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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[/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.  

 

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Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

[00:01:38] Wow!

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

[00:02:53] No problem.

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

[00:03:51] What?!

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

[00:05:01] Yeah?

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

[00:05:11] Yeah.

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

[00:11:26] Oh man.

 

Katie:

[00:11:27] So. sorry.

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

[00:36:48] That’s amazing.

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Katie:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

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About This Episode

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.

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_toggle admin_label="Transcript" title="Read Episode Transcript" _builder_version="3.19.4" saved_tabs="all"]

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And so...

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura

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

 

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

 

Ben

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

[00:23:13]  Absolutely.

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Ben:

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

 

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

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

 

Laura

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ben

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Ben:

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

 

Laura

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

 

Ben

[00:33:36] Thanks, Laura.

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About This Episode

In this episode, Andrew East shares about his winding journey to professional football. Growing up in Indianapolis with several brothers, Andrew remembers attending football games as a kid and being wowed by the stadium, players, and abilities of the athletes. His older brothers, Guy and JD, were especially influential in turning his interest towards playing. He credits becoming a long snapper, however, to his father who played collegiate football at Purdue in the same position. Andrew recalls that, although he was successful in his position at a Division 1 high school, he wasn’t necessarily setting his sights on playing in college and definitely never dreamed of the NFL.

His goals changed, however, when he attended a summer football intensive at Vanderbilt University. Upon connecting with some of the coaches, Andrew began to entertain the idea of continuing his career. As the months of his senior year passed, though, and no calls came in with offers, he settled on playing Division 3 football on the same team as his older brother, JD.

All of these plans quickly shifted when Andrew got a phone call late in the spring offering him a scholarship spot at Vanderbilt. Aware that the roster had been filled, he learned that space had opened up on the team due to tragic circumstances. A fellow signee, Rajaan Bennett, had been tragically murdered by his mother’s ex-boyfriend as he attempted to protect his younger brother with special needs. Andrew shares that as he took the position on the team, it was never lost on him that his opportunity to play came at the price of another young man’s life. Even when practices were brutal and the balance with school seemed impossible, he always played in honor of Rajaan. Andrew finished at Vanderbilt with a Bachelors in Engineering and also completed his MBA -- all while serving as two time captain of the team.

After graduation he joined the Kansas City Chiefs and expresses how unprepared he was for the transition to professional football. Unlike college football, there is nothing else to focus other than practice, games, and performance. Andrew shares that he began hyper-analyzing every play both on and off the field. He only ever thought about football -- reliving mistakes and obsessing over form. This tunnel vision, compounded with the pressure of playing at the professional level, led to struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. The attacks became more and more frequent until he was eventually let go from the Chiefs. He was shocked, devastated, and disappointed. Sure that this was the end of his NFL career, he wallowed for several months not knowing what he would do next.

He credits his girlfriend at the time, Olympic gold medalist gymnast Shawn Johnson-East, for helping to pull him out of his stupor. Her encouragement plus support from his family led him on a journey of discovering emotional health and balance. He began focusing on other hobbies like film making, entrepreneurial endeavors, and supporting her budding YouTube channel. As he regained his footing and became more well rounded, the NFL offers came rolling back in. Over the past four years Andrew has played on seven different NFL teams. And although hopping around is not necessarily ideal, having other areas of interest and success has made each one of those transitions easier.

Outside of football he consults in social media development and small film editing -- something you wouldn’t expect from a guy who couldn’t be found online just a few years ago. Never really interested in being in the spotlight, East has followed the lead of his wife, Shawn, who has dealt with athletic fame since she was just 14 years old. They were introduced to one another by his brother, former professional cyclist Guy East, who met Shawn at the Olympics. Andrew shares about his spontaneous engagement at a Chicago Cubs game because, “once I had the ring, I just couldn’t wait.” Now married, they approach their social media presence as an opportunity to help others, build community, and connect with people they might not otherwise. This was evident as they publicly shared about their miscarriage in 2017. Thousands of messages poured in from followers who appreciated their vulnerability and honesty about a painful subject that often leaves couples feeling isolated.

Having never fathomed playing in the NFL or running a social media business, Andrew has learned to simply be grateful. His unique journey has even led him to start his own podcast entitled ReDirected, which highlights individuals who have experienced unexpected career shifts that have been surprisingly life giving. He may not know what is next for him, but acknowledges that an openness to new opportunities and balance through all areas of his life are essential to his success both on and off the field.

 

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Laura: Welcome Andrew East. I'm so excited you could join us today.

 

Andrew:

Thank you for having me on.

 

Laura:

Yeah. Well, first I kind of want to set the stage a little bit. Tell us briefly about your background like how you got your start in football and how it led to where you are now.

 

Andrew

Yes, I was born and raised in Indianapolis Indiana and my dad played football at Purdue and he kind of inspired in us the will to play football. And I remember my oldest brother Guy was a fanatic for football and just absolutely loved getting people's autographs. We'd go to the Colts practices and do any event related to football. And so I kind of looked at what my older brother is doing. I was like, hey you know what football does seem like a pretty cool sport. And so he got into it. My second older brother JT got into it and then I naturally fell into it and so I played ever since I was in second grade. I've been playing football and I've loved it. It's been so great. I feel like I've learned so many awesome life lessons from football. And so super fortunate to just have that sport and experience in my life and it's led to so many quality relationships and experiences that I never dreamed of ever having when I was an eight-year-old starting out fast forward you know maybe in twenty-six now and it's just been an awesome adventure sport has a way of doing that for sure.

 

Laura

What made you fall in love with football like was it something specific or just kind of that family connection you guys had?

 

Andrew

So Initially, I think I again my oldest brother Guy was just all about the autographs and just idolized these players and I think initially my draw to it was kind of the shiny lights and the fame and all that portion of it. But then once you start playing and you experience the team environment you experience the everyday kind of adversity that gets thrown at you physically and mentally. I think the constant growth that I was experiencing is what really continued my passion for it even though initially it was, Hey I want to be like my older brother and I want to be somebody that little kids like my older brother would idolize.

 

Laura

I love that. That's great. Now you went on from high school to play in college. Was that vastly different? Or was it not too much of a change from high school to college football?

 

Andrew

I was not ready for college football at all. Coming from high school I took football seriously or so I thought. And then in Indiana, we played in a pretty tough conference. USA Today had our high school conference rated like second toughest in America.

 

So I thought that I was playing. I love football but then you show up and down south.

 

They have year-round football and I had never played one sports year round. I was always doing football and basketball and baseball and rugby and I love to play different sports but I've never fully devoted myself to one sport like you're forced to do in college and so that was definitely a new experience. And then the level of athleticism and strength and discipline and dedication is just completely different than it was in high school. And so it took me a little bit to adjust to that difference but once I kind of understand how the whole system worked I absolutely loved it. Because again there are so many opportunities. I feel I can prove yourself and learn really.

 

Laura:

Did playing around it.

Did that get old?

I mean you're used to changing up to different sports like how did you keep it from getting boring? I guess...

 

Andrew

So the coaches do a good job of keeping it interesting. They have a kind of different phases of competition is how our coaches structured. So in the off-season while we would still be doing football drills they would make it fun and have us compete in kind of different athletic competitions like tug of war or whatever it is and they put you on teams and you're still kind of progress toward your goal of being a good football player but they make it fun in the process. I was fortunate to have really really good coaches that had the foresight and the wisdom to not just be football football football all the time which I think proved invaluable.

 

Laura

That's great.

 

Andrew

Yeah

 

Laura

Well, so you didn't just play football in college you were also the team captain for two years and you're studying engineering in a little school called Vanderbilt. So how do you balance all of that?

 

Andrew

Not well. I'll tell you that it was definitely tough. And my first year at Vanderbilt I did not enjoy much. I thought that I was going to play college football with my older brother at Wheaton College which was like a little D3 Christian school. But actually, the story of how I ended up at Vanderbilt was kind of what inspired me to stick around. I wasn't a highly recruited player out of college. I did have opportunities to play out of high school. I had opportunities to play at Princeton and some smaller schools which would have been great. Obviously, Princeton is a great school. But football-wise I was so headstrong on playing division1 and so I was going to take any opportunity that came my way and fortunately I went down to a football camp the summer of my junior year and that summer was fully devoted to just trying to make that dream happen.

 

My parents were so supportive of that, my siblings were so sacrificial and like giving up their time and going on these family vacations together that would just be essentially a football trip for me. But I went down to Vanderbilt summer camp and I had a really I think good performance down there. But more importantly, I connected with one of the coaches in a deep way we like. I don't even know how the whole conversation started. But right off the bat, we were kind of talking about our faith and how that's impacted us as men and in our sport. And so I was like super encouraged I think wow Vanderbilt is going to be the school I go to and it's great because you know it seems like there are coaches around that really care for me as a human being beyond just my athletic capabilities. But I didn't hear from them for I guess it is eight months after that? And so science college signing day came and went in February no division1 offers. And I was like well you know I'll go play D3 and that'll be great because Wheaton is an awesome school and I'll get to play with my brother.

 

But I get a call two months after signing day super late in the process even for kids who are not playing sports like most of my peers had decided already where they're going to go to school. But I was just holding now and I got a call from the head Vanderbilt coach and offered me a full ride scholarship to Vanderbilt. And I was very confused because following the news it seemed like there were no more scholarships that Vanderbilt could give. And so I asked him that “well how did this come about? I didn't think that you guys had any more to offer”. And he said, “well the highest rated recruit the venerable I've ever had his name was Rajaan Bennett. He's out of Atlanta was a running back. Awesome guy. His mother's boyfriend broke in the middle of the night and started just pulled out a gun just was shooting around the house and Rajaan jumped in front of his handicapped little brother and saved his life but took a bullet in the process and so Rajaanlost his life”.

 

And so that scholarship spot opened up and the coaches wanted to give it to me. And so here I was absolutely just floored because simultaneously the most tragic but wonderful thing just happened to me. Like this is my childhood dream that I've worked for and sacrificed so much for and I wanted to play Division 1 football but never that I ever think it was going to be under such tragic circumstances as you know a spot opened me up because somebody had died.

 

And that experience really shaped my experience at Vanderbilt as a whole. Because in a lot of ways I'm not going to say day in and day out. I was thinking about Rajaan but it was always a constant thought of I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Rajaan.And so on the toughest days were the workouts are awful or the coaches are just really riding you or your grades are struggling and you don't have the balance. I was like, wow this opportunity has been given to me because this one kid made the ultimate sacrifice like he gave his life to save his brother. And here I am kind of picking up the scraps of this wonderful human being and I benefit from it. And so it was very difficult but that was kind of the backdrop to my whole experience.

 

My first two years I struggled hard I just didn't go along with the coaches was really like not exceeding in the classroom. And then, ultimately it came down to me having a coach James Franklin who stepped in and changed my experience completely like just a guy that believed in me and who I was and I felt kind of self-conscious about me being a variable in the first place because of the circumstances that got me there. But he stepped in and was like, “Hey Andrew you belong here and you can thrive here”. And it wasn't until I had that voice to speak into me. As well as an awesome mentor John Stokes who is a senior on the team. I think those two people really inspired me to step up and not just be at Vanderbilt but thrive at Vanderbilt and want to make a difference.

 

So ultimately I walked away to the two-time captain as you said. I set the tie the record for the most game started. Of any player and I got an undergraduate degree and a masters degree from Vanderbilt all under the scholarship and I like to look back on that I'm like wow what Incredibly just a wild experience you know.

 

Laura

Yeah. Sounds like it started off as an immense amount of pressure turned into with the help of a coach and a good teammate turned into something absolutely amazing. That's yeah. That's crazy.

 

Andrew

I'm fortunate that much.

 

Laura

So what happened after you graduated? You said you got your masters. So then what?

 

Andrew

I graduate with my MBA and in 2015 I got picked up as an undrafted free agent to the Kansas City Chiefs and I never could ever dream of me going to the NFL because again I was not highly recruited high school and I was like a decent player at Vanderbilt but I was more I think kind of like the locker room guy that people enjoyed having around. So when I started here from NFL teams and all these agents were contacting me it was out of this world. I was like wow. I literally didn't even dream about this but it's happening to me. And so I spent three months with the chiefs and ended up getting released and that's been the whole entire journey in and of itself.

 

Laura

Well, I know you've expressed how the initial pressure of professional sports may because you didn't expect it led to struggles with anxiety. Can you tell us about that a little bit?

 

Andrew

Yeah. So in college, I had never struggled with the psychological side of the sport. I think it is because I had amazing teammates around me amazing coaches and I think almost like the distraction of having school to worry about. There's just so many different things that take up your mind space in college but in professional football I showed up in Kansas City and it was football all the time like I would wake up go to a facility we do practice and I go back and I'd stretch and visualize and do all these drills on my own and it got to a point where I was having these anxiety attacks because I didn't think of anything else but football. And so I was just kind of overthinking the tiniest things which put me in a really really negative headspace. And ultimately I would like to walk in and I wouldn't be able to make eye contact with any of the players or the coaches because constantly I had this fear like a shadow follow me around that you know Hey today's the day I'm going to get cut because I didn't do X Y or Z correctly and is crazy because the chiefs pick me up and they're like hey you're our guy like you we want you to be our guy for the next 10 years. And I was like sweet. Like what an awesome. Well, what an awesome position but they brought in competition just because from my position that's what's normal and but they're like this is just kind of a formality. You're our guy. And so I started overthinking the little things and then had these just demons kind of haunting me constantly. Like I really lost myself in overthinking that tiny details. Yeah, that's ultimately ended up getting me cut just because I could not handle the pressure of always being football.

 

Laura

I mean, how do you move past that? Look I know you've had this happen several times I think you said seven times that you’ve gotten on a team and then they've had to let you go. Like how is it always kind of feel like the same thing or has every situation been different like how do you deal with that? You just seem to handle it so incredibly well.

 

Andrew

Well, let me say the first time I got cut from the Chiefs I was just in tears. And so my wife Shawn and I were together at the time and it was three days off just like kind of mourning. But simultaneously this relief because I all the sudden what was dominating my world and my thoughts football was kind of gone and not by my choice. So it was like this weird. I'm glad that's over. But wow. Like what do we do now? And so I was like sitting on the couch for three months and kind of depressed and didn't really know what I was going to do professionally and I felt worthless and a lot of ways but. Fortunately, I had an awesome fiance at the time Shawn and I had gotten engaged that summer and I have an amazing family. And so my brothers were there to support me and like really kind of speak life back into me. So I think those are the biggest things that help me get back on my feet.

 

Laura

Yeah. So important to surround yourself with just good people that can lift you up when you need it right?

 

Andrew

Yeah absolutely.

 

Laura

Now you mentioned your now wife Shawn Johnson East and she's an Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics. So I got to ask are you guys competitive at all?

 

Andrew

Oh my God! It's non-stop Laura non-stop in the smallest things like cooking or darts or like pranks playing.

 

Laura

You guys play pranks on each other all the time.

 

Andrew

You know I feel like she plays where breaks on me that I do on her. Yeah, we have fun.

 

Laura

Okay, so you have to spill it like what is the most embarrassing prank or the best way that she's gotten you?

 

Andrew

I love to dance to Laura. I love to dance. I dance gladly in front of my wife. But she'll always kind of sneak some video and blasted out to the Internet. And so I like to laugh at it but in the back of my mind, I'm like, you know what? That's actually extremely very embarrassing.

 

Laura

It's nice. Well, I know you posted today that you were a little disappointed because she didn't know that chick fil a had waffle fries. So I'm going to have to say you need to change that because Chick fil A is very very important.

 

Andrew

So do you believe that? I mean this is an opportunity for growth in a marriage. You know if I've ever seen.

 

Laura

Definitely.

 

It's like you don't even know her. So ok you guys have like a massive Instagram and YouTube following you have over 300,000 followers on Instagram. She has a million and a half. You guys have kind of become this whole brand just in your marriage. What drew. Right?

 

I mean how has this changed your relationship or how people see you or even how you see yourself?

 

Andrew

I'll point to my wife. My wife Shawn is just an absolute rock star and she has been dealing with this I guess celebrity in one form or another ever since she was like 12. And so she has such a level head about the whole thing that it has helped me immensely. Because I mean I come from a super solid family and I would never like think that having Instagram followers are like you know people taking pictures with you. I find no purpose in that still but it is so easy to get seduced by that and like tempted into like oh like what I have to do to get more followers. And I don't think I've ever admitted that. But like I think just being honest about this is actually something that we need to be conscious of and we honestly don't do it for the followers. But I think it's cool that we have built the following because Shawn has been vulnerable to the world and she's kind of help to show me how to do that. I didn't have any social media before I met Shawn.

 

I actually created a Twitter account so that I could talk to Shawn because we were hooked up through guy my oldest brother. They met at the 2012 Olympics and his kind of put me in touch but our first contact was

 

through Twitter and I actually created all my social media accounts because of various social media. It kind of makes me sick to think about but like I was super anti-social media and as years have gone byIt's like there are so many things good too it was bad too. And so we just had to have conversations about it and we try to surround ourselves with friends who are level-headed about the whole thing as well and don't care about social media. But honestly, it's like it's not a huge deal for us and that's when we talk about a lot. But it's fun. I'll take that much.

 

Laura

Well, that's good. That's good.

 

I mean all these all this social media just this branding of you guys it just seems to have led to entrepreneurship and now your own podcast and it was it's just kind of a natural progression for you.

 

Andrew

No, not at all.

 

I would say natural progression. So I guess... I was... I studied engineering at Vanderbilt and my intention was to build wells in a third world country and my kind of wanted to follow my brother's steps. Obviously, you know that's the hope sports podcast my brother builds houses for impoverished families like all around the world. And so I was really again I was inspired with him and his love for football and I was inspired with him and his servant's heart. And so that's why I did civil engineering and even went to business school so I would like to figure out how to set up the whole organization around that. But then with the whole football thing happening we got cut short and getting engaged.

 

People like when Shawn and I got engaged. I did it in a super public manner. I didn't plan it at all but we did it at Wrigley Field. And I just got the ring the day before and I thought I was going to hang onto it for a couple months but I didn't. And so Shawn was thrown out the first pitch at Wrigley and so I proposed at Wrigley and it made like national news. You know people anybody who had that ESPN or Yahoo Sports app I got a push notification like hey Shawn Johnson was just engaged it made really feel like it was a bid

 

Laura

That was not planned?

 

 

Andrew

I didn't plan it at all. It just gives you a hard time.

 

It's like wow that's really not romantic. They didn't put any thought to what I like on the drive up to Chicago from Indianapolis or where I was coming from I like I called USA Gymnastics issues up there during the first pitch out for and then they put me in touch with the Cubs. Like this is two hours before the whole thing happened and they're like hey you know we'll make a jersey with her new last name on it and like that was as much planning as one that's still pretty good.

 

That's it. The Cubs fans like it but I didn't think we'd be doing a stadium proposal or any of that.

 

That brought a lot of attention to us. Like as far as I said a couple and then I guess there's like four weeks after that I got cut and as I said I'm just laying around on the couch just felt worthless. And so I had to just take the smallest step of progression and I had a friend who had started a YouTube channel and so I was like you know what maybe it is fun to document our wedding planning process together and then kind of put. I was really excited to start a YouTube channel. I think my wife is the coolest person out there and I think that you know the more people get to see over the better. And so we started this youtube channel and it's grown to this like social media. You know this is we're not doing consulting in it's turned into something crazy. And again I was anti-social media like less than five years ago and now I really love it and I don't think there's any better way to connect people to educate people than social media. So it was not natural but it's been phenomenal.

 

Laura

That's great.

 

Andrew

Yeah, I know.

 

Laura

What your podcast about?

 

Andrew

Called redirected and it's about people who have experienced career redirections who have started out life on one trajectory and have been redirected into another trajectory and that's been my experience with you know going from engineering to football and football now and to social media and so I've sat down with UFC fighters who start off as like air conditioner installers. One guy. Yeah. Todd was you know Series 6 and Series 7 financial advisor and dropped all that just to fitness to do like you know personal fitness training. And so it's really cool. I love having a reason to reach out to somebody that I probably otherwise wouldn't. And then subsequently have a really quality conversation about you know this redirection often occur in times of you know it's difficult these changes and so that to be able to kind of discuss those difficulties leads to like some really cool conversation. So I've loved there were six or seven episodes and it's been awesome so far.

 

Laura

That’s great!That's got to be very powerful for you to just have been obviously in the same shoes. I'm sure.

 

Andrew

Absolutely sure.

 

Laura

Now you and Shawn last year shared pretty openly about losing a child to miscarriage. How how did that heartbreak affect your marriage?

 

Andrew

Again Shawn is an absolute rock star and like she just... it was way harder I think on her. As is often the case in miscarriages you know the female has so much going on just like there's the connection to the baby that the male just like doesn't quite have and then the hormonal side of it as well. She was an absolute light through the entire situation and we decided... she really decided to share it. We had documented it all just because we thought this is going to be our first kid and we want kind of like this home video footage and then it ended up being you know this sad story of a miscarriage. But we felt she says that she wanted to share it because she really didn't know how to cope with it herself. And so she was kind of begging for people to drop wisdom on her and help her through it. And so the response from that whole video was absolutely astounding like that. The number of people that reached out and said hey you know I've never told anybody this but I went through the same thing and it's something that I've struggled with constantly. Like you know we lost our childlike 10 weeks along the pregnancy and so many people have you know have these crazy stories of losing twins seven months along. And again just having shared that story has led to so many awesome relationships and awesome conversations and I feel like it's really helped people feel comfortable and really want to seek out consolation for like that's the whole reason we did it in the first place. So Shawn was just an absolute stud to the whole thing and she should never cease to impress me.

 

Laura

Well, I think it's really cool that you guys were just so open to being vulnerable and sharing such a difficult experience because it's something that people don't talk about and so that had such purpose in it even though it was so heartbreaking for you guys to walk through that is just so purpose driven. Like just speaking into other people's lives where we're like you said Shawn didn't know how to deal with it. Nobody told her what to do. So when people see that like they understand what somebody else is going through and there's that connection and they don't feel so isolated and alone going through that. I think that's just huge. So I really really appreciate you guys near vulnerability and your honesty. I think that's amazing.

 

Andrew

Yeah well, I'd say it was from a marriage perspective it did take us probably two months to recover just because there are so many conversations that follow up on that like well why did we have a miscarriage. I guess it's something wrong with that like just kind of its really tough conversation to have. And so it took us two months to recover from that and be able to be comfortable fully again with each other which is crazy. I mean again there's only 10 weeks along and I had only known about the news that she was pregnant for like twelve hours like legitimately. She told me we were both away and she was doing press for her new TV show venture capitalists and she was in New York for The Today Show and I had gone from a trial with the Lions directly to a trial with the Giants. And so she was like Hey I need to see you. I have something to tell you. And so it was her time and she was pregnant she was you know that's in and of itself is a super emotional thing because the first time it's the first time she's pregnant so she didn't really know how to deal with all thing. So we got back together in Los Angeles like eleven thirty at night. She told me she's pregnant and I didn't get a week of sleep that night. I was like wow this is crazy. So when you wake up and you kind of like start thinking about Okay well what are we gonna name them and you know you kind of have this picture in your mind of what is going to look like and you kind of start designing his room and picking out his clothes like even from the very get-go. You just kind of get pumped about that dream. Yeah. I mean there is an initial like terror that I experience wow you get it like it is actually. But then like you get super excited about it. So she yeah like that. That is, it's just such a roller coaster and so it took us about two months to recover and we actually end up taking a kind of a little getaway to Europe together as a kind of a way to kind of bond back together after that. And that was an amazing trip and that's you know I think it just spending quality time together really helped us get back on our feet and yeah.

 

Laura

That's good. Now kind of switching beer gears back into football like now that you've been through so much you've kind of got this entrepreneurial thing going too but yet you're still training you're still trying out for teams like where are you with that like what are your dreams and goals and expectations now with football?

 

Andrew

It's so tricky Laura. It's tough. This is something that we are going through right now. I just was with the JAG wires and was released like less than three weeks ago. And I spent you know like four or five weeks with the team and was the Raiders before that. Earlier this year. So I've now signed seven contracts in four years and with five different teams which is not what I thought my NFL career would look like. But then I take a step back and it's like well I think about the whole thing. I'm like well I never even thought that I would have an NFL career. You know it was my childhood dream to play Division 1 football and I accomplished that dream in a fuller capacity than I ever could have imagined. And NFL football was never something that I really even thought was a true possibility. So I step back and I look at what my goals truly were and I think I've accomplished most of that. Most of those goals that I've set out to accomplish and so at the end of the day you know if I don't get picked up by another team I think I'll be all right with that. And I can walk away from football in peace. Now there's still as I would love to have a 15-year career if that's how it pans out. But I've been trying not to get caught up in this treadmill of goals and ambition. You know like talking to my friends who have played in the league for years. It's interesting because they're like yeah you are. I never thought I would play NFL football. And so you know it's cool that I'm here and then you play. Your goal is to just play one game and then fell and then you do that and then the next thing is well now you want to play one season and then it's well now you want to be in the Pro Bowl and now you want to like it. It's kind of it's never-ending. I view it like a treadmill. I think it's great to continue to reassess and set the bar even higher but it's a fine line. I don't. I'm still working through it. Honestly Laura I know it's difficult so I think if I walked away right now that I would be totally fine and I've made somebody really like awesome relationships with the players and the coaches and have the experience you know living in four different cities of all the NFL so it's been a really cool experience.

 

Laura

But you're not quite ready to walk away and you kind of that tear, right? You like that. Yeah I mean I don't think you're alone in that I think a lot of us go through that whether it's in sports or in your career beyond. I mean there's always that pull you know, do I keep going? Am I ready to hang it up? Like what's the right time? Sometimes it's not an easy cut and dry thing. I remember being jealous. I knew a lot of swimmers like in college and growing up like they would finish their collegiate career and they were done and they were so happy to hang it up and just be done. I'm like how do you know? Like I've never really felt. Like how do you just know? I wish I just do.

 

Andrew

Yeah I know I know.

 

Laura

You're not alone. I totally understand you.

 

Andrew

I actually had a friend call me and talked him in and he was like hey man like you know I don't know if you should be doing this anymore. It's like well thank you but I keep getting calls from teams and so clear like they kind of like still want me to do it. And so that's what I like. It's not a black or white situation. It's like well it's a little more nuanced. And at this point I kind of view it as interesting content and interesting experiences for us to share. Like me getting cut. I shared me getting cut from the Jaguars and the response from that was like really cool to hear how other people had dealt with like career changes and gone through that with your spouse. So that's kind of how you and the whole situation. But we'll see what happens here.

 

Laura

Something that you've been through so much I mean you've got this awesome celebrity life you're an entrepreneur you're still training for the NFL but you've experienced all these ups and downs. How does your identity not get lost in the shuffle like in all the chaos? How do you still find your purpose? Where do you find that?

 

Andrew

Gosh, it is tough. As I said there are so many things around each of us whether you're you know in the spotlight like you doing the social media thing like we are or your brother works in finance and there are so many things around us that are like there to tempt us and kind of pull you away from your roots. And I do think it's important to change and you know I think I've changed dramatically over the past 10 years. I think that's good. And I think at the end of the day though my core identity has remained intact and I was fortunate enough to be raised in an awesome Christian household and have brothers that they love me and support me in that. And as I said Guy’s obviously doing amazing things with his organization. And so we met my wife and I try to have daily monthly and yearly disciplines that we do that we can always point back to keep us on track and so on and on a daily basis. We always do quick evaluations and it's almost like a prayer session of like a year or like today here's where our goals are like here's our kind of vision of what this is going to look like and then monthly we have conversations as husband-wife of what we call monthly checkups of. It's just like this open and raw conversation of you know what here's something that you can work on too on this for this next month and here's something I thought you did really well this past month and I think kind of always keeping each other in check like that. And so it's not just like you're you're going through the daily motions and you kind of get lost in the chaos that's been really really helpful for us. And then yearly we do things, like make it down to two you want to build a house with my brother's organization, hope sports and that's that is just such a perspective changer for us. But yeah it's just. We spent so much time in Los Angeles where you see you know Ferraris and Lamborghinis rolling around the streets and kind of like become numb to that. And it's like this cultural I guess blindness that you have. But then you've got to go down to a place like you want to where people live in under tarps and gosh it's just like wild poverty and you have this weekend where you can share this amazing experience of building a house for this family in need and doing it with people who are similar to you has just proved absolutely invaluable for us. And so those we kind of yeah we have those daily monthly and yearly disciplines that we try to maintain that helps us keep our core identity.

 

Laura

I love that you guys do that on a daily monthly yearly. I love that you do it together. And I guess this is I think just for accountability and just for having somebody else speaking into your life for the positive and the negative like maybe what needs to be worked on or what needs to be changed. But also to build you up and what you're doing right. I think it is a great idea to kind of get outside of where you are to get a different perspective a perspective change because that can sometimes you know to catapult you in a completely new direction and change your perspective and maybe what you're doing. I think that's awesome really really great. Tips and tricks and tools and appreciate you sharing that help.

 

Andrew

Yes, I know.

 

Laura

Now how can we find you follow you online? Give us all your social media your YouTube channel. Let us know how to consistently be inspired by you and we just love how you share your vulnerability. You're honest and transparent. We just really appreciate it. So how can we follow you?

 

Andrew

Well, I don't know how much inspiration you'll find. Hopefully a few laughs and maybe some smiles along the way. But my Instagram Twitter and Facebook are all Andrew D East. My wife and I have a YouTube channel it's called Shawn Johnson official. We do that and then I'm actually starting my own channel Andrew D East this is how you can search for it. I have the podcast which I really enjoy doing. That's called the redirected and you can find that on the iTunes Store or Stitcher or wherever you find your podcast. And I think those are part of the main outlets. Yeah.

 

Laura

Well, Andrew, you've been great. Really appreciate you taking time to share your story with us and show us how you found purpose in your life. We appreciate that.

 

Andrew

Thanks for having me on.

 

Laura

No problem.

 

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Hope Sports
P.O. Box 120564
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