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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS26-UFC-Champion-Frank-Shamrock-Fulfillment-beyond-Success.mp3

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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Frank Shamrock’s childhood was marked by many things - foster homes, group homes, shenanigans, and trouble. But more than anything and perhaps surprisingly, he would also say that it was marked by unconditional love. He became a ward of the state when he was eleven years old after being removed from a physically and emotionally abusive home. Sometime around age thirteen, he landed in the group home of Bob Shamrock and despite getting removed and into further, more serious patterns of destructive behaviour and trouble, Bob never gave up on Frank. When he was eighteen years old Frank went to prison for three years and Bob visited him often and brought nothing but encouragement, support, and a new narrative for Frank to believe: that he could be something great. Frank committed to a complete life turn-around while in prison. He attended college, started lifting weights, and began to believe Bob’s message. His athleticism was obvious and Bob was convinced that he could turn it into a career that would eventually change the trajectory of his life. 

Barely 48 hours out of prison and Frank was already on the steps of a martial arts training center for a try out. After surviving 500 hundred pushups, sit-ups, squats, and leg lifts, he had to survive a fight against a professional for twenty minutes, but not just any professional - they chose his foster brother, Ken, who openly admitted that he didn’t believe Frank deserved to be there. Despite the brutal beating, Frank emerged alive and only partially injured, but also a proud member of the team. After six months of training he was on a plane to Japan for further training and his first fight. Of stepping into the ring for the first time, Frank said, “it was absolutely terrifying.” Although ultimate fighting might seem like the pinnacle of fearless and confidence, he admitted that it took years to get over being scared of getting seriously injured or killed in the ring. The sport was relatively new and virtually ruleless, which added to the intrigue, but also the risk. But when he emerged as the victor of that first fight, he knew that he was onto something. “This was the type of sport that you could put in all of your emotion because it was about you surviving. It was the first time that I felt like I was in total control,” said Frank. 

Eventually, he added more tools and skills that made fighting less scary. At one point, he spent more time studying than training, observing his opponents, the systems of strategy, the lineage of styles, and the mechanics of movements. He became a student of every time of fighting imaginable - from mixed martial arts to Judo to Greco-Roman. “I didn’t really want to hurt people,” said Frank. Having coming from a home filled with physical abuse, Frank took no joy in injuring his opponent and would often go the extra mile to discover a way to beat them that didn’t involve hurting them. And it was his commitment to studying his opponents that led to what was perhaps the greatest victory of his career. He was set to face Keving Jackson, who was the UFC tournament champion, undefeated in MMA, and the reigning Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at the time. But before the fight even happened Frank put in the time and energy to learn his weakness and even told the media his exact plan - to beat him in an armbar. When fight day came he did exactly that; he armbarred him in just sixteen seconds to clinch the UFC Middleweight Championship. 

Despite his fair share of disappointing losses and challenges, Frank said that the lowest point of his career was a failure or a knockout; it was how it ended. A series of injuries led Frank to hang up his gloves sooner than he had hoped and retirement came like a shock. “The stress and risk and pressure got really big, but I was still trying to perform at the highest level,” he said. He even tried to go back to training camp, push himself further, and focus even harder, but it only further proved that his body just wasn’t in it anymore. “Just becoming a normal person was the hardest part of my career,” he said. Over sixteen years were dedicated to building skills in a physical sport, but he had neglected to invest the same amount of effort into developing the social and emotional skills that would bring him fulfillment and joy for the following years of his life. “All of the dreams on my list had come true, but I still felt empty and without purpose,” he said. After climbing the mountain and reaching the top, it was time to go back down the other side. He tested out interests in business and entrepreneurship but eventually realized that serving others and giving back to his community brought the most meaning into his life. He started a charity, began strategically supporting issues that he cared about, and joined Hope Sports for several house builds in Mexico. Having been homeless at one point himself, Frank deeply resonated with the ministry and was even able to reconnect with his son during the weekend. 

Outside of sports, he says that his greatest talent is to fix things. Whether it’s a physically broken item or issues like investment issues, business problems, or that pesky back ache; his knack for keen observation and careful studying leads him to innovative solutions. In his retirement, he’s pursued opportunities in business consulting and investments in a wide range of products or causes. He also was honored to share in a TedTalk on the subject of fear. It might be obvious that he feared being beat up or hurt, but underneath that was also the fear of not being loved or being abandoned, something Frank says is common for children of abuse. But rather than step away from fear to reposition or re-evaluate, he encourages others to step into the center of it and watch it’s power dissolve. He encourages upcoming athletes to become students of their own lives, tracking their emotions, experiences, questions, and needs. Not only for empirical purposes, but also to help the brain create pathways of curiosity and skills of observation. 

But at the end of the day, despite all of his accolades and accomplishments, he just wants to be remembered as a good person. Like his foster father, Bob, Frank wants to leave a legacy of generosity, love, and commitment. Because without a stranger like Bob choosing to see the best in a kid like Frank, then “The Legend” of boxing would have never existed. 

Follow Frank on Instagram, Twitter, on his personal website, and through the work of his Charity.

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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At age four, Jonathan Horton got lost in a Target and was found 25 feet in the air after he scaled a support beam in the middle of the store. At only three years of age he held on to a garage door as it rode to the top of its track, leaving him dangling from the ceiling. His propensity for literal monkey-business led his parents to stick him in gymnastics, hoping that it would provide an outlet for his tumbling, climbing, and risk-taking. Little did they know that their son would go on to spend the next 28 years competing, represent his country in back-to-back Olympics, have two medals hung around his neck, and hold NCAA records that still stand today.

One of Jonathan’s clearest memories is the moment that he decided to take gymnastics seriously. At age ten he sat in front of the television, gripped by the 1996 Olympics Women’s Gymnastics team that became known as the Magnificent Seven; they were the first ever team gold medal in Women’s gymnastics and upstaged the Russian’s who hadn’t lost in decades. “I watched the medals go around their necks, the flags go up, the national anthem play, and I grasped what the Olympics was about,” said Jonathan. He went back to the gym the next day with a new sense of purpose, focus, and determination. Those Olympics catalyzed something in Jonathan and he was never the same. “Everything goes back to those ‘96 Olympics,” he said.

At age 18 he was the youngest male to qualify for the Olympic trails and was star-struck competing alongside several of his personal heroes. His NCAA career brought him six national titles and 18 All-American ones, but his collegiate season also brought him something far more important: humility. He admits to starting at the University of Oklahoma as cocky and arrogant with his eyes only set on individual achievements. But once he had a taste of team competition and stood alongside the other men on the podium, he understood the power of a collaborative effort. For once he felt motivated to perform not to further his own agenda, but to show up for his team, help them do the absolute best they could, and to achieve a goal all together. “I want to teach the young upcoming athletes today the power that you have when you care more about the people that you’re performing for rather than yourself,” said Jonathan. His mentality shifted so much that he almost struggled to pull together his best events in individual competition.

His collegiate career set him up well for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and he qualified for the team, but admitted that the Olympic Trials were far more nerve wracking than actually competing at the games. Since the final goal was just to be an Olympian, when he achieved that a weight was lifted from his shoulders and he was able to enjoy the experience. But the men’s team entered those Games with a lot of skepticism and issues with injuries. In fact, they were hardly expected to even qualify to go to the Games at all due to their train-wreck of a World Championships the year before. The team took 13th place and Jonathan fell six times during that meet - a record number of mistakes from any US competitor in history. The fans, coaches, and teammates were furious and completely lost trust in Jonathan to lead the way for his team.  “I was supposed to be this rising star and I bombed at the World Championships,” he said. The Hamm brothers, Morgan and Paul, were called out of retirement in an attempt to rally the team and rescue their presence at the Games. “We were not a medal worthy team,” said Jonathan. But shortly before the Olympics Paul Hamm broke hand and, during the preliminary meet in Beijing, Morgan Humm broke his ankle. Reserve athletes were flown over and the team was made up of the same men who had botched the World Championship the year before; there was almost no hope for them. “We didn’t want to look like the jokes at the Olympics,” said Jonathan. And it was this desperation that led them to a really interesting place: vulnerability. The night before the finals all of the guys met outside on a balcony in the athlete village and sat under the stars together. And rather than discuss their routines or dismounts they talked about their fears, challenges, hopes, and disappointments. They poured out their souls to one another and made a pact. “We said: no matter what we are going to walk out of there with our heads up, our chests held high, and we’re going to represent the US at the Olympic Games,” said Jonathan.

The next day the men walked into the arena and had the meet of their lives. Forty thousand spectators chanted “USA!” as they held onto a first place standing until the final event of the meet. A team that was hardly expected to do much more than flop was holding off Russia and China in gold medal standing. The final event was pommel-horse, which Jonathan said they knew was their weakest skill, but if Alexander Artemev could have the event of his life they might have a shot at keeping medal standing. Sure enough, by less than 1 point, Team USA finished ahead of Germany and won bronze. Jonathan stood on the podium with a medal around his neck and knew that they had done something miraculous. To this day he gets comments about the disappointment of missing out on silver or gold, but for Jonathan that team fought their way out of a hole for bronze and it was a true victory.

The following week was the individual competition where Jonathan took 9th place overall, but qualified into the high bar final. He made a scandalous decision to pull together a brand new routine for the final, even to the shock and discouragement of his coach and teammates. He was only able to run through it roughly ten times in practice before the event and fell every single time. But when competition came he executed it perfectly and brought home a silver medal, only .05 points away from gold. “The silver in high bar was cool, but it was nothing compared to winning with my team,” said Jonathan. The 2008 Olympics will live as legend for USA Men’s Gymnastics and also for him personally.

At the following World Championship Jonathan broke two bones and tore a ligament in his foot. He rushed through surgery and recovery to heal in time for the 2012 Olympic Trials, but the London Games would have a totally different feel. The men’s team didn’t have the luxury of being the ignored underdogs, in fact, they were considered the best team in the world and expectations were incredibly high for a gold medal performance. Jonathan was the eldest member of the team by six years and his leadership was crucial to the team. They won the preliminaries by a landslide of five points, but the final round of competition was a 180 degree turn. “Everything fell apart from the first event,” said Jonathan. By the second event the men knew that they were completely out of medal standing as they watched teammates fall one by one. Jonathan attempted to keep morale up, but felt like he was reliving the botched World Championship from years prior. Overall, the London games have left a sour taste in his mouth, but he knows that those athletes are better now for experiencing great loss under great pressure; something every competitor has to learn to overcome.

The London Games were the beginning of the end of professional gymnastics for Jonathan. As much as he would have loved to make another Olympics, injuries compounded upon one another and as soon as he recovered from one surgery, another issue presented itself. From complete bone, muscle, and ligament repair in his shoulder, to tearing a pectoral muscle, to retearing the shoulder muscle again -- he just couldn’t get a back up to full strength. Even after he officially retired from gymnastics, he continued to train for a year and a half. “The tail end of my career was tough; I spent a lot of time down in the dumps,” he said. He remembers sitting on the couch after his final shoulder surgery, with gymnastics now behind him, and his wife caring for his infant daughter who he couldn’t even hold yet because he was recovering and he thought, “Now what?” Despite taking time to come to terms with his retirement, Jonathan is now grateful for an incredibly long, rich career. He has continued pushing his own athleticism through American Ninja Warrior and shares advice that he wished he would have had as a young athlete in his book If I Had Known.  He is writing an autobiography that will be released later this year and is working towards giving back to the next generation of athletes, including his own daughter who he cheers on at her gymnastics meets.

Follow Jonathan on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and his personal website for more information about the work that he is doing to encourage young people on their journey, in their aspirations, and through their trials.

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[/et_pb_post_title][et_pb_text admin_label="Excerpt" _builder_version="3.18.6" _dynamic_attributes="content"]@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiI[email protected][/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label="Podcast Player" _builder_version="3.22.5"][/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label="Show Link" _builder_version="3.22.5" text_font="||||||||" text_font_size="13px" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat"]or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS18-Reclaim_Your_Agency_and_Restore_Your_Identity_with_Olympic_Skeleton_racer_Katie_Uhlaender.mp3[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_2" _builder_version="3.0.47"][et_pb_image src="@[email protected][email protected]" _builder_version="3.18.6" _dynamic_attributes="src"]
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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.  

 

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_toggle title="Read Episode Transcript" admin_label="Transcript" _builder_version="3.22.7" saved_tabs="all"]

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

Alev Kelter has built an athletic legacy that few could even dream of. To call her an “all-around” athlete only scrapes the surface of her capacity, versatility, and drive. Growing up in Alaska, Alev tried her hand at all sorts of sports with her two brothers and twin sister, Daria. Early on it was clear that her natural athletic abilities would make her a stand out. By age 14 she was recruited for the Olympic Development Program in soccer, but she did not want to only pursue one sport and give up on her hockey dreams. With the encouragement of her mother she played both ODP soccer and competed on the US National Youth Hockey team. She credits her equally gifted twin sister for pushing her to be a better athlete and individual. Daria also competed at the national level in both sports and each of them were heavily recruited by Division 1 universities. When it came to committing to a school they didn’t want one anothers decisions to hold too much weight, so their father had them write a “Top 3” list of colleges on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope. When they opened them simultaneously, it appeared that the University of Wisconsin was the first choice for both of them.

 

Alev and Daria were recruited to play both soccer and hockey for the University of Wisconsin - something nearly unheard of at such a high level. The hockey team was coached by Mark Johnson, a former NHL player and Olympic gold medalist for Team USA’s “Miracle Team.” The university had a strong history of recruiting players who played at the professional level after graduation and Alev was excited to train with women of such caliber. She was always a student first, and an athlete second, and so was grateful that coaches and professors were flexible to accommodate her rigorous training and practice schedules. Following in the footsteps of her family, she started college as a pre-med student, but it only took one GenEd course in sculpture to sway her to becoming an art major; a fact that she took until her senior year to break to her parents. She discovered passion and freedom in her art classes, but unlike typical courses with portable books and papers, her studies were confined to studio time, which only compounded the complexity of her schedule. But, true to her character, Alev showed incredible commitment and work ethic in managing her studies and sports throughout her college career.

 

For some, playing even one Division 1 sport would be enough of an achievement, but Alev set her sights higher; she not only dreamed of competing in one Olympics, but aspired to play in back to back summer and winter games. The 2014 games in Sochi were on the horizon and Alev had been on - and even captained - the two previous U18 World Championship women’s hockey teams. Despite her obvious leadership and skills, she was not called up for the December Olympic training camp. “I was devastated,” says Alev, “I felt like I let down my family and friends, like all of the work wasn’t even worth it.” She returned to the classroom distracted, deflated, and depressed, something her art professors picked up on immediately. They encouraged her to take some time, give herself space, and pursue the support that she needed to gain perspective on the situation. As her fourth year of college came to a close, Alev headed back to Alaska to be with her family, the mountains, and for solitude.

 

Soon after arriving she picked up her snowboard and made a solo trek to one of her favorite nearby mountains. Without her sister, family members, or any other voices in her head, she stood on the peak, surrounded by fresh powder, and thought to herself, I’m just going to tackle the mountain with abandon. Regardless of if she crashed or fell or nailed it, she felt deeply that she had something to prove to herself. About halfway down she attempted a backflip and landed flat on her back. She stayed there in the snow and sun, all alone with her disappointments and grief. “As I laid there, a really strange memory came to mind,” she recalls. Her sister used to always rub it in that she was born first and Alev came second, a common jest among competitive twins, but in that moment it dawned on her how often she always felt “second.” She was constantly striving to get ahead, to define her position, to prove she belonged. “I had to tell myself, ‘You are no less of a person because you came second. You are no less of a person because of what just happened [with hockey],’” she says. She peeled herself up from the snow, set herself on the board again, and continued down the mountain with a new determination to not let this one “no” define her.

 

Some may just call it providential, but for Alev it was a clear act of God that when she got to the bottom of the hill that day and walked into the lodge, there was a voicemail on her phone from the coach of the USA Women’s Rugby team inviting her to join their training camp in San Diego. “I was convinced it was a prank by my sister,” says Alev. The coach, a fellow former hockey player, was recruiting talented athletes to play for the team and didn’t seem phased by her lack of experience. “I told him that I had never touched a rugby ball in my life and he said, ‘It’s ok! We have lots of balls here,’” she jokes. With nothing to lose, she decided to give it a try. Her only hesitation was how she would be received by the other players who already knew the sport and had been competing international. Fortunately, her arrival was nothing like she had feared. “They welcomed me with the biggest open arms you could imagine,” remembers Alev. Even though they could be potentially taking one anothers’ spot on the team, each woman truly wanted what was best for the program. “It wasn’t the coaching staff that taught me, it was the other women,” she says. They taught her to pass and tackle, how to avoid injury, and the intricate rules and strategies of the game. There she experienced friendship, patience, and honesty, which together fueled an amazing vulnerability and unity among the team. Virtually all of the athletes had crossed over from other sports and each experienced the learning curve of transitioning to rugby. After a few short months, Alev was competing with the team and two years later she paused in the middle of a speaking engagement to open an email with the headline “Congratulations!” and was able to finally call herself an Olympian.

 

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil were not only monumental for Alev, but for the sport of rugby. It was the first year since 1924 that men and women’s rugby was featured in the Olympics, which made that event a historic one. Not only was she representing the USA, but she was introducing her nation to the sport. The team took fifth at the games, but were the only ones to tie the gold medal winning team and Alev was the first American woman to score a try at the Olympics.

 

She sustained a neck injury during the 2017 season that sidelined her for over a year, but she was confident in the value of supporting her teammates from the bench. Rugby is an intense contact sport and, in light of that, she has learned to be grateful for being relatively injury free for several years. The up and coming women on the team are phenomenal athletes and she looks forward to teaching, coaching, and encouraging them, just like her more seasoned teammates did for her. This year involves an international six-stop series before gearing up for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where Alev hopes to make an appearance. Even though her journey to the Olympics looked nothing like what she expected, she is grateful for every twist and turn, victory and disappointment that brought her to rugby, to her teammates, and to a confidence in her identity. She no longer feels pressure to define herself by what sport she plays or what dream she achieves, but by the inherent value she has as a unique individual.

 

Be sure to follow Alev on Twitter, Instagram, and her website as she competes in the World Rugby Sevens Series.

 

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About This Episode

There is some debate about when it was discovered that Lauryn Williams was fast. Her father claims that it was when she spent an entire day at the science center in Pittsburg racing a hologram of the legendary Olympic gold medalist Florence Joyner until she was actually able to beat it. For her mother, it was when she could beat their family dog home after playing outside. Either way, they knew that she could run -- fast. But Lauryn didn’t always have aspirations of being a track & field athlete. She participated in karate, gymnastics, softball, basketball, and ballroom dancing throughout her childhood. While focusing on academic college scholarships during her senior year of high school, she stumbled upon athletic scholarships and thought that she had a good shot of snagging one. She ended up attending the University of Miami, confiding, “if I had to run for college funding, I might as well do it where the weather was nice!” Though her decision may have hinged more on climate than programming, she recalls being incredibly well cared for, honored, and championed as an athlete at the school. “The coaching staff and athletic department always did what was in my best interest as a person, in addition to an athlete,” she says.

At 20 years old, she ran the second fastest time in the world for the 100 meters, was the fastest American women, and won the NCAA championships. Although, being a professional athlete wasn’t anywhere on her radar at the time, her success catapulted her into the Olympic Trials and into the pressure to win big for her country. Her hometown did fundraisers to get her parents to Athens and it was as if the entire world watched her step up to the line of the 100 meter race. She ran a great race and was proud to walk away from that event with a silver medal. It wasn’t time to relax yet, however, as the 4x100 meter relay was only days away. The four women on the team were several of the fastest in the world and together, they easily had a shot at not only a gold medal, but a world record. In the end, perhaps it was division in their training or a lack of chemistry or negativity that chipped away at their confidence, but whatever the reason, the baton failed to be passed inside of the allotted zone and the team was disqualified.

“I felt like I not only left my team down, but I let the whole country down,” says Lauryn of the race. Set to receive the baton from Marion Jones, Lauryn was personally a part of the botched handoff and the headlines, reporters, and fans didn’t let her forget it. “It was the first time that I was subjected to the anger and hatred of others. And it went far beyond just the performance,” she recalls. After repeatedly seeing her name alongside words such as “failure” and “let-down”, she had to dig herself out of the pit of self-doubt and insecurity; she had to not internalize what everyone was saying about her. With the support of her family and close community, she says that she arrived at the mindset that “it’s about who I believe I am.”

Putting the Olympics behind her, she returned to training and competing professionally. An opportunity for redemption presented itself at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing where she qualified to run the 100 meter individual event as well as the 4x100 meter relay. She took fourth place in the individual race behind three women from Jamaica and had to bounce back from that disappointment to head into the relay. But the nightmare repeated itself for the American women. The baton was again dropped during the transfer; once more the team headed home empty handed, devastated, and in the merciless hands of the media. “I just wanted to hit the rewind button,” says Lauryn. It seemed that one mistake was forgivable, but definitely not two. Despite her rich faith and strong friends and teammates, Lauryn struggled to maintain her confidence.

Shortly after those 2008 Olympic games, her father passed away. Still reeling from the disappointment of the games, her pain was only worsened by not having one of her biggest encouragers on the sideline. The grief didn’t fully hit her until May of the following year when, out of instinct, she picked up her phone and called her dad. As the phone rang and rang, it finally dawned on her that he was gone and she could never again be comforted by his counsel or encouraged by his voice.

“I was faced with questions about what life was really about and why I was running circles around a track,” says Lauryn. She had equated her identity, success, and influence with her speed, but losing her father brought her face to face with deep doubts about her purpose. She took 2010 off from track to find out who she was without running, to discover the way she contributed to society and community when she isn’t simply an athlete. “During that year I spent a lot of time talking to people about how they got to where they were,” explains Lauryn. She was on a mission to discover how the everyday person navigated they journey, and she ascertained that there was no such thing as a linear path. “You get to write your story. You get to decide who you are,” she says. She learned that the journey towards purpose is one of evolution, not destination or definition. In various seasons elements are added into our lives, just as others fall away. She found peace in the realization that she wouldn’t be an elite sprinter forever, but also that she wasn’t done yet.

She returned to competition in 2012 with an entirely different mindset. “I felt more grateful to those who were around me,” Lauryn recalls. Her eyes had been opened to the specific journeys and purpose of her coach, trainers, nutritionist, and even the volunteers at every event. “So many people invested their time in my success,” says Lauryn. And she started taking time to thank them. Although she didn’t qualify for the individual event in London, they still thought highly enough of her that she was placed on the 4x100 meter relay team despite her perceived failures in 2004 and 2008. Most of the team was brand new and her maturity, experience, and composure grounded the team. Because of her negative experiences and mistakes, she was able to emphasize the importance of honesty, communication, and trust within the relay team; things that she knew mattered just as much as speed. Lauryn got to be a part of the semi-final race that secured the American team a spot in the finals where the women went on to break a 27 year old world record, and finally win the gold medal. It took time, however, for Lauryn to fully accept the medal. Although she was a part of getting the team to the final, she didn’t run in the actual race and initially felt quite fraudulent owning that victory. But with time, she matured enough to see the intangible effects that she had on the team that led to generating the kind of atmosphere from which world class teams are born.

After her final season of running came to a close, she ran into Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones at an airport and they talked a bit about the bobsled career that Lolo pursued after retiring from track. One month later, Lauryn found herself at the Olympic trials for bobsled. It was a steep learning curve over the next six months, but of that time she says, “I realized that I had nothing left to lose, and only things to gain.” She spent several months training with various partners in a round robin style and the final pairings wouldn’t be decided until ten days before the event. Thanks to her experience in 2012, she knew that her contribution wasn’t limited to tangible influence. No matter the outcome, she wanted Team USA to send the best six competitors to Sochi even if that put her in a supporting role. A week and a half before the event she was paired with Elana Meyers Taylor and the two went on to win silver in the bobsled final. “The best part was that I just never saw the opportunity coming,” says Lauryn. Participating and winning in a collaborative event was both gratifying and redeeming. In addition to winning a medal, Lauryn made history as the first American woman--and one of only five athletes ever--to medal in both the summer and winter Olympics.

Satisfied with her athletic career, Lauryn has recently turned her attention to serving athletes in other ways. She started a financial planning business called Worth Winning that aims to help young athletes optimize their finances, set markers beyond competition, and define their values in a concrete way. So many young athletes don’t fit into the typical box for financial planning; they are more tech savvy, on the go, and goal oriented. In addition, she has her own podcast  with guests who discuss their own financial journeys in hopes that listeners can shed any embarrassment or shame in feeling inept at managing money. Her knowledge isn’t limited to the financial sector, though. Her book, The Oval Office, will be releasing this year and is full of information for professional athletes about how to navigate the world of elite sports in a really practical way. From working with agents to wading through endorsement offers to signing with teams, she guides readers through the world that she had to uncover on her own. And, true to her own journey, Lauryn encourages others to write their own story, believe in themselves, and learn to view failures as building blocks for their future. Be sure to following Lauryn on Instagram and Twitter, as well as on her website and podcast.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_toggle title="Read Episode Transcript" admin_label="Transcript" _builder_version="3.21.1" saved_tabs="all"]

 Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports podcast. I'm your host. Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. Each week I have the

privilege of chatting with a different elite athlete about how they navigated their rise in sports where they find their purpose

and how they're contributing in amazing ways to the world today. You're in for a real treat today as Olympian Lauren Williams

is joining us. I can't easily tag a sport alongside her Olympian status because Lauren is actually the first American woman to

win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. And she's one of only five individuals to ever do so. She race track and

field and three Olympics and just when she thought she was retiring she turned right around and raced bobsled in the Winter

Olympics. But her journey is about so much more than that she has walked through heartbreaking defeats and emerged so

incredibly grateful optimistic and authentic. She's a savvy business owner a compassionate leader and an all-around

inspiration. You are gonna be so glad you tuned in today. Let's dive on it.

[00:01:04] Lauren Williams thank you so much for coming on Hope Sports podcast today.

Lauren:

It is so good to be here. I can't wait to share my story.

Laura:

Well for those listening to that may not know a whole lot about you. Can you kind of walk us through how you got your start in

sports?

Lauren:

[00:01:18] Sure. So it all started way back in the 1980s. Now I'm born and raised between. I'm born in Pittsburgh raised

between Pittsburgh and Detroit and started running track when I was nine years old. And depending on who you ask between

my mother and father you'll get two entirely different stories about how I got my start. My dad will tell you that we were at the

Carnegie Science Center in Pennsylvania and there was a blow Joe hologram. And I do know this story to be true. I remember

the hologram and I remember raising the hologram but I stayed there all day didn't do anything else I didn't see anything else in

the science center. And I did beat the hologram a few times now. Clearly, she could have been set at a world record pace. But.

Laura:

[00:02:03] For you are really impressive 9 year old one to the other.

Lauren:

[00:02:06] right or I was a really impressive 9year girl. But that wasn't quite as fast as I got older. And then my mom tells a

story of me getting home faster than the family German shepherd. And I do also remember going outside and playing with the

dog and you know her kind of calling us when it was this time for us to come in. But whether or not I got home faster than my

dog. You know I'm inclined to believe I did. But.

Laura:

[00:02:31] That you're a racer from the beginning huh?

Lauren:

[00:02:33] Exactly. I always love running. I always love being outside. You know competing and you know it was kind of a

tomboy if you will.

Laura:

[00:02:40] Did you do any other sports or was it always just track and running?

Lauren:

[00:02:44] Everything. In fact, I didn't think that I was gonna be like a star track athlete. It wasn't a goal or aspiration of mine

at all. I did karate and ballroom dancing. I did gymnastics. Softball.

Laura:

[00:02:53] Ballroom dancing.

Lauren:

[00:02:55] I know right.

Laura:

[00:02:56] Wow! Nice.

Lauren:

[00:02:58] I didn't make the volleyball team. I still kind of have a chip on my shoulder about that.

Laura:

[00:03:03] You can't have it all Lauren. Can’t have it all.

Lauren:

[00:03:04] Can’t have it all. That's true. Basketball is the thing I love the most though. And that's what I thought I was going to

do and I wanted to do. But sitting on the bench on senior night in high school my best friend got her. And then finally got to go

in when she got her in the fourth quarter. Let me know that I was probably not going to be a basketball player beyond my high

school days.

Laura:

[00:03:25] Also how did you find herself at the University of Miami?

Lauren:

[00:03:29] Well when I started to get these letters in the mail to ask me you know if I was interested in attending this school or

that school. I got really excited because I didn't know that that was actually an option initially. I was really working hard

toward getting academic scholarship, moneys and keep my grades up. And then I realized there was this thing called athletic

scholarships and I was like oh like this could work. And I'm just sorting through the different options. I decided that if I needed

to go to school and it was gonna be my obligation to run track as a way to kind of pay for my education that I had better do it

in a place that had warm weather so that I'd feel good about going to practice every day and meeting. At 17 that's all the wiser

that I could be it was a warm place, outdoors and I went on my college visit there it was October. And so got a sunburn in

Miami in October and got back to Pennsylvania for school and it was the first frost.

Laura:

[00:04:23] Oh wow.

Lauren:

[00:04:24] And I was like oh like sunburn in October or snow in October.

Laura:

[00:04:30] I think that’s a wise move. Well, you competed for track at Miami. You graduate in 2004 and you were even

inducted into the iron arrow Honor Society of the university's highest honor. Tell us about your college experience.

Lauren:

[00:04:43] It was amazing. There's no place I would rather go to school. There was not a day that I regretted choosing the

University of Miami the way that they looked after me in a family sort of way. We got there and the athletic department was a

small tight-knit family. My coach to this day I can say has always done what was in my best interest. And that you know

always thought about what I needed and what was going to be best for me as a person and in addition to me as an athlete. And

the university as well kind of correct was the word was rallied around me when I started to get some fame and stardom. And

you know made sure that they did everything they could to help me as well. And so I'm just really appreciative for the

opportunity to have gone to that school to have been supported the way that I was. All the way up to the president of the

university. Yeah. It was a really really good opportunity.

Laura:

[00:05:37] Well that's cool. So after you graduated you made it to the 2004 Athens Olympics that was your first Olympic

Games right?

Lauren:

[00:05:44] Mm-hmm.

Laura:

[00:05:44] And you got a silver there and one hundred meters you became one of the darlings of the games. But at that same

games and the 4 by 100 your team was disqualified because of the baton pass. Can you kind of walk us through? I'm sure there

were so many ups and downs to that Olympics not only just because it's your first Olympics too and then all of that like. Walk

us through that.

Lauren:

[00:06:03] Yeah there was a lot. I was it was 2004 I was 20 years old I was now dealing with this idea of becoming a

professional athlete. That was not something I was necessarily on my radar earlier in the year. I was just trying to win the

NCAA title. And you know not only did I win the NCAA’s but I ran the second fastest time in the world. And it was like oh

you're now the fastest American that we have heading into the Olympic trials. So you better get on your big girl bridges and

hop to it because there's sponsorship opportunities and there is a lot to sort through. As a junior in college 20 years old and now

it is being the Olympic year. I get on this Olympic team.

[00:06:43] I had to figure out how to get my family over there. I didn't have any money yet my family didn't have a lot of

money. So there were fundraisers going on and things like that to sort through. My dad got to Athens and got sick. There was

just a lot going on, to say the least. But then in addition to that look at the actual performance. And I think I did a really good

job of kind of bundling my nerves together and performing well earning that silver medal. But then we had to go and get

ourselves. I had to go and get collaborative with the other sprinters and work on this relay and it did not go very well at all.

You're right. And the thing that's really hard about it even in thinking about it and reminiscing about it today is that we were

easily a world record team. If we could have gotten that baton around the track in the way that the potential we had. There's no

doubt about it that we not only would've been gold medalists but Olympic world record holders or world record holders now.

[00:07:45] And yeah just negative chemistry you know the coaches not really paying attention to what we were saying as

athletes. And you know feeling like they knew what was best for us even in the midst of us saying that you know what about

this what about that. All those things and all that negative chemistry came together and we did not get the baton round trip.

Laura:

[00:08:09] How did you. Did you guys get a lot of flak for that?

Lauren:

[00:08:12] A whole lot of flak for that. You know I was receiving the baton from the infamous Marion Jones I was this new

rookie. Even though I had you know they said I just want a medal and you think that that would create some stability or

credibility. It did not seem to create very much at all. And we were the crappy Americans that didn't do their job. And you

know there were all kinds of headlines on failure. And you know how could we screw this up sort of deal and whose fault it

was and lots of blame game. Yeah, it was a really tough time.

Laura:

[00:08:46] Well how did you. How do you handle that? As a 20 year old thinking about going professional now also to your

thrust into the spotlight with a medal and with this failure. Like how did you handle that?

Lauren:

[00:08:59] It was a lot. You're right. Because I got a really good high of earning a medal and not have expected that at all early

in the year. But then I got this really really big low of you let the whole country down. And you let your teammates down. And

I was the actual person that was part of the botched handoff. You know because I score runners so you know three other people

could have done perfectly and one person got it wrong. And you know I could have been on the done perfectly part of that but I

was on the wrong part of that.

[00:09:26] So that was the first time I was subject to the opinions of others and you know just even the anger and hatred that

others have just for us for sport in general. So you know, you stupid girl, how could you and you're an idiot. And you know

things that just went far beyond the actual performance that I think we're very unnecessary. And just negative fans that you

have to deal with. And digging yourself out of the idea that this is not who I am. This does not define me and what those

people are saying about me is not the thing that is most important. It's about who I believe I am you know how I decide to

bounce back from this catastrophe. And the way that I move forward that's going to build me and make me a stronger person.

Laura:

[00:10:16] So those next four years you went pro. I'm guessing at that point you did kind of become professional. You made

another Olympic team in 2008 and again it seems like it was kind of a mixed bag. I mean you got fourth in the individual but

that's you know short of the medals had three Jamaican runners that were in front of you. And then in the relay again like you

were the anchor and there was a mix up in the semifinals. And your teammate dropped the baton and like you had to pick it up

and you guys finished but you got queued. Because you had to run outside of the lane in order to pick up the baton. Like I

found a quote that you had about this that I just thought was so well said that I would love you to talk on. You said it's a pretty

big deal when you're the person that was accountable for the demise of an opportunity. Not only for us to win a gold medal but

to possibly break a world record because we had to really fast teams. Both of those years and I felt very alone at that moment.

Like how. I mean I know you said you've got a fine figure out that this doesn't define you but I mean it happened again. And

like how do you have people speaking into you or you isolated? Like what did it look like walking out those days afterward?

Lauren:

[00:11:21] You know I'm very fortunate to have a really good team around me. And have a really good set of friends to kind of

keep me lifted up in moments like that. But it's definitely really tough even despite my faith and belief to just walk away and

kind of let that roll off your shoulders. You know you work so hard. You want to do well for not just yourself but for those that

you're competing with. You do want to represent your country to the best of your ability. And at that moment you feel like you

feel that all of those things and you just want to hit the rewind button. You're like Why is there not a rewind somewhere.

[00:12:00] But yeah working through it just takes a little bit of time and takes you know sticking to this idea that you know

some negative things are going to happen but these things are something to build on. They're not something to continue to hold

you down or they're not something to kind of wallow in and stay there. So I'd say like yeah do I walk through the valley of the

shadow of death. I always tell people in speeches and things that's like it's walkthrough. It doesn't say like stop and set up camp

there. Doesn't say go hang out in the valley of the shadow.

Laura:

[00:12:34] That's so good.

Lauren:

[00:12:36] So just giving yourself those constant reminders that yeah it stinks. But keep going.

Laura:

[00:12:43] Did you keep going after Beijing? Because I know you finished your masters and then you took a whole year off in

  1. So did you keep training kind of after and then take a break or what how did that play out?

Lauren:

[00:12:53] Yeah. So my dad passed away in 2008 shortly after those games so to add insult to injury. He passed away in that

year and it was just a little bit tough to digest. It was May of the following year 2009 when it really kind of hit me. And I think

you know people grieve differently so often. And you never really know what it's going to mean. Or what it's going to feel like

for you when you lose someone that's very close to you. And you know I was just kind of be-bopping along and pretending as

if nothing had happened. And I went to call him I was on my way to practice in 2009 and picked up the phone and like you

know doubt it. Was like waiting for it to ring and then I realized like oh I can't call someone who's dead.

[00:13:42] And it kind of just like splitting me into like a spiraling few months of you know the actual real grieving process.

And wondering you know like what is life all about anyway. Who am I outside of running up and down this track? And you

know getting these accolades. And you know being judge or feeling as if I'm judged so harshly. Or so it was with so much

weight by the world because of my ability to run up and down the track. And you know you meet people and you know doctors

and lawyers and other people that are contributing to society. And it's like what does this mean? What am I contributing by

running up and down this track?

[00:14:20] And so I took that year off in 2010 to really just kind of try to find that answer for myself you know who am I

outside of this. Because I'm not finding that I'm anything other than an athlete. And I really. I know there's more but I don't

know what else I am and I want to take time to figure that out. And what I did during that all fear was spent a lot of time

talking to other people about you know how they got where they were. So there's a young lady that owns a hotel. And how do

you come to own a hotel? And her story was just you know all sorts of different things. And she didn't go to college for hotel

ownership. And then get out of school and work in a hotel and then become a hotel owner you know.

[00:14:58] It was a very very winding wavy story. And then you realize that you know you're not you know there's no linear

path to anything that you're doing. And you get to write your story. You get to decide who you are and what you want to be in.

And there's nothing that you can't do if you set your mind to it. And it's not just in saying that about sport it's about saying that

in life and deciding. Then what do you want to do? What do you want to set your mind to? And so that's kind of what was

happening for me in the 2010 year with me figuring all that out.

Laura:

[00:15:30] I love that. And what did you find out? Who are you? What did you discover during that time? I’ve loaded question

I know.

Lauren:

[00:15:39] Right. Exactly. I found out that who I am is ever evolving. That from one day to the next I am growing into who I'm

going to be. And that there doesn't have to be a set definition on that. I think that's one of the things we're always trying to fit

ourselves into a box. Wears the appropriate label that I'm supposed to be wearing right now. And there is no one thing that you

are you know. Like if you went through you could say you know a woman, dog lover, wife you know. And the list goes on of

all these different things you know. Law and order lover, podcaster, a financial planner but you don't need to fit into a box. And

for one day it makes one of those things my drop off and somebody else might be added to the mix. Each and every day is a

process of like you know being the best me that I can be. It's not really about you know fitting into anyone else's box or

creating boxes for myself.

Laura:

[00:16:36] So good. And so what made you in 2011 return to competition?

Lauren:

[00:16:42] I just knew that I wasn't done yet. You know I just I decided like you said that though this is not who I am in its

entirety. That it is a part of who I am. Track and field. And that I had more to give. I had more that I wanted to accomplish. I

had plenty of potentials inside. And that I wanted to go after reaching my full potential. And I wanted to really like walk away

by saying I have left it all on the track. And so I went back to the sport with that as the intention. And I did have a completely

different mindset when I think when I return the sport. Knowing that that was not like said the end all be all. And though I

didn't know what was coming next. That the end was closer than I was closer to the end than I was to the beginning. And that I

had better make the most of these opportunities.

[00:17:34] So I think my attitude changed quite a bit. I was a lot more grateful to those that I was around for their contribution

to you know me being able to compete. So you don't realize sometimes or you know because we're athletes and you know I'd

do an individual sport. It's a lot of me thinking about me. But the number of hours that someone else has to spend for me to be

able to reach my full potential. My coach has to write a workout. She has to watch the film. She has to show that practice with

me you know travel and be away from her family. And the way Coach does the same thing. You know the nutritionist is doing

similar things. And so really just like the kind of tuning into all that was around me and all that I had to be grateful for. And all

those people were pouring into me.

[00:18:16] I was a lot more aware and a lot more focused on showing gratitude and appreciation for my ability to be able to

compete. So I'd get to a track meet and remember to thank the volunteers. Because a lot of track and field is volunteer oriented.

And you know where they said busy Russian or we're mad at them because they telling us. We can't go over here and we need

to warm up over there. And you know it's like these are real people and take a moment to be present at the moment and realize

that. And I think it just created like set new energy for me as I return a sport.

Laura:

[00:18:51] That's so cool. And so how did that I guess change things? Because you did make another Olympic team in 2012.

Like, walk us through what this new attitude? This new kind of outlook on life. Like how did that affect your games in

London?

Lauren:

[00:19:06] I think it helped quite a bit because you know part of that story is I didn't make the Olympic team in my individual

event I made it only part of the relay. And so you know it's a tough pill to swallow. Initially that you didn't make it for your

individual event you know you could have been left at home but. And despite my failures you know 0-4 we dropped the baton,

0-8 we dropped the baton. Despite both of those being the situation and me being directly involved in both of those situations

they still thought enough of me to bring me as part of the relay. They thought that I had enough experience. They valued the

experiences that I had and wanted me to share that because most of the other team was brand new. They'd never been on an

Olympic team before. So here they are with this opportunity to be a part of the relay but they don't have any experience on this

stage. And I have not just experience but experience in the worst kind of way.

[00:20:00] So I can tell you exactly what to do to avoid ending up in the situation that I ended up in. And you know maturing

to a point to understand that has value. It was a really big part of the puzzle for me. Knowing that you know there's something

and being able to explain to them why we should not go about it this way. Why our chemistry needs to be really great. Why we

need to communicate with one another. Because that negative energy that we took on the track in 0-4 in 0-8 definitely played a

role in our failure. And I think you know that it was really important to contribute to our success in 2012.

Laura:

[00:20:36] Yeah I would say it’s successful. I mean I think our leadership and your wisdom that you learn along the way

obviously helped you guys walked away with a gold medal. Like what did that getting that gold medal means to you?

Lauren:

[00:20:50] I would say at the moment like you said it's been a process of me maturing to understanding and really getting

meaning from the metal. But at the moment I wasn't ready to accept. I felt really embarrassed and ashamed like you said the

way that I just described the medal to you now is where I've evolved to understanding. Like what my contribution was and

why it was valuable. But initially I felt kind of fraudulent. I felt like I didn't earn that medal. So the way that goes is there's six

of us that get to go as part of the relay. And two of us competed in only the first round while the other two are resting because

they were also running the open hundred meters. So I contributed in the first round which is an important thing because if you

don't get it around in the first round there is no second round.

Laura:

[00:21:34] Right.

Lauren:

[00:21:35] But you know the actual group that won the gold medal ran the final. Broke the world record. You know I wasn't on

that team. And so I felt a little bit weird initially to say that I was an Olympic gold medalist when I knew I didn't do the final

part of the race. I felt a little weird to call myself a world record holder when I was not actually on the track and you know

doing my part to contribute there. But as like I said I started to think about like the contributions. And you know having talks

with others. And you know just realizing how different that games was than the others. And you know like one of the girls

coming up to me later and saying you know thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. You know it was really

frustrating when this happened or whatever and you helped me understand it. I realized that that was valuable and that was a

contribution and that helped her be able to compete hard to the best of her ability.

Laura:

[00:22:30] That's awesome. I guess sometimes it really is hard in those moments but I love that you can look back and see all

that you really did add to that. Because without leadership and without somebody guiding and directing. I mean who knows

what would have happened right? We need all of those things to come into play at the right time to happen. So what happened

after London? Because I think you retired from the track but something else kind of started to take a play and I want to know

how all of this unfolded?

Lauren:

[00:22:56] So I was thinking about giving up the sport. So London came and went and I had one season left as per my contract.

And I thought it was kind of the perfect timing because you know I could see and feel the end was near. As it pertains to my

ability to focus and really give all I needed to give to be a professional athlete. I knew that you know I can continue to compete

for 5 years at a mediocre rate or I could stop because I wasn't 100 percent. And my idea was you know make the most of this

last year of competing and then you know to move on with life. And while I was in my last year of competition I ran into Lolo

Jones at the airport and had read an article about her having tried bobsled after the 2012 Games. And just wanted to hear more

about her experience and how that happened and she was like Lauren it's awesome it's really really cool you should try it. And

it's the Olympic year and I was like so? I just got to be something cool to do in my free time. Now that I'm getting ready to

retire I wasn't thinking anything about the Olympics. And so yeah I reached out to find out what the process was and a month

later I was at the Olympic trials for bobsled and.

Laura:

[00:24:12] A month later?

Lauren:

[00:24:13] A month later. Yeah.

Laura:

[00:24:16] Goodness.

Lauren:

[00:24:16] No. Yeah. So that was. Yeah. From you know June of 2014 to June of 2013. July of 2013 I was there and I was

trying out and the Olympics were six months later. So immediately I showed up I got third place and I had a really steep

learning curve over the next six months.

Laura:

[00:24:38] I would imagine that's insane. That's insane. And now how did you get partnered with Alona too because you guys

were obviously an amazing team. Like how does that all work out in the bobsled world? Do they pick your teammate for you

or do you guys kind of all work together? What does that look like?

Lauren:

[00:24:54] We do a little bit of round robin in those 6 months that I was telling you about. So we were racing a World Cup

season that takes place before you get to the games and that plays into your rankings and you know where you'll go in the

process as a driver. But we did a lot of round robin to figure out who was gonna be best suited to who. And we actually did not

know until 10 days before the actual Olympics who was going to race with who.

Laura:

[00:25:20] Just 10 days? Whoa! that's crazy. So what. I mean did hearing the news that you're going to be on the Olympic team

and getting to walk this out was it just surreal? I mean here you were your whole life doing track and three Olympic Games

that way. And then all sudden you know in a month you're on this Olympic team and you're. I mean I can't even imagine. How

did you process that?

Lauren:

[00:25:44] So do I. Like I said it all happened really really quick from you know finding out about it. A month later being at

the trials to having 6 months to figure the whole thing out to be in a month before the Olympic Games. And we're all still

sitting and wait in you know anticipation. Trying to figure out like who are they going to pick. They finally named the team.

But then you still had to wait 20 more days to find out. You know, now you're on the team but you still don't know you're

racing with. So there's a lot of hurry up and wait anticipation and this big build of energy that's always happening in bobsled.

But it's just really about trying to figure out how to manage that to the best of your ability to kind of enjoy the ride. And I think

that was the thing that helped me a lot was I decided at the very beginning of it that I had nothing to lose.

[00:26:38] I only had things to gain and that the journey was going to be the thing that was going to be more important to me

than anything. What can I contribute? And I think that that 2012 experience of knowing that I wasn't competing but I could still

contribute. Help me understand that that's all that this was about. Is there a way I can contribute? Is there a way I can help this

team? And if you know if there's a way I can help but it doesn't require me to be on the actual track or on the actual team? Then

so be it. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Team USA has the best 6 people out there.

Laura:

[00:27:15] That's so cool. Now I have to know because I've only been a summer athlete. What's the difference besides the

freezing cold? It's not like Miami. What's the difference between the summer and winter games? From your perspective?

Lauren:

[00:27:28] I would say that intimacy is the biggest thing. So I always tell people like I remember one of the years. I think they

said the track and field team was 182 people. So just USA Track and Field 182 people for the Olympics. The Winter Olympic

team all sports 230 people.

Laura:

[00:27:51] Wow.

Lauren:

[00:27:52] So it really puts in perspective. You know all the various sports that compete in the Olympic Games in the summer.

All the various sports for Team USA. You know there's thousands and thousands of athletes. But yeah one team in the summer

is pretty much equivalent to the whole Olympic team. All sports in the winter.

Laura:

[00:28:13] Wow that's cool. That's very cool. Well, you guys went on to mean not just compete but you got a silver medal in

the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Just one-tenth of a second behind the Canadians. Like what did that medal mean to

you and how is that different from all your other experiences?

Lauren:

[00:28:31] I mean the thing that was really cool about the medal was like I said I'd never seen it coming. I could have never

guessed that my life was going to take that turn and bring me such a cool opportunity. And to have the opportunity to get to do

it with Alona who is an amazing person made it that much more gratifying. Because we did it together. And you know in track

and field I didn't really get that opportunity. I had the individual medals and then I got to be a part of a team and do my

contribution there. But then this was like the end of the third time. Making me well-rounded if you will of actually competing

with another person and earning that medal together. And it just felt so great to be able to do something with someone and to

understand what it means to like partner up. And decide to really go hard for it for a specific purpose with another person.

Laura:

[00:29:30] That's so cool. And you made history and doing that she became the first American woman to win medals at both

the Summer and Winter Olympics. And one of only five athletes ever to do it at all. I mean that's incredible. Did you realize

you were making history when you did this?

Lauren:

[00:29:44] I did not. It did not come to my attention until the reporters brought it up afterward. What does it mean to you to

make history and I'm like What kind of history? I don't know. So.

Laura:

[00:29:56] That’s so cool. Well OK. So tell me now you have a financial planning business called Worth Winning. Tell us

about your company.

Lauren:

[00:30:04] Yes. So my company was born out of me not having the best financial planners during my career. So I worked with

two different gentlemen during the course of my career and I wanted to be responsible with my finances. But they didn't really

understand what I needed as an athlete. You know what I needed as a 20 year old who didn't know a whole lot about money.

And you know my busy travel schedule and you know there's just a lot that doesn't fit into the traditional box of what financial

planning is. So I help young professionals and professional athletes organize their finances and you know what does that mean.

That's like creating a budget you never bought a house before and that's something you want to do. If you're saving for a

wedding you know you don't know anything about how to put money aside for taxes. And you know do you need a business

account or not. And there's just so many different things that get thrown our direction. And just kind of make money, spend

money, you know hopefully save a little bit money and you know that's not a real strategy.

[00:31:05] I help people optimize their finances so use them money, give it a job and give it a job that's gonna be in line with

your values. So I spend a lot of time talking with my athletes and the young professionals that I work with. About what are

your goals? What are your values? The same way that we do in the sport. Let's work backward from there and create smaller

goals. Smaller things that we want to do. And then go you know piece by piece after that so that we can you know the

championship is this one thing that you're trying to achieve. But once again it's never like making it to the podium that makes

you feel awesome. Is this journey all along the way? And so using money as a tool to really enjoy the journey is how I try to

focus my business and help people in all aspects of their finances.

Laura:

[00:31:50] My goodness I love that on so many levels. I mean I love just what you're doing. I love who you're targeting to

help. I mean there's definitely that need there. I mean a lot of people like you said are young when they become professional

athletes. Because that's usually when an athletic career is optimal when you're young and you don't know anything. So I just

think it's brilliant. I love how you compare it to athletics in such a way that we can understand. And I think you do a lot of stuff

virtually too right?

Lauren:

[00:32:12] Yeah I'm completely virtual. I'm actually podcasting today from Buenos Aires. So.

Laura:

[00:32:16] Oh wow. We should've done this on location. I should have come down to you. That would be nice.

Lauren:

[00:32:25] You know as young professionals we are tech savvy. We're on the go. We're spread out all over the country. And I

didn't want that to stop me from being able to serve the client that I want to serve. And we jump on a video chat just like zoom

and we talk about what needs to be talked about. And there's no dumb question. And there's no you know fancy suit and tie that

needs to be worn. You know people's kids are running around in the background. These things shouldn't be barriers. You

getting help and getting the answers that you need about your finances. And it should be talked about in such a way that you

don't understand it in. It sounds so fancy and complicated.

[00:33:00] You know we've got basic questions and I really just want to help with basic questions. When I was competing and I

wasn't finding that. I was frequently finding you know there like I said fancy talk down to me it sounds more complicated than

you can understand. Because you're not smart enough and I'm like No that's not true at all. Like, break it down in a way that

lets me know what I'm doing. Why we're doing this? And you know helped me set some goals so that I'm gonna be OK in the

future.

Laura:

[00:33:25] I love it. Sports just. Yes. It can play off in your life in so many ways. And it's just such a good analogy for life

right? You could just use it in so many ways. I love it. And you also have a podcast now you said it's a year it's been a year

now. So happy anniversary to your podcast called Worth Listening. What do you talk about on your podcast?

Lauren:

[00:33:42] Yes. I love love love love my podcast. And the reason that I love it is like a passion project for me. It is encouraging

others to discuss money and I think that's one of the big barriers that we have in organizing our finances nowadays. Because

we all know that everybody has to make money some sort of way. Everybody has to spend money on some sort of way. And

there's no requirement that you hire a financial planner or someone to help you. But what people do is hide the information and

they are afraid to say what they don't know and they're ashamed of all these different things. And that's what actually leaves

you making more mistakes is hiding, being embarrassed not feeling like you can be open. And feeling like you have to know

everything and you can't ask anyone anything. And so my podcast is based all around people telling their money story. So that

the listeners don't have to feel alone and like oh I have student loan debt too that six figures. And you know this is how I'm

tackling it. And you know I don't know what a 401(k) is but I know I'm putting some money in it. And you know now this

person help me break it down a little bit.

[00:34:48] So it's getting rid of all those barriers of things that could stop you from being able to save for your future or being

able to get over the fact that you've made some mistakes before and really move forward. You know I had a girl on recently

that I met paid down over 50,000 dollars in credit card debt. And I think a lot of people get in a situation like that and they just

you know maybe file for bankruptcy. Or they would never even say anything to anyone. But this girl decided to make a

mindset change and pay it all back and get rid of it and you know to change the way that she was going to think about money

in the future. And I think that's a really inspirational story to tell. She didn't have to be a financial expert to inspire people to do

the right thing and to get on some sort of plan. So the podcast is all about like I said having money. Discussions and

encouraging others to be more open and honest about sharing what they know and educating one another about finances.

Laura:

[00:35:42] And if that's not having this new business in your podcast you're also releasing a book very soon called the Oval

Office. A 4 time Olympians guide to professional track and field. So tell us about your book that's coming.

Lauren:

[00:35:56] The book. Yes. This is another thing that I'm really excited about we are just days away. Actually spent the whole

morning on the last round of edits and sent it off to the designer to redo and get it to look like a book. Because right now it's

like a document and yet again another passion project. There are so many people in track and field that are just like how do you

navigate this world and they have questions. And there's no guide. There's nothing that tells you to like how do you become a

professional track and field athlete? And what do I need to know and how can I be responsible for managing all these different

aspects? And what questions should I be asking my agent? What should I consider before I buy a house and then decide that

I'm going to go train with this coach instead. And now I'm stuck with a house in this state and got to pay rent in this day.

[00:36:42] And there's just so many different things that I learned during my time competing that I felt like I needed to share.

And it wasn't just gonna be a one hour talk and you know try to change someone's life. But like why not give them the

roadmap to the things that I felt like I was missing in addition to the things that I felt like I did really well. And that's how the

Oval Office was born. And I'm really really really excited about the way that it's going to change the lives of those or interested

in the sport. Obviously not going to be like a New York Times bestseller. Track and field is a very small sport but it matters so

much to me that they'll have a resource available to them to help them understand better how to navigate sport.

Laura:

[00:37:23] I think it's amazing. It sounds like you don't just have to be a track and field athlete. I mean I'm looking at the

highlights that you had on the Web site. I mean it's like how to choose the members of your team including your agent, your

coach, your training group. How do you negotiate sponsorships and contracts? And handling your finances like a professional

athlete. Building your brand using social media. Managing travel nutrition life outside of sports. I mean to me it sounds like it's

gonna be helpful to any professional athlete. So I'm gonna have to preorder a copy because I know you can. So tell us where

we can find your book your podcast. Your company. All of your online things where we can follow you to continue to just be

inspired and to learn from you because you obviously have a lot of great wisdom to teach us.

Lauren:

[00:38:03] Definitely. So the book is The-Oval-office.com. So all of my web sites have a little dash in the middle because you

know to buy the actual website was a bazillion dollars. But we've kept it all consistent so whatever words I say put a dash in

the middle in between and get to the .com and you're there. So Lauren-Williams.com is my personal Web site is all about me as

an Olympian and being a speaker and consulting and things like that. And then Worth-Winning.com is a website for financial

planning all things financial planning. And so you can find us on social media looking for the same sort of thing. So

Worth_Winning on Twitter, @worthwinning on Instagram. Lauren C. Williams on all the social media platforms so that's the

one thing that's a little bit different. But I'm sure that all the initial notes. So.

Laura:

[00:38:54] Yeah. We'll make sure to link to everything you guys don't get confused. But Lauren thank you so much for coming

  1. You're an incredible inspiration. I feel like you're a great teacher as well and so we just really appreciate all of your wisdom

here today.

Lauren:

[00:39:06] It was wonderful being on the show. Like I said I hope that I can inspire and I'm just really excited to be kind of in

the next phase of life where I can give back to the sport because the sport has given so much to me.

Laura:

[00:39:19] Wow! A huge thanks to Lauren for joining us today. Isn't she just incredible? I just love how she talked about taking

that time off in 2010 to really dig into her purpose and figure out what life was about outside of running. It's so neat how that

journey just drastically changed who she was going into the next Olympics. The gratitude leadership and composure that her

solid identity gave her. It really allowed her to ride the waves of the coming years towards all of the amazing things that she's

doing now. She's just incredible. Be sure to check out the links the show notes to follow on social media. And if you're an

athlete definitely snag a copy of her book because that knowledge will be so invaluable for you and for the athletes out there

looking to improve their athletic performance with a purpose. I'm offering a free life masterclass where all talk about five

common mistakes athletes makes that hinder success. If you're ready for a change and want the skills to take your performance

to the next level then I want you to go and sign up. LauraWilkinson.com/masterclass. That's LauraWilkinson.com/masterclass

to sign up for my free live masterclass on five common mistakes athletes make that hinder success. I'll see you there! And be

sure to subscribe so you don't miss next week's episode because we have an absolutely insane athlete joining us. David Colturi

was once just a 10-meter platform diver like myself. But apparently that wasn't quite enough of a thrill. He is now a cliff diver

and travels internationally diving from nearly nine stories high. I'm sure you're wondering how he does it. I am too. You don't

want to miss it. On behalf of Hope Sports, I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks for tuning in and have a great week. This podcast is

produced by Evo Terra in Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please

visit HopeSports.org

 

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About This Episode

The youngest of nine kids, Dan Jansen was no stranger to tagging along, and in rural Wisconsin that usually meant to the ice. He got on his first pair of skates as a toddler and whizzed around frozen lakes and ponds. He tried other sports over the years, but always came back to skating where he was unmatched in speed for his age. In 1984 at only 18 years old, Jansen went to his first Olympics in Sarajevo and fondly remembers the care-free experience. Because he was relatively unknown, there was no pressure to reach the podium and he could fully enjoy the opening and closing ceremonies, the camaraderie between athletes, and the magic of the games. His goal was to be in the top ten fastest times in the 500 meter event and he ended up coming in fourth, just barely missing bronze. Dan returned home elated and proud of his finish at his first Olympics, but, for the first time, was faced with public perception and media scrutiny. For while his expectations were exceeded, others appeared disappointed that he didn’t medal at the games.

Knowing the podium was within reach, Dan poured even more into his training. He won the World Championship in 1988 and was favored to win in the 500m that winter at the Olympics games in Calgary. “Going in favored to win is one of the hardest things an athlete can do,” recalls Jansen. The awe of the games was long gone, as he was down to business, focused on his race, eyes on gold. Despite the fact that he was skating incredibly that week, there was something weighing heavy on his mind. Back home his older sister, Jane, had been battling leukemia for over a year. After receiving rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, she was in stable condition when Dan bid her goodbye before leaving for Calgary. But his dad, who had been with him at the games, was called back home before Dan’s race to be with her as she took a turn for the worse. On the morning of the race, February 14, Dan got a call at 6:00 am that she had passed away.

Racked by the shock of her dead, Dan barely managed to eat breakfast before returning to his room and collapsing into tears. Four hours before the start he summoned the strength to put on his uniform and lace up his skates. There was much debate over whether or not he should even compete, but knowing that Jane was his biggest fan, the family assured him that it’s what she would have wanted. Stepping on to the ice, his legs felt like lead, exhausted by the emotions of the day. He did his best to loosen up, but stepped up to the starting line feeling disoriented--and crashed just 100 meters into the 500 meter race.

Three days later, once the initial shock had worn off, Dan found himself on the ice again preparing for the 1000 meter race. He considered leaving between the two events, but his family and coach encouraged him to finish his races before returning. As he stepped on to the ice, he felt more physically prepared, but his heart was still with his family. Again, he fell on a turn and recalls, “I just wanted to be home.” He got off the ice, packed his bag, and was home that evening without any goodbyes, not caring in the least the outcome.

When he was twelve his dad once told him, “there’s more to life than skating in little circles,” and that never felt more true. Dan took time to be with his family after his sister’s death and went back to skating because, “I just didn’t know what else to do.” He buried himself in training and competing and even won a World Cup that year, but admitted that he skated to avoid facing the pain. Wanting to distance himself from his reality, he enrolled in the University of Calgary and intended to train there as well. When he arrived the following fall and stepped on to the same track, all of the trauma of race day came flooding back. Even though it was a year later, Dan finally had to wrestle with his grief.

Dan arrived at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville on the heels of a new World Record he set while dominating the international circuit across Europe. He refers to the 92 Games as the most “puzzling” of his Olympics. Perhaps it was overconfidence or over-resting, but he lost his typical spark and missed the podium in both events. Befuddled and frustrated, Dan left the games and again faced media scrutiny for his performance. Reporters even referred to him as “The Big Choke” of the games as, once again, he didn’t race to his potential.

On his way to the 1996 Olympics in Lillehamer, Dan got married and welcome his daughter, Jane, named after his sister. The five fastest times ever skated in the 500 meters all belonged to him, so truly, this was a race against himself. He fully expected the journey to come to a happy ending, but pushed himself too hard and caught the edge of his skate on a turn causing a wobble that would, again, cost him a medal. Despite his initial frustration, Jansen was in a different position mentally. “I thought to myself, ‘it was one place that you slipped, it doesn’t mean you are not skating well.’”, he said. He knew that public perception would be relentless about his loss, but he could still walk away proud of his career even without an Olympic medal. He walked into the 1000 meter race, the final professional race of his life, knowing that if he did his best, he could retire happy. He had seized the power to define success for himself. When he crossed the finish line and saw the World Record time, he knew that this race would finally deliver that long awaited medal. Even his rivals were thrilled for him, one pulling him aside to say, “It’s about time.” As he stood at the top of the podium soaking in the National Anthem, he recalled all of the people who helped him along the way to this moment - the trainers, coaches, friends, and family--especially his sister Jane.

Leaving Lillehamer, “it was like a weight off of my shoulders,” he says. He may have retired, but he did not slow down. The Dan Jansen Foundation was soon established to help support non-medical costs for families with loved ones battling cancer. Everything from hospital stays, to food, to transportation - Dan knew first hand what a toll cancer takes on an entire family. He continues to advocate and fundraise for research for leukemia as well as speak around the world. “If you use your sport to make you a better person, then you’ve won,” he says. Through the ups and downs, victories and pitfalls, Dan’s perseverance shaped his character and has become his legacy.
Find out more about the Dan Jansen Foundation and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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About This Episode

Before most people could doggy paddle, Dana Vollmer was swimming competitively. The daughter of a swim coach, she was in the water at such an early age that she cannot even explicitly remember learning how. By age eleven she was swimming year round and at age twelve she stepped on to the block at her first Olympic trials. A self described “feisty competitor”, Dana always focused on her times, never her age, and was frustrated to not make the team that year. Her father gently reminded her that, although she took 49th place, that meant that 51 other elite athletes had just been beaten by a twelve year old.

In the wake of the Olympic trials, Dana decided to train even harder, with her hopes set on the 2004 games in Athens. One afternoon during training when she was 14, her heart rate soared and wouldn’t slow down. This happened several more times and prompted a trip to a cardiologist where it was discovered that she had an extra electrical pathway in her heart. She had immediate surgery to correct the issue, but still had other markers for a genetic heart disorder that was known to cause sudden death in young athletes. It was the advice of her doctors that she give up swimming entirely.

Weighing Dana’s dreams with the potentially tragic outcome was incredibly difficult. But at the end of the day, “my parents did not want fear to control my life,” says Dana. They decided to let their daughter continue doing what she loved, but in the safest way possible. That meant her mother sat poolside at every practice with a defibrillator clenched in her hands in the event that her daughter’s heart stopped mid-race. Year after year the risks lingered over her as she swam. It wasn’t until she interviewed her mother for a medical research paper in college that Dana truly understood her mom’s position. “She managed to shield her fear from me so that I didn’t carry it,” says Dana. Her mother used to check on her at night to make sure she was still breathing, didn’t ever want to her to anything scary or startling, and, quite literally, held her daughter’s life in her hand at every meet.

Putting health concerns aside, at age sixteen Dana stepped back on to the block at another Olympic trials. This time, however, she was older, more mature, and learned how to focus on just her race. Not only did she make the team, but won Olympic gold in the 4x200 relay and set a new World Record. She headed home overwhelmed, proud, and straight into the halls of a typical high school. “It felt like half the school loved me for what I had done -- and half hated me,” she says. She struggled with how to be herself--an athlete and a normal teenager--within the public eye. A disc injury in her back completely threw her training for the year and added another component of uncertainty. Eager to move on from the awkward season she was in, she graduated high school a year early and headed to the University of Florida. Amidst a new team, new coaches, and new friends, she felt even greater pressure to live up to her reputation. The mismatch she felt with the training program and the staff compelled her to transfer to Cal-Berkeley after just one year.

Despite the improved fit at Cal-Berkeley, she was still grappling internally with her interpretation of other people’s expectations and with her fragmented identity. At her third Olympic trials in 2008, “I was in tears behind my goggles before I even swam,” she shares. The World Record holder failed to make the Olympic team in every single one of her events. Ashamed and disappointed, Dana went to stay with a friend, hoping to just disappear. Two of her coaches, Terry McKeever and Milt Nelms, recognized that she needed to get away from competition and gain some perspective. Milt founded a “Learn to Swim” program in Fiji, an island nation with huge drowning rates, and invited Dana to join on an upcoming trip. She spent time teaching others how to swim and said, “It was amazing to realize that it wasn’t all about Olympic level swimming.” For once it wasn’t about proving herself or finishing with a certain time - it was about doing something for others that made a difference. She specifically remembers a final open water relay race from island to island with the students. In the midst of the beautiful ocean, with the fish and the sky and new friends, far outside of her bubble, she remembered that she truly just loved to swim. And she wasn’t ready to be done.

She returned to California with a fresh understanding that it was her mentality, not her physicality that needed a reform. Other areas of her life began to get the attention that they needed. She worked with a therapist, got married, sorted out food sensitivities, and balanced her training. “I took a look at my entire life, realizing that everything impacts how you race and how you train. All areas need to be happy to be the best athlete that you can be,” she says. And the results spoke for themselves. At the 2012 Olympics in London Dana won three gold medals and set two more World Records. In retrospect, Dana says that she wouldn’t be the athlete she is today if it weren’t for missing the Olympic team in 2008.

She briefly considered retiring after such a successful 2012 games, but the momentum was too alluring. Although she made the World Championships the following year, nagging shoulder and back issues needed to be tended to. She never actually signed retirement papers, but decided to take a break to see what life was like outside of competitive athletics. She studied architecture and design, bought a house in the suburbs, and became pregnant with her first son. During the final eight weeks of her pregnancy she was put on strict bedrest. Sitting still was brutal, and after giving birth she hopped back in the water to get back in shape the only way she knew how. The 2016 Olympic trials were only a year away, but she committed to train for them. “It wasn’t about the goal, it was about the lifestyle I wanted to have,” she says. She knew that she was the best version of herself when she live an intentionally balanced life - and that included swimming.

Dana was elated to make the 2016 Olympic team, but heading back to training camp as a mom had its unique challenges. Not many swimmers had families and she had to advocate for time with her son and a training regimen that fit her postpartum. Again, Dana medaled large in Rio de Janeiro, taking home gold, silver, and bronze medals. But participating as a mother changed the way that she related with her teammates, trained, and viewed competition. Out of her own longing for community, Dana has started the Power of Mom movement to help give a voice, encouragement, and motivation to elite athletes who are mothers and may feel isolated in their sport. She even took her family to Denmark to spend time training with one of her former rivals who also recently had a daughter, but still has Olympic dreams for 2020.

At each competition, Dana still feels the results-based mindset start to creep back in. She has to resist the temptation to analyze others’ expectations and constantly let go of the need to prove herself. “I always have to step back and realize that this is about my journey, racing, and doing what I love,” she says. She believes that there is a faster butterfly technique out there and is determined to discover it as she aspires to the Olympics in Beijing. These days, however, training looks like family trips to camps, workouts around her kids’ schedules, and swimming in the open ocean. But now, more than ever, her life is full of things she loves.

For more about Dana and to be a part of her journey, check out her website and follower her on Instagram.

 

Follow online:

 

IG: @dana.vollmer

Danavollmer.com

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Laura:

[00:00:05] Welcome to the hope sports podcast where elite athletes recount the challenges and experience that have shaped them both as competitors and as people. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. This week's guest was just 12 years old when she swam at her first Olympic trials. And as of today she's won a total of 32 medals in major international competition including seven Olympic medals. I'm so excited to have Dana Vollmer with us today sharing about the ups and downs of her incredible career. She has swam through a life threatening heart condition falling short of making the Olympic team mid career and becoming a mother to two beautiful boys. And still she swims on inspiring us with her optimism and aspirations and desire to unite a very unique set of athletes.

 

[00:00:51] And 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 Diana. I'm glad you're here. Now let's dive on in. Dana Vollmer welcome to the hope sports podcast are so excited to have you on today.

 

Dana:

[00:01:07] Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:01:09] Now for those listening who may not know too much about you. Can you kind of tell us how you got your start in swimming.?

 

Dana:

[00:01:15] Yeah I actually was in my first competition when I was 4. For my mom was a swim coach. I don't actually remember learning how to swim. I have just always been around the water and always had a love for being in there.

 

Laura:

[00:01:28] Oh that's awesome. I don't think I could swim at 4. Not at all. Not even strokes.

 

Dana:

[00:01:31] Yeah. So then it was just a summer league team until I was eleven and then I transition to year-round swimming. And when we moved down to Texas and actually made my first Olympic trials at twelve and then still competing today. So many many years later. OK so first Olympic trials at twelve years old. I mean did you even understand the hugeness of that.

 

Laura:

[00:01:48] OK so first Olympic trials at twelve years old. I mean did you even understand the hugeness of that? What was that like for you?

 

Dana:

[00:01:58] You know I don't think I fully comprehended what it meant to make that time standard to be at the Olympic trials. But I mean I was feisty competitive little thing and just always trying to get best times. And that was the gold time that was set in front of me. And when I was a little 12year old walking around with her board on deck getting everyone to sign it and in all of everyone.

 

Laura:

[00:02:20] That's awesome!

 

Dana:

[00:02:23] And. But yet I remember walking away so mad that I didn't make an Olympic team and I got 49th place and.

 

Laura:

[00:02:30] Oh man.

 

Dana:

[00:02:31] My dad had to remind me that 51 women just got beat by a 12year old and sick to go back home and train. And so it's come full circle now that I see these youngsters coming up and beating me at the competition.

 

Laura:

[00:02:46] Oh man. That is cool. That is cool. OK well it's also just two years after that you're 14 and you get a kind of scary health diagnosis. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

 

Dana:

[00:02:55] Yeah I was in the middle of training and my heart rate spiked to 250 and we couldn't get it to come back down. And it actually happened a couple of times. Once when I was sitting on the couch watching TV. Once when I was jumping rope. Once when I was in the pool. And so we immediately went to the cardiologist and it turned out that I had an extra electrical pathway in my heart. And so we ended up during surgery they went in through my from your artery and cauterize it wasn't open heart surgery or anything. They cauterize that electrical pathway and I didn't have that racing heartbeat anymore. But through testing, they had seen random patterns of what they call long QT syndrome. And so that that was the scariest part for us. That's known as one of the leading causes of sudden death in athletes.

 

Laura:

[00:03:42] Oh Wow.

 

Dana:

[00:03:43] And luckily now all these years later they now have a genetic test for that and it turns out that I don't have it.

 

Laura:

[00:03:50] Wow!

 

Dana:

[00:03:51] So that was a huge relief to us. We just found out actually through prenatal testing for my second child that I officially didn't have that genetic marker.

 

Laura:

[00:03:59] Wow. Because after that your mom had to carry a defibrillator to every single practice and competition you went to right? Like just in case?

 

Dana:

[00:04:07] Yeah. Just in case something happened. I refused to touch it as a 14year old. It was just too scary I think for me to process. So I really felt the strength that my mom had and taking that on and letting me still train and letting me compete. And she was right there clutching this defibrillator hoping that nothing happened and luckily nothing ever did.

 

Laura:

[00:04:28] Well how did you guys make that decision? Because I can't. I mean you're a mom now too. I can't imagine being faced with that for my kid. I mean can you kind of walk me through those perspectives like what were or was it even not a question for you? I don't. I don't know.

 

Dana:

[00:04:42] Well for me the 14year old of course was no I will always swim. But I think you know my parents had many conversations about not letting fear control my life. And we couldn't be in a bubble. And they were gonna do everything that they could to make me safe but allow me to do what I loved. And I. To my core loved swimming and training and racing and so they did everything they could. And that meant being right next to me in training holding onto a defibrillator.

 

Laura:

[00:05:15] Wow! What an amazing kind of courageous move from your parents. That says a lot about them. I think and I know you said you did in college you did like a research paper. We were talking about illness or something. And you interviewed your mom and said it was the first time you knew how scared she actually was?

 

Dana:

[00:05:29] Yeah. I was doing a medical anthropologyclass on the different perspectives of illness and I decided to write it on my mom. And me she shielded so much of her fear from me. And she didn't want me to know how scary of a decision this was and didn't want me training constantly thinking if I was putting my life at risk. And so just hearing how many times she came in in the middle of the night to see if I was still breathing. She was terrified to let me do anything scary that it might put my heart into some strange rhythm. Just how much fear she had. I just never really understood.

 

Laura:

[00:06:08] Wow wow. I think parenting is probably the hardest job on earth right.

 

Dana:

[00:06:13] Yes. Yes. It is.

 

Laura:

[00:06:15] So OK. It wasn't long after that diagnosis and the decision to keep going. That you made your first Olympic team as just a 16year old in Athens Greece. And you won a gold medal there in the 4 x 200meter free relay. I mean did you. Obviously, you're competitive and you expected to make the Olympic team at 12 so I'm guessing you fully thought this was possible?

 

Dana:

[00:06:35] Most definitely. That was the goal. That was the plan. I felt like you know while the heart episode was really scary. It didn't necessarily take me out of the sport for very long. And so I just kept training and my coaches always really good. About saying like it's the same lane it's the same block. It's you know just get up there swim your own race. Do it you know how to do. Don’t focus on other people and. At the Olympic trials, I was actually next to the American record holder at the time. And I just I can vividly remember that race more so than a lot of other races. Just making that first Olympic team being 16 I just. I remember being very overwhelmed a lot of the time? I just kind of went with the flow tried to copy what all these other amazing Olympians were doing.

 

[00:07:22] And even when we won the gold and you realize that you just broke an ancient world record. And got that first gold medal. And you can watch videos. It's like every couple seconds I copy what Natalie Coughlin did. She puts her arms up in screen and I have my arms do the same. I just was so overwhelmed. So excited. So proud of the journey. And I don't think I had. Everything had seemed like it had fallen into place kind of along that path. At that time.

 

Laura:

[00:07:52] Oh that's so cool. Did you get to walk an opening and closing ceremonies and things too?

 

Dana:

[00:07:57] I didn't. So opening it is like I mean they say what you stand on your feet for like eight hours? And the night before we start competing the next day.

 

Laura:

[00:08:05] Oh you're the first day? OK.

 

Dana:

[00:08:07] Yeah. So I have not. I actually haven't ever walked in opening ceremonies.

 

Laura:

[00:08:12] Oh no!

 

Dana:

[00:08:13] But I did get to do closing in 2012. So.

 

Laura:

[00:08:17] Oh good. OK well, we've got one in there. That's good. So what happened after Athens?

 

Dana:

[00:08:23] After Athens and you know it's part of that identity crisis. You come home you just you were a gold medalist. And then you have to go back to high school. And so I mean half. I did feel like half a high school loved me for what I did. Half a high school seemed to hate me for what I did. And you're just I don't know I felt like I was you know I had homeschooled going into that. So I only did one year of high school has actually ended up graduating a year early. And it was just a struggle of who am I as a person. Who am I as this Olympic athlete now at 16years old and how do you make mistakes. How do you figure things out when you feel a little more in the public eye. And you know I took some time off. I actually injured my back at that point when I started coming back from training I had a disk injury and. I just I felt like I was kind of floundering and so I didn't really know where I was at home. So I decided to graduate a year early and I went off to the University of Florida for my first year of college.

 

Laura:

[00:09:32] So you were like 17 when you went off to college?

 

Dana:

[00:09:34] Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:09:35] Wow. That's all so overwhelming I would think.

 

Dana:

[00:09:38] It is another you know it's a hard step to then also go into college and you're supposed to be this amazing Olympic athlete. And trying to live up to that every day is sometimes really challenging. And the coach and I just didn't really see eye to eye. The training program was different than I would like. And so then I ended up transferring over to Cal Berkeley and I loved. I loved the school. I loved the program. The coach and I obviously I still train at Cal Berkeley today. So something's working. And it was I think going into 2008 I found myself really struggling with other people's expectations. And or my interpretation of other people's expectations that I was supposed to qualify for so many events. And you know for the US it's not just qualifying then you're expected to medal. And I just I Crum I absolutely crumbled under that. And one event I walked out and I was in tears in my goggles before I even swam the events.

 

Laura:

[00:10:39] Is this about Olympic trials?

 

Dana:

[00:10:40] Olympic trials in 2008. Yeah. And. I miss it. I miss it and every single one of my events one as close as 1100th of a second.

 

Laura:

[00:10:51] Oh that's so heartbreaking.

 

Dana:

[00:10:53] You can beat yourself up about it all day long. But now I feel like perspective has changed so much that I don't think I would be the athlete I am today without having gone through 2008.

 

Laura:

[00:11:05] I feel like I hear that a lot. Like it really stinks to go through those moments but it seems to make you stronger and more capable of things later. But like how in that moment of just kind of crumbling under that? Like how did you walk that out and how did you come back from that? You know is it the people around you? Is it you having to change the way you were thinking about stuff? Like what I guess. How did you walk out?

 

Dana:

[00:11:30] Yeah. I mean there are very important people. I went home I stayed at one of my best friends houses that in my hometown in Granbury. And she just kind of helped me with perspective. Her job her kids. And then it was honestly Teri McKeeverand my other coach Milton Nelms. And Teri knew that I couldn't just go home and sulk. That was not going to help me get through this. And so Milton Nelms actually runs a learn to swim program in Fiji.

 

Laura:

[00:12:04] Oh wow.

 

Dana:

[00:12:04] And they have one of the highest drowning rates in the world for an island nation. And so they. It kind of took me out of my own bubble. They helped me fly to Fiji and we got to teach. It's kind of like a community college and you teach them how to teach kids how to swim. So they go out into their villages and teach kids how to swim. And it was just amazing to kind of realize it's not all about Olympic level swimming. I was helping save lives with the knowledge that I already had. I didn't have to go out and prove anything else about my swimming. That I already had the skills to make other people's lives better. And it was just an absolutely incredible experience to be helping them. But then it was still that place when I thought about my own swimming. It was like an instant weight on my chest of how am I supposed to come back? How do I face the team? How do I face my coach? How do I come back to training in a way that I want to? And we actually did an open water race when I was in Fiji. It was at 18K relay from one island to another. You could see fish and coral and I mean it was beautiful. And to me, that was the moment when I realized that I still love the water. I love to swim. And that was the core of it. And what I really needed to work on was the mental side of the sport.

 

Laura:

[00:13:27] I love that you just like you said got out of your bubble. Did something. Saw that there was more to this whole swimming thing than just your races. And then kind of recaptured that love and that passion for it. That's so awesome. And so things did change. Going into London. I mean you went into the 2012 London Olympics and walked away with three gold medals and two world records. I'm guessing that was a little bit different of an experience.

 

Dana:

[00:13:51] Yes. Yes. completely. I mean there's so much work that we put in in those 4years. And to make me feel like almost a different woman walking out for the 2012 Olympic trials and we explored nutrition. It turned out that I had many food sensitivities that were really hindering my training and my recovery and then the mental side of it.

 

Laura:

[00:14:12] How interesting.

 

Dana:

[00:14:15] I actually enjoyed seeing a normal therapist. Not a sports psychologist. I always felt like they somehow were trying to just get me to race better. And it was nice to just really take a look at my entire life. That everything impacts how you train how you race and all areas need to be happy. To be the best athlete that we can be. And I got married in 2011 to my husband and.

 

Laura:

[00:14:42] He's a swimmer too right?

 

Dana:

[00:14:43] He was young he swam for Stanford. He also just missed the Olympic team in 2008. So I think that was a good bonding place for us to find strength together. And. Yeah. It just walking out there you know some of the sports psychology training though was like you have set yourself up to where if you have a terrible race you're still making an Olympic team. And that was kind of our motto in training was that it's it's not that I need to expect way more of myself than I've ever done to make an Olympic team. It's like OK if I have a cold I can still do this I can still get up and make this team. And yeah I mean even at the Olympics when I walked out. I was like OK Just swim your own race. Just try not to screw anything up and we should be good.

 

Laura:

[00:15:34] And you were. I mean did you three gold medals and you already had a gold medal so you have four gold medals now. I mean did you think about retiring at that point?

 

Dana:

[00:15:43] It's always one of those really hard things where. Honestly leading up to 2012? Yes. I assumed that I was done after 2012 I wanted to go out with a bang and go out at the pinnacle of your career. And then it's always one of those how do you retire when you're at the top of your game? Like you just had the best performance you've ever had in your life. And now you're supposed to walk away? And so that was hard. Not really hard because I was just so excited after winning three golds to just get back in it and train. And then it kind of dawns on you that OK it is another four years. And the time commitment is huge. The effort level is huge. You can't just kind of skirt by on what you've done before and expect to make an Olympic team. And I was able to make the world championships team that next summer. But I kind of been dealing with shoulder issues the back injury had never fully gone away. So at that point, I did decide quote-unquote “to retire?” because I didn't actually sign my retirement papers. Part of me just could never sign the actual papers. So Teri told me to just go with that something in me might not be done and let's just respect that.

 

[00:16:51] So I stepped away from the sport. Decided I wanted to see what life was like as not a competitive athlete. I went to school for architecture and design. We bought a house in the suburbs and decided that we wanted to start our family. And so yeah in 2015 my youngest or my oldest now Arlen was born. And it wasn't a very interesting process of being pregnant as you know. I can't say I'm one that loved being pregnant. I felt very out of control with my body and we ended up being on bed rest for eight weeks and.

 

Laura:

[00:17:31] Oh my that's a long time.

 

Dana:

[00:17:33] Yeah. Yeah. I made it through like all ten seasons of Friends. I honestly I think that that was when I decided to train again. Because I could not imagine another day of sitting in my bed.

 

Laura:

[00:17:46] Wow. So you hadn't been training for a while?

 

Dana:

[00:17:49] No.

 

Laura:

[00:17:49] You’re Pregnant. You're on bed rest. And you're like I have got to get back in the water.

 

Dana:

[00:17:53] Yeah. well I mean that's the only way that I really know how to get back in shape and how to push myself. I've never been a runner.

 

Laura:

[00:18:00] So then it was. It just kind of I'm going to get back in the water just to get back in shape after this or you want to do like compete?

 

Dana:

[00:18:06] Yeah. Well, I don't think I knew how to separate the two yet. I need to have a big goal to get myself to kind of do the daily grind of training.

 

Laura:

[00:18:15] Totally relate to that. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:18:16] Yeah. So basically I set that goal OK let's see if I can make the 2016 Olympic team. I mean that's right around the corner. But it was obviously a huge goal and it kept me going to get up in the mornings and to push myself. But deep down I think what really helped me through the process was yeah that was a big goal. But the ultimate goal was to be the best mom that I could be. To feel in control of my body. To get back in shape to have the lifestyle of running around with the boys that I want to have. And I think that's what made it to me that one of the healthiest places for me that I've ever been in the sport. It wasn't necessarily about the goal it was about the daily lifestyle that I wanted to have.

 

Laura:

[00:19:05] Oh that's so cool. So then what. I mean because you ended up making the Rio team and what was it like going to an Olympics this time with a toddler in tow?

 

Dana:

[00:19:15] Well I wish he honestly. I wish he was more in tow than he was allowed to be. And so that that was actually really hard. Of course, on one hand, I'm thrilled. I was absolutely stoked. I made an Olympic team. I got to compete again. But then it's also you know there hadn't been many moms in the sport of swimming yet. So training camp technically he wasn't allowed to be at training camp. And I had to sit down with the coaches and with USA Swimming staff and talk about like I can't do that. I can't just go away for a month and leave my child. And so at first, it was agreed that he should come for two weekends. Which was even obviously daunting to me at the time too. I mean I literally was never by myself.

 

Laura:

[00:19:58] Right. And it's like an appendage right? Like you’re missing an arm or something walking in there without them. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:20:04] A huge piece of my heart was gone. And to be in a hotel room by myself and then go to training with girls that I hadn't trained with before. With coaches, I hadn't worked with before. My. Like the person that does my weights isn't allowed to be there. The massage person like they have an Olympic staff that kind of starts to take care of everything. But it was an incredibly lonely place to be. And it was a really hard trying to balance that. This side of me that just missed my family so much. And this daily routine that I had developed that I had loved. And to kind of have to create an absolutely new one for 2016 Olympic Games. I mean the Olympics is the biggest meet that you get to go to. And I had to completely change what I had done to get there. And a.

 

Laura:

[00:20:58] And like a limited amount of time too. Right?

 

Dana:

[00:21:00] Yeah. Yeah. We only have four weeks between the Olympic trials and the Olympics. And honestly, before being a mom I would have said like oh it's only four weeks of your life. Like you can go you can be with the team and just fully commit. And then you get to go home and be with your family. Four weeks is just a really long time to be away from your kids. And so it is a goal of mine going in 2020 to better work with USA Swimming. I feel like they will. I think like you said it was just such a short time span to try to figure out how we make this work. About how I can see more of the kids and have more of my support system there for me going into 2020.

 

Laura:

[00:21:41] That's great. So I mean you won a gold silver and a bronze in Rio right?

 

Dana:

[00:21:47] Yeah. I mean I just wanted to get the trifecta.

 

Laura:

[00:21:49] Yeah. There you go. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:21:50] I mean one of everything.

 

Laura:

[00:21:52] I mean this is incredible so you had four weeks. You revamped your entire routine. You're flying solo. It was hard. And you were still so successful. I mean did you just keep going after that? Or did you. Because I know now you have your son Ryker who was born in 2017 right? Was the plan to keep going after this again? Or you know. How is this? What are logistics like here?

 

Dana:

[00:22:14] Yeah. I mean it's again I feel like it's a cycle every four years. Again I was successful in 2016 and I had created more of a daily life that I loved. Like going in after Arlen was born and it just felt so much healthier of a routine of a lifestyle of a focus. It wasn't just pushed my body till it breaks because that's what you have to do. I learned a lot more about recovery and it just felt like a lifestyle that I could sustain. So I figured why not. Why not try and so I trained. From after 2016, I did train through being pregnant with Ryker. I actually swam at a swim meet when I was 28 pregnant.

 

Laura:

[00:22:56] Oh my Goodness! Wow.

 

Dana:

[00:22:58] That was obviously much more for just the joy and fun of racing than the actual time.

 

Laura:

[00:23:05] Right.

 

Dana:

[00:23:06] But I enjoyed it. We got to do a Gender reveal with what color suit I wore.

 

Laura:

[00:23:10] Oh that's so fun.

 

Dana:

[00:23:11] So it was yeah it was really fun. And then I actually ended up having the same contractions that started at 30 weeks that they did with my first child with Arlen. But this time they didn't want me on bed rest. They just wanted me to have limited activity but not actually be in my bed like I was before. And so it's a little scary that time just being moving around a lot more and having all the contractions. Just trying to listen to my doctors and Ryker came at 37 weeks. So Arlen was at 41. And so he was just as tall as Arlen but hadn't really gotten to put on all that baby fat yet so it just seems so little at first. But then honestly it's different with two. And I can't imagine with you having four and trying to train.

 

Laura:

[00:24:03] I know. Crazy. For crazy people.

 

Dana:

[00:24:07] But you know I think I expected it to be the same. I think I put more almost more expectations on myself that here.

 

Laura:

[00:24:14] Coz you've done it once.

 

Dana:

[00:24:15] Yeah I had done it before. It's supposed to be the same. And now I know and so it's supposed to be easier. That is so not true.

 

Laura:

[00:24:22] Yeah. My first child slept through the night. And people just laughed at me and they're like Oh wait till you have a second line. Yeah. She didn’t sleep through the night at all. So yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:24:31] Yeah. And so of course it was like my older ones stopped napping as soon as the second one was born. And well you know just being up again and nursing. And then not getting to nap when he naps because the older one was awake. And trying to figure out how to get groceries in my house with two kids. And it's. There's been a whole new set of challenges. And honestly, I feel like just this past fall I've really kind of gotten more of a routine and figured out more of what I how I'm gonna make this work.

 

Laura:

[00:25:03] That's great. That's great. Now I know on your website you said you found a new love for something. I think we've heard a little bit about that and you said for years you let it define your life through your success or failure in the pool. But now it's your family that matters most. I know you went to Fiji rekindle that and now you have your family. Like I guess how do you ever still get kind of bogged down or caught back up in that? I feel like we go through these seasons right? You kind of get it figured out and you think you're in a good place then you get kind of sucked back into that. Like you know that mindset where your result defined you. Like how do you check that how do you keep that at bay?

 

Dana:

[00:25:37] Yeah. I feel like it's it's not just something that you master. And it doesn't happen again like you said. Honestly, it's something that I feel come back before every competition and I have to work on that. It's like where do people expect me to be at this point. How do I prove the training that I've done that it's working? And how do I show that I can do this as a mom? And it's now I have to step back and you know this is about my journey. Like this is about just racing and figuring things out and figuring out what I love about still being in the sport. And it is a conscious reminder of having to let go of what I think other people are expecting of me. But I mean it's work. That's something that you have to be kind to train yourself to catch yourself in those mind brains. And to bring yourself back from that. But yeah it's not like I've just figured it out. It's something that I still work on and honestly you know it was Ryker was probably six months old. And I went to the Austin Grand Prix in January. And I had been kind of training a much smaller amount but I still felt fast. And it's one of those in your mind you always think like oh I got this and.

 

Laura:

[00:26:51] I love your self-confidence. It's awesome. I love it.

 

Dana:

[00:26:54] I went to a competition and it was one of those kinds of like rude awakenings of just you know hey I do love the sport. I haven't been able to get as much training. And it's one thing to just think you can stand up and perform with the best in the country. But that is something that takes a lot of dedication. A lot of hours. A lot of training. And I did let that get to me. And I didn't know what to kids why I was fighting so hard to make an Olympic team. You know I still struggling with kind of how 2016 went for me mentally. Like was I ready to go through that again being away from my family being away from my own support system? And then so I did end up taking some time away. And I was just working on strength training trying to figure out the training pieces that I really enjoyed. And that was when I saw it’s actually on Instagram that Jeanette Ottesen a swimmer from Denmark. A butterflier that's been in almost every international competition final with me in the Butterfly was having a baby girl and wanted to train for 2020. And it just felt like I just instantly had this bond with her and I mean we were friendly.

 

[00:28:10] I can't say we were very close friends but I mean we talked to competitions. And I instantly wrote her on Instagram as like I need to come to Denmark but can I please bring my boys? Can I come train with you? Can we try to figure out how moms train in this sport together? And it was just so inspiring for me to have another person that got it. And to get on that pool deck and talk to each other. How'd you sleep last night? Were your kids up all night? Were you stressed about this or that? And Do you have the power to change our training ourselves? And create what we wanted and each workout. And to talk about the hardships of getting stability back in your hits and getting your abs back. All these things that just your body changes so much and to have another person that was right there with me just meant the world to me. And that was when I started the movement to the power of mom. And I just really started looking at other athletes and other athletes stories. And how they manage dealing with kids and training. And being so inspired by all these other women that were also doing it and feeling like I wasn't so alone. Like we need we need to have a stronger voice and be heard by each other even to help motivate each other when it's hard.

 

Laura:

[00:29:28] And I love it. I mean I've followed you for a long time. But when I saw you start that power of mom thing it just it hit me. Because I feel very isolated like I totally understand what you're talking about because divers there tend to be younger. When I retired at 30 I was considered old and I didn't have kids or anything at that point. Now I'm here 10years older and four kids you know it's definitely not something anybody else is doing. And so to see that other people are doing that it makes you feel like you're not a crazy person. Like it's OK to have dreams. It's OK to be a mom and do these things and in fact, you can be even better. You know it's just so nice I'm so thankful that you created something and it is gonna make a big difference for so many of us.

 

Dana:

[00:30:04] Yeah I mean there's nothing worse than feeling lonely an isolated. And we find strength in each other. I find strength in your story. I find strength in Serena Williams. And Allyson Felix just having her little one. And it'll be amazing to have all of us chasing this dream together.

 

Laura:

[00:30:23] Yes I love it. You had your hashtag was Mama on a mission in 2016 and now it's to the power of mom. I love it. So what's next on your road to Tokyo 2020? I mean obviously, there's going to be competitions in between that. And are there any plans following Tokyo? More kids more swimming other adventures. Like what's on the plate for you?

 

Dana:

[00:30:43] So I just got back from a competition in Knoxville Tennessee earlier in January. And it's just kind of one of those there's the tier Pro Series circuit there's kind of a meet every month almost. And it's just kind of seeing where I'm at in training. Seeing what falls apart. What is feeling really strong? Continue to focus on that one reason why I think I'm still in the sport today is just that I know that there is a faster butterfly. It's not just that I need to train harder or more hours. It's like the physics of how we swim butterfly. I think we're still figuring out how to do it. And I love the learning process and the challenging to think outside the box. And technique and training. And I will be going to Tasmania for a training trip again. I've actually gone a couple of times so that's where the coach Milton Nelms and his amazing wife Shane Gould. She's a multi Olympian for Australia for swimming. And so that's where they live. And so we end up doing an Airbnb down there and we train in the ocean all the time. There is not a pool where you train in the way.

 

Laura:

[00:31:51] Is it freezing?

 

Dana:

[00:31:53] It is. I do have a wetsuit that I wear. I do get an occasionally just in my swimsuit just because the wetsuit does change your buoyancy and how you feel. So I try to challenge myself from time to time to get in. But as a swimmer, I do have a deep hatred of cold water.

 

Laura:

[00:32:12] I hear that from a lot of stories.

 

Dana:

[00:32:14] Yeah. Yeah the most of us. So I have the wetsuit on a lot. But we're really excited that Jeanette Ottesen and her husband and her little girl Billy nay are also going to come.

 

Laura:

[00:32:25] Oh so is your whole family going too?

 

Dana:

[00:32:27] My whole family is coming. My husband two boys and a friend of ours that's going to help us with the boys. And yeah. And then her and Jeanette and her husband and little girl and then she has two people that are coming with her as well.

 

Laura:

[00:32:41] That's so cool. That'll be wonderful.

 

Dana:

[00:32:43] Yeah. Yeah. So really excited about that. That's always a really good chunk of training. A lot of times I do it February before an Olympic year is a kind of always when I've done it before. And just feeling like my training needed a boost right now and kind of getting back into the sport. And I've loved this trip and it's always kind of brought the best out of me and my family. My husband has some of his favorite memories are on these trips. And so getting setup for that. And then August will actually be my next major goal that's Nationals it'll be at Stanford just an hour away. So that'll be nice won't have to travel really for that. And then we start entering into 2020. I mean there'll be winter nationals in December and then the same tier Pro Series circuit in 2020. And so honestly my main focus is just kind of at each meet to hopefully each chipping away at little things. Even if that doesn't necessarily show up in my time it better turns. It's it's starting to feel that pieces of the race I want to have at Olympic trials in 2020. Start to have those pieces show up now.

 

Laura:

[00:33:46] That's great. I love the plan. Okay, so where can we follow you online to continue to just be inspired and encouraged by you? And also so we can cheer you on toward Tokyo?

 

Dana:

[00:33:55] You can follow me on Instagram is the main one @Dana.Vollmer and @DanaVollmer.com.

 

Laura:

[00:34:06] Awesome thank you so much Dana for coming on. I love your story. Obviously, I feel very connected because of the mom component. We're still training but you're absolutely awesome and we thank you for your time.

 

Dana:

[00:34:17] Yes definitely. Hopefully, we will be together on that 2020 team.

 

Laura:

[00:34:24] Such great wisdom from Dana today. I love how when the pressure became all too much. It was that trip to Fiji that really helped her reset. A few weeks ago we hadDr. Ben Holtzberg on our show and he told us the best way to shift to a purpose based mindset is to find ways to serve others outside of ourselves. And Dana has clearly discovered that. As she expresses is so important to continually keep our perspectives in check. When we feel overwhelmed by the pressures of other people's expectations. We have to remember who we are and why we love to do what we do and let everything else just fade away. Along those lines, I wanted to let you guys know about something coming up over the next few weeks that I have been working like crazy on and I'm super excited to tell you about. Have you ever been anxious going into a competition or felt like you won the warm-up but not the meet or maybe you just don't understand why you don't perform when it counts but you do in practice? If that sounds like you then listen up. I've designed an online course that is just for you. I'm going to teach you the most crucial mental skills that I've acquired over my 20 plus years as an elite athlete. I'm going to 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. Next week we have legendary speed skater Dan Jansen on the show with us. Dan clinched Olympic gold in the final race of his career and dedicated that victory to his sister who died just hours before his event in a previous Olympic Games. His story is one of incredible dedication and determination and I'm so excited to share it with you next week. Be sure to hit the subscribe button wherever you're listening so you don't miss a single episode and remember to leave us a review because that helps us to keep bringing on these awesome guests. 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 to the complete archives please visit HopeSports.org

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About This Episode

Like many, Ingrid Drexel grew up playing all different kinds of sports. From basketball to volleyball, she loved being active and her parents encouraged extracurricular activities that would help her learn about teamwork and perseverance. But it wasn’t until she first got on a bike that Ingrid came to understand true freedom. In this episode of the Hope Sports show, she shares that she would pedal around town and through the mountains, fully immersed in nature and overwhelmed with the liberty to go anywhere in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. It’s this sense of freedom that made her fall in love with the sport, and rediscovering that joy would be critical to bringing her back through moments when she considered abandoning her dreams.

It was after a cycling camp that a coach approached her parents and encouraged them to invest in Ingrid’s obvious natural abilities. With a better bike and a list of races, her family began road-tripping around Mexico. She started winning race after race after race and at only 14, she was invited to be a part of the Junior National Team and compete in the Pan American games - a spot normally only available to someone over the age of 17. She spent her teen years balancing a budding cycling career and her desire to be a “normal” teenager. She even took three months off of racing completely to attend all of the sleepovers, school dances, and parties that she wanted to, but found it all unfulfilling in the end. Traveling around the nation had matured her and she had dreams of cycling internationally, getting a degree, and taking advantage of the unique opportunity before her. Back on the bike, she picked up where she left off and her success landed her Mexico’s only spot in road cycling for the London Olympic games.

Ingrid was in awe of the entire experience at her first Olympics. From being honored at the President’s house in Mexico, to traveling with other Olympians from her nation, to the enormity of the athlete village at the games, the experience was almost overwhelming. Having been pulled from the junior circuit to compete, she didn’t even know her own rivals, most of whom competed professionally. As a solo rider for her country she tried not to be intimidated by the nations with full teams, but when she pulled up to the starting line for her race and it began to rain, she realized that her real rival would be Mother Nature. Having done the majority of her training and racing in Mexico, Ingrid had never once ridden in the rain, much less raced. She was able to stay with the Peloton in the early section of the race but was taken down with another twenty riders when someone else crashed on a tight turn. Determined to represent her nation and finish the race, Ingrid dug her bike from the disorder of spokes and wheels. When the snow turned to hail and the verbal discouragement from other riders weighed heavy on her, still she pedaled on. She finished the race frozen, exhausted, and outside of the time limit, but still proud to have represented her nation even if she had to do it alone.

Not long after the Olympics offers came in from professional teams and Ingrid signed with her first European team. The learning curve was steep, though. A new continent, unfamiliar language, different coaching style, and increased race distance all left her feeling defeated and lonely. She was used to competing in 20 races each year and upped that number to 30 races in just three months. She pushed herself harder mentally and physically than she ever had before, but the results just weren’t there. In fact, the more she demanded of her body the less it seemed to perform and the more discouraged she became. Comments from her coaches about losing weight spurred her to develop an eating disorder and, at one point, she didn’t even have the strength to complete races. Negativity was an internal refrain that followed her on and off the course, in training, and throughout her personal life. Despite feeling she would be perceived as weak, Ingrid finally reached out to a sports psychologist and a nutritionist. With their help, she began what would be a one and a half year journey back to herself. She realized that she needed to listen to her body and fuel it properly. She began validating rest and relaxation. And, most importantly, she faced the negative self-talk that had been crippling her performance all along. The judgment and pressure she carried from herself and others could never be overcome with more extreme training or improved performance - it had to come from acceptance of who she was apart from cycling.

As her recovery gained momentum, so did her career. Her hard work paid off when her international ranking again earned Mexico one spot at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But just because she won the spot for her nation did not mean her name was attached to it. In a surprising move, the Mexican Olympic Committee decided to wager the spot on the results of just one race. Unfortunately for Ingrid, in that very race she experienced a technical failure with her bike and ended up changing bikes three times before finishing in fifth place and losing her the Olympic seat. To further the blow, the Committee didn’t even honor their commitment to the athlete who won and gave the spot to an entirely different rider. Frustrated and disheartened, Ingrid returned home and left her bike in its box, unsure when, if ever, she’d get back on it.

Despite losing the bid to the Olympics, calls came in one after another for her to join other professional teams. “I just decided that I was going to do what I loved just because I loved it, not because people were expecting something from me,” Ingrid shares to Laura on the show. She signed with an American team in California and 2017 turned into her most successful year. Rather than placing all of her worth and value on her performance as a cyclist, Ingrid poured into other areas of her life. She finished her degree in International Business, found younger athletes to mentor, and got married. She still has hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics, but recognizes that she can only do her best. Rather than being dispirited that the decision it is out of her hands, she knows, “being an Olympian doesn’t define who I am.” She now rides for herself, for the fun of it, and for the sense of freedom that she experienced all those years ago.

For more about Ingrid, follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

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laura:

[00:00:05] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where high caliber athletes share about their triumphs and their struggles on their journey toward purpose. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. Today we're speaking with Ingrid Drexel a professional cyclist from Mexico. Like many of us, Ingrid hopped on a bike as a young kid and found herself inspired by the freedom she felt zipping around town with the wind in her hair. As her love of cycling grew so did her opportunities. And she's been traveling around the world competing internationally for eight years now. Her story includes victories disappointments and challenges. And she shares it all with us here on today's show. Thanks for joining us. Here we go.

 

[00:00:44] Ingrid Drexel I'm so excited you could join us for the Hope Sports Podcast today!

 

Ingrid:

[00:00:48] Thank you Laura. Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be able to have a chance to share some of my story with the people there are hearing of. And yeah. Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:01:00] for those listening that may not be familiar with your story. How did you kind of get started into sports like how did it all begin?

 

Ingrid:

[00:01:07] So first of all my family like my parents were always the kind of parents that wanted us to do something like extracurricular activities besides school. They wanted to keep us like active during the day. Nothing like it was not like you must do these or you have to do this. It was mostly like just a start. Like for me you know forming us as a kid. And so they just wanted us to do any activities. And so we chose like why we wanted to do so before finding that cycling was my passion. I did like I don't know really like a different sports because I went into one.

 

Laura:

[00:01:45] Oh really?

 

Ingrid:

[00:01:46] Yeah. I went into one and I was like No mom I don't like this and she was like okay just another thing you know. So I jumped from one sport to another I did like tennis, swimming, ballet, basket and I'm tall. So they want me to be on the basketball team because of my height but I just didn't like it. I just think with large balls and stuff. So no. And then I did taekwondo for a long time actually. I liked it but then there was this summer a friend called me and she was like Hey there's a summer camp cycling summer camp. Like do you want to join? And I'm like yeah sure. And I was 8 at the time so I don't know I just discovered that that's what I liked. And like I guess the adrenaline of being on the bike and the sensation and the freedom and like the wind in your skin. I don't know I just liked it and I stuck to it ever since.

 

Laura:

[00:02:41] Well so is it like cycling what you see at the Olympic or the big tour levels right from the beginning or was it different when you were younger?

 

Ingrid:

[00:02:48] No. I think it was really different I don't think that I knew about all of that when I was 8. Like I just liked the idea and I know how to call it but just the way I felt being on the bike and like riding on the parks and like true then nature and like the mountains or whatever. I know it was pretty cool and then I went there with some friends so it was also like good company and stuff. So yeah. I think I didn't even know about the Grand Tours and like even you could be a professional cyclist like No I've never thought about that. And yeah. I just like it. Like I was just enjoying and yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:03:33] Well so how did that kind of developed then because you made the Olympic team in 2012 as a teenager. So you saying that maybe wasn't on the radar like at what point I guess did that becomes something on the radar?

 

Ingrid:

[00:03:45] Yeah. It was totally off the radar. I started the summer camp man the coach of the summer camp he talked to my parents and he was like I think Ingrid has potential. Like she wouldn't likes it she's really passionate about it and she's good. So I started mountain biking and then he encouraged my parents to buy me a road bike. So then I got a road bike and I started doing both disciplines. And like the next year, I started competing nationwide. And I don't know I just started winning everything I went to. Like it was just like from day one I just like I won every race and. But I just did it because I liked it. Like I didn't have any pressure from anyone. I just enjoy it like getting out there and suffering and giving it my all like yeah. It was kind of cool I guess. And then you started to travel along Mexico with my parents so it kind of became like a family road trip like going to races and stuff. I just did it kind of like a hobby I think. And when I was 14 I got called to be on the national team as a junior. But to be a junior in cycling you have to be 17 years. And I was 14. So that was like whoa! So yeah. Then they called me and I went to my first American championship. Is it like for the junior category. And I got two medals and I guess it all started developing from there.

 

[00:05:12] Things started to get more serious and then it was a really hard age for me because I was like during 15 and you know you're in school and you're with your friends and the parties and sleepovers and blah blah blah. Then you also got a commitment like OK you get a drink. Now you're representing Mexico and not only doing it like local races or national races. In Mexico we're really used to celebrating our 15 birthday. I know in the Americas the Sweet 16. But for us is 15. So it was that age all of my friends started traveling and having all of these 15 birthday parties in and I had to like compete and be out for the weekend and like train and get up early and blah blah blah. So that was really hard. I don't know really hard like point on my life where I had to decide. Like if I wanted to continue this road because I knew it was becoming more serious and kind of more professional thing rather than being still a hobby. Now you've got compromises with the national team and like you know with your coach and everyone that's helping you and that's committed to you.

 

[00:06:26] So on that year I decided to quit or give me a break for like three months maybe. And I did all of these like I traveled with my friends. I went to sleepovers and parties and all that. But at the end of the day, I decided that it was always the same thing like you went out with the same people you saw at school you're seeing the party and then. I was Yeah. They're cool and parties as well but I don't know. I just thought it was kind of the same thing. And I realized I wanted to do something more with my life and rather just like I don’t know just going out and partying and whatever. So yeah I decided to come back in and be more committed and I guess it all started from there from that point on. I've been part of the national team. And then yeah I guess well I went to four junior pennants which you can only go to two because is 17 and 18. But I went from 14 15 Sorry.

 

Laura:

[00:07:30] Breaking all the rules.

 

Ingrid:

[00:07:30] Yeah I know and then I went to junior worlds as well and I was two-time medalist. And I was 18 at the time so I was like Yeah this is really serious here. Like this is no joke no. And after that year so 2011 that was my last year as a junior and next year were the Olympics and it was gonna be my first year as an athlete. And I was more inclined undoing track cycling. Then there was this girl that she was she had been fighting the whole four years before the Olympics to like qualify on the track. So I was like I'm not gonna get into your way. She's been doing it and I couldn't have done it before because I was a junior and I really wanted to go on the track but I was like she's being like fighting for it so I'm going to step aside. And that's when I decided to go on the road and quit the track you know. And yeah. I just started with the road and I started competing for more road and find some races in the US. Because I normally raised only in Mexico and then internationally I raised phenoms and worlds but nothing else so.

 

[00:08:40] I try to find some races in the US so I could step up my game you know and race against people who I knew that was gonna be on the Olympics and stuff and I might try and see how it goes. And then I don't know. I think things just came. It was unexpected. The National Federation they gave us several qualifying events and I won all of them again. Like the elites that have been there and fighting for many years so I was like. And then we're waiting for the Federation to announce like who is the one that was gonna represent Mexico in the Olympics because we only had one spot. So on road cycling you can have four but as a nation we had very few points that we only had one spot. So the Federation had to pick one person and I won all the qualification events that they have. And then I got the call like hey you're gonna go to the Olympics. I was 18 at the time and I was like OK what's going on. Like I didn't expected and I think I mean that event obviously it changed my life and it changed the way I saw cycling.

 

[00:09:54] So I was still studying. I had just gotten into university because I knew I wanted a career besides cycling even though I knew that I could probably become a professional. I knew I had to have something like a background. You never know. Probably at the end of the day maybe I wake up tomorrow and I can't ride my bike anymore. What am I gonna do you know. So we've got to be prepared. And I always had this plan in my head that cycling is gonna be part of my life until a certain point. Because I'm I really wanna work and I wanna have a job or probably I don't know create something and work outside of cycling. And then obviously have a family and then having a family thing being a professional for me. I just think is really risky is a really risky sport and then I mean going out training for four or five hours having your husband and kids on home and knowing that you might not come back. That just it's kind of scary for me. I'm not saying I'm not gonna do it. Like I'm gonna keep on cycling because I love it but maybe not as a professional.

 

Laura:

[00:11:04] Well so I have a question for you because you're so wise in being so young and thinking OK well I can't cycle forever I need a backup plan just in case. I mean that's wisdom beyond most 18year olds I think. Well, your parents very influential in those thoughts? Or was this all you? Or was this from watching others?

 

Ingrid:

[00:11:23] I think they really helped. Because they also grew on a family where they had a good formation from their parents. And I think they translated that to us. I think it was just all part of how I have been raised in the education my parents gave me. Because I know for my age I was more mature than the average kids. So and I think it was also part of it. I started traveling a lot to races inside of Mexico. And then you open your eyes and see that. Well, I think it was really privileged because my parents could give me everything. Like I didn't need anything else. Because of that, I think that's where I am today. Because they could provide me with all the material equipment and they could take me to races and stuff. But also traveling and seeing that other people they couldn't because they didn't have the economic resources to do it. I just think that made me like value more what I had and you know being grateful to my friends for what they have given me. And you know and just taking that as a hey you've got this opportunity to take it and do the best you can with it. You know.

 

Laura:

[00:12:51] Yeah. No. I totally agree with you. I was an athlete started traveling as a teenager as well. And I think it's very impactful seeing how other people live and get through things and it just. It really opens up your eyes in a way that nothing else can right? Well OK so you make the 2012 Olympic team. It's a total shock to 18year old Ingrid. And what was the London Olympic experience like?

 

Ingrid:

[00:13:13] Oh my God! It was, first of all, like when you get all of the like the equipment and like you know all the material for my team and all of these bags full of things. Like the uniforms and then you go to the president's housing in the capital. Because the president's going to like I I'll give you some words and like wish you the best you know and all that and I'm like. I think I’m in a real shock and I was so young. I didn't. Like I didn't know anyone so then OK we traveled to London we get to the Olympic Village and I was just shocked. It's like another city in there like yeah it was Wow! I was shocked and I didn't even know any of my rivals at the time because I hadn't competed with them before because I was a junior. So I didn't even know who was who. So what was just like OK I'm gonna.

 

Laura:

[00:14:10] That's probably a good thing right?

 

Ingrid:

[00:14:11] I know. That's what I'm thinking now like. But I think that was the best thing that could ever happen. So I was just like OK I'm gonna do what I know. What I've always been doing just OK step on the line and wait for the start and go you know. It was really intimidating seeing all of the other countries like potential countries like the Netherlands, the U.S., Australia, Italy. They all had full teams and I was there like the Mexican the Latin alone you know you don't have a team. So it's kind of like you're in deep under different circumstances you know. They didn’t know me I didn't know who they were. So it was just but then I said you know what we're all here for the same thing you know. So just go out there and have fun. Then I remembered we were on the line and it started to rain and I have never raced or trained on the rain before never. So I was like Oh my God! I started freaking out I was like OK just come down. Because where I lived it was super risky to go out on the rain because of the traffic the cars and then the roads are super slippery. That it's just like soap like if you went out you would slip. Yeah. It was terrible. So that's why I've never rode or even raced on the rain. Because whenever it rained things would get suspended. So I was like OK come down it's the same for everyone but I know. I mean in London it rains always so I know a lot of Europeans we're used to like racing or turning on the rain. Like ok, no worries same circumstances for everyone. And then OK we started we got started at the mall. So just in front of the Buckingham Palace. So it was beautiful.

 

Laura:

[00:16:05] Wow. Yeah epic start.

 

Ingrid:

[00:16:07] Yeah. And then we started writing out to the countryside. And I remember we got there and then we had to do two big laps around a. I think It was a park or a college or something. And I remember that on one of the turns it was really tight and then while the palace and we were about 16 maybe. A girl crashed in front of like I don't know probably in the middle of the pack and she because he was really narrow. And I don't know probably 20 people crashed into her I was one of them. Nothing happened so nothing really scary like we didn't get seriously injured or anything. But that was like the key point of the race. Because after that crash it was like the climb which was like the toughest part of the race and that's where all the action started because it was the last lap.

 

[00:16:58] And so yeah I mean crashing it takes time to get your bike and then it was just a pile of people and stuff. And then OK so the front of the race went and I'm like well I'm here I got to finish. Doesn't matter. Just give it your all. So I stand up. Get on my bike again and started pedaling. And then a little group about five or six girls got together and started riding together. But then some of the girls that were on my group. They had teammates on the front so they didn't wanna work anymore because if we caught them at some point they were taking rivals to the others you know? So then there was.

 

Laura:

[00:17:41] Such a strategic I didn't even think about that.

 

Ingrid:

[00:17:42] Yeah! Exactly! So then there was a point that I had I was just riding by myself. And then it was like OK I don't think you can make it to the front group riding by myself you know man the rain and all but I just kept on riding. And then I remember they started like telling me things like Hey stop like you're never gonna make it. Just like give up and blah blah blah. And I was just like.

 

Laura:

[00:18:05] Who? Like other racers or who is?

 

Ingrid:

[00:18:06] Yeah. Yeah. The other girls who were on my group. I mean the front of the race was gone and they had teammates over there so they didn't care if they finished on time or not. But I was alone I was the only Mexican rider I was there. My first times on the Olympics I wanted to do my thing and I wanted to do my best. So I just kept on riding and then I started falling from the sky.

 

Laura:

[00:18:29] Are you serious?

 

Ingrid:

[00:18:31] I'm serious. I was like oh my God! What is this? Like God help me please.

 

Laura:

[00:18:39] Oh my God.

 

Ingrid:

[00:18:39] Oh you started feeling that ice hitting you and it was. Yeah. It was just so hurtful. And I didn't have anything for like the cold weather and me. So I just remember when I saw a finish line it was like oh like it’s just a light bright enough. And I remember I crossed the finish line. I was all covered like mud and like from all this flash from the road you know.

 

Laura:

[00:19:02] Did you even feel your arms and legs? You must’ve frozen?

 

Ingrid:

[00:19:04] I can’t feel anything. I was like just trembling like oh my hands were like purple from the rain and the cold and everything.

 

Laura:

[00:19:12] Oh that sounds so awful.

 

Ingrid:

[00:19:13] Yeah. And I crossed the line. And all my family was there and my mom she was really worried because the front of the race had finished like 10 or 15 minutes before I got there. So when the first group finished and my mom didn't see me she was like OK something's wrong. Like something happened to Ingrid. Where is she.? Because she was like 5 minutes she was in there, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and then you're like Oh my God where is Ingrid?! What happened?! And nobody told her where I was or what had happened or. So she was like really worried. And finally when I crossed the line and she saw me all covered in mud and like breathing she started to cry because she was like oh there’s my baby. Yeah. I mean now I think about it and I guess it was a really good experience for me. I really really had wanted to go back but with more experience knowing the riders and obviously having a team around me. So that's what I aim for on the next 4 years for the Olympics. So that was 2012 and then 2013 I got my first pro contract.

 

Laura:

[00:20:19] Oh exciting.

 

Ingrid:

[00:20:19] Yeah. I went with an Italian team so I went to Europe aged 19. I mean it was a different country, different people, different language. Even living by yourself. Leaving home. It was kind of hard and then there was a big team house and there were some times that you. Because you didn't do all the races so sometimes you were left alone at the house. And I felt so lonely because I wasn't used to that. That I would cry like at nights just because I didn't know anyone. And like I didn't know that.

 

Laura:

[00:20:52] How long would you be at the house? For training or for meet sir?

 

Ingrid:

[00:20:56] Well because all of the races mainly when we're in Europe. So I would go for a blog of probably 2-3 months. So that was a long period especially like on my first time and not knowing anyone. And I'm telling you like different country, different language, different people, then being alone in a big house you are like Okay. And then I wasn't used to like cooking for myself and cleaning the house and like washing clothes and all that. So you gonna grow I mean gonna grow. It was really harsh because you get really lonely and then you go to races and it wasn't what you expected. Because you're on a whole different level. You're going from juniors to elite. So you're going to raising probably 80k to racing 100k, 120k, 140k and a different pace, different woman, different conditions. I mean it's a really big jump and adaptation process really takes a lot from you. And you can be the strongest woman physically but if you don't have the mental strength to get aware of that. Like you're never gonna make it.

 

Laura:

[00:22:10] How did you do that? How how did you get through the Olympic? How did you get through these difficult times? I mean starting this new professional career all by yourself like that. I mean that is a lot. How do you handle that?

 

Ingrid:

[00:22:21] It was really hard for me especially well getting through the Olympics. I have the crowds and I think it was that log. And probably that's what was meant to happen to me in order to come back and stronger. And like desire more for the next block or whatever. So then when I got my first contract in 2013 my first race I remember it was Giro d'Italia which is like the most important race for women in cycling. So I was like just thrown to the wolves.

 

Laura:

[00:22:50] Again?

 

Ingrid:

[00:22:51] Yeah just go out there and do a thing. And for my first time I actually was really good. I had really good result so I was like OK this is I mean I can do it you know I can make it. But I was used to racing probably like 10, 15, 20 races at most in one year. And then on this 3 months I remember I had 30 races. So my body after the Giro I think I didn't even know how to handle like recovery and all of that stuff because I wasn't used to all this. I kept on racing because that's what the calendar and the team had for me. And I just got onto like I bunked. I had chronic fatigue I couldn't even pedal I wasn't sleeping I was that just got into my head like OK probably you're not good enough to be at this level. It was just really hard. I remember the last races I didn't even finish because I couldn't like my body couldn't do it. And then it was also a mental thing. Now it was both physical and mental. So I came back home after all of that and I was obviously really disappointed with myself. And you know letting people down because it's just for a first contract first time is unprofessional.

 

[00:24:09] Everyone expects something from you. And I guess sometimes you start driving that towards people's expectations instead of knowing why you're doing it you know. I Started cycling because it's something I love not because I wanted to like I don't know surprise people or whatever you know or leave to their expectations. But I guess you forget all of that with the pressure and the pressure to perform and do good because you were really good nationally you know. So I came back and I was just so frustrated and I was like I kept on telling myself like I got to train more more more more and more because these girls train a lot. And that's why they're really good. But he was totally the opposite. I had to rest I had to let my body just like disconnect for a while in order to like get freshen up and start again. Because I had just bonked into and gone into a hole and had a chronic fatigue and like all my levels were on the floor and. What I didn't understand that and I think it's also soft leads. We're just thinking about OK what can we do better to be better and you can train here so hard on yourself when you never want to rest you know.

 

[00:25:29] So I started going with a sports psychologist and and I didn't want to do it because I was like No I'm not crazy. And you know how people saying is like you know seeing a psychology is because you're crazy. And I was like I'm not crazy. And everyone kept on telling me but I guess you don't understand until you actually go and see how it works. I started seeing a sports psychologist and I started realizing that first of all I had to listen to my body. Second of all I knew I had to race. And third of all realizing that I had mental issues it was not all physical. Break yourself up with the results. And just thinking about OK you were like super good winning everything in Mexico and like always having a podium internationally and the America level and now you're no one. You're like just OK you're one more in the pack. So that's really hard to overcome that. And just like people talking like oh you know you see Ingrid's not good enough like she was the best year. But as soon as you throw her to the professional then like the highest level she's no one. And so that starts getting in your head. And we finally after a year and a half it took me a year and a half to regain confidence and regain my fitness and started competing again and being myself again. So I made those changes and I think that really helped me.

 

[00:26:57] And I was on the road to qualifying for the real Olympics in 2016 and I think it was really good. I was doing everything right. And one year before the Olympics. I was racing I was winning races. I was getting points to qualify. So the way to qualify to the Olympics in road cycling is you gotta be on the first 100 on the ranking in the world ranking or as a nation be in the top 22 on the ranking. So I did that. I accomplished that. I was in the top 100 as a rider as an individual rider and I gave Mexico the ranking. I think we were at the end on the 20th. But again it was only one spot that we gained because we were so far back down on the ranking. So there was one spot I had won the spot for Mexico but the spot that you gain it doesn't have your name. So it's the national team that decides at the end of the day who goes. So they told us that they were gonna pick who went on the national championships. I was like OK so you're basing who's gonna represent Mexico in the Olympics with one race. After all the hard work. And I was like OK one more race. You can do it. Anything can happen you know it was one race. So I remember we started the race. My bike broke. Something happened in the chain goes stuck and it just it broke the buck part and I had a spare bike but it wasn't my fit it was my mom's bike but I had taken it just in case. So I changed bikes like three times. And it was just horrible I mean all of the changes and I mean you know it gets into your head.

 

So yeah. At the end I think I got like fifth on that national championships. And then they have said that the girl who won the championships was gonna be the one who went to the Olympics. But no at the end of the day they changed everything again. And they decided that another girl who wasn't even on the long list for the Olympics was gonna go. And it was all political.

 

Laura:

[00:29:21] So frustrating.

 

Ingrid:

[00:29:21] Yeah. I remember after that I went back to Europe with my team because I was going to keep on racing there. And they haven't given any news so it was like okay. I mean it's been like probably 2 or 3 weeks after that race and we haven't heard anything about it. This was July already and the Olympics were in August and we didn't know who was gonna go. So again I was racing the Giro d'Italia and one morning I remember I woke up and I wanted to Facebook you know how you wake up and you go into your social media. And so I started seeing Facebook and then I saw posts from the national team and that was the news announcing the girl that was gonna go to the Olympics.

 

Laura:

[00:30:06] So you didn't get a phone call. You didn't get an email. You saw it on their Facebook.

 

Ingrid:

[00:30:09] Anything. Yes. Anything. I didn't get a single call, a single email, text nothing. I saw the news on Facebook. And I remember this girl that had been picked. She was my roommate at the time we were on the same team. So I woke up first and I saw the news and I went out of the room and I started crying. And then when she woke up obviously she was really happy. It was a really hard moment. Tough moment because you wanted to be happy for her. Then at the same time I was just devastated. And I couldn't even believe that they hadn't had the guts to call us you know and give us the news personally or hey you're going or hey you're not going because of this is that. And I tried calling them I tried emailing them and texting or whatever and I never got a response back like I never heard back from them. So because they knew they had violated their own rules you know. So yeah I mean it was just really hard and after that I just crashed again like mentally you know it was you know. You get depressed you were like all these hard work for nothing and blah blah blah. You know it starts getting in your head. And I decided that year 2016 that I was gonna tired maybe this wasn't for me and you know.

 

Laura:

[00:31:36] Like professionally and everything.

 

Ingrid:

[00:31:38] Yeah. Like what's the point if you're doing all this. And you're I mean you have this goal and you achieve it you get to it. And then at the end of the day it doesn't depend on your performance or on what you're doing to go or not to go to a race?

 

Laura:

[00:31:55] Someone can just take it away right?

 

Ingrid:

[00:31:56] Exactly. So I was like You know what. And I was stunning at the time. I was like OK I'm just going to dedicate all my time to finishing my college degree and starting the next chapter in my life. And so I came back home after Europe and I was just really crushed and I left my bike. I remember I traveled with my bike back home. But you know it's parked in a big box and so I left it in the box when I came home I didn't even want to see it. I just want to like to refresh mentally and physically. And I tried to enjoy my family and friends and all that. And then I remember I got an email from a team from a European team saying that they wanted me to be part of their team next year. I'm like OK. But I wasn't even in the mood. And then I don't know probably like two weeks later I got another email from another team. And then I got another email from another team. So I had like four offers from four different teams to be on their team professionally. Now Im like what?! Like this it never happened before. This must be a sign like this. I mean I must be doing something good for 4 doing things they want me on the team. You know?

 

Laura:

[00:33:17] I would think so. Yeah!

 

Ingrid:

[00:33:20] Yeah. I thought to myself like you know what dialing doesn't define me. Being an Olympian doesn't define who I am. Obviously something you want as an athlete because who doesn't you know. You're an athlete you always wanna be on the first step of the podium and you're there to win. You know you're competing to win. But at the end of the day I think you gotta find. You gonna realize that being on a bike doesn't define who you are. Going to the Olympics or being an Olympic athlete doesn't define who you are. There's more to life besides that. And not everyone has the same opportunities. And most important of all things happen for a reason. And yeah I think that was a really important year in my career to make me realize that. Cycling is what I love and I do it because I love it not because I want to be someone. I had been for years in Europe already and I got an offer from an American team and I was like OK I wanna make a change. You know. Changes are good. So I signed with an American team based in California northern California. It was one of my best years of my career 2017 honestly and I had thought about retirement. And yeah I guess it all like you all came back to you're doing this because you love it not because it defines you. No.

 

[00:34:52] After all of that and after leaving all of that I just started realizing that I wanted to keep on doing this sport because it was what I like to do. And because I wanted to leave something to the upcoming generations and try to share my story and tell them that first. Because everyone in Mexico probably opportunities aren't as a. They don't present us often as in other developing countries so everyone ask me like how do you got there? Like how do you do it? This is your eight year as a professional. Like how no one has been able to do that? No one has had a contract or that many years in a row. So that's what I want to give to the Sports. I want to give back what it has shown me and how it had made me grow. Become a more mature person and realizing that there is more to life than just being an athlete. Cycling is a really hard sport I mean you got to love suffering you. Got to be able to handle the pressure especially the pressure about you got to be really skinny you're a girl and you got to lose weight and blah blah blah. You know just all of that gets into your head and I think it causes a lot of disorders in female athletes even male. So you're also playing with your health.

 

Laura:

[00:36:14] Well I'd love to ask you about that because I know you've been pretty open about how you struggled with eating disorders. And that's also I mean very prevalent in my sport as well. And so I'd love it if you could briefly take us through kind of how that developed? And how you I mean maybe you still deal with I don't know. But how you overcame it and get through that daily?

 

Ingrid:

[00:36:31] For becoming a full road athlete I did a lot of track. So track cycling you gonna have more muscle because you've got to be more strong. And because it's all about power and shored efforts and stuff. So it's gonna be all power all muscle all for strength. So I'm a big girl and I developed muscle really easily so. So yeah. I had a big body I had a lot of muscle in my legs so when I started road cycling and I went to Europe I mean most of the girls are really skinny. They just start telling you like you'll lose weight you can be better. Hey I think you get a couple of pounds. Couple of extra pounds on you like it starts getting you in your head. Even if you're not an athlete and you're a girl and someone tells you that you're overweight you're always shocked you know and gets into your head. And so yeah I was like OK I gonna take care of myself. So I saw a nutritionist and he was like guiding me and stuff. But every time it was the same thing you got to lose weight. You gotta lose weight. You got to lose weight. Got to lose weight. And I remember there was a year that I lost a lot of weight because I wasn't recovering. So I had to like I was obviously on a calorie deficit. But it was just I felt good on the bike or stronger but I wasn't happy because you don't have energy to do anything else besides training you know. You just you have solo energy. You're in a bad mood all the time because you're not getting all your nutrients. You're not recovering well. And then also if you get invited to like dinner or I don't know to have coffee with friends you don't want to go because you don't want to eat there. You know?

 

Laura:

[00:38:18] It’s stressful? Yeah. Ah-hmm...

 

Ingrid:

[00:38:18] Yeah. It’s really stressful. So I just realized and I went again to the nutritionist and I'm like OK I got to be skinny but I got to be healthy as well. So I started working with her and it worked really good because she showed me how to eat and what to eat. And fulfilled my all the other things that I lose on wild training wild racing and getting all my nutrients. And yeah I started feeling better obviously I gained some pounds but it was strength it was muscles. And I realized I was happier and I didn't have to be stressed all the time. And as long as you're performing. Try not to worry about that I mean I know you have to maintain a weight but you have to be healthy. I mean if you're not healthy and you're unhappy it's worthless.

 

Laura:

[00:39:07] Sports only lasts so long too. You have to I think remember that we think it's our whole world but on wrapped up in it. But it keeps going on after you're done with your sport. At some point everybody has to be done with their sport you know.

 

Ingrid:

[00:39:08] Exactly!

[00:39:17] Totally. I mean you're gonna hit that point that you're either no longer qualified to keep on racing because you're too old or you're just not performing as well or you never know. Or you'd have an accident that hopefully we don't. But yeah you got to realize that there's gonna be a point where you're not gonna be a professional athlete anymore.

 

Laura:

[00:39:39] Well changing gears a little bit. I love that you talked about how you are starting your university studies and you kind of going to take your time on it. And I think last year you finally got your degree right in international business?

 

Ingrid:

[00:39:52] Yeah. Yeah. I did.

 

Laura:

[00:39:54] Congratulations!

 

Ingrid:

[00:39:54] Thank you. I graduated on May last year. I felt really happy because I had been studying or doing my college degree for six years so.

 

Laura:

[00:40:08] Nice. That's dedication right there and consistency.

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:12] Instead of taking the four years that you usually take. I finished in six because I was doing professional cyclist at the time and I didn't want to leave my studies. And yeah I mean there were some semesters where I had to go to Europe and compete which I had to only take probably one or two classes. But yeah I'm so happy I got my degree.

 

Laura:

[00:40:34] Well, didn't something else happened right after you got your degree?

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:37] I got married. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:40:39] That's awesome. Well congratulations on both of those. It's so exciting.

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:43] Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:40:44] Now what's next for you? Are you gonna be doing more pro circuits? Is there even a thought of 2020? Or are you moving on past the Olympics? Or what are your goals?

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:52] So I signed two more years with the team that I've been racing for the last two years the American team name Tibco–Silicon Valley Bank. And I signed two more years because yeah my ultimate goal again is the 2020 Olympics. After that I've talked to myself and I've come to a conclusion that I want to retired from the pro circuit. I'm gonna be settling with my friends maybe? But I would want to retire just take a break from the pro circuit. This year I have a full calendar starting on March in Europe with my team and it goes all the way to October.

 

Laura:

[00:41:27] Wow!

 

Ingrid:

[00:41:28] It's a really important year because it's where the Olympic ranking opens up. So every raise you go every race is an opportunity to get points and go up there and the ranking.

 

Laura:

[00:41:40] Has Mexico changed its rules at all on how they pick the Olympians?

 

Ingrid:

[00:41:43] Not really. That's what I would gonna say. I'm going into this whole process again knowing that the final decision is not in my hands. So I'm getting into this process with that idea. And knowing that if I do everything in my power to qualify and whatever the outcome is that I can retire happy and satisfied and knowing that I did everything in my power to go. So I think that mentality is gonna help me get through it more easily. I have full support of my husband full support of my family my coach. So yeah that's my goal. That's my program. And yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:42:33] It's a great great way to go into it. I think it's beautiful. It's beautiful. Well where can we follow you to continue to be inspired by you and to cheer you on along all of these adventures. Like where can we follow you online?

 

Ingrid:

[00:42:45] Obviously Instagram my thing right now is social and the top social media. So my Instagram is @IngridDrexel so just my name and last name. And I also have a Facebook page same my name Ingrid Drexel and Twitter @IngridDr so yeah. Those are social media as I use and I usually post what I'm doing and.

 

Laura:

[00:43:07] Awesome. Ingrid thank you so very much for coming on the podcast today. You are just awesome. I love your personality is adorable and I love just the way you handle things your heart for other people. And for showing people what you've learned I think that's brilliant so thank you again so much for being on.

 

Ingrid:

[00:43:22] Thank you very much for having me. Really nice to meet you. And I'm so happy I can have a chance to tell people a little bit of my story.

 

Laura:

[00:43:34] I'm so thankful to Ingrid for joining us on today's show. I really appreciate her honesty as she shared about the struggle to switch to the pro circuit. I think we can all relate to those moments when others expectations weigh heavy on us and if we let it that pressure can become crippling. But I love how Ingrid shared about her journey of releasing those voices and how that allowed her to cycle just for the pure joy of it. Such a great lesson for all of us no matter what we're doing. Be sure to tune in next week to hear from Olympic gold medalist diver David Boudia. He shares about what it's like to chase an Olympic dream from the age of 7 and how it's forever changed his life. Be sure to subscribe wherever you listen because you don't want to miss this one. And please go ahead and leave us a review because those reviews help us get these amazing 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 to access the complete archives please visit HopeSports.org

 

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About This Episode

Growing up in Texas, Clint Gresham knew that football was life. It rooted friendships, reputations, and communities. His father played football at the University of Texas and, even at age ten, he vividly remembers the surge of energy when he first walked into the stadium of the Texas Longhorns. In middle school he transferred from a small, private school to the local public school with the hopes of playing with a bigger team. It wasn’t until high school, however, that he found his niche as a long-snapper. He excelled at this specialized position and opportunities to play collegiate football began popping up. At that point, he never considered playing in the NFL, but one thing led to another and there he found himself. As Clint likes to say, “football seemed to happen to me.”

In 2010, Gresham was the only long snapper invited to the NFL combine and he began to realize that he had a real shot at playing professionally. Initially drafted by the Saints, he only lasted three-months on the team before being released. He packed his bags and drove back to Texas, fully convinced that his professional career was over. Soon after, however, he got a call from the Seattle Seahawks and was on a plane to his next team. Clint shares that his first few months in the NFL were incredibly lonely. Paying rent month to month, living in a new city, and unsure how long his contract would last were all difficult things to deal with. Despite the initial insecurity, the 2012-2015 years with the Seahawks picked up speed and went by like a blur. The team picked up momentum, made the playoffs, and Gresham soon found himself standing on the field for Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Seahawks entered as underdogs to the Denver Broncos, yet walked away Champions. Gresham shares that he and his teammates waited months for the victory to “sink in,” but soon realized that “what we were actually waiting for was for it to make us happy.” When it hadn’t made him happy, Clint found himself afraid because he had made winning the Super Bowl his life’s work - and it still wasn’t enough. It really struck him that “we are all chasing a Super Bowl in some capacity”, realizing that without something else giving him value and identity he would never be satisfied.

This revelation would be key the following year as he found himself standing, yet again, on the field for Super Bowl XLVIIII. Unfortunately, though, an interception thrown in the endzone on the final play of the game would leave the Seahawks shocked and devastated. No one saw that coming. Clint reflects on the locker room after that game when the coaches had very little words to share and, instead, turned to him to pray for the team. The weight of the game, the anticipation, and the blow of the loss left him nearly speechless - he just wanted to relieve everyone of the pain of disappointment. But it was in that moment that he had a revelation: too often he was using his faith in God as an “out” for uncomfortable experiences. He realized that rather than allowing ourselves to feel the pain, we try to relieve it through external means, which for many means some sort of addiction or distortion. Although he wanted to pray the pain away, he knew that each player on the team would need to face that loss, accept it, and move on.

With the loss behind him, Clint took another three year contract with the Seahawks, but was released only one year into it. He shares that, in retrospect, he felt “battle fatigue” from the emotional rollercoaster of his career. He had an intense few years and even though he didn’t want to admit it, he needed a break. He kept in shape, though, as he wanted to be prepared for a call back to the NFL. And that call did come… the day after he learned that he had torn a muscle and wouldn’t be able to play. The decision had been made already for him to hang up his cleats and be done and he turned down the offer.

Though disappointed with ending his career, Gresham and his wife, Matti, looked forward to returning to their home state of Texas. He met Matti his first year in Seattle as a Young Life leader in the community. On a weekly basis he mentored around 100 middle and high school students through this Christian organization. As they got settled in Texas, he took the opportunity to get an MRI by an organization that grants brain scans to retired football players in hopes to raise awareness and treatment for concussions. For Clint, this scan would be critical as doctors discovered a tumor in a gland behind his ear. He sat in the waiting room with his wife, who was six months pregnant, fearing for the worst. Though the biopsy came back benign, there was an urgency to get the tumor removed. He underwent surgery just one week before his daughter was due and after the procedure learned that it was one of the most difficult and complicated tumor removals that the specialist had ever performed. The road to recovery wasn’t easy, either. While his wife was in labor to deliver their daughter, Clint was in the ER a few floors away being treated for an infection.

Thankfully he made it for her delivery and says that, although it’s cliche, his daughter has changed his life completely. Today he enjoys being a father and sharing his journey with others. He released his book, Becoming, in hopes of helping others through their own journeys of self-discovery. Working through his own reckoning after retirement, he sees others struggling with wondering “is this really all there is.” This book, and its corresponding workbook, help people to develop positive affirmations that support a healthy identity and Biblical worldview. Clint is passionate about taking what he has learned and developing practical applications for Biblical principles for living, especially for young people.

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Laura:

[00:00:04] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where each week athletes share about on field experiences that shape their careers in the off-field moments that bring them purpose. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. This week you were in for a real treat as we have Super Bowl champion Clint Gresham joining us. As a former Seattle Seahawks long snapper. Clint played him back to back Super Bowls and he shares about how he had to come to grips with his unexpected reactions to both victory and defeat. He has such a balanced and well-rounded perspective that has developed out of some pretty incredible highs and devastating lows. It's definitely a perspective that I needed to hear and I'm excited for you to discover as well. So without further ado here is his impactful story.

 

[00:00:51] Clint Gresham Thank you so much for being on the hope sports podcast today.

 

Clint:

[00:00:55] Yeah. Thank you for having me.

 

Laura:

[00:00:57] Now for those of us who don't know how awesome you are. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and kind of how you got your start in football?

 

Clint:

[00:01:04] Yeah. So I grew up in Texas and which meant that if I wanted to have friends I had to play football. That's the thing to do in Texas. And my dad played football at the University of Texas back in the 70s and he played with a guy named Earl Campbell who was an absolute legend in college and professionally. And I remember being a kid and going to UT football camps and go into games when I was a kid and just being so overwhelmed at the magnitude of what these guys were doing. And.

 

Laura:

[00:01:40] That registered for you that young like you understood the magnitude of it?

 

Clint:

[00:01:45] Well going into their Royal Stadium in Austin and there are 80,000 people there and I'm 10 years old. I mean it was just an overwhelming experience and I had a couple of times where I had met a couple of the Longhorn football players. And so I just I fell in love with the game and ended up transferring to a public school so that I could play football and 7th and 8th grade. Because my private Christian school we didn't have football. And yeah it was kind of just one of those things that as I went I started to love it more and more and. I think a lot of it is I felt like football happened to me. I was just kind of in the right place at the right time and I kind of look around and it's like now all of a sudden I'm playing professionally and playing in a couple of Super Bowls and it was all kind of a blur. But I feel really really thankful for everything that I've picked up along the way.

 

Laura:

[00:02:45] Yeah. And for people who aren't familiar with how big football is in Texas, I'm a Texas girl and I mean there's a Texas high school football magazine. So it is a big deal here. I get that.

 

Clint:

[00:02:57] Yeah. There's a high school just up the road from us in Allen, Texas. And they've got like a 90 million dollar stadium like for a High School.

 

Laura:

[00:03:05] For the high school? Holy cow! Wow!

 

Clint:

[00:03:07] Yeah. So.

 

Laura:

[00:03:10] So Okay.

 

Clint:

[00:03:10] That’s not a joke.

 

Laura:

[00:03:11] No. It's definitely not a joke. Now. So those awesome overwhelming early days in the Big Utah stadium and hook them for all our Austin people out there and a Longhorn also. Did you? I mean from that point. Did you dream of being in the NFL or it was just playing football and that's what you wanted to do?

 

Clint:

[00:03:31] I think every kid dream but every boy dreams of being in the NFL just like every kid wants to be an astronaut. That thing. I wanted to play football in college and I don't know if I ever really thought past that and once I got into high school I started to kind of figure out my niche. I was a long snapper so I realized I was pretty good at that. In my times were comparable to professional players. And I think that I thought that I could have a shot once I got into high school. And was kind of surprised that it actually worked out.

 

 

Laura:

[00:04:13] So how did it actually play out? Like how did you land that spot in the NFL? And was that kind of everything you had hoped it would be?

 

Clint:

[00:04:21] I was the only long snapper invited to the NFL scouting combine in 2010. And I remember thinking that that was like pretty incredible. Like obviously opportunity but just thinking like wow like they couldn't find another guy to come and compete with me like I must have a shot of this. And my rookie year was incredibly incredibly hard. I was living by myself and kind of like a month to month apartment situation. I started my career with the Saints and I was only there for three months and one day in a training camp. I got released and I thought that my football career was over. And I drive back to Fort Worth, Texas back to where I was living at the time. And then the Seahawks called me and told me they'd picked up my contract and so I flew out to Seattle and was very very alone when I was out there.

 

And I think I was not ready for what that was gonna look like. I had some community when I was in college but as far as like was it everything that I dreamed of I would say no. I think that it's pretty rare that somebody gets their dream and thinks that this is everything that I thought it was going to be because usually, it's not. When we won Super Bowl 48 it was a good six months that all of us were saying I keep waiting for it to sink in that we won the Super Bowl. And that year when we beat the Broncos we beat them 43 to 8. I mean just absolutely crushed them and everybody had the Broncos pick to win. And we just took them apart. But for 6 months we all kept saying I keep waiting for it to sink in that we won the Super Bowl and I realized what all of us meant by that was not. I keep waiting for it to sink in but I keep waiting for this thing to make me happy like I thought it would. And it hasn't. And now I'm actually kind of scared because I've made this my life's pursuit.

 

[00:06:32] So. All of us here are chasing a Super Bowl in some capacity. I mean maybe if you're a sales person I want to get this many sales or whatever your dream or goal is. I think that's one thing that I picked up when I was playing with that one. We never really talked about wins and losses like the night before Super Bowl 48 and Super Bowl 49 really played against the Patriots. We didn't even talk about the other team. We talked about things that we could control like our effort of preparation, enthusiasm, and by focusing on the things that we could control the outcome sort of taking care of themselves. And so I always encourage people to focus on the process. Focus on those kinds of things because to try and gather your sense of joy and happiness to a particular outcome is either going to blow you apart if you don't get it or it's going to fill you with so much zeal. That it's like a drug that you're not going to have any drive once you achieve it. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:07:38] Mm-hmm. Such good wisdom. Such good advice and wisdom. I love that. Well, and so you kind of like just leading into the next thing I was gonna ask you is you won Super Bowl 48. And I know you wrote a really good blog post about what that was like and what it taught you about work ethic. And then the next year was a totally different outcome. Can you kind of take us through the extremes of both of those? And what that was like and what went through your head? And kind of like you mentioned you guys were asking for 6 months like when's it going to sink in. And then you had to get back up and do it again. So can you kind of take us through that whole like two seasons?

 

Clint:

[00:08:21] Yeah. It was a never ending ride. I mean I feel like the 2012 season we drafted Russell Wilson and we end up going to the playoffs for the first time and I think like 5 seasons or something. And that season all the way through like the 2015 season just felt like one long season. Because 2012 led in 2013 we end up going to the Super Bowl we win the Super Bowl and then all the stuff that comes with winning the Super Bowl. I mean you're talked about everywhere.

 

Laura:

[00:09:00] So there's a big trade too. Right? Like kind of all the crazy things. Right?

 

Clint:

[00:09:04] Oh yeah. Yeah. The parade was insane. We had a million people in downtown Seattle. It was like 35 degrees outside and it was a bizarre experience. We were driving on these giant military tracks. And I remember I was standing on top of the roof of one of these military trucks and I'm like 15 feet off the ground. And we pull up to this intersection and you can see down the road like going all four directions and it's like three blocks deep. It's just a sea of people. And it's bizarre.

 

[00:09:43] And so like everything that came with that was absolutely overwhelming and then going into the next season we start off to remember what we started off. I know that we didn't start off that season well but we end up making it back to the Super Bowl and we're playing against the Patriots. We're on the one-yard line we're about to win back to back Super Bowls. And then we throw an interception and we lose the game in the end zone. And it was such a just debilitating moment. I remember I didn't even see it happen when the interception was thrown. And when I saw realized what had happened I literally fell to the ground because it was just like you feel so much weight like the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. But then just the weight of the previous several seasons. And I remember we walk into the locker room and some guys are not handling it well and our head coach says a couple of words to the team. Then he looks at me and he's like okay Gresh. Go ahead and pray for us now.

 

[00:10:47] And I'm completely at a loss for words like oh my gosh like what can I possibly say here that's going to make this moment not be painful. And I kind of felt like the internal pressure of. I'm trying to relieve everyone from this sense of pain. And in retrospect, I think that that thought is really profound because like the second time we start running from our pain is usually when we get addicted to something? That's what addiction is all about. Like you feel something uncomfortable on the inside of you. So you looked at something external to make that pain go away. And really what we need to do at that moment was just accept it and feel it and not try and run from it. Just learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable because that's the only way that we grow. And just personally like I had realized that that’s kind of a pattern in my life. And it kind of used God as this escape of I'm just gonna pray the pain away. And what I really wanna do is just learn how to be OK with it and have the courage to deal with it because it's only there that we grow and become stronger. So it was kind of a profound learning moment for me and I think for our team as well so I have to ask you I mean what did what did you say what did you pray said Jesus please curse the Patriots.

 

Laura:

[00:12:09] So, I have to ask you. I mean what did what did you say? What did you pray?

 

Clint:

[00:12:14] I said Jesus please curse the Patriots. I don't know. I blacked out. I have no idea what I said. I'm sure it was not a very eloquent prayer. But it was yeah just that we would learn from this and move on. But you know it's like anything that you say it's not gonna really make it go away. So yeah. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable is really. That's the sweet spot. If I can just be okay with it man you're unstoppable on that faith.

 

Laura:

[00:12:53] So well said. So well said. Well now after that I know the Seahawks sign you to a 3-year contract but you were released after just a year. Did you kind of see that coming? Or was that a surprise? And how did you deal with that?

 

Clint:

[00:13:10] I didn't have a great season and the 2015 season. Like I mentioned earlier it just felt like 2012 to 2015 was just one long season and. You know people end up getting battle fatigue or just like I can't do this another day. And I think that that was starting to happen with me where I felt like I just couldn't do anything to really get to the place that I was expected to be. Looking back I can see that pretty clearly at the moment it was totally surprising. And I kind of thought that they were gonna be bringing me back and didn't really end up happening. I actually ended up getting a call from them right at the end of the season. Because their long snapper went on I R and they needed somebody to come and play for them for the playoff game against the Lions. And I had actually found out the day before that I had torn my labrum in my shoulder. And was gonna be able to take them up on that. And so, that was really challenging because I had been stand ready and tried to be prepared for that opportunity because I felt like it was gonna be inevitable. But yeah. The Lords seem to have closed that door and just had to trust him through that.

 

Laura:

[00:14:44] Well, so what point in all of this did you meet your sweet wife Maddie?

 

Clint:

[00:14:49] We met. That was in 2012 was the first time that we met. We were both Young Life leaders and Young Life was a huge part of who I was when I was playing football up in Seattle. I had a house up there and we had meetings every week and it was right next to the high school. And so Young Life is a ministry for high school kids and middle school kids. And we would probably have like 100 kids a week come into our house for Bible study or run my club and refuge a fellow leader.

 

[00:15:28] Yeah it was. That was awesome kind of just getting to grow together. Like while we were both doing Young Life and. I think the best thing about it was that the first time I met her I saw her from across the room and I just see this tall beautiful brunette and she's talking the was Texan accent. I'm like oh my goodness! I gonna have that girl. And come to find out she’s from Texas also. Like what are you doing up here? Well, she grew up in Lubbock and so I found the Texas gal up in Seattle. So it made moving back to Texas once my football career was over. A pretty easy decision.

 

Laura:

[00:16:06] That's awesome. I love it. Well so now the NFL Players Association they have a new program called The Trust. Where they do a brain and body scan and it was launched to help ex-players with their health after football. And I think just this past May right? You decided to take advantage of that. What did they find?

 

Clint:

[00:16:27] Yes. I kind of felt this bump like behind my ear for a while and I'd ask the doctor about it and he said it was just a cyst or something and I just couldn’t think about it. And I started to notice kind of cognitive things that I thought might have been related to concussions or something. And so I went and I did this thing and they took an MRI of my head. And I'm sitting in this chair looking at the computer screen and she shows the MRI. And we find this huge mass that's right where that little bump was. And I'm looking at this thing thinking what the heck is that? And the doctor looks at me and she kind of panics for a second. She's like I need to go get the other doctor and she storms out of the room and I'm sitting there with my 6 months pregnant wife thinking, oh my gosh I've got brain cancer or something.

 

[00:17:26] I have no idea. And doctor comes back in and he kind of calms us down. He says well we want to do a biopsy and just check out what it was. And the biopsy came back benign which we are really thankful of. And the doctor kind of said Hey like you need to get this removed at some point. No pressure kind of do it when whenever. And kind of forgot about it at that point. And when we got back to Texas I had reached out to a doctor to just have him check it out. The doctors that they referred me to. He had a little bit more urgency about it and she was saying hey we should get this removed left untreated this particular kind of tumor which was in my carotid glands. So thankfully it had not metastasized and gotten into my brain. He said that this particular kind of tumor can get bad really fast. So we end up removing it and we had it removed a week before our little girl was born.

 

Laura:

[00:18:37] A week before? Oh my goodness!

 

Clint:

[00:18:38] A week before. Yeah. I had woken up after the surgery the doctor said that was one of the most difficult tumors I've ever had to remove. The tumor was completely wrapped around your facial nerve. So there was a very high risk of having facial paralysis. And it's like all you need is a little bit of facial paralysis to feel insecure. Right?

 

Laura:

Right.

 

Clint:

[00:19:05] Like just a little bit to just be conscious of it all the time. And so, thankfully he got that all removed. But it was it was a terrifying experience. I mean you know you hear the word tumor and you go to the worst case scenario. And here I am a week before our little girl is about to be born and you can just go to a scary place and thankfully I have.

 

Laura:

[00:19:30] How do you not go to the scary place? Like how did your wife handle all of this? I cannot imagine you have a kid your husband's undergoing brain surgery which I'm sure in the most mundane brain surgery is not safe you know.

 

Clint:

[00:19:44] And thankfully it wasn't brain surgery. They didn't have to get into my skull. It was on the outside of my skull thankfully. But just the same like it's still terrifying. It's still a tumor. It's still you know the possibility of cancer and all of that. And actually, the day that my wife went into labor we were in the hospital that night. And I found out that the two that I. Well I'll say I started to notice some pain on my surgery site. And so I went. I talked to the nurse and I said Hey can you just take a look at this thing? This is. I had this surgery done last week and she looks at issues like I think that looks infected you should go to theE.R. to have it looked at. And so my wife was asleep at the time and because we were gonna be going into labor the next day. And I was just going to try and sneak down there because I didn't want to scare her.

 

[00:20:46] And the doctor looks at it and sure enough the surgery side got infected. And so I'm like laying on my back and I've got an IV on my arm of antibiotics. And are giving me morphine because I was on a ton of pain. And then probably 30 minutes after I left to go down there my wife text me. She says I'm going into labor right now. Where are you?

 

Laura:

[00:21:09] Oh my goodness.

 

Clint:

[00:21:11] I'm like well I'm just out walking around and like I was trying to not tell her what was happening. And finally, after you know an hour or so I had to tell her like hey this thing kind of got a little scary. I'll be up as soon as I can and thankfully got everything covered and was able to be there for the delivery. But it was an intense night for sure.

 

Laura:

[00:21:35] Man I cannot even imagine. Yes from both of your perspectives. At least you both weren't on the hospital bed together in the same room. Just not. You can't make up stories that good. So how is your little baby now?

 

Clint:

[00:21:51] She's amazing and has tapped into a part of my soul I didn't even know I had. It's been the best! Has totally changed like who I am and how I see God and I see the world. I remember my parents saying like something happens to you when you have a kid. And you know when you're a kid and a young adult you hear cliches like that all the time. And you kind of roll your eyes at it and then it happens to you. And it's all of a sudden everything makes sense and it's been beautiful and we've loved it. It brought our family together. Brought my wife and I closer. And yeah we wouldn't change a thing. She's sleeping well. Her life is good.

 

Laura:

[00:22:50] Congratulations! That is so so awesome. Being a parent is definitely I think the best thing on the planet.

 

Clint:

[00:22:57] Yeah. No kidding.

 

Laura:

[00:22:59] So today. Now you are an international speaker and the best selling author. I would love for you to tell us about your book Becoming Loving The Process To Wholeness. Because I'm itching to get it. And I want the workbook and I want the I-talk. Like please tell us about all of these things that you've created? Because now I think they're so so good.

 

Clint:

[00:23:19] Yeah. So I started writing the book shortly after I'd gotten released. And the reason that I chose the word Becoming because that word is an adjective and it's also a verb. We are all becoming something. But to be becoming is to be attractive. And so what does that look like to like who you are when you haven't become the person you feel like you're supposed to be. And I think all of us can find us in that place of feeling frustrated about how much we have in front of us. And we see everybody's kind of perfectly manicured versions of their lives on social media. And we compare everybody else's highlight reel to the entirety of our lives. And it can be frustrating like I can find myself in that place. And so the book helps people embrace the process build their life on an identity that can't be taken away from you. Because ultimately anything that we place our sense of wars and that can be taken away whether it's wealth or status or whatever it is it's gonna create a very fragile life. And when I look at people that I have played with I mean all of us got to the top. I mean there's no higher that you can get. And then when you look at the statistics of ex NFL players and I would say it's even broader than NFL players. I mean ex-athletes. I mean people who have gotten to the top and have made it their life's pursuit. Once they're done with that there can be this reckoning that happens where is this really all that there is. And I went through that like even knowing that I could say or preach a message that my identity is not in football. My identity is and who God says that I am inevitably any of us are going to put some of our sense of worth in what we do. It's just that's just how it is.

 

[00:25:23] And so the book will help guard people from that. Because it's one of those things that we don't realize that we're doing it and we assume that we're OK until it happens. And I feel thankful because I was kind of forced into OK who am I really 30 years before a lot of my peers? So it kind of just gave me a unique perspective about life and yeah there's a workbook that goes along with it. And then I talk cards that I created there biblically based acclimation to train our self so that we think like God thinks and see our situation as God sees it. So this deck of 52 cards and on one side is an affirmation. And the other side is the scripture that supports that truth and I'm looking at one of these right now says I let others make mistakes. And on the other side of it is from the message version that's Matthew 17 says don't pick on people, jump on their failures, or criticize their faults unless of course you want the same treatment.

 

[00:26:30] So I am OK giving people Grace because I also wanna have grace. And so it's just a practical way to get the principles of the world into our hearts so that we can live from those principles. And I've realized that they're really helpful with teaching kids kind of what's going on behind scripture because I think it's great to memorize scripture. What's more important is to have this scripture inside of us so that it actually affects our lives. And you know like I don't want the words but I want change in my life. So yeah. That’s all.

 

Laura:

[00:27:06] That is awesome. Well yes. And please tell us where can we get our copy? Because as soon as we get off of this interview I'm getting my copy. So where can we go to get a copy of Becoming and where else can we follow you online?

 

Clint:

[00:27:19] Clintgresham.com is my website where people can pick up my stuff from my blog or book for opportunities and seeking events. And I want Instagram Facebook and Twitter and all that stuff. So. I’m pretty easy to find out there @gresh49.

 

Laura:

[00:27:41] Awesome. Well thank you Clint so much for being on today and we are just excited to continue to follow your journey and learn from all of your wisdom.

 

Clint:

[00:27:49] Yeah. Thank you for having me.

 

Laura:

[00:27:53] Thanks to Clint for joining me on today's episode. I love his advice to focus on the pieces of our journey that we can control. Clearly, that perspective carried him through some incredibly intense experiences. And although we might not all be prepping for a Super Bowl there are challenges that we all have to walk through and like he phrased so perfectly. We can't tether ourselves to the outcome. Check out more from Clint on his awesome blog which I love along with his book and web site. All of those details you can find in the show notes in hopesports.org where you can find all of our past conversations. On the next episode, we have 4 times Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey sharing about what it was like to become the youngest person ever to win that event. You won't want to miss it. So be sure to subscribe wherever you listen. And please leave us a review because those reviews help us continue to get awesome guests on this show to keep inspiring you. I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and similar media.

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About This Episode

“You always have to believe that you can achieve the unthinkable.”

She was only nineteen years old when she won gold in Athens. Weeks before the Olympics she hadn’t even made the team.

For most of us, getting to the Olympics is a far off dream, but Mariel Zagunis shares that it always seemed completely attainable. The daughter of two Olympic rowers, she grew up believing that she, too, could someday make Team USA. Despite her parents legacy, however, rowing was not of interest to Mariel. She says that her mom put her older brother in fencing lessons to keep him from sword fighting all throughout the house. After tagging along to his classes for several week, Mariel decided to give it a try as well. What started as a way to divert boundless energy quickly became national competitions and junior world championships, all with the same coach she still trains with today.

Having Olympian parents was a real asset to her as she became a more serious athlete. They instilled in her a strong work ethic, a positive attitude towards competition, and, most importantly, a solid support system for when things didn’t go her way. This was particularly important in 2004 when Mariel was devastated to have not qualified to fence at the Olympics in Athens. All she wanted to do was sit on the couch and cry, but her parents encouraged her to continue to train as if she were going. This advice would be key for her. Just weeks before the Olympics she got a call that the delegate from Nigeria would not be going and a spot opened up in the competition.

Mariel reflects that she went to Athens to prove to everyone that she was meant to be there the whole time. Despite being only nineteen and the lowest seeded competitor, she came out swinging - literally. A true underdog story, Mariel went on to win the gold medal and break a 100 year drought in American fencing history. She turned heads not only in the world of fencing, but across the nation. Four years later in Beijing she stood at the top of the podium flanked on both sides by American women as Team USA swept the event and she went home with another gold. In those 2008 Olympics a team event was offered and she snagged a bronze medal.

Her impact on the Olympic community was recognized as she was chosen by her peers to be the flag-bearer at the London Olympics in 2012. Mariel shares that all of her success didn’t seem too overwhelming until she was highlighted at those Olympics. She felt the pressure mount and missed the podium in both the individual and team events.

Mariel headed home to the support of her family and friends, who she credits with helping her get through the aftermath of a devastating games. Humbled by the loss in the spotlight, she took quite a long break from fencing. She wasn’t sure if she would even come back to fencing, but shares, “I had to prove to myself that this one loss does not define me.” She dedicated the next few years to training even more purposefully. She shifted her perspective to see mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve herself. Rio was a bit disappointing as she walked away with a bronze medal in the team event, but didn’t medal in the individual event. But her new growth mindset didn’t leave her feeling defeated, it left her feeling empowered to train for her next Olympics in Tokyo.

Gearing up for the 2020 Olympics looks different, though. Mariel gave birth to a daughter in 2017 and now balances athletics with motherhood. She says that she didn’t fully comprehend how much her body and mind would change as she became a mom, but feels surprisingly good heading back into competition. She has had to change how she manages training, but, at only seven months postpartum, she took the bronze medal in Moscow at the World Championships and now has her eyes set on a third Olympic gold.

Today, she finds the pressure to win exhilarating instead of paralyzing. She finds confidence in her training and shows up to competitions knowing that she has put in the work, prepared as much as possible, and can let her best effort speak for itself. And win or lose, she credits her coach of 24 years, her family, and her friends for supporting her no matter what. “No one becomes an Olympic champion on their own or by luck,” says Mariel. It’s through hard work and with the backing of her community that she looks forward to Tokyo.

 

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Laura:

[00:00:04] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we chat each week with athletes about purpose. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. I'm so excited for today's guests not just because she's a personal friend of mine but because there is no limit or barrier that can contain this woman. And I am constantly inspired by her amazing feats. Muriel's Zagunis is the most decorated fencer in American history. But her history-making path wasn't without struggles disappointments and defeats. She shares about her mindset after not qualifying for the Olympic Games. How she learned to find confidence in her training and her life as a mom has changed her perspective. Now listen up because this interview is packed full of wisdom.

 

Welcome Muriel's goodness to the hope sports podcast. I'm so excited that you're here with us today.

 

Mariel:

[00:00:55] Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk to you Laura.

 

Laura:

[00:00:58] Now I have been blessed and so lucky to know you for a number of years now but for our audience who might not be as familiar with you. Can you give us a little bit of background about how you got started in fencing?

 

Mariel:

[00:01:09] Sure. Yeah. It's a very obscure sport. Not a lot of people fence or really know what fencing is all about. I have to say in recent years it's gotten more popular which is really cool. So when I tell people that I fence now they actually know that it's a sport and an Olympic sport rather than before when they'd be like, What's that? And so I started fencing now almost. Oh man! Twenty-four years ago almost? And I started because my older brother when we were kids he wanted to sword fight. And so my mom needed to find an outlet for that. And so she found an after school fencing program just at a very very small club. And so I was the younger sibling just sitting there on the sidelines watching him have so much fun hitting people with swords and I thought it looked like fun. So that's that's how we all got started in the random sport of fencing.

 

Laura:

[00:02:00] Oh that's great. Now your parents were both Olympians. Olympic rowers in the 76 Games in Montreal. Right?

 

Mariel:

[00:02:06] Yeah that's how they met actually they both made the team.

 

Laura:

[00:02:09] Oh that's so cool. So was there ever like a push for you and your brothers to be rowers too?

 

Mariel:

[00:02:14] So. Not really. I think that both my parents being Olympians gave us as kids a sense of what the Olympics were from a very young age probably more so than I don't know your average kid. You know we I remember looking at their Olympic memorabilia books and like all their pictures and hearing their stories and just being like wow! That's so cool! Like I want to be that when I grow up, you know? And It was just kind of this concept that was obtainable. You know I think that some people maybe when they look at trying to aspire to be an Olympian or make an Olympic team or even win a gold medal it seems so far out of reach and it seems so just I don't even know where to begin. But because my both of my parents were Olympians it kind of seemed like oh yes you know that's what they did. So I want to do that. Sure. Why not, you know? And so as far as rowing they never really pushed my brothers and me to try it. But we did have a monitor in our house growing up because my parents still used it for exercise. And so they got us on that a few times. And I was like I'm never doing this again. I remember I was like I don't know eight or nine or something like that and I was like I feel like I'm going to die like I don't even know how much how many meters or whatever I did on it. But I was like nope not for me. I did not seem like fun at all.

 

Laura:

[00:03:36] Well that's one of those rowing machines right? You can work out on well. I don't. That's tough. That's a tough workout right there.

 

Mariel:

[00:03:42] Oh my God! Yeah. For anybody. And so then yeah. I was like nope. This doesn't seem like fun. So and luckily they didn't push us one way or the other they were very supportive in whatever we wanted to do. And luckily we found fencing instead of rowing so we created our own.

 

Laura:

[00:03:57] Well, so I know you said it kind of made it seem normal for you. Like this is a totally achievable thing that I can do. Are there other ways that having Olympian parents is kind of help you throughout your career and even just life and generally, you think?

 

Mariel:

[00:04:11] Oh my gosh totally. You know even if you're on a clear path towards the Olympics and you know what it takes and you know want to make those sacrifices and you are willing to give it everything you have there are. As you know always going to be ups and downs and obstacles to overcome and failures that you have to pick yourself up from. And I think having parents who went through all that in order to make a team and made the sacrifices that needed to be made and definitely went through their own struggles. For sure helped me and continues to help me to this day, through my journey and through each Olympic games each Olympic cycle. Because everyone has been so different that there's always something that I'm coming to my parents with and needing their help on or seeking their advice for. And it just you know just they've been so supportive and understanding. Especially now being a grown woman with my own child. It's like Wow! They made so many sacrifices to help me achieve these goals and these dreams. And I can never thank them enough like throughout the rest of my life for doing what they did to help me get to the level that I am. That I've got to.

 

Laura:

[00:05:28] That’s so cool. Was there any part of it that was maybe more difficult like was it was there any pressure on you or any kind of stress on that on that angle or were they always just supportive?

 

Mariel:

[00:05:39] Oh they were supportive. I don't know again looking back at you know hindsight. And I'm sure you also you have this too because we have similar kind of experiences as far as getting to the top top which is the Olympic gold medal. We didn't just make Olympic teams you and I. We won the Olympic gold medal which is just again just a completely different Echelon than even just making it on an Olympic team. Both are great achievements but of course, the gold medal is what most of us are there for. And so there wasn't too much pressure. You know, Once I was starting to do well and stuff. But I definitely looking back again my parents instilled in me an incredible work ethic. And I think that there was definitely some pressure to be like well you know you're not going to go to your friend's birthday party this weekend. You're gonna go to a fencing competition and things like that where, you know? I definitely like at the moment hated it. Because when you're you know eleven, twelve, thirteen years old you want to be involved and have that social life and all that stuff.

 

But I think they pushed me in all the right ways and I'm thankful that they did obviously. Because now that I'm grown and have been doing this for so long and I'm on my own as far as like my mom's not going to tell me that I need to go to practice. Like I do it on my own now because I think they instilled in me a really rigorous kind of work ethic mentality. I need to do this. I need to work hard. I need to sacrifice certain aspects of my life in order to be successful. And I know whether or not people would agree with that? It obviously resulted in my Olympic teams and my Olympic medals that I have. So you know. Of course, it obviously worked in some rest in some respects. So.

 

Laura:

[00:07:24] That's cool. Parenting is a hard sport. I would say in itself. So kudos to your parents for doing a good job.

 

Mariel:

[00:07:30] Well you get another gold medal in that. Geez! With all that you have going on. My goodness! I have won. I have won. And I don't even know how I make it to the gym half the time these days. And you have four. And I was like, oh my gosh!

 

Laura:

[00:07:42] Well, you just start juggling at some point. So you know one's always in the air at least.

 

Mariel:

[00:07:47] Yeah. Yeah. man.

 

Laura:

[00:07:50] OK. Well back to where we talking about. So the women's saber event it was being contested for the very first time at the 2004 Summer Games. But you actually didn't initially qualify the Nigerian I guess Nigeria. Decided not to send their qualified fencer to the Olympic Games. And since you were the next highest seeded fencer in the world you got selected to go and represent the USA. And you didn't just represent like we mentioned you won America's first gold medal in fencing in 100 years. Please take us through that whole process because that's it's crazy on all friends.

 

Mariel:

[00:08:25] Yes a definite underdog story to say the least. You know not making the team initially was of course very heartbreaking. And the way that fencing. The qualification goes for fencing the cut off for us at that point was the end of March in 2004. So I had these whole couple months of limbo where I was just like I don't know if I'm going to be able to get this alternate spot. I don't know if my dreams are crushed. I'm going to have to wait another four years for another chance and all this stuff.

 

And so I think that one of the things that really helped me pull through when the opportunity arose was the fact that I didn't give up. I just even though there was such a small small sliver of hope that I somehow could make the team. I continue to train as if I had already made the team and as if I was going to be there no matter what. And I think that just having that positive mentality having myself. And my whole support system supports me and be like you know what we're going to just see out the rest of these next couple of months. We're going to keep training as if everything worked out the way we expected it to. And you know I think that made a big difference was having that positive attitude. And staying in the gym and not curling up in a ball on a couch and crying every day which is what I wanted to do. When I didn't initially make the team. Because you know like I said that was the end of March and the Olympics weren't until July, August.

 

And so if I had just kind of given up on everything. I 100 percent would not have been physically or mentally prepared when that opportunity arose. And so I think that having you know very positive support system around me just really rallying and being like you know what you already we're supposed to be you know training these months and getting ready for this Olympics. And so why don't we just see it out and make the most of this time that we have. And that's what I did and luckily I stuck with it because then sure enough you know a couple of months later I found out that I was going to be the alternate. And like I said it was nice to not have the pressure on me. And great to feel physically and mentally prepared for that opportunity.

 

Laura:

[00:10:37] Well so what was that like? I mean going in. You prepared. You know, Just hoping for that sliver of hope like you said. And then you got to go in and do it. But then you went and won. I mean. What? Did you expect that? Were you surprised? Or were you thinking the whole time like yeah I've got a shot at this?

 

Mariel:

[00:10:53] I. I believed in myself. And I believe that I had been training and preparing to win an Olympic gold medal. Like I mentioned before. Some people are just as happy working to a personal goal or working to just make the Olympic team. Knowing that I don't know that their time or their weight or their performance isn't where it needs to be to win a gold medal. But you always have to believe in yourself. You always have to think that you can achieve the unthinkable. And I went into that Olympics in Athens just fulfilling my own expectations. I didn't care about what other people were saying about oh she's just an alternate or she doesn't stand a chance and all this stuff. I wasn't listening to me that nobody was even really paying any attention. So I showed up. Just happy to be there. And I was like I'm glad I have the second opportunity this second chance and I'm not going to let it go to waste. And I just fulfilled my own expectations and I went there to win. I knew all along that I was working towards a gold medal. And I just tense my heart out and kind of prove to myself and to the world that I was meant to be there the whole time.

 

Laura:

[00:12:00] It's so good. I love it! I love it now. What was the aftermath like? Because now all of a sudden you're you're made you've made history. I mean you won this first gold medal for America in like 100 years. I mean what was there a lot of kind of you know stuff thrown on you after that or how was that aftermath?

 

Mariel:

[00:12:17] I'm not some. I mean like yes or no. It was definitely a whirlwind as you know. It's just like that post-Olympic time. But that couple of months or a handful of weeks where just like everybody kind of wants a piece of you and it's like it's very overwhelming especially as a 19-year-old. and so it was a little bit crazy. But of course, it ended up dying down. And then the ramp up against Beijing four years later there was a lot of hype run around me and repeating and. But you know to be honest our U.S. team was very strong so there was a lot of attention on my teammates as well. And so I don't know I just I think back to that time was already over 10 years ago. So crazy to just think that I just put my head down and dug deep and I was like not even thinking of it as I need to do this or I need to defend my title or anything like that. I just again went out and fence my heart out and did what I knew how to do the best which is you know to perform in and fence how I knew how to fence. And it resulted in another goal which I was extremely satisfied and happy with of course.

 

Laura:

[00:13:25] And so I mean not only did you just defend your gold medal but you also added a bronze medal in the team event. Now was that? I mean, I guess how is that different having a team to stand on the podium with. Even though it was bronze versus an individual gold medal. Like what's that what is the different feeling I guess in that result?

 

Mariel:

[00:13:44] Yes it's very different but you know it also means a lot because you're winning that medal with your teammates, you know. And so fencing is a very individual sport and it's also very unique. Because it's kind of like I don't know if you think of it like the track events where you're one day you're running 100 meters against your teammates and you want to beat everybody. It doesn't matter if they're your teammates or not but you're running 100 meters and you want to win and so you win. And then a couple days later you're running the four by 100 meter with your teammates, you know. I mean.

 

And so that's kind of similar to how it works with fencing. So actually in Beijing, I beat my teammates for brought for that in the semifinals in the finals. I don't know if you remember that we swept so it was like I literally beat them but we also swept the podium and then a couple of days later we went and won a bronze medal together. So we were fencing together so it is a very different mentality when you're going into the team event. But an Olympic medal chance an Olympic medal is really awesome.

 

And also just real quick not a lot of people realize this the fencing when women's saber was added as it is an Olympic event. They took away or put us I guess in place of another event. They didn't give fencing as a sport more medals or more events so we had to fit in there. So in Athens, we only had the individual. The individual women's saber. In Beijing we had individual and the team back in London we only had individual again and then Rio we had the individual and the team. We have that opportunity to have the team event in Beijing because we didn't have it in Athens was awesome because you know obviously two Olympic medals are better than one to handle.

 

Laura:

[00:15:24] Definitely. Definitely. Well, so how was winning the very first one in Athens when you were that underdog to winning and defending that title and then winning the one with your teammates? Like I was one better than the other were they both sweet and different ways? Like what? Yeah. Explain that to me.

 

Mariel:

[00:15:40] Yeah. I get asked that question a lot. It's sweet in different ways for sure. It's like choosing between your children. And you know like you can't decide like which one. They're both so different experiences and you know to win Athens you know being an alternate first gold medal in 100 years for the US, first gold medal for Olympic medal for women's saber, and then to repeat in Beijing. That's repeat. That's four years later defending your title. Yeah. So is they all this every Olympics. Again as you know I'm sure has its own feel its own memories its own just everything that goes into it. It's just a different time in your life too, you know? Four years is a is a long time a lot of changes, you know. So it's just. They're both very very special to me in their own way.

 

Laura:

[00:16:28] That's cool. So      OK you have two Olympic gold medals and a bronze and you decide to keep on going. And so you're heading into London 2012 for your third Olympic games. Did that feel like walking into Beijing where you're defending again even though you said you kind of kept your head down and you just wanted to do your thing? Or was this like you mentioned each Olympic Games is different was this is a totally separate event?

 

Marie:

[00:16:50] I think it was it felt different for sure. Again it's like your third Olympics is ofcourse going to feel very different than your first. And then I have the added kind of attention on me being selected to be the flag bearer. And I think that that kind of changed the mentality a little bit. Because suddenly you know I went from two Olympics and you know making history. Which was awesome! But not a lot of people really paid attention to it to all of a sudden huge spotlight on my story and my history and my performance and this and that.

 

And so I think it definitely changed the way I felt that my performance went to London because of that. I mean not to say that who knows how it would have gone if I wasn't selected Siberian flag. Being flag bearer was an incredible honor and it was such an amazing experience to lead Team USA into the opening ceremony. I was just absolutely incredible. But it probably ended up being the highlight for me for the London games because I did come away empty handed.

 

Laura:

[00:17:57] Yeah. I mean that is because you didn't even walk in Beijing, did you? because you were the first day of competition.

 

Marie:

[00:18:02] Yeah. We're the first day.

 

Laura:

[00:18:03] So did you do the opening ceremony in Athens?

 

Marie:

[00:18:07] I did opening but not closing in Athens.

 

Laura:

[00:18:10] Okay. This is your set your second opening ceremony and your flag there. I mean because that's huge. It is a huge deal because all the U.S. athletes come together. And they pitch their favorite stories. And the athletes are the ones that vote on it. And so I remember when I heard you got selected I was so excited. Just cause I knew you and I knew your story. And you know I was there with NBC with the media. But I was so stoked that it was you and watching you just carry that flag. It was really really cool. But I can imagine the pressure that must come with that.

 

So do you think you just kind of let that in? Or I guess yeah. What. You know, I guess what aspect of it that you think affected the performance?

 

Marie:

[00:18:49] Again it's hard to say because you don't have a crystal ball to say what would have happened had I not been flagged there? I was very excited to have been given that honor for sure. But like I said it with it comes a lot of added attention a lot of added stress. A lot of extra interviews that maybe you know otherwise I wouldn't have been a part of. You know, what I mean? Because then you know you want to be part of all the press conferences and all that.

 

But it was I mean again to have that experience obviously. But I would have loved to have had my cake and eat it too. As far as having the flag there and then come away with an Olympic and another Olympic gold medal. So but again who's who's to say what my performance would have been either way. But yeah you know it does add a little bit of pressure to you because suddenly you're being seen by millions of people in the opening ceremony. Which again is absolutely incredible. To have represented not only my country but to represent female athletes and to represent the sport of fencing. Like there were so many things that just made me beam with pride as I walked through to the stadium. But yeah I definitely probably was a little bit of a distraction a little bit of an energy drainer. But who's to say. I mean I don't know maybe this would have still gotten the same result but who knows. But yeah it was definitely disappointing as far as my performance side of things.

 

Laura:

[00:20:16] All right. And it's I mean you didn't totally take. I mean you lost in the bronze medal match. You finished fourth just off the podium which. I think we talked a few years ago about this and you said you were a little devastated. I mean how? It's obviously a very different experience from winning two times in a row and you have won so many like world titles and everything else like. I don't think you're very accustomed to not being on the podium. So how did you handle that defeat and move on?

 

Marie:

[00:20:45] Yeah. I would say I was more than a little bit devastated for sure. It was like just as you said you know when you're so accustomed to not that not that it's been easy at all. You know. You work. You. Again. I feel like I'm talking and preaching to the choir here. But like you know how hard you have to work to win and not only win but win consistently. And I just felt like suddenly the formula didn't work. And that was just a very odd place for me to be in. Because I'm like wait a minute this is what I've been doing my whole life and it's working more often than not working. And then suddenly when it's the biggest most important competition that I've already know how to win. It's not like you know a choke under pressure. I mean I guess I did choke on the pressure but like it's not. Like it was my first experience being in an Olympic final. To have it not play out how I was used to the last two Olympics was very very difficult to wrap my mind around.

 

And so coming back from that you know I had to step away from fencing for a little bit I took quite a long break. And I was like, man I don't know if I can do this again. But then I was like I have to do this! Like I have to come back and I have to prove to myself that this one loss does not define me. And I have to say to myself that I have another shot at Rio and I'm just gonna take these next quad and really work even harder to make sure that you know I can not come away empty-handed from my next Olympics.

 

Laura:

[00:22:28] So I love that. I absolutely love that. And so how? What changed exactly in your mindset or in your purpose or in what you were doing? Like what shifted to make that change to keep going?

 

Marie:

[00:22:43] I think that it was definitely humbling in a way. You know it's like I know sounds like I don't know spoiled or something to be like Oh well I'm used to winning the Olympics. For me, you know? So I think that it was humbling in a way that I was like I'm not going to take anything for granted.

 

You know it's not that I was before. But it's like every minute that I was in the gym was purposeful. And every competition that I went to was I was there to prove a point to myself. And I was there to learn. And I was there to you know just to make myself a better fencer. Each and every day whether it's through practice or competition and learning through my mistakes. Whether that be the mistakes that I made in mundane or the mistakes that I made in the tournament that I competed in last month.You know it's like I'm constantly wanting to improve upon myself. And just getting smarter and working harder. And you know working harder in different ways as well. Because you know obviously like I said I thought the formula I have had the magic touch but it proved me wrong in London. So I just really wanted to kind of turn things around and figure out another answer to how to get there.

 

Laura:

[00:24:01] Well so four years later you are in Rio and you got another bronze with the team which was awesome. You got ninth individually. So was was that a successful Games to you? How do you feel about all that?

 

Marie:

[00:24:15] Honestly I don't think that I would say that was not I mean successful as in not coming away empty-handed feels. So much different than coming away empty handed. So getting the bronze with my team was yes that was definitely a success for us. We lost a very very close match with Russia to make the gold medal around so that was a big bummer because we were so close. And they’re one of our toughest competitors and so to almost have beaten them if we had beat them on the Olympic stage would have just been incredible. So I wish that we had pulled through just a little bit more. But you know again to have a second opportunity after we lost to them to come away with a bronze and solidly come away with the bronze when we beat Italy was great. I think it was. We all had really great performances and I was happy with the team performance. Individually not so much and unfortunately just wasn't my day. Like I just didn't feel like it was my day. And that happens and that's a lot you're allowed to have that happen. And it was definitely again heartbreaking because it's not like I was even close to a medal that time. And so you know again you kind of come away from that and say what can I learn and how can I change? And if I'm going to go to Tokyo which that's my next goal again how am I going to make sure that when I'm there that doesn't happen again. And I can have a clear mind and a strong body and connect the two in the way that it needs to happen.

 

Laura:

[00:25:49] I love your mindset. I love the way you look at things like it's just such a gray. It's just a growth perspective. Like you just want to grow no matter what. And I love that because you can't be defeated if you're continuing to grow and to change and to learn and I think that's awesome.

 

Marie:

[00:26:02] Exactly. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:26:04] Well now it's a little different like you said you got your eyes set on a fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Which is crazy amazing! But now it's a little different because you're a wife and a mom. And so I'm assuming things have changed a little bit like you mentioned earlier with training and competing. Like what's? How does that look right now?

 

Marie:

[00:26:24] I mean again I'm sure you can most definitely attest to this. It's crazy how much your life changes when you have a kid when you are a working mom but couple that with professional athlete working mom. I mean oh my goodness! It's just it isn't saying the things that I let my body did when I was pregnant. I just can't even believe that I was pregnant and I had a baby and she's here and she's amazing and now I'm a mom. And it's just it just seems so surreal at times. I'm just like is this really my life.

 

Just because you know as a professional athlete for so long you have to be so selfish in the way that you train in the way that you compete and you're traveling all the time. And you're tired and you don't wanna like sometimes you don't want to talk to anybody. And you just want to lay there and you know how it goes. And so now to have this other part of my life that is now the biggest part of my life. It changes your perspective in such an amazing way. Because now like I said before when I go to the gym and I'm like I don't want to waste a minute. Now I literally don't have a minute to waste because like every time that I'm away from her I need to make it worth it. And I need to hurry up and get that workout in. So I can come home and give her lunch and put her down for a nap. You know what I mean. So just like it changes your outlook on the way that you train and the way that you time manage. But I'm always up for a challenge and it's been challenging in an in a really amazing way. So it's it's been really great.

 

Laura:

[00:27:57] I totally agree there. Because I think now I must have been really lazy when I was just me and with my husband. Now I am like I got 30 minutes I can clean the house do all these things I can get. Like a week's worth of stuff done in 30 minutes now.

 

Marie:

[00:28:10] I know. It's really crazy how different you're like. And I think that you're probably gonna say this too. But it's like some days you're like I feel like I'm gonna implode. I don't even know what I'm doing. I'm still so incompetent I don't even know you just feel slight so drained. And then other days you get to the end of the day you're like I'm superwoman! I keep you going! I don't even need to go to bed! I could just keep doing! All this stuff. And so it's just it's crazy how just the days wax and wane like that. But it's again it's like every day that's a new challenge. And it's exciting and in some way.

 

Laura:

[00:28:46] That's cool. Now. And you already went to like several competitions this year. And I mean I kept trying to like message you and you were like in France or you're over here. Crazy! But how is it getting back into that groove? Because I know what seven months to the day after you gave birth to Sunday you won a bronze medal in Moscow. And then I think the last time you medaled was why you were you were actually pregnant. Weren't you?

 

Marie:

[00:29:09] Yeah. Uh-hmm.

 

Laura:

Oh gosh! That's crazy! So what was it like getting back into that competition groove after having some time off to have a baby and have this new kind of change of programming?

 

Marie:

[00:29:21] Uh-hmm. Yeah. And it's. It is a change and I went to actually those were the two international or the Moscow one was the Grand Prix last season. And then I went to our national championships in April and then another national tournament in October and I won both of those two.

 

[00:29:40] It's like it's nice to kind of come back and feel like I can win again. And that I'm like on the podium again and I actually feel surprisingly good. Like I don't like I was, of course, I've never had a baby and had to come back before. So I didn't know how it was going to go but it's going really well and I feel fresh. And I feel fierce. And I feel like I'm just ready to be back where I was. But just like with a new perspective because I think that break was really really good for me to kind of feel like recharged. And I'm like I want to be there instead of like again I'm sure you can attest to this it's like when you're going day in day out the competition. This that. And it kind of gets to be monotonous and it kind of gets to be like you feel a little burnt out. Having such a long break and now coming back and having kind of a new perspective. And also new goals because it's like well I'm doing this for my daughter now to really kind of recharges you and energizes you to really fight even harder and gives you that extra motivation which is really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:30:49] Very cool. Well, you just wrote a beautiful article for Team USA. And you were recalling your win from Beijing because it's like your 10 year anniversary this year. And one of the things that you wrote that I loved you said when there's a gold medal at stake in history to be made it can feel either exhilarating paralyzing or a combination of any and all emotions in between.

 

[00:31:11] So how do you rise above all of that to perform your best when it means the most?

 

Marie:

[00:31:17] I mean that's just such a loving question. Well, sometimes you just have to use. You just. You just gotta do it. You just really literally when you go to the Olympics or a national competition or worlds or what have you. You can't think of it as like oh my gosh this is the Olympics or oh my gosh this is going to make or break my career. You just have to show up and know that you've been working so hard and that you've left no stone unturned when it comes to your preparation. And then you can just fall back on that. Not fall back but you can you can feel calm and you can feel in control because if you know that you've been preparing and working towards this moment then you can rely on your muscle memory. You can rely on your mental toughness because you know that you've prepared yourself.

 

[00:32:10] And I think that's something that maybe when some. I obviously can't speak for every situation ever. But when I think when people falter is because they suddenly think that they're not prepared. Or that they haven't put the work in or they have been lying themselves or you know something like that. And so all of that crowds your crowds your ability to think clearly and to perform at your best. And so I think that if you really prepare yourself and work hard leading up to the moment then when you're in the moment it's like second nature.

 

Laura:

[00:32:42] Perfect. You also wrote this when you stand on top of the podium at the Olympics there's no greater feeling as all of your hard work and years of sacrifice come to fruition. And what the world sees is an accomplished relieved ecstatic and usually weeping athlete. What the world doesn't see is the team behind the athlete because no one becomes an Olympic champion on their own luck or not on their own or by luck. To this day I'm so incredibly thankful for my support system coaches family friends and teammates who make this all possible. So tell us a little bit about your support system?

 

Marie:

[00:33:15] My support system has been amazing. It has been the reason for my success. I've been with the same coach Ed Korfanty for almost twenty-four years my entire career. So that says a lot about where my success comes from. Obviously, my parents have supported me from the moment I first picked up fencing. I was gonna say a saber but actually, I started with foil. But let's not focus on that.

 

[00:33:45] You know first my parents supporting me through everything from the ups and downs to paying for the club fees and the tournament fees and all of my international plane tickets. I mean I just I look back now and I'm just like I cannot believe that they the sacrifices that they made in order for me to come from a very young age get the experience that I needed to accelerate me on the onto the Olympic path. And you know just also even my friends my very close friends whether they're my teammates or my friends here at home it's just to have so much support and to feel so loved no matter what. You know I think that has made a big difference because especially just looking back on my experience in Athens when I all of my friends and family obviously knew that that was my goal to make the Olympic team in 2004 but to fall short of that. But to still have the support and the shoulders to cry on when I was going through that tough time just really made all the difference. And I think that throughout my career just to be surrounded by such positivity just makes such a big difference. And I know you know this too. Because if you're just thinking that you're doubting yourself some days which obviously going through you know a performance-based sport where you are measured on your performance you know. Because if it's like win or lose you need that support system that's gonna support you no matter what. And and I've had that throughout my entire career and I think that that's made all the difference because it's helped me believe in myself when I don't believe in myself. They believe me when I don't believe myself and they're there to help pick me up when I don't. When I fall short of what it is that I think is ideal and they'll support me no matter what.

 

[00:35:34] And so I think that that's made a big difference in my outlook on my career and my outlook on myself and my results. And also honestly on my decision to keep going because if I didn't have that support system then I probably would feel more discouraged and let myself get the best of myself when times get tough. So I think that this just made a really big difference throughout my career.

 

Laura:

[00:35:57] That's great. I mean you've mentioned over the past year you've experienced amazing victories, heartbreaking defeats, days where you felt unstoppable, and days where you felt lost and unsure. What is it that keeps you going? I mean why a fifth Olympic Games? Like what keeps you motivated and pushing through all the time?

 

Marie:

[00:36:17] Well I think honestly it's that elusive third gold medal in the individual event that I have fallen short of the past two Olympics. And to have the ability to keep going and to have another opportunity is something that I don't want to pass up because what we do is time sensitive as you know it's like well I mean you're out. So like supermom you're coming back to try the Olympics too. So it's like it is time sensitive in a way for me. And so you know I think my motivation comes from wanting to prove to myself that I can do it because I know I can.

 

[00:36:53] And then also I don't think that Sunday will remember Tokyo she'll be not even three. So I don't think she'll remember but I think it'll be really great to make those memories with her. Because you know I can. We can look back together and be like this is what Mommy did. And when you have a goal these are you know you have to sacrifice should resign and there'll be a lot of life lessons I think for her as far as dedication and hard work goes. And I want to set a good example for her.

 

[00:37:19] So just being able to set one of these really crazy goals incredible goals and work really hard towards it is something that can be really satisfying. Despite the obstacles along the way. So yeah that's that's pretty much my motivation.

 

Laura:

[00:37:37] I totally agree. That's great.

[00:37:39] Now, where can we follow you online to continue to be inspired and encouraged by you. And also cheer you on toward Tokyo? We're going.

 

Marie:

[00:37:46] Yeah. Yeah. I’m on my Instagram @mariel.zagunis is my handle and yeah. Try to post our season just started but we don't have another competition until the end of January. But once that starts then it'll be. Go go go. So there'll be a lot of updates and stuff going on in there. So that's where to find me.

 

Laura:

[00:38:07] Well thank you so much. And best of luck to you. We will be cheering you on toward Tokyo.

 

Marie:

[00:38:13] Thank you, Laura.

 

Laura:

[00:38:16] I'm so thankful to Marielle for sharing with us on today's show. I loved hearing about the pivotal shift in her mindset after missing the podium in London. Instead of focusing so much on proving herself she was able to instead move into more of a growth mindset constantly wanting to improve herself. She doesn't let losses define her but rather they shape her, teach her and develop her as an athlete and as a person. It's amazing to see that out of that transition not only came for their success but also a richer appreciation of her sport and more confidence in herself. To keep being inspired by Marielle and to follow her adventures toward Tokyo 2020. Be sure to check out the show notes where we link to everything that you heard today. Next week world champion water skier Ryan Dodd will be joining us. So be sure to subscribe to the hope sports podcast because you're not going to want to miss this one. And please leave us a review because those reviews will help us continue to get these amazing athletes on this show. I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra in simpler media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit Hope Sports story.

 

 

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