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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Laura:

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

 

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

[00:14:37] So heartbreaking.

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

[00:23:37] Wow.

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS21-Professional-Soccer-Player-Arne-Friedrich-Done-but-Still-Dreaming.mp3

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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Like most young boys in Germany, Arne Friedrich grew up watching soccer, cheering for his favorite teams, and playing the game every chance that he got. At five years old he recalls playing soccer as “pure joy.” As he matured he continued to rise through the ranks with the support and encouragement of his family and coaches. “I was humble enough to know that only a few made it,” said Arne. Recognizing that his chances at a professional career were slim, he continued to play soccer just for the joy that he had discovered as a kid.

His hopes became a reality when he turned 21 and signed with a professional team in Germany. He had always been able to set aside the pressure of games and his performance until he stepped onto the field for his debut with 60,000 fans analyzing his every move. For the first time, the fear of making a mistake and the pressure to avoid criticism became real factors. The expectation only mounted when he was one of only 23 players chosen to represent Germany in the World Cup in 2006. Rivals became teammates, new coaches took the reigns, and Arne strode on onto the pitch in front of 1 billion viewers for the home opener against Costa Rica. “Fear sets in when you face the unknown,” said Arne. Germany won that game 4-2, but both of the goals by Costa Rica were a result of mistakes that Arne had made. The media wildly scrutinized his abilities, questioned his place on the team, and really stole the joy out of his first World Cup experience. But thanks to a good friend and Olympic chaplain Dr. John Ashley Null and his close friends and family, he was able to maintain perspective through the waves of critiques. He remembers his team as supportive and encouraging, even if the fan weren’t and, thankfully, games come and go quickly in soccer and his mishaps were soon old news in the face of the next round matches. Choosing to learn from it, instead of pity himself, Arne took the opportunity to redefine himself throughout the rest of the tournament and celebrated as Germany placed third that year. That World Cup was special because it was his first, but also represented his first experience with the intense ups and downs of victory, defeat, and public perception. When it came time for Arne to play in his second World Cup in 2010, he was more mature, experienced, and relaxed, giving him the freedom to enjoy the tournament and be proud of another third-place finish for Germany.

With two World Cups under his belt and ten years of playing professionally in Germany, Arne was ready to make a change and fulfill another dream of his -- to play soccer in the United States. He originally hoped to play in New York or Los Angeles, but his agent strongly encouraged him to check out Chicago. It only took one day touring the city and one trip up the Hancock Building to view the skyline for Arne to fall in love with Chicago and commit to playing for the Fire. His year in the US was filled with learning English, sightseeing, playing soccer, and discovering the stark differences between the two countries. In American strangers were friendly and chatty, the media was less involved in the world of MLS, and preparation for games was less intense. He enjoyed hitting the beach in the morning before games, learning new English words on his daily commute to the stadium with his teammates, and the beauty of the city. There were differences in the league as well. In Germany each and every game counts towards points that determine whether or not a team makes it to the championship, so even pre-season games are taken incredibly seriously. But in the US the regular season just determines who gets into the playoffs and that’s where the real crunch starts. Each format has its pros and cons, but it definitely made for a different pace throughout the season. Arne laughed that there was one more difference he was surprised to discover -- that media was permitted in the locker room after games. He learned that the hard way after his first game when he emerged from the shower in just his towel to be greeted by a room full of shocked female reporters.

Unfortunately, during the pre-season of his second year in the States, he suffered a slipped disc in his back. He tried to recover in time for the season, but nothing was relieving his pain. Out of desperation for his discomfort to subside, he decided to retire and return to Germany to undergo surgery and recover with his family. The decision wasn’t easy, however, as he had just started feeling at home in Chicago. But Arne also realized that he had achieved incredible success during his twelve-year career and was proud to shut that chapter of his life. The surgery was successful, but the recovery required five weeks of laying flat on his back with no movement. Without the regular rhythms of training, teammates, and matches, he felt almost listless and without direction. “All of a sudden I had to find a new purpose,” said Arne. As he emerged from his bedrest he began to explore potential options and eventually committed to coaching Germany’s U18 Men’s team. He served in that position for a year, but eventually decided that it wasn’t for him and went on to start a soccer school for youth, study marketing, and use his experience to work as an international soccer analyst. He discovered that there wasn’t necessarily one specific thing that he liked best, so he has remained open to a variety of opportunities since his retirement. Most recently he has developed the Arne Friedrich Foundation which seeks to support children in hospice, refugee youth integration into schools, and education initiatives. The work is both exciting and fulfilling, providing an opportunity for him to give back to a community that supported him for so many years. During his retirement he also discovered the work of Hope Sports and has participated in home builds in Mexico on several occasions and now serves on the Board of Directors for the organization.

In addition, he has started a podcast of his own called “From Done to Dare” where he interviews professionals from all different spheres about how they have coped with times of transition, changes of directions, and career setbacks. Because of his own journey to discover purpose and vocation, Arne is keenly aware of the challenges involved. Be sure to follow Arne on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with the work of his Foundation and to catch the stories of other professionals we are dreaming even after they are “done”.

 

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About This Episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS13-On-the-Very-Edge-with-Cliff-Diver-David-Colturi.mp3

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About This Episode

David Colturi spent his childhood packing in as many sports as possible. From sunup to sundown he was outside bouncing between basketball, cross country, golf, flag football, or baseball. Because of his smaller size, he gradually moved away from impact sports and really focused on diving, training year round by age eleven. Despite what people assume, David wasn’t necessarily a dare devil or completely free from a fear of heights. In fact, diving didn’t even necessarily come easily to him. He learned the 7m platform at a camp, but when he advanced to the 10m platform for the first time, he landed smacked on his back. “It’s a combination of bravery and having a couple of screws loose,” says David. Though he had his work cut out for him, his enjoyment came from pushing himself, overcoming challenges, and conquering his fears alongside his teammates and coaches.

He continued his diving career at Purdue University in a season when the coach, Adam Soldati, had recruited an impressive string of divers at the school. Not only was Colturi receiving top level athletic instruction, but also intentional emotional and relational support. “He truly wants every athlete to reach their highest potential inside the water and out,” says David of Adam. This holistic approach to coaching proved very successful as Colturi was among the five male divers from Purdue that made it to the NCAA finals - an unprecedented number from a single university. Unfortunately, David’s diving career in college came to an abrupt halt after his junior year, as troubles outside of the pool caught up with him and he was released from the diving team. At a crossroads, he had to decide whether to focus on his Pre-Med studies or transfer to another school to continue diving. In the end, he decided to load up on credits, finish undergrad, and pursue a career in medicine - more or less retiring from diving.  

But in a strange turn of events he was invited to Indiana Beach - a vintage amusement park in the middle of rural Indiana with roots dating back to the 1920’s. Build on a lake, the park boasts a water stunt show that includes boats, skies, and also high diving. Resembling circus performing, David dove from 10-20 meter perches made from 2x4’s, taught himself new tricks without a training facility, and even lit himself on fire for the finale. After two summers at Indiana Beach, Colturi tested his abilities at the 27m height of professional cliff diving. After only two small invitational competitions, he entered an International Cliff Diving Competition in Australia and recalls actually having to learn dives in warmups because he didn’t yet have a full repertoire. Call it beginners luck or nerves, but he won the competition, stood atop the podium, and secured himself a spot in the Red Bull International Cliff Diving Circuit for the following year.

The learning curve was steep, however. Cliff divers go from 0 mph to 60 mph in only three seconds, and decelerate from 60-0 mph in just one second - in only 13 feet of water. Competitors can’t even warm up all of their dives or train from competition height because of the sheer impact that it has on their bodies. Without training facilities, coaches, or guidelines, athletes have to experiment with optimal ways to learn new dives that reduced both wear and tear on their bodies and risk of injury. “When I tell people that I cliff dive, their first two comments are always ‘Does it hurt your feet?’ and ‘Oh, your poor mother..’, both of which are true,” jokes Colturi. The sport obviously carries with it extreme risks. “The margin of error is incredibly small,” says David. Divers can walk away from a 10 meter platform bumble and manage to shake it off, but from 27 meters injuries can be devastating or even fatal. There is always a safety team in the water ready to help divers if they become incapable of swimming due to injury on a dive. It’s not that they compete without fear, however. David admits to regularly being terrified and white knuckled climbing up to the platform. Perhaps the risk of it all unites the community, though. Without a wide network of coaches and trainers, cliff divers help one another, give each other pointers, and share the emotional burden of the experience.

Very unlike diving in aquatic facilities in front of hushed spectators perched on the edges of their seats, cliff diving takes place in a wide variety of places in front of fans on yachts, kayaks, and rafts partying and cheering. Locations can range from remote islands to urban centers. David has dived from the Boston Art Museum, the Copenhagen Opera House, the Dubai Arena, and from a whole range of cliffs and scenic outlooks. His personal favorite was his tour of Thailand in 2014, which included famous locations that had been captured in movies.

Coming off of his amateur win in Australia, David recalls being humbled by his first competition of the circuit in France. Backdropped by the Mediterranean and emboldened by adrenaline, he threw his first dive far too hard and landed on his backside. The impact tore the rear of his suit, bruised him badly, and waves sent him into the rocks on the way out of the water. Sore and embarrassed, he headed back up to the platform realizing that he “apparently did not have it all figured out.” Eventually he got into a groove with training, competing, and traveling and added several first place finishes to his resume.

But his streak of successes came to a screeching halt in the summer of 2018. Gearing up to compete in Lucerne, Switzerland, Colturi was filming a “teaser video” for the Red Bull series that aimed to capture a dive in front of a place of historic significance, as a way to attract attention for the upcoming competition. The dive was to be performed in front of the Tell’s Chapel on the shore of Lake Lucene. Without a natural platform to dive from, the team decided to enlist renowned Swiss paraglider Christian Maurer to fly David over the water for the stunt. With only two practice paragliding attempts, Colturi strapped himself to Maurer and they launched over the water with only a 2x4 secured with hiking rope as his platform. The changing winds, uncooperative boats, and wobbly perch created a situation in which it was hard to determine the actual height to gauge which type of dive to do. In the first attempt they were far too low and both Colturi and Maurer crashed. But they brushed it off and climbed back up to the launch point for another attempt. Unfortunately the next attempt was from far too high of a point and David landed on his side. Thinking he just had the wind knocked out of him, he took some Advil and went for two more attempts before they wrapped up the project with a successful take. As the day went on, however, his appearance and demeanor continued to go downhill. Dizzy and unstable, he was taken to the hospital in the evening where doctors could hardly believe how he sustained the injury, as it’s not every day that people attempt to dive from a paraglider nearly 100 feet in the air. He barely made it out of the CT scan before doctors where scrubbing up for emergency surgery, rushing him into the operating room to remove his spleen which had been completely split in half on impact. By the time they got him into surgery more than half of his blood supply had pooled into his abdomen; if he had waited another twenty or thirty minutes, the situation would likely have been fatal.

Colturi spent a week in the hospital before heading home for a long recovery. Six months later he was finally cleared to start training again and has his first official competition in April of 2019. According to him, he probably won’t be fully over the whole saga until he competes again and gets a few successful dives under his belt. But the experience has taught him a lot about his priorities and what he considers a victory. “Being lucky to be alive has made me really appreciate what I have,” he shares. The injury made him come to terms with the fact that he will not cliff dive forever and as he says, “I still need to be David on the other side of this.” Despite the trauma and fear from his accident, he plans to continue diving and has big dreams for the expansion of cliff diving as a sport. In addition to the Red Bull circuit, Colturi is a founding member of USA Cliff Diving and hopes to develop training camps, national tours, and events to draw fans and athletes to the sport while enriching the community of athletes that already exist. “Success - no matter how you define it - is usually just a fleeting moment,” he says. He has proven time and time again that he is willing to take big risks, and, more than ever before, he’s investing those efforts into improving the sport, supporting up and coming athletes, and seeing the sport as a whole become both established and recognized.

To follow more of David’s incredible journey, be sure to check him out on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. In addition, learn more about USA Cliff Diving and the Red Bull Cliff Diving and check out some amazing videos on YouTube.

 

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About This Episode

A farm in rural Canada doesn’t exactly seem like the perfect breeding ground for a world class water skier (or two!). But a lot of digging, water, and a cow pasture would become a man-made lake large enough for a speed boat, skis, and the start of a legendary career for Ryan Dodd. At age 10, he began skiing recreationally with his father and grandfather in the water reserve that they kept for their cattle and it quickly became clear that he had the talent to excel. Growing up in a family with a very successful horse-trainer for a mother and businessman for a father, Dodd understood the value of a strong work ethic and thrived on the pressure to also make something of his career.

Dodd was a rising star in his sport when a night of celebrating took a sharp turn for the worst. It was his “first and absolutely last bar fight,” and he woke up not recalling exactly what had happened. Thinking he was just a bit beaten up, Ryan got on a plane and flew home. Upon landing, however, he realized that his injuries were far worse than he had originally believed. Upon rushing him to the ER, doctors discovered that he had a skull fracture and bleeding in three places in his brain -- an injury so severe that he was lucky to be alive after not seeking immediate medical attention. He stayed at the hospital until the bleeding stopped and narrowing avoided surgery, but the road to recovery would be long. Dodd was required to lay flat in the dark for three months to allow his brain to fully heal. He wasn’t allowed to go outside, have caffeine, read, look at screens, or do anything that got his heart rate up. And most definitely not water ski.

Ryan shares, “it was definitely the most life-changing experience that I would never have asked for.” The months in the dark forced him to make drastic changes not only in his physical health, but also in his mindset towards himself. He had to overhaul his nutrition and sleep patterns in order to recover. No more caffeine, sugar, alcohol, staying out late, or sleeping in. He became more intentional with his time, giving space for reading, self-improvement, meditation, and reflection. When he was ready to take steps towards training again, he got in contact with a sports psychologist and a performance coach to help him stay holistically healthy. Finally, eight months after his injury, Dodd strapped on his skis for his first competition and scored a personal best. That milestone was followed shortly after by a first place victory at the the US Masters and a world title.

During his recovery, Ryan read a book that encouraged him to “turn obstacles into opportunities.” He used to view defeat or challenges as negative experiences, rather than moments to evaluate and grow. This shift in his mindset enabled him to take his recovery day by day, and has marked his career ever since. He learned that focusing on doing his best would always take him further than dwelling on the next big win. Performance goals remain important, but he has found that small, attainable goals in all areas of life are actually more rewarding and motivating. Although he’s back to skiing professionally, he shares that he is dreaming bigger than just gold medals and championships - he wants to help evolve the sport, encourage others, and mentor younger athletes. He currently trains with his dad, who has was titles in the Over 55 water skiing circuit himself, and looks forward to bettering himself at each competition in the coming year.

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Laura:

[00:00:54] Ryan Dodd welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast. We're so excited to have you on. Welcome!

 

Ryan:

[00:01:00] Thank you. Glad to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:01:02] Let's just get right to it. Now, you started skiing fairly young and not in a very typical location. Can you tell us about how you got started?

 

Ryan:

[00:01:11] Yeah a little bit of how I started. I started from Canada on a cattle farm actually. My Dad and Grandpa and family used to ski recreationally. And when I was 10 years old my dad actually built a dam with a tractor in a cow pasture as a sort of reserve or backup for cattle water. And we started skiing so I skied you know all summer on the Partyville and then played backyard Olympic. Been busy.

 

Laura:

[00:01:40] That's awesome. Now you have a friend Jared that you started training with when you were pretty young and you said he was kind of inspiration from the beginning. I have to tell you I was reading this article and I love this quote you said about him. The thing about Jared is he works harder than anybody I've ever seen in this sport. But he does it with this carefree joy. Whether he's preparing for your event or rehabbing an injury that might in most careers. He does it with the energy and enthusiasm of a guy on holiday. Now what kind of impact is training with a guy like that had on you?

 

Ryan:

[00:02:12] I was in the same room as a kid you know every single thing you do just from the way I carried themselves to the. You know the way you trained and competed and whose family life was a definite inspiration and you know they got me heavily.

 

[00:02:28] But that. That kind of point that one that I pointed out is the hardest. Its sort of it seems for me to be the hardest thing. But it's also when you kind of get in that state where you can know everything flows and you can be relaxed but you're also working hard on anybody and performing at a high level in a dangerous sport like. Then you can carry on a life that's you know you can carry on great family life because you know and business. And you can just be fun to be around and that's kind of what was always blowing me away the most about him. And honestly, anyone that stands out to me you know if you're working hard but you're in a bad mood and resenting it and you're grumpy. Whatever. I mean what's the point of that?

 

Laura:

[00:03:12] Exactly. Exactly. Now I have to ask you about your dad because I'm a mom and I've been a fairly successful athlete too and now I have a daughter who's fallen in love with my sport and that makes me nervous. Now your dad Bruce was a world champion water skier. And how did that affect you growing up? I mean was did it inspire you or was it like a weight to prove something? Like, Tell me about that?

 

Ryan:

[00:03:34] Well kind of the odd thing is he was never a professional skier. He was always a farmer. He skied for fun in the summer. He competed but actually like he's a senior World Champion. So like in the in the 55 and up and he just did that like I think five for the first time. So It was not. It wasn't really that way like I'd ever had. How you kind of go on him saying he wasn't actually a professional skier. He was to set a record. Somebody in the senior ranks.

 

[00:04:06] He's actually excelled the last 10 years. So now he is. The pressure was more with how successful you know my family both my parents were. My mom was actually you know a horse trainer and she competed against the guys and she rode. You know she's one of the tops in the country. And my dad you know it was his business success. You know grew on a family farm from one cow to 9000. He's a pretty successful guy. So yeah I had pressure but you know for me the pressure was never and it still isn't like something that scares me or holds me back. That's why I thrive on. Like if I don't have pressure then I don't do as well. The more. Seriously the more the better. So.

 

Laura:

[00:04:48] I love it. So did you guys have to ask then did you guys train together.

 

Ryan:

[00:04:53] We actually train together right now. He's got his next senior world championships in three weeks in Santiago Chile and I'm just. My season is kind of winding down but I'm still training. I'm testing some stuff. I'm testing you know some stuff on my boat but he has to get ready for next year and he's preparing for that. So you know all a hop in the boat and watch him know a couple of times a week and help him out and vice versa. So springy.

 

Laura:

[00:05:17] Oh I love it. It's like family goes right there. That's awesome. I have to ask you. You had a life-threatening head injury and it sidelined you from competition for like eight months. Can you tenet take me through that?

 

Ryan:

[00:05:34] Yeah. It’s a. Actually without a sport, It was not one of my most proud moments but I wanted to give that to our partner to set the bar and I got beat up and the first time I've been in a fight and hopefully last with them. That's not my forte. So I was you know I kind of woke up not knowing what happened and beat up pretty bad and actually flew home. I didn't know how serious it was. And then the next day I started freaking out like my head like gonna explode and other members basically the emergency room and my skull was fractured and my brain was bleeding in different spots like a subdural hematoma. And then like Oh my God you're lucky to be alive. I was right beside this major artery blood. I was. Insane! They didn't do surgery. They just kind of let it sit for a few hours and then the bleeding stopped. And you know I was basically just laying in bed for three months. I wasn't allowed to go outside in the heat. I was about to get my heart rate up with my caffeine. I wasn’t allowed to read Green. Watch. I was basically to sit there in the dark for a long time and you know the hope of being able to compete again and all that was kind of the last of my mind. But as I got going and got feeling better and so to see things a little different. And about 5-6 months I started working out a little and pushing it to bed you know. Seven months I got back on the water and was stronger and lighter than I'd ever been. And I definitely work with some you know some experts in sports psychology. And I got a performance coach kind of helped me you know that my career. And then next thing you know eight months after the injury I had the first competition I had a personal best. And next when I won the biggest game of the year the U.S. Masters. And since then it's been a steady ride upward all the way to last year world record and two world titles.

 

[00:07:25] It's been definitely a life-changing experience they don't want to like ask for but. I read this book I read this one book it was I forget the name but it was kind of like some of it was just basically turning your obstacles and opportunities and I never really thought of things that way. I just thought they were like bad when some bad happened or something went wrong. But since that moment even big or small I've said it immediately. This is the moment I'm learning something and this is for the best and it's gonna help me and that's nice. So.

 

Laura:

[00:07:57] So in those months that you were kind of stuck in the dark like you said. I mean what got you through that? Did you have that mindset then? Or like how did you? I mean I just can't even imagine as an athlete and somebody so active being scourged. Yeah. Like how did you and with the brain keep going?

 

Ryan:

[00:08:07] No. So weird. It’s terrible.

[00:08:11] I mean moving now there's more research and more guidance but I'll just kind of the doctor's like go home and rest and read stuff online. It was basically just the way it was. It was so counterintuitive for me because with the brain. Whatever it was with rest your body you exercise it. It gets stronger. You break it down and get started with a brain injury. You push it. It gets weaker and it doesn't. You actually have to just do nothing for it to get stronger. It's not like strong healthy brain you stress and they get stronger with better spirit, not injury. You basically just have to sit there.

 

Laura:

[00:08:48] Well like what did you? I mean what I think about it and who's? I mean cause there's a lot of time to just sit there like I can't even fathom where my brain though.

 

Ryan:

[00:08:56] It was so weird but after a while I just it's actually just kind of thought OK. Because I've never done it in my life. I've always been so busy and worked so hard. And I started to kind of just look outside and pay attention to things. And be more present and watch the clouds and listen to the sound. I started meditating and I got a coach to kind of teach me some breathing exercises and guided meditations. And I started doing that every morning and create a little kind. I change my diet and I stopped you know sugar or I stop caffeine and alcohol and I just definitely cleaned clean everything out and actually started to feel better than normal. Even though I wasn't doing stuff. [00:09:40] So it was pretty neat. It was crazy.

 

Laura:

[00:09:43] That's so wild. It is amazing those things happen to you. You don't ask or you don't want but it can change you in a good way. Right?

 

Ryan:

[00:09:49] I wouldn't have gone without you know a slap in the head basically.

 

Laura:

[00:09:53] Yeah. I get that.

 

Ryan:

[00:09:55] And now it's like how do we go to that place of like you know disparity or need without having to have something traumatizing happen. How do we how do we dig that deep in ourselves to be a better person without it? That's that's the challenge because it's. We can change. Like I used to sleeping and so tired till noon and you know my whole body clock has changed and I get up with the sun and I go to bed with the sun and I feel the dust before. Yeah. Everything is so weird but it's totally changed.

 

Laura:

[00:10:27] That's cool. That's very cool to see what affected you that way. Now you've been telling yourself since you were 10 years old that if you put in the work and stay on the path you would be a world champion. I mean you had mastered titles, Pan Am Games titles, other pro titles but when you got second at Worlds in 2013 you said you had a brief moment of doubt. You just wondered if you'd been living a lie. If you were chasing something is never gonna happen. Tell me about it?

 

Ryan:

[00:10:51] Yeah. That’s pretty terrible.

[00:10:55] Yeah. That was like a nasty moment because I felt like I could win when I was 18. You know I was like top 10 in the world and then now I'm like pros 30, 29 years old and I'm like sitting there so ready. I'd won all the events leading up and I even went down to the site. I jumped and I went way further than unnecessary when I did that. Top seed going into files and then the guy before me didn't even go like you know the jump and not like that far. Like you know 9 out of 10 jumps at that point would have done it. I basically just completely blanked out and screwed every jump up. And it was like I basically like I'd never heard of my life. This was just kind of blanked out when I turn. And next thing you know I had no sense of what was even going on and then it was over and it was like literally over and it's over for two years. So I really start to wonder. I'm like I could have been more prepared. There's not. But what. It's you know as you know as an athlete everything's mental everything's in your brain you know your body everything else is prepared. And I even thought I was mentally prepared but kind of the biggest moment.

 

[00:12:08] It was kind of the next year. I don't remember exactly what happened but my biggest change was instead of like competing against you know my biggest competitor which is Freddy Krueger at the time and trying to win. It just became caring more about the things that I need to do to be my best. And if you can actually whether you're tricking yourself or you actually believing it. You know you can want to have a great performance more than a win. You know if you can truly want that best job for that bus run or whatever sports, eating or whatever you've got a business that you can want that more than the result. You can actually create got morning program herself to work that way. That's the moment that it becomes like I was saying with Jerry with ease. And it doesn't need this heroic like out of body experience to make it happen because of you just kind of do anything. And you're that good at that point. So something changed I kinda let go you know taught when. And then didn’t make sense but when you let go trying to win you start winning every time. So I.

 

Laura:

[00:13:18] Wisdom right there.

 

Ryan:

[00:13:19] It takes me so long to like you know to put when I do it's definitely built in. So.

 

Laura:

[00:13:27] That's very cool. Now when you finally did win that World title two years later how did that make you feel? Was it everything you hoped for or not?

 

Ryan:

[00:13:39] Yes. In a way? And then also not in a way because the one you know. I'm saying I'm not there to just win but like I wanted to be my best which I was. But I also wanted to compete against the best. Part of me wanted to like and Freddie was injured that year in 2015 and he's still the number one competitor. I mean he didn't make it. So it's kind of like Oh man really? Like my brain. I was like you know the other best guy would have a gorilla performance and I come out and I muster up the courage and do it. Right?

 

Laura:

[00:14:14] Right. The best of the best. Right?

 

Ryan:

[00:14:14] This is a game in your head. But at the end of the day, I went out. I was prepared. I did my job. And I totally killed it and I won my first jump with 3 attempts. And it was amazing. But part of me was like Oh no I wish it was this. But after a few months, I'm like I just won the World Championships. But yeah I was insane. You know when it finally hit me it was like you know I think that some things really started to change and I start to believe in myself. And I was like wow it's not you know I haven't been lying to myself forever. I can actually do this. Because with anything that we do before we've done it we're telling ourselves it's possible with no proof of it being possible. So inhale I can read every line of the song. It's like oh well I guess I can keep imagining things and making them happen.

 

Laura:

[00:15:06] Well I think you. I mean it's it's so interesting to me because you had won so many things. And you were already so many athletes dream of being you know? You'd won so many titles and second at worlds and that's still amazing before you won the world.

 

Ryan:

[00:15:20] But in my brain said I'm gonna be okay. I'm going to be a world champion. I’m gonna hold records. So it's all you know for me it was all nice and fun but that's what I was here to do. So.

 

Laura:

[00:15:36] Well so I guess it's kind of a fine line right? Like you need to have those goals. You need to push yourself like no this is my goal I'm going to keep going. But at the same time, it's so easy for us as athletes to get sucked into that mindset of like our importance and our identity is all wrapped up in the results of our performance. Like how do you separate those? Because it's important to have those goals but you can't get just totally sucked into those all consuming goals right?

 

Ryan:

[00:16:00] Yeah I mean we need. So like we need performance we don't need them. But like I like to have performance goals such as a score or a win or a result. But like the best way to stay sane and live a good life and feel successful on a daily basis is to from my experience is to have goals that are within our actual control. Goals such as dietary goals, lifestyle goals, the amount of sleep you know. Spend time with your family and friends you know. The hours you put into your training you know. Your ability to not be emotionally or I guess like energetically set back when things don't go your way right? If you can keep. If my goal can be to stay as motivated when things aren't going my way is when they are. If you have goals like that? Then at the end of the day, the results are going to come pouring in. The challenge is when they start pouring in for me to not just get excited about them and forget what got me there. And it's like that's still my battle like last year is the best year of my life on the water and you know and I'd say everything. And this year I just go. I'm like Oh let's keep doing that let's keep winning. That was awesome! And then I forget how to turn I'm like oh my god I'm like all the things that made me have a great year. I'm focused on the results again. It's like really?

 

[00:17:26] But that's. It's so hard as you know because that's like what everybody talks about. Everybody you know that's a people post on Facebook. That's what they talk about. The first thing they say oh that the world champion. It's like oh you're not a person like hello I'm just a human. Deep down it's like we want the results. But like I say we feel better when we just feel like a normal person and where we live a normal life. So that's the that's the challenge.

 

Laura:

Right. It’s the balance right?

 

Ryan:

Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:17:56] OK. So now you just mentioned it. You've got a world record. Now you have 2 world titles because you won last year as well. And you got four Masters titles. What? 45 pro wins?! And you're still going. Where do you see your career going from here? And how do how do you keep motivated?

 

Ryan:

[00:18:13] Honestly like that's that's the next step for me. That's what I'm sitting here right now. There's actually one more event left this year in 2 and a half weeks in the last month. I've been kind of wondering do I do it? Do I rest? The last two years I've taken the whole kind of winter off. But I'm like You know I'm like sometimes for me you can't sit here and you know when you ask me that question I can't just come up with the answer. Sometimes they just come like my motivation has just come to me in the past. You know an opportunity has been presented. That's kind of helped create it. Right now I'm sitting here and my wife and I are chatting. I was talking to my dad last night and I'm like I'm trying to figure out what is next? Because I don't. I mean you know I'm afraid and I don't want to be the guy that's sucked into like you said these goals and results. You know on that 45 pros and just go for 100. You know last year actually I set a goal was to win all the events right? Well, I lost the first event. I set this year goal to win all these events like haven't. I won the first event so I'm like you know maybe goals like that aren't what I need, you know. Is that a sign? Do I set it next year and then be mad all year if I don't do it? No. Like so I need to move. I need to figure it out. And you know maybe it's maybe it's something different. I don't know.

 

Laura:

[00:19:42] You know what I love about this? Is you are so accomplished and you've done all these things beget you're still figuring it out. Like that makes me feel more sane because I feel like I'm in the same boat. So thank you for making me feel like a human.

 

Ryan:

[00:19:54] Oh yeah. You’re welcome.

 

Laura:

[00:19:56] Now, of all these things. Like what do you want to be remembered for? What do you want people to take away and like remember about you?

 

Ryan:

[00:20:08] I mean I want to be remembered for innovating in the sport. Like as you know with my you know what I do as an athlete but also you know for the sport. And that's the step that I haven't. You know that for the sport haven't taken yet but I've kind of you know kind of started. Which would mean evolving the kind of the rules and you know the ramp and the boat and kind of working on that? And then you know as a person part of the reason that I coach and do some other things is because I want to inspire people to be you know to be their best and find that they love to do and commit to it. And so I guess whenever I chat with someone I want them to feel like you know they know that I care about them and I want to help them figure it out.

 

Laura:

[00:20:59] I love it. I love your hashtag Aspire to Inspire. Like I love your whole mantra. It just it resonates with me. It's very cool.

 

Ryan:

[00:21:06] Thank you. Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:21:08] On your website you say that your mission is to kinda uncover your potential as an athlete into inspiring give back to people along the way. And working with Homes of Hope in Mexico to build and donate homes that's one of the ways you kind of stay true to that mission. How did you get involved in that? And like what does that mean to you? Why do you keep doing it?

 

Ryan:

[00:21:27] Yeah. I have a. It’s actually my performance coach so sort of my mental coach. He who I started working with when I had my head injury who's now been a big part in helping me recover and come back and have a good life. He for a few years was like Ryan you got to give back. You've got to you know he's kind of helping me figure out all the pieces of the puzzle. And he's like you should give back. You should find a way to donate to something. And he's like you should you know maybe give 10% of your winnings to something. And I'm like I don't want to give my money away like it seems meaningless just to donate money to something. Like he's like oh here's this link you can set. I'm like No! Like I just kind of got mad like I don't wanna do that. I want something I have meaning I want to kind of see it and feel it and know that it's real. And I just kind of had this weird like thing about like just donation. It's like I thought it was something people just do to feel better about themselves more than like for other people.

 

[00:22:23] So I was very hesitant. Many introduced me to a friend of his who's also a friend of my wife's. And then like a family friend of hers just like a bed talk. He's also a skier and he works with homes of hope in Mexico. He'd done like I think 7 years in a row of these builds that we had. We got a call. And I kind of just told them Hey I want it. I want to connect my performance to giving back to something. You know I want. When I do. I want to be motivated to do well not just for me to stand there and hold the medal but for me to have more to go back and give to somebody. Because it's nice you win an event. You go home. We got more money for your family. It feels cool. But it's like a family is everything OK. It's like it'd be really nice to like you know if I want and like you know whether it's 100 bucks or a thousand bucks or whatever it is to like give to somebody who's like having trouble getting food. There's no roof over their head. So we, he kind of told me what he did. I told him what to do? And somebody on the call he's like Hey why don't we work this out? Boom! I said I'll give 10 percent of what I win this year. And I'll casually you know kind of under the radar offer it to people to match any portion of it. Because I didn't want it to be. I wanted it to be this fine line of not where it's marketing right? That Ryan is a good person because he's doing this but like. So I just did one Facebook post say hey I'm doing this Homes of Hope Mexico can build a house. So you know I'm going to donate this. You know hit me up if you want to match a portion of it. Super casual. And then I think at the end of the year we had 10 or 15 people and donate some money and I think we're about twenty thousand bucks. And I was like Oh my God this is insane. The house is you know a lot less than that.

 

[00:24:10] And it was overwhelming without really any effort. So I was like. Then we went down and built the house and it was way above and beyond my expectations. And I dropped on my weird like stigma like you know money being hidden in some charities and all this weird stuff I had in my head for no reason. And I was like this is unbelievable! The coolest thing I've ever done. And it blew my mind and then the next year which was last year we built two homes and this year where we're going to. I don't know if I'm gonna make it this year but I'm supporting it because my wife she's pregnant so I might just stay home with her. So yeah. It's going pretty cool.

 

Laura:

[00:24:52] That's fantastic. I love it. I love it. When you get your hands like in it too and you see it. Kind of like you said is there some weird thing like you actually see it and you see the results of it. Yeah. Very cool.

 

Ryan:

[00:25:04] It was a very special opportunity. And I recommend it to anyone and I think it's the best way to connect with a family and even yourself. And you know just kind of come down to reality and pretty real.

 

Laura:

[00:25:19] Well, I love that how you started it just by kind of a simple donation hey if you want to join me. And it was kind of a ripple effect on all these people got involved in it. It's made such a big impact. I mean that's just. That's a beautiful thing. That's life right?

 

Ryan:

[00:25:31] And then another group actually tied on one of the girls that participated in the US with my build. She went and kind of did the same thing. So of donating got other people in and then kind of breath. So we'll move on there's a whole secondly side going on and it's pretty neat. So it definitely like it's something it's a good way for things to kind of go viral.

 

Laura:

[00:25:54] Yes. Definitely.

 

Ryan:

[00:25:55] Like let's give it. Everybody and doing something good. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:25:59] Well and you kind of mentioned you guys have some exciting news and I love how you announced it on Instagram where you're holding a pineapple. When is baby Dodd due?

 

Ryan:

[00:26:10] March next year.

 

Laura:

[00:26:11] Congratulations! It is so awesome. So awesome.

 

Ryan:

[00:26:14] Thank you. Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:26:15] Now because you're fantastic and we're so inspired and encouraged by you. Where can we follow you online to kind of keep up with all your adventures and everything that you're doing?

 

Ryan:

[00:26:26] Once I get better than of my website it'll be on InspiredByRyan.com it's brand new. About my Instagram @rdodd260. That's kind of I'd say where I post the most often and then Facebook. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:26:43] All right. Fantastic! Well thank you so much for taking the time to just share your inspiring story with us and we wish you the very best of luck.

 

Ryan:

[00:26:50] Thank you very much.

[/et_pb_toggle][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

Hope Sports
P.O. Box 120564
Chula Vista, CA 91912
USA

+1 (619) 736-7306
[email protected]
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