic Games. One of the prelims and totally that just barely made it 18th place going in the semifinals. But I live to fight another day.

 

Laura:

[00:16:15] And only 18 people make it in the semis too. See you were the last spot to make it into the next round.

 

David:

[00:16:20] The last qualifying spot. But I. Honest I look back on that I like man that's that's a tremendous amount of grace. Because at that moment God is allowing me to fight again tomorrow to see what else I can accomplish for his kingdom. But also to he was it was kind of like a wakeup call. Like I wanted this prelims kind of with this old David thinking in 2008 like I'm just going to dominate. I'm going to obliterate my competition and I had this narrow focus of this is David's path this is everything he's ever wanted let's get in there and accomplish it and he shook me up. He made me realize that I was going into this sort of thinking and I'm super thankful that it happened. I don't want to walk through it again. But it was a wakeup call that I needed. But going into the next day it with that perspective change I kind of just got in the rhythm. I worked with Adam a lot on just what my thinking looked like. You know I think a lot of times it's easy to get into competition the more It's easy to get in the thick of life. And starting to listen to what your mind is saying to yourself. And that's a scary place to be when you start listening to what your thoughts are saying. To the sense of if you start listening then you're going to live by how you feel all the time.

 

[00:17:40] And one of the things I had a start to do is combat that instead of listening I need to talk to myself I need to speak the truth and the lies that I'm believing constantly both in competition and outside of the pool. But I took my thoughts captive and went on a path where you know at the end of this it was interesting a really good friend pastor at our church and disciple me a little bit. He put it in great perspective. I was extremely nervous going into the finals and he like David what is there to worry about. And I was like what do you mean? I'm going in front of millions of people diving in the biggest competition that I will ever dive in and you're asking me what is there to worry about. He was like well God's already walked through this year he knows the end of this chapter. This particular event what you get to do is go into this Olympic final and be a vehicle for his glory. And it was like man it's something so simple and so small but it was just a huge wisdom bomb that I held on to. And I think because of that encouragement along with Adam and his perspective changed from the day before. You know if it turned out great.

 

Laura:

[00:18:54] I would say so.

 

David:

[00:18:55] That's not going to happen every time. But I'm thankful to be sitting here being named as an Olympic champion. Something that you can attest to as well.

 

Laura:

[00:19:04] Well and I love it. I got a chance to sit there and watch you. I was in London with NBC and I kind of snuck into the event. Was sitting behind the booth watching and it was very cool. And I love hearing the story behind it now. But just seeing it in action it reminded me a lot of when I was in Sydney at my first Olympics when I went to. But it was just cool to watch somebody else walk that out and now know the story behind it. It’s just so beautiful. I just appreciate you opening up and sharing all that with us.

 

David:

[00:19:32] It's an incredible moment that I'll get to cherish for the rest of my life.

 

Laura:

[00:19:36] It's so cool. So tell us about your book Greater Than Gold From Olympic: Heartbreak To Ultimate Redemption. Because I just got done reading it and it's awesome and I want people to know about it.

 

David:

[00:19:45] So the book came out right before the 2016 games. It's exactly what it says in the titles. It illustrates my life some of the heartbreak to the ultimate redemption of not Earthly redemption but eternal redemption. So I look at this book as a tool to be able to share and be vulnerable with my life for who I was. And how drastically and how alive God's Word and His gospel can move someone's life. From someone who is dead and living only for himself and Dowling down to idols other than God. And showing what that looks like with all these bumps in the road and coming out still with hope and still with peace. Still with contentment and all these things that are super sweet gifts from God. When you live for him and live for your purpose by him.

 

Laura:

[00:20:44] Yes that's great. And it's not the whole story to me. You do talk a lot about your relationship with Sonnie your wife now. And that kind of happened between London and Rio you married Sonnie and you have sweet little Dakoda. And so I'm guessing going into Rio which is not in your book because this came out before Rio. But I'm guessing that Rio was a little bit different experience. Your third games I mean each one of your games seems like a totally separate experience. So what was Rio like compared to London?

 

David:

[00:21:12] Like you said totally different. So 2008 I was just David solo and only had a.

 

Laura:

[00:21:18] David solo that has a nice ring to it.

 

David:

[00:21:21] Yeah. In 2012 I was now engaged to my soon to be wife Sonnie in 2016. Fast forward 4years I'm now married for 4years and have a 2year old daughter. So you can live or attest to this as well where the all experience is different when you have that different life-changing stages. But I would say 2016 was a huge learning curve. I was learning how to be married. You see marriage on Hallmark cards or Hollywood movies that's just complete bliss. Amazingness. And Sonnie would sit next to me and say the first six to eight months was not last. You put two people in the same house together and with all their baggage and there's conflict. So we had to learn how to live life together and realize. I'll tell you just a little wisdom nugget that I've started to learn through a man named Paul “Triple H”. I started to believe what he said when he said I'm the biggest problem in my relationship. When I started to actually live by that I started to see like you know Sonnie's problem is huge but it's not as big as mine. And so kind of the principal Matthew 7 talks about take the speck. Don't take the speck out of your spouses or that your friend's eye. Why don’t you look at the log in your own eye? But you know.

 

[00:22:50] Anyways. It was a learning experience. I had a daughter named Dakoda. And again just a learning experience so we had to learn how to do life as a married couple as a family as mom and dad. And I look at the 2016 Games and honestly I look at it and I'm like I think I'm way more prepared than any of my competitors going into this game. They're worried about training. I'm worried about training but also how to be married and how to change a diaper and be exhausted with having a newborn. So I go into these 2016 games like fired up like this is exciting for me. Again I'm in the best shape even better than I was in London. Dives everything but one dive is going extremely well. And I was fired up and I grew my walk with God a little more had some more wisdom. And going into those games I look back and it's I would. There's not a lot of things I would relive in my life but going into the 2016 Games I would relive.

 

Laura:

[00:24:01] That’s cool. That's why you came away with a bronze and a silver medal from Rio which is awesome. You've got four Olympic medals. That is just awesome. You became our diving legend. Now after Rio you took some time off deciding whether you're going to retire or move on. I know you got a real estate a little bit. You had a second daughter but ultimately you decided that you were coming back. But in this past February, you took a pretty bad crash. Can you tell us kind of what happened here? And I know that kind of has changed the whole focus of your story going forward. So please tell us about that.

 

David:

[00:24:36] So we introduced our second daughter Mila into the world just after those 2016 games. And initially I was done and I just started getting this itch and wanting to go back into the sport. And so I sat on that for a while about six months and decided all right this is what we should pursue again after a lot of counsel from the circle that's around me. And then I started getting back into full time on the platform. At the same time, I was doing real estate carrying a heavy load with a lot of clients which I wasn't expecting. I was expecting to kind of dabble around have a slow start into it. And it took off in February 2018.

 

Laura:

[00:25:14] It’s a good problem.

 

David:

[00:25:16] It is. It was. But February of this year in 2018 I went up to the platform was doing my stable dive. The dive that I was the best at. The dive I felt most comfortable with. And a dive that I depended on the competition because I knew that it could bring me back into contention to be top three took off. Normally I see three things and that's one spot, two spots, three spots? This one it was like I saw the world spinning on his axis like everything was spinning fast missed spots and landed. First on my face and then the rest on my stomach went to the ER afterward to make sure everything was OK and most of the pain was not on my head. So I took a couple of days when I realized you know my face is pretty bruised but I kind of shrugged it off. I took about a week off and went back into the sport. But looking back on that there was a lot of different variables with it. I was carrying a heavy load with working with 14 clients in real estate.

 

[00:26:25] I was trying to juggle being a husband and a father of two girls. I was trying to get into the sport again. And on top of that, I was sick. So I had this cloud a sinus infection and you know this thing happened. All those came together and it gave me a good wakeup call. So just like I said there are little things in your life that they don't seem great at the time but they are kind of that cliché a blessing in disguise. Because it started to show me that you know this one I'm going into the sport kind of with that mentality in 2008. And also to you know maybe my platform career is done. And it wasn't until June after this a hard few months of dealing with kind of blackouts or dizziness that it wasn't till June that we decided to switch to springboard and pursue that for the next two years.

 

Laura:

[00:27:20] And so what is that? What is switching to the springboard done for you?

 

David:

[00:27:23] So going from 10meter platform to three industry on board it's how do I explain this. I've explained it this way before where most of your life you drive kind of a small door like super tiny car. And you go to driving a huge diesel truck. So you still know how to drive right? But it's different. You're driving a big diesel truck that's just you know the mechanics of driving but it just feels different. Springboards exact same way where I'm trying to learn the mechanics of riding a springboard and getting a launch after this moving object. And I wouldn't change it for the whole world. I think it's kind of rejuvenated my love for the sport. It's also rejuvenated my desire to want to love my teammates. And just joy comes through it. So I go into practice excited not just because I get to diet but also because I get to be around 18-22year olds. That hopefully I can influence but also just come alongside and encourage. And you know since June I don't think I've ever had this much fun in the sport. And I don't think I've ever had this much enjoy coming out of it with the relationships that I'm building with the pretty divers. And then you know in return that goes back to my family life at home. I'm enjoying being a husband to my wife and I'm enjoying being a dad to my two little girls.

 

Laura:

[00:28:51] That's awesome. I love how sometimes those unexpected shifts that you don’t want to walk through but sometimes it changes everything to a much more beautiful path. Yeah. That's really cool. So what's coming up next for you? A couple of things I think.

 

David:

[00:29:05] Yeah. So there's a couple of things coming up. I leave for a national championship and that's mid-December in Atlanta. So I have my expectations obviously going in but we're training hard for that and I'm excited. This is the first nationals on 3 meters springboard that I've done and then launching in.

 

Laura:

[00:29:23] And how long? When's the last time you did 3 meters nationals?

 

David:

[00:29:25] So 2014. And I was a full thing. So not sure why I was up there but I did. I dabble in it but it kind of launches into the 2019 season. And hopefully, we will see some improvement for where we are now and set USA up to some success in Tokyo. But I think even more than that. My wife and I won't reduce our first trial in April or first. Our third child.

 

Laura:

[00:29:57] Lemme count how one, two, three!

 

David:

[00:30:00] How can I forget that but.

 

Laura:

[00:30:03] Well you have two young children at home already. So your brain doesn't work quite the same way all the time.

 

David:

[00:30:07] I know. What's funny is we did a kind of a dry run of competition so I got up and had to be at court 6:30 am. And talk about inviting adversity or having adversity be your best friend. I had a wake up call from our 4year old at 2 a.m. I had a wake-up call from our 1year old at 4:45. And so I would have to change it because what if this happens on the game day you know. And so it was I looked back at adversity and I was like Let's do this.

 

Laura:

[00:30:37] That's awesome.

 

David:

[00:30:37] And so now we get to throw in the third hole again in April of 2019.

 

Laura:

[00:30:42] Well keep the fun come in right?

 

David:

[00:30:44] Yes absolutely.

 

Laura:

[00:30:46] So David you you are so awesome and inspiring. I love your story. Where can we follow all of your diving and family ventures online and grab a copy of Greater Than Gold?

 

David:

[00:30:55] Yeah. So I think the easiest way to grab a copy of Greater Than Gold is on Amazon. I actually don't know the current price. It's not very expensive. You can get it on Kindle and it's even cheaper. As far as following what the guys are up to. Probably the most updated one is our Instagram my Instagram. On Twitter on this and on Facebook. But it's all the same name though @davidboudia. So you can find us there and see what our crazy 4year old and 1year old are doing.

 

Laura:

[00:31:24] Perfect. David thank you so much for being on and good luck with this next run through 2020.

 

David:

[00:31:29] It has been an honor. Thank you, Laura.

 

Laura:

[00:31:32] I'm super grateful to David for being so open and sharing his journey with us. It was so interesting to hear how his mindset was different in each Olympic Games. And how that determined not only his performance but also his acceptance of the outcome. We've heard from many athletes about how when they think their entire identity. On one experience or one victory they always walked away dissatisfied even when they won. For David his first Olympic experience the culmination of 12 years of dreaming and dedication sent him spiraling in search of a true purpose. But how encouraging that there are coaches like Adam Soldati out there who care deeply about their athletes to help them navigate those difficult seasons. I love that.

 

[00:32:11] Hey guys! I wanted to let you know about something coming up in the next few weeks that I have been working like crazy on and I'm super excited about. Have you ever been anxious going into a competition or felt like you won the warm-up but not the meat? Or maybe you just don't understand why you don't perform when it counts but you do in practice. Is that sounds like you? Then Listen up. I've designed an online course that is just for you. I'll teach you the most crucial mental skills that I've acquired over my 20 plus years as an elite athlete. I'll walk you step by step through the process that will help you optimize your performance and set you up for success. If you're ready for change and you want the skills to take your performance to the next level then I want you to head on over to LauraWilkinson.com/performance and sign up so you'll be the first to know when this course is available. And when you sign up. I'm going to send you my list of the five things that you can do today to become a more confident competitor. So head on over to LauraWilkinson.com/performance.

 

[00:33:09] Next week we have 7time Olympic medalist swimmer Dana Vollmer on the show with us. With her optimism and aspirations, it's no surprise that she swam through a life-threatening heart condition. Falling short of making the Olympic team mid-career and becoming a mother to two beautiful boys. She's been through it all and she's not done yet. So make sure to join us next week to hear her full story. Be sure to hit the subscribe button wherever you listen so that you don't miss a single episode. And remember to leave us a review because that helps us to keep bringing these awesome guests on the show. I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and simpler media. For more information on Hope sports and access the complete archives please visit Hopesports.org

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About This Episode

Emotional health always determines performance even when physical health is at its peak.

Ben Houltberg joins us this week not only as a former elite runner, but also as a sports psychologist who has done extensive research on developing emotional health in athletes. Houltberg competed as a distance runner in high school, college, and then professionally. Plagued with recurrent stress fractures, he was in and out of competition and suffered from depression after each injury. This emotional roller coaster led to him pursuing studies in sports psychology in hopes of helping athletes in similar situations.

Years of research led Houltberg to determine that there are two primary ways that athletes develop their identity: either Performance Based or Purpose Based. Athletes with Performance Based Identity often have a strong fear of failure, are perfectionistic, and are not motivated by the desire to do their best, but rather to avoid a loss. On the other hand, those who have developed a Purpose Based Identity set goals that are attainable, participate in activities that are personally meaningful, and are connected to something greater than themselves that contributes to the world.

Unfortunately, Performance Based Identity often masks itself as impressive work ethic and dedication. Coaches praise team members who push themselves the hardest, work the longest, and produce the biggest results. But what they don’t realize, says Houltberg, is that Performance Based Identity is very short lived. Although results may be favorable at first, an athlete can’t maintain them. This form of identity is rooted in fear and doesn’t just illicit a psychological response, it also creates a physiological one because our bodies cannot distinguish between a threat to the body and a threat to the mind. The body reacts the same to both -- by tapping into our natural Fight or Flight response system. This system rations the body’s resources by withholding nutrition to our muscles, limiting emotional capacity, inhibiting our sleep, and more. In the end, athletes functioning in this mode will eventually become depleted on all levels before even getting to the starting line.

Houltberg shares that athletes should be aware of the markers of Performance Based Identity such as sleep disruption, finding excuses to avoid competition, lack of enjoyment in the sport, and an overriding fear of failure that is more present than an excitement to compete. Fortunately, when athletes catch themselves in this mode there are ways to shift to a more healthy mindset. Developing a Purpose Based Identity is about discovering what is valued the most and making that a priority. Athletes who pursue self-worth and service outside of sports develop a holistic framework that supports them whether they win or lose. They slowly begin to view competition as an opportunity to better themselves, rather than an arena in which they need prove themselves. They are able to reframe negative experiences, set attainable goals, and connect with people who care about them despite their achievements.

But what happens to their performance? Research shows that it actually improves. Those who develop a Purpose Based Identity not only succeed greatly at an elite level, but bounce back more quickly and fully after injury or loss, have greater longevity in their sport, and are better at regulating their emotions. Overall, they are happier and healthier athletes and individuals.

Houltberg recommends that athletes start this shift by giving back. Contributing and connecting with the greater community serves as an antidote to depression. And by discovering what they value in the world, they will be better able to better understand what they value about themselves outside of sports. This intrinsic motivation will not only benefit them on the field, but in all areas of life.

To learn more about Ben Houltberg’s research, check out the USC Performance Science Institute and all that they do to help understand and encourage healthy, holistic identities.

 

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Laura

[00:02:07] Dr. Ben Hallberg thank you so much for being on Hope Sports Podcast. We're excited you're here.

 

Ben

[00:02:21] Thank you. it's great to be here.

 

Laura

[00:02:24] Now give us a little bit of background because I know you used to be an athlete as well. Tell me kind of how you got your start and what your experience was

 

Ben

[00:02:24]Yeah. I mean, I grew up in the heartland in Kansas. And you know sports said there had been a part of my life I think from the beginning and throughout my kind of high school career, I ended up really excelling in track and field. So as a distance middle distance and distance runner mainly distance runner and high school and I started to experience success and won some state championships in track and cross country got a scholarship to college and had several offers coming out of high school and I chose to go to a school a smaller school, division1 school and then collegiately there.

 

And here's where I really started running more than a hundred meters and qualify for the NCAA championships a couple times. And then post-collegiately I got to run for U.S. indoor championships and won someone on the circuit and picked up a small sponsor and really enjoyed running. I think as you know there's a lot of athletes that probably feel this way but I think there's you know it was a challenge for me. I had eight stress fractures in my time from college to post coach collegiately. So is always that balance of training hard but being aware of this kind of propensity towards stress fractures and so I couldn't I couldn't really stay healthy long enough to keep going. And I was starting my PHC program at the time and so was 2007 I decided to stop to stop running competitively and just go full tilt and PHC program.

 

Laura

[00:04:28] Wow. So I mean I had to be pretty frustrating getting injured so frequently. I mean was part of that frustration has led you to be so interested and like the emotional health of elite athletes?

 

Ben

[00:04:32]I mean absolutely. I remember my freshman year of college I had just come from one and you know being the top in this day. And I remember lining up on the line the first time I Ripley's math weight and looking at the program and seeing how many state champions were actually on the line. There was so many of them so you kind of go from that big fish in a small pond.

 

To now a whole new world but I got into that first year and I really fell into a deep depression. It was a struggle for me. I had really built a lot of my sense of identity worth and value around running. And so, really had a pretty prosperous high school career with without too many challenges. So when I first hit that first kind of wall of getting my first stress fracture. It was really hard for me. And so you know I was kind of a constant like getting entry cross training coming back getting injured cross training coming back. And so I think that really became a part of my passion was that to help elite athletes deal with the obstacles and the emotional turmoil from being injured.

 

And I remember at the U.S. open actually I had trained. Been training so well and was it really just fantastic shape but had a lot of things going on in my life that were difficult at the time. And went to that meet and I really just-I just blew up. I just didn't run well. I had really put a lot of time and energy into getting there and I remember going back to the hotel room feeling completely alone and just sitting down in the shower and weeping and crying.

 

And there was something about that it just was so impactful for me like I had put so much time and I really felt like I was ready for a breakthrough race at that need. Then the devastation I felt when I didn't perform. I didn't really know why? I think physically I was ready at that time I didn't know why? But the more that I kind of studied this area and understood one more I've been able to kind of look back at that time in my life and say, Oh I see how I was really pulling for my resources before the race even started because of how anxious I was about not performing well. And so that belief and really the passion and purpose for me of helping athletes be able to compete with purpose and be emotionally healthy and perform well.

 

And so...

 

Laura

[00:07:36] Yeah. I love that. And I love what you've been researching along those lines of teaching about performance-based identity versus that purpose based identity. Can you explain to us what exactly is performance-based identity?

 

Ben

[00:07:36]Yeah. So performance based identity. It’s really this putting. When athletes put their soul worth and value or the main source of their worth and value into how they perform in sports. It's usually accompanied by this fear of failure that you almost as if now I'm not competing to even be my best but I'm performing I'm competing not to lose. And there's this contend to be this perfectionistic kind of concern or drive that I have to be perfect. Those three fear failure, this work, and value based on performance and this kind of perfection is concerned created. I found in my research this self-narrative or this idea about the self that was really unhealthy for athletes emotionally also contributed to poor performance. And cripple them after they had a disappointing performance. They had high levels of shame and guilt.

 

And so this performance-based identity really is can be something that's often celebrated even sometimes by coaches because this athlete might be the athlete that comes to practice every day they're grinding, they're pushing, they're doing the extra things maybe even sometimes you have to slow them down. They might even be a coach who says I wish I could bottle up with that athlete has and give it to everybody else. But the problem is there's the shadow side to that to that is unknown to a lot of people. And that's what I've found is that these athletes were where had the highest levels of depression and anxiety and weren't of life in the relationships where we're not healthy and they say they saw competition as a threat to themselves. They feared to fail. In their mindsets where were more of this kind of performance mindsets not more of that kind of growth mindset. So that's what you know, I think as I started to see this emerge in the data and all the work that I've been doing the story became really clear to me that this might motivate athletes for a while and work for a while. Like because it does push them to want to get better. But it's not sustainable over time.

 

Laura

[00:10:23] Yeah. I mean I heard you see it talked it like it can be when they're anticipating that next competition and they have that performance-based kind of identity that they can even physically experience like when you see a physiological reaction like they're being threatened by a dog or something. Can you kind of explain that? Like it's not just in your handling it comes out in other ways.

 

Ben

[00:10:45] Yeah. Absolutely. I mean I think that's what you said is really important it's not just in your head. It's in your body. It's a physiological response. So the work that I started doing early on in my career was really around this idea of emotion regulation and how people manage emotional responses especially kids from high-risk neighborhoods where they're exposed to violence on a regular basis. Physiologically what happens when you're physically threatened is your sympathetic nervous system is activated to become aware to become heightened of your surroundings and it's adaptive it's protective. But something like 100 different neuro and biophysical logical chemicals are released and changes in the body are happening in a way that pulls and manages your resources just to manage that threat.

 

[00:11:41] So in other words if the pleading you have resources just to manage that threat and what's incredible is that our body can't tell a difference between an actual threat to your physical self and a threat to your social self. So when you put your worth and value in so much into how you perform the very thought or anticipation of competition can trigger that same sympathetic nervous system as if you're being threatened that can deplete you before you ever get to the competition. I mean adrenaline is something that can be helpful as a facilitator for certain sports in certain events. But that sense of excitement that can come of just being ready for the competition. But it's not sustainable over time adrenaline cannot keep going. So if you're starting that kind of adrenaline spurts every time you think of competition two weeks, three weeks, one week out what you're doing is you're beginning to pull from your resources so when the moment comes. It's going to be really hard to turn that on. You might fall flat you might feel tired even though you've tapered you've trained well and you're ready for that moment. There's still something physiologically that that can happen with the athletes it's high performance based identity.

 

Laura

[00:12:59] That's so interesting because you like as an athlete as a high-level athlete myself. I know I do like some adrenaline I like the nerves I like that kind of heightened awareness in the competition or leading right up to it. But yeah if you're doing it weeks before you're just gonna be completely wiped out. Because like when your adrenaline is gone I mean you're left with nothing. So yeah I can imagine the toll that would take on you physically as well as mentally.

 

Ben

[00:13:30] Right. Right. I think that most high-level athletes know that feeling of like you know kind of thinking about competition and beginning to feel yourself getting amped and saying oh not yet not yet, you know? I got to keep I've got to regulate this right now. But I also think there's some you know other things that you can see and think about with performance-based identity is it's not always conscious either is that we anticipate threats often in our mind. They become a part of how we see the world and sometimes we're not even aware of it. And so we might not even be aware of that get our stress hormones high and we're stressed and that's the way the body works. And then once you kind of reach this our static load of stress it can be really hard to bounce back from that.

 

Laura

[00:14:25] Well I think. Yeah. I had seen you've written kind of some warning signs of performance-based identity that I'll just kind of list coz I guess if you're not aware. These warning signs are maybe a great way to see if you are kind of in that zone, right? So we have and let’s see. You have one sport are not fun anymore? That might be like a warning sign of a performance-based identity. Another one is fear of failure is stronger than the excitement to compete. Anxiety increases before the competition even including like sleep disruption. Bouncing back from a disappointing performance is difficult maybe there's a desire to quit or find excuses just not even to compete. Some descriptions only relate to being an athlete. You only see yourself as an athlete and not somebody separate from your sport. I also have feelings of worthlessness when not performing well. You might ruminate on mistakes made in the competition like you can't let go of jealousy or anger is distributed and demonstrated towards others performing better than you. And also an obsession develops with working harder practicing more just like you mentioned earlier. So I guess if you're not even aware. Like if you're starting to see some of those signs like you may kind of want to get yourself in check. Right?

 

Ben

[00:14:25] yeah. yeah totally.

[00:15:36] And I mean it's you know I think. You could speak to this laura and a lot of ways as a professional athlete. There are some of these warning signs that are really hard. I mean I think even it's more like the first one as far as sports not fun anymore. It's not always fun to work hard, you know that? And so I think even better are to go deeper in that thought is that there's a loss of joy for the sport. That the very thing that really attracted you to that.

 

But I also will have athletes stop and remember and think about that time where they started that sport and take them back to that time of being a child of standing maybe on the diving board for the first time or whatever it was about diving that attracted you to it. And whether it's running whatever it is. And really have them imagine themselves back in that scenario what was the feelings what were the sensations what were the things that really made this attractive. Because that's what's often lost is that the gifts and the joy of the sport become a burden. And we don't function near as well off of negative emotion as we do and he's more positive emotional states. And so there are times that negative emotions can help us and facilitate some progress. But overall that joy state of being able to really connect to what's meaningful and is really critical to being able to perform without getting you in your own way. Like you know?

 

[00:17:26] And so I think these times really are things that kind of point to and say, okay I need to maybe take a look at this and think about what is the source of my motivation and is there a way to find other more healthy motivation that can also help me be the best that I can possibly be.

 

Laura

[00:17:49] I love that. And I think it's important to point out like these are for every level of athlete can experience from you know kind of beginner like a young teenage athlete up until you know the top of the top. Like we pointed out you know Michael Phelps went in rehab after a DUI and he kind of had a summary based on his like performance-based identity and I'll quote it here he said, “I wound up uncovering a lot of things about myself for a long time I saw myself as an athlete that as the athlete that I was but not as a human being”. So nobody's really above this. Everybody can kind of be susceptible and I think sometimes we kind of go in and out of it. You've said any high achiever with a performance-based identity risk can feel devastated when they fall short of their goals or having actually even realized their dream and finding it empty.

 

[00:18:37] So I guess the big question is? Okay. Maybe we recognize that we have that performance-based identity or we-we deal with that sometimes like how do you change it?

 

Ben

[00:18:37]Yeah. Well, the first thing I would say when we talk about changing performance based identity is that it's always gonna be a process for a high achiever. There's always gonna be elements and times in life where we're all experience this kind of performance-based identity. I think it's beginning to shift it so that it's more your identity and work begins to become centered around something more meaningful in your life. The motivation is drawing from something deeper than just winning medals or proving your worth of value. That this is really when we talk about purpose is that.

 

The purpose is a powerful motivator that organizes our sense of identity around what we value the most. So a purpose is a great anecdote when we talk about this. Because purpose involves really three things. The first thing purpose involves is doing something that is personally meaningful to you. The second thing is having a goal or an aim that you're moving towards. So both of those are very easy in the sport to kind of capture. But the third piece is really important and this piece is that you're connected to something that is greater than yourself that makes a contribution to this world. One of the things that we've seen in the research is that people who have these three parts of purpose there's something about giving to others is something about doing something beyond yourself and connecting to something meaningful beyond yourself. There really is stabilizing in our sense of identity it gives us a sense of it starts with us really understanding our own sense of worth and value. It's hard to be. It's hard to create value if you don't feel like you're a person of value. And I think that's what becomes really key and purpose is it is a way to begin to help form our sense of worth and identity in something that's much more foundational than just performance.

 

And so we found that this purpose based identity that involves the self-worth and value that I understand their self-worth and value outside of just sports as well as this purpose and even a view of myself in the future after sport. These athletes also were just as accomplished and their performance was just as high. There’s no difference in our athletes that were in this performance-based versus purpose based identity. But they by far emotionally psychologically and the way they viewed competition and the way they bounce back from the competition were much superior to the performance-based identity athletes. They were able to identify and turn to other people in relationships for emotional support and in ways that were helpful for them. They had higher levels of life satisfaction feeling good about their life. They were able to regulate their emotions better. There's a great emotion regulation strategy that's really important called reappraisal and we can kind of redefine our reframe a negative situation in a way that allows us to overcome it that allows us to not be hijacked emotionally by it.

 

And so these are the purpose space that any athletes were able to do that better. They saw competition as a challenge. They embraced opportunity to become better. And so that to me is really what I think is the shift it's shifting from this performance-based identity to purpose-based identity. But there's always going to be a flux there that we have to be aware of and know and become aware of when we're going kind of more towards performance-based identity side of saying Ok well how do I get back to purpose understanding that and let that motivate me. Because sports is. The nature of sports and high achievement you have to work hard. You have to make lots of sacrifices. You want to be able to push yourself beyond what you ever thought you could. Those are all healthy pursuits. But what drives it really matters and that's the part that's going to impact your emotional and relational health.

 

Laura

[00:23:13] And that doesn't keep you going when things get tough too. For sure.

 

Ben

[00:23:13]  Absolutely.

 

Laura

[00:23:13] Questions. So if people are finding that their kind of performance-based and they're struggling with that that they're recognizing it they want to become where purpose-based. These relationships are really important for that. Like what if they're a little isolated? Like they don't have a lot of support of people around them. Like what can they do to get past that and get through that and find that purpose?

 

Ben

[00:23:13]  Yeah. I mean. I think that's often a result of this performance based identity is this even if it's on purpose to this isolation for meaningful relationships. And so, I think that the reason why relationships are so powerful. Healthy relationships are so powerful is because they remind you that you are of worth and value. They remindyou of your uniqueness. That somebody cares about you deeply not just for what you can do for them but because of who you are.

 

So when I work with athletes one of the first steps that I do is really try to help them engage and the people around them. Often there is somebody around them that they've had a meaningful relationship with and a healthy way that maybe they need to reconnect with and be reminded of a really simple task to do this. Had one athlete who I had her give the people that she knew around her that cared about her and had to give them little sheets of paper that they were supposed to write something. How did they saw her? How would they describe her  And then, they were to fold them up to tape on and she wasn't supposed to look at them. So they brought him back and then I kind of did this mindful activity with her. And just had it which is really just kind of giving her space to focus on her breathing and being present. And then, I read these statements to her knowing that these were all people who cared about her. The statements that were being read about her were so different than how she saw herself when it came to the more negative things. So it was challenging her negative self-talk through the voice of meaningful relationships. And I think that was really positive for her now.

 

Now the goal was to get her to start to internalize that voice for herself. Relationships are powerful because it reminds us of our worth and value. We do better when we're connected. We face challenges better we do with pain better. There's lots of great research to show this. And so the relationships become really a foundation for helping people begin to shift from front space with them and giving them a sense of worth that helps them now start to think about what is my kind of meaning and purpose, and what can I to do differently in practice every day whether it's learning to the practice of gratitude or generosity of doing things for other people or challenging negative self-talk. That begin over time to create habits that they get and become a part of our identity.

 

Laura:

[0026:29]So powerful! So many good takeaways here. Now, with all of this good information thinking of the athletes and maybe where they might be if they could take away one thing like one thing they should do today that would help them move more toward that purpose based identity. What would you suggest?

 

Ben:

[00:26:47]One of the thing that I think is often most powerful is to have athletes reflect on what is meaningful in their life. Often people will be able to talk about what's meaningful in their lives but they actually don't connect that to their athletic pursuit. They often kind of keep them separate. When you get somebody who talks about things like their family that their family is that's a value for them as is their relationship with their family. Why is that a value for you? What is it about that? It's a value and that you know it's just a connection and that's love and this loyalty and you start to see these things. So the first thing I would say is to sit down and write down, what is meaningful to you? What do you value? What are the things that you value about yourself or the things that you see as important values in your life? And then next to it really write down how are you living in that every day? Like what is your current life patterns and habits that they would be consistent with those things that you say you value? And just taking stock of that. And often with performance-based identity what you'll find is what's meaningful and valued at a deep level. And there might be things on that list like winning gold medals, breaking records or things like that.

 

There's nothing wrong with that but if that's the only dominant values in someone's life. That's where it gets challenging. And so thinking and pushing yourself to not just think about the athletic value or calls or pursuits but beginning to think about what is in life that brings most meaning to you and fulfillment to you and then how are you living in that every day. That can be an honest assessment of where you're at. I think that's important. I would say though that I would say don't wait till you feel like making the shift go. I mean this is a maybe a plug for Hope sports but go do. I mean the power of going to build with hope sports is is that you're doing something for the other and then you can start to really reflect on what that. Why is that meaningful to you? And if you can't make it to a build do it find some things that are meaningful to you and your neighborhood and your community and recognize that this isn't just good PR to go do good for others that when you do good for others that's just important as important for the transformation of your own identity. And I think that starts to give you a taste of what purposes it was possible with purpose. And once you get a taste of what's the possible purpose you will continue to go after it. Because it brings fulfillment in a different way.

 

Laura

[00:29:54] And then that's going to move you past sport too. Because if you have an injury and you have to retire or if you're just it's time to move on. Like what is going to be in your life and how do you focus and move on if you've always just been performance-based do. You have to know. As you said, what your value is in the value in others and you have to have that purpose beyond your sport to really kind of be successful in life too.

 

Ben

[00:30:17] Absolutely yeah. And that's a reality that I think is it can be really difficult to face for a lot of athletes. When they're done competing, what now? And for some athletes that's you know 21 for some that's 24, 25 some sports got go up to you know later in life and 40s and 50s, you know? But there's still a time where you finish and you have to say, okay what? How do I? What do I start to put my time and energy and now it's meaningful. And I think if you can start that as an athlete it's such a good foundation for that transition.

 

Laura

[00:30:58] And just for those of you who may not be aware of what Hope Sports is? This is the Hope Sports Podcast from an amazing organization called Hope Sports that brings athletes together to come down to Mexico in impoverished countries to build homes for the poor. And not only are you making a difference for a family that does not have a roof over their heads or does not have a solid foundation to stand on. But you also are impacted in just amazingly dramatic ways and all the people around you. It's such an incredible experience! And like Ben said, it's a great way to find value and purpose outside of yourself if you don't know how to do that. It is an amazing way to start.

 

And you know, check out HopeSports.org to learn more about that organization. An amazing organization that is sponsoring this podcast.

 

So, Ben? You are amazing and inspiring us all to go beyond our sport and find purpose in our sport, through our sport, in our lives. Where can we find you on the interwebs so that we can follow you and continue to get all this valuable information?

 

Ben

[00:31:57] Yeah. I do a lot of my work at a center called the Thrive Center for Human Development. And You can go to the website at TheThriveCenter.org. You can also follow me on my social media I'm on Instagram and also started on Twitter. So, try to gain like add more to Twitter coz I'm getting better at it.

 

Laura:

[00:32:51]I'm on a hundred nobody cared less.

 

Ben:

[00:32:54]Right. Seriously, like just like a whole another language. So then I'm on Facebook too. It's just been hoping you can find me on any of those social media sites. So I'm trying to continue to put more resource out there for athletes and because this is my purpose. This is what I feel passionate about. It gives meaning to my life. And yes. Feel free to reach out to me if you want more information and there are lots of articles and readings on twice on a website.

 

Laura

[00:33:26] Awesome. I think that's so poetic. Your purpose is to give other people purpose and I think that's absolutely beautiful. Ben thank you for coming on today. We really appreciate having you.

 

Ben

[00:33:36] Thanks, Laura.

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Hope Sports
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