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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS27-Jamaican-Olympic-Bobsledder-Winston-Watts.mp3/p>

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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Winston Watts didn’t get his start in bobsledding because of “Cool Runnings”, like you might think. In fact, he was a dedicated, committed member of the Jamaican Military when his natural athletic ability stuck out to a friend looking one more member of the famed Jamaican bobsled team. Put up against a series of physical tests and challenges, Winston excelled at them all and, if he wanted it, the spot was his. But the difficult part wasn’t over just yet. He was plucked from his spot in the army and flown to the training center in Evanston, Wyoming where experienced not only his first winter weather, but his first actual bobsled track. “I asked to go home after the first week,” laughed Winston. A combination between being ill equipped to handle the climate and the relentless nausea because of the unfamiliar G-forces on the track made him miserable. Of his first run he remembers simultaneously wanting to be ejected, stop immediately, and throw up. At the bottom he was so discombobulated that he couldn’t even stand up or unclip his helmet. But he persisted, crediting his military training for the fortitude to forge ahead through immensely uncomfortable situations. Giving up was never an option in the army, so why would it be an option now?

This training also helped him cope with the fear of racing at over 90 miles per hour down a slick track of ice. Before racing he was shown footage of runs and crashed in an attempt to prepare him for what was to come. And the crashes did come. “One time I crashed from curve two all the way down the entire track to curve nineteen!” said Winston. The only strategy is to curl inside the sled and wait until it stops - easier said than done for the world’s largest bobsled pusher of 260 pounds. With time, his experience improved and he tempered the months in Wyoming with seasons of training in sunny Jamaican that focused on time in the gym and the push-start portion of the race. 

Winston had the privilege of participating in four Olympics over his career and has experienced the fame and love that the world has for his team. Their positive, feel-good attitudes brighten the Olympic village and the track. They have become a staple race broadcast by every network, whether they make it to the finals or just a preliminary run. But the most difficult part of his career was watching the team continue to struggle for funding. Their athletic abilities were equal and above many other nations, but often they could not afford the same equipment, travel to the same races, train in the same locations, or even qualify for matches due to a lack of sponsors. They still hold track records around the world, but for three Olympics could not even afford to qualify. Winston came out of retirement in 2010 to help bolster the team and rally support to get Jamaica back to the 2012 Games in Sochi. Their absence was felt both from the nation and from the other Olympians, but the president of Jamaica was honest with him; there was no money to pull together a team. Winston began recruiting members on his own, personally funding their travel, clothing, equipment, and visas. Soon the team was fully assembled in Evanston, but still lacked a sled. He reached out to friends on the German team to consider the Jamaica as a part of their “Adopt a Team” program, but unfortunately their two sponsorship slots were filled. That didn’t stop the Germans from taking action, however, and soon a sled arrived as a gift to the Jamaicans, a gift worth more than $350,000. Over the next two years the team trained and traveled, picking away at the necessary races, points, and runs that would qualify them for the Olympics. It would be tight, however, and the week before the elected teams were announced they had nothing to do but wait. Winston, however, didn’t have to endure the anticipation as long as others, as he received a personal call from the office of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, telling him that the team would be welcome at the Sochi Olympics. 

Winston was simultaneously elated and defeated. They may have qualified for the Games, but there was not a penny left to get them there. He had depleted all of his personal funds in the pursuit of qualification. Determined, he decided to look elsewhere. Tapping into contacts from year previously, Winston called a friend at NBC in New York City and shared his plight, asking that she consider airing their story in an attempt to draw attention to their GoFundMe page. Without hesitation the story was on the news that day. But not just in NYC. The story quickly gained momentum and spread across the country and soon, around the world. Donations began coming in from every continent, along with well wishes, encouragement, and support. The team needed $80,000 to make it to Russia and back, but within 48 hours over $120,000 had poured in. “It took the entire world to get the Jamaican bobsled team to the Sochi Olympics,” said Winston. Despite cancelled flights, lost luggage, a missing sled, and only two practice runs, the team represented Jamaica in the Sochi Games, but truly, they were racing for the world.

Winston acknowledges bobsled as giving him a chance to see the world, tap into a deeper strength inside of himself, overcome adversity, and relate to others in a new way. He advises younger athletes to train hard and not give in to easy ways of getting ahead like drugs and performance enhancers. “You will get caught and it’s not worth it,” he warns. At the end of the day he wants to be remembered for being a positive, loving individual who spread goodness throughout the world on behalf of his country. He worked hard to be a world class athlete, but also a kind individual. These days he mostly spends with his family, realizing that he will never get back the time he was away from them training and competing. But, of course, he has bigger, newer dreams that include acting, speaking, advertising, and films. He wants to continue to reach the world through a new, different medium, but we all know that it’s the same committed, sunny Winston who can rally the world through the most unusual of circumstances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiLCJhZnRlciI6IlwiIiwid29yZHMiOiIiLCJyZWFkX21vcm[email protected]

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

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Laura:

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

 

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

[00:14:37] So heartbreaking.

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

[00:23:37] Wow.

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

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About This Episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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About This Episode

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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About This Episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

them. But they really challenged me to find joy in my life and find joy through community. So you know we came back home
from that trip and Sara and I knew we wanted to do more. And we knew we wanted to continue to support World Vision and
the work they're doing which is amazing work they're doing all over the world. But we also wanted to support other kind of
local organizations. And some of our own projects that we were excited about doing so we started the Hall Steps Foundation.
[00:25:30] And so it's basically set up the same as like Team in Training or something like that. Where you can run any race in
the U.S. you just go to our website thestepsfoundation.org sign up and create a fundraising page. And then every single dollar
that you fundraise for your race goes towards our projects so we're 100% volunteer run. So that's a really cool thing about our
organization is you know every single dollar is going towards the projects we're supporting. And we've gotten to support some
really cool projects along the way. Like we partner with one of my friends in Kenya we helped to build a health clinic in his
community that didn't have access to hospitals or health clinics. People have to take like buses for like 8 hours at a time. Like
his brother actually died of a snake bite that shouldn't have taken his life you know. But you just didn't have access to the
medicine he needed to to fix the problem.
[00:26:46] So we partnered with my friend Wesley Korir he's actually Boston Marathon Champion. And we built this health
clinic and now people in that community have access to meet their medical needs. Things like that. We love doing stuff with
empowerment as well. So we partner with Cuba leading microloans to women in developing countries. Help them start their
own businesses so that they can work themselves out of poverty. And then we're doing a lot in Ethiopia as well with mainly
with child care and trying to help them. Kind of get going a foster care system actually because they just closed down
international adoption which really kind of changed things in their country. They still have a ton of orphans in their country but
now they're trying to figure out how they can take care of all those orphaned kids within the country. So we're kind of
partnering with local organizations there to help bring those kids into families.
Laura:
[00:27:31] That's awesome. So many great things that you guys are doing through your foundation I love it.
[00:27:37] At Hope Sports we know that you want to be the best athlete that you can be. And in order to do that, you train hard
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[00:28:44] The running side of things now I know in 2011 you set a new PR the Boston Marathon. You made the 2012
Olympic team like things were looking good. But then you had to drop out of the marathon at the London games around the 11
mile mark because of a hamstring injury. You've dealt with injuries you dealt with not feeling good. What was that like how did
you do that at the Olympic Games?
Ryan:
[00:29:06] Yeah. It was definitely like one of those surreal moments where you feel like you're in a movie or a dream like that
just really happened. I'd never dropped out of any race in my entire life you know. Like I never even stopped and walked in
any race and my entire life. So like that was never an option in my mind. But just having this sharp pain was out running and I
just decided after having a little conversation with God is better to live to fight another day. So you just stepped off the course
almost started running again just did it felt so wrong I was like this isn't right you know. Not at all what I was picturing
happening but I stepped off and it was hard you know. But I've been through so much discouragement and hard times before
that. It really kind of prepared me for that moment. So I was down as disappointed afterwards for a couple of days. But I like to

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

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

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

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

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Ryan Hall's book is available in hardcover, audiobook, and eBook formats on Amazon

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About This Episode

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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About This Episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Laura:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren:

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

Laura:

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

sports?

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

tomboy if you will.

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

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

Laura:

[00:02:53] Ballroom dancing.

Lauren:

[00:02:55] I know right.

Laura:

[00:02:56] Wow! Nice.

Lauren:

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

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

school days.

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

[00:04:23] Oh wow.

Lauren:

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

Laura:

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

Games right?

Lauren:

[00:05:44] Mm-hmm.

Laura:

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

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

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

us through that.

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

was on the wrong part of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

Laura:

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

running up and down this track?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

I know.

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

creating boxes for myself.

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

had better make the most of these opportunities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

those people were pouring into me.

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

London?

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

[00:21:34] Right.

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

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

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

how all of this unfolded?

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

later I was at the Olympic trials for bobsled and.

Laura:

[00:24:12] A month later?

Lauren:

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

Laura:

[00:24:16] Goodness.

Lauren:

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

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

learning curve over the next six months.

Laura:

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

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

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

did you process that?

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

team all sports 230 people.

Laura:

[00:27:51] Wow.

Lauren:

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

you were making history when you did this?

Lauren:

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

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

Laura:

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

about your company.

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

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

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

virtually too right?

Lauren:

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

Laura:

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

future.

Laura:

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

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

person help me break it down a little bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura:

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

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

here today.

Lauren:

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

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

Laura:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

visit HopeSports.org

 

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About This Episode

Matt Lindland always dreamed of competing at the Olympic level, but maybe not in the sport you’d expect. Having grown up in the country, his notoriety as a athlete was in equestrian events, not mixed martial arts. Matt was one of the best riders in his state and desperately wanted to compete nationally, but his family could not financially swing such an involved sport. When one of his high school gym teachers encouraged him to wrestle, he decided to give it a try. He finished his first season and had fallen in love with the sport. Soon after, he was invited to compete in a Greco-Roman Invitational and, with no experience in that style, enrolled in four different categories. He finished 0-8 that weekend and walked away knowing that he would need both a coach and a lot of work if his dreams were to come true.

Matt found his way to a local club where it just so happened that the 1984 Olympic Wrestling team coach worked. Lindland wasn’t heavily recruited after high school, so took time to attend a junior college and continue his training. The hard work paid off, as he went on to win Nationals and soon had a contract with the University of Nebraska. He made a name for himself his first year as a Cornhusker, going 38-0 through the regular season. Despite his stellar record that year, he lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Whether it was due to dropping too much weight or training too hard, he didn’t peak at the right time to snag a podium spot. After his eligibility was up, he returned home to Oregon with his wife. He trained and coached in the Portland area before accepting an offer to move to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs just two weeks after his daughter was born.

He spent the next four years getting a diverse training experience with the other 24 wrestlers at the center. They traveled internationally and competed around the world - something Matt credits with expanding his style, tactics, and relationships in the wrestling world. After four successful years at the center, he was invited into a coaching position by the University of Nebraska. Excited about the opportunity to pour into younger athletes while continuing to train himself, Matt accepted the position. He was a coach, mentor, competitor, and father during his years in Nebraska. Doors began opening for him to pursue MMA fighting, but he put those on hold to focus on the Olympics - one of his ultimate dreams.

His road to the Olympic team wasn’t easy, however. A misjudged match during the Olympic trials led to a long, drawn out legislative battle. After he was given a re-match and defeated his opponent 9-0, he was finally appointed to the Olympic Team by a Federal judge at the Supreme Court level. But the controversy was not over. Even as he walked into the Opening Ceremony at the 2000 Olympics, the case was being re-arbitrated in International Court. Through the entire process Matt could have been removed from the team at any moment, but continued to train as though he was headed to the mat in Sydney. His hard work and focus paid off as he was not only given the green light to compete, but walked away with a silver medal at the games. His nickname “The Law” was born from the unprecedented judicial intervention required.

On the heels of a successful Olympics, Lindland went on to medal at the World Championships in Japan. Knowing what he was capable of and with the pressure removed, he was able to simply enjoy competing. He transitioned to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with the UFC and navigated the ins and outs of a sport that was developing and implementing new rules as well as growing rapidly. Seeking to make a career out of wrestling, Lindland expanded to stunt driving and coordinating fight scenes for movies, opened his own gym in Portland, and continued coaching on the side.

Matt has never been one to back down from a fight, even outside of the ring. In 2008 he discovered that no one from his district was running for the seat in the State House of Representatives. Committed to his community, he stepped up and registered as a candidate. Though he lost in the general election, he appreciated support from his district and the opportunity to invest in it.

As if he couldn’t diversify his talents anymore, while in Oregon a white water rafting team approached him about using space in his gym to train in the off season and invited him to try out the sport sometime. What began as an adventurous outing became “my favorite sporting experience,” Matt confides. The team went on to win seven tournaments and went to the National Championship. Through juggling multiple professional sports, a business, coaching, a horse ranch, and a family, Matt credits his wife with being his steadiness through the storm. “Whatever you want to achieve, you need someone who is a partner with you to navigate the rough waters,” he says.

In 2014 he welcome another new opportunity: coach of the National Greco-Roman Wrestling Team. At this stage in his career, more than anything, Matt appreciates the privilege and responsibility of being a coach. His focus isn’t solely on developing strong athletes, but strong characters, leadership, and integrity. Despite being tough on the mat, Lindland recognizes the crippling struggle with identity, emotional issues, and relational security of so many young athletes. “It’s hard to go through life scared,” he says. “I want young people to know that they are loved and matter more than their sport.” And his coaching style reflects this. He takes his athletes on team building trips, develops retreats that don’t include actual wrestling at all, challenges them in areas outside of their comfort zones, and pursues building one on one relationships aside from training. “Every time you challenge yourself you get less fearful,” says Matt. Whether that is a new training regimen, a new job, a new relationship, or a new level of honesty with oneself, in testing the bounds we become less fearful of what could happen, less focused on our limitations.

Matt’s life has always reflected the magic of chasing what is possible, of confronting new obstacles bravely, and of facing challenges with fists ready.

Follow more of Matt Lindland on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and be especially inspired by his Leadership Series on his YouTube Channel.

 

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_toggle title="Read Episode Transcript" admin_label="Transcript" _builder_version="3.20.2" saved_tabs="all"]

Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the hope sports podcast where each week we have the privilege of hearing from an elite athlete about what made them fall in love with their sport. What parts of their journey were the most challenging and how they find purpose and meaning in their lives outside of medal counts and competitions. This week we not only have an amazing athlete but just one of the most multitalented individuals that I know of. You may know Matt Lindland as a UFC fighter but like me. You may not know about the original sport he wanted to pursue. Or how he owns multiple businesses or that he once ran for political office. Or how it took a Supreme Court ruling to get him on the U.S. Olympic team. Seriously, I can't make this stuff up. You're in store for a fascinating episode as Matt shares his journey and how he kept pursuing dream after dream as they came his way. Thanks for joining me. Now let's dive on in.

 

[00:00:56] Alright Matt Lindland thank you so much for joining us at the hope sports podcast.

 

Matt:

[00:01:00] Absolutely. My pleasure. I'm excited.

 

Laura:

[00:01:02] Well let's just get right to it. So for those that are listening to that may not be as familiar with your background. Can you tell us a little bit how you got started into sports?

 

Matt:

[00:01:10] Well I got started in the sports because I was rural a boy I lived in the country and I grew up you know as an equestrian athlete. I thought I was gonna.

 

Laura:

[00:01:21] Really?

 

Matt:

[00:01:23] Yes really. I thought I was going to compete in the Olympics and either eventing or showjumping or steeplechase or I just. All I ever did from that time I was. From my first memory, I was on a horse and I was probably one of the bus rides. I was one of the best riders in my state and looking to go to the regionals and hoping to go to the Nationals. And my parents informed me that we were poor people and find a new sport. And so I discovered wrestling in high school. And it was very interesting because our gym coach you know he had wrestling and part of the curriculum is the gym class. And so you know of course they're like oh man you're great. You should come out for the team you know. So I was a 98 lbs freshman in high school going out for the wrestling team and I just really fell in love with the sport. And after the season that year when one of our head coaches handed us a fire and was like Yeah there's this freestyle and Roman Greco. And I asked my assistant coach if he knew anything about this Roman Greco thing and he was like I do know that it's called Greco Roman. And I could probably help you prepare for it but that wasn't his expertise. And so I went to the tournament and I don't know if many people have ever done this and gone 8 and 0 and one weekend. Because I entered both the freestyle and both the Graco and Junior and cadet age groups. So. And I.

 

Laura:

[00:02:58] All in one way. How did you have the energy for that?

 

Matt:

[00:03:00] Well you know some of the masters were pretty quick. I just got thrown on my back and then.

 

Laura:

[00:03:07] Wow. Amazing.

 

Matt:

[00:03:07] But also I went on at 8 and I realized that I needed to find a club that had some more lead training. Lo and Behold I show up at this club and the coach at the club was the 1984 Olympic wrestling coach.  And I had amazing coaches at this club every one of my coaches. The head coach there Marc Sprague was an incredible mentor still a mentor of mine to this day. And I owe him a call because I'm working with one of his athletes now. He's 75 and still coaching wrestling.

 

Laura:

[00:03:49] That's awesome.

 

Matt:

[00:03:50] Yeah but you know it took a lot of years to figure out how to do this sport and to get to the level that I wanted to so. Coming out of high school I wasn't a big recruit or anything. So I ended up going to a junior college and I ended up winning a national title. And I did get recruited to a college finally and I went to the University of Nebraska. I had some success there. I was the number one ranked athlete in the country and I was 36-0 going into the national tournament. I lost that first round.

 

Laura:

[00:04:23] Oh my gosh!

 

Matt:

[00:04:23] And so I was not an all-American I wasn't even a placer that year

 

Laura:

[00:04:29] Was OK OK. So you win the junior college like nationals then you go to a D1 school. You're 36-0. You're ranked number one and you lose in the first round at the NCAA. Like what. I mean were you shocked? Like were you. I just. I mean how did you handle that like what was that like?

 

Matt:

[00:04:47] It was a culmination of a lot of things I think it was a long season. They didn't recover me well. They didn't trust me. They wanted me to cut 158lbs and I was probably about 170ish you know? And it was a long season and they didn't pick me at the right time. And that's you know partially my fault but I was a young athlete and still trying to figure this out. And you know change some things up. And so after my eligibility my wife and I and our son we moved back to Oregon which is where I'm from. And she was. She's from Oregon too and she wants to move back there and. I was want to stay in Lincoln and possibly finish up my degree at that time. And you know keep wrestling at the college. But she was ready to move back to Oregon. And I was there for a year I was a coach to three different clubs. I was trying to squeeze training in between. And I actually got invited to move to Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. And we waited till my daughter was born and then two weeks later we moved to Colorado Springs.

 

Laura:

[00:05:54] Wow! Wow! So how? OK. How long had you been wrestling at that point when you got invited to Colorado Springs?

 

Matt:

[00:06:00] So I started in 85 and this was 94

 

Laura:

[00:06:06] OK. Wow! So that's very cool. Now. OK. For your age, cause you seem to start late and you started in high school. And that seems kind of was that kind of late?

 

Matt:

[00:06:13] I think it is pretty late for you know a lot of guys. But you know in my experience I think there's like a really good 10year window. You know like you know. And you can be really good in high school or college and then you're kind of done. And since I started late it allowed me to continue on. And I didn't win my first medal till I was 30

 

Laura:

[00:06:38] Oh wow. That's awesome. So what. OK. What was training at the Olympic Training Center like? I mean that's something people just dream of you know. What was that like?

 

Matt:

[00:06:46] It was exciting. I was moving out to Colorado Springs and you know I got out here. And at that time you know things have changed here in Colorado Springs with the amount of athletes they actually will how is it. That time I think we get over I think it was like 24-26 of us. Lots of training partners lots of opportunities to travel internationally and compete all over the world. And just you know chase our dreams and do what we love to do. And it was a credible opportunity but it was also very difficult. And so after 3 years 3 and a half years of doing that my former coach at Nebraska offered to hire me for a job. And I wasn't quite sure because I needed to have you know I needed training. I needed to get to international tournaments I needed training partners and he offered to do all those things. And so I ended up moving to Lincoln and my last four years of wrestling right up to the Olympics was that whole quad I was training out of Nebraska. And at that time getting to mentor other athletes.

 

Laura:

[00:07:56] OK. Now, this is awesome. So you are coaching, your training, you have a wife, you have two children, and didn't you also start doing MMA stuff around this time?

 

Matt:

[00:08:07] I did. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:08:10] How did you do all this stuff?

 

Matt:

[00:08:12] I took three flights in MMA in 1997 right after I moved in Nebraska. And I realized that I was going to be a lot of fun but it was gonna be you know pretty much the same kind of journey. And so I took those three flights all relatively close. I think two of them were on one night the other one was like a month away. And I put that on hold because I knew that to reach my goals and wrestling and get on the podium it was gonna take a lot of sacrifices. A lot of discipline. And I couldn't really split my time between doing MMA. So I really put that on hold. But the games were in October that year and December I started the fight in the UFC.

 

Laura:

[00:08:55] Wow. OK. So the Olympics were the big goal the big dream. Like what was it like finally getting there and being in that environment. Like, take us through that.

 

Matt:

[00:09:04] Well Laura it was quite the process. I don't know how much research you did but there was a court case too for me to get on the Olympic team.

 

Laura:

[00:09:15] Oh wait isn't this right? You got your nickname through this, didn’t you?

 

Matt:

[00:09:17] I did.

 

Laura:

[00:09:19] So what. OK. [00:09:20] What was that all like? But that was part of qualifying for the team?

 

Matt:

[00:09:23] The shows only you know half hour 40 minutes. That longer time. But I'll give you the really short version. The Olympic trials were misjudged. They didn't apply the rules properly at the Olympic trials. And then they didn't allow me to protest. They said it was a judgment call and I said it was a misapplication and there was just you we're splitting hairs there. You know it's judgment its a misapplication. And so they refused to give me due process at the Olympic trials. And so my only recourse was to go to the Greco-Roman sports committee and have my case heard in front of my peers and the Greco-Roman sports committee there. They make a committee up and then they started pulling members off of the committee that may have had bias. Well, that's why you have a committee is because everybody has bias. And so you have multiple people but you can't pull people off the committee that you think may vote one way or the other because they may have a bias. So again I was denied due process I went to an arbitrator and this was my last chance. The arbitrator ordered the match be re-wrestled. I beat the opponent 9 to 0. Now if you beat your opponent by 8 the match is over. But at that time it was 10. So it was pretty close to know to technical superiority. And then the real fun happened. They didn't make me to the team.

 

Laura:

[00:10:55] Even after you beat him in the rematch?

 

Matt:

[00:10:57] Yeah. They were they did not name me to the team. And so we had to go to a federal judge and they forced the United States Olympic Committee and USA wrestling to put me on the team. And then once I got on the team they allowed the case to be radically arbitrated. And that is the oddest thing because arbitration is final and binding.

 

Laura:

[00:11:20] Right. Oh my gosh. That’s super sad.

 

Matt:

[00:11:20] The case was arbitrated. See I tell you this a long story. It's crazy. The other day the case while ultimately went to the United States Supreme Court. And they upheld the ruling of the federal judge and I left for processing that same day. I got the ruling and we processed in San Diego that year.

 

Laura:

[00:11:43] So when were your trials? And then what was the timeline with all of these cases up until we left? Because like it was in September. We left it was like the end of September when the Olympics started. So when were your trials?

 

Matt:

[00:11:56] Elsewhere in June.

 

Laura:

[00:11:57] OK. Wow. How did you keep your head straight during all of that?

 

Matt:

[00:12:02] You know I. It was difficult. It was very difficult but I had a vision I had goals and I have faith. Oh, a lot of Arizona. And just you know to stand strong. I mean there were definitely moments where I wasn't sure. And I just kept training through the whole process.

 

Laura:

[00:12:24] Did you have like I mean support around you? Did you kind of feel all alone at that point?

 

Matt:

[00:12:29] Well I feel pretty alone. But I you know I have a wonderful life that I've been married to for 27 years and I have two children that love me. And I have some great coaches that that supported me. But you know nobody could tell me Hey you for sure you're gonna get this spot. You know we just kept praying and hoping that that was the case and you just kept training through this whole process. And then when I got to Australia we went to a city a couple of hours away in Canberra and had our acclimation camp. The day I walked in opening some ceremonies they were gonna be arbitrating the case in the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

 

Laura:

[00:13:11] Are you serious?

 

Matt:

[00:13:12] Yeah. The day I was walking opening ceremonies. So this thing was like never gonna end. And fortunately, they woke a federal judge up in Chicago at like 3:00 in the morning. You know they were calling from Australia and he said you know what you guys won you beat me. Just know that if you plan on coming back to the United States we'll have air marshals waiting for you in contempt. And so if you guys choose to do this you know go ahead. But they ended up not going forward with that last case and I wrestled the games and made it to the finals and got a silver medal that year.

 

Laura:

[00:13:52] Which is amazing. Amazing. I mean what. Ok. What was the experience like to be in the Olympics? You walked in the opening ceremony is greeted with this cloud hanging over you. But like were you able to at least enjoy that and soak in that Olympic spirit or what was that like? Take us through that.

 

Matt:

[00:14:06] Now it was. You know what I had some great training partners. I had one of my best friends dearest friend. He was an alternative. He did not make the team that year. He was away class below me. He was one of my training partners at every camp. And he left camp early went to Sydney and got an apartment right next to the venue that had saunas and a place to recover. And relax in between rounds and before the weigh-ins. And so you know I just really kind of pulled myself away and just surrounded myself with loved ones and people that really cared about me and supported me. I didn't really get into the whole Olympic thing. My kids were pretty young. They were four and six at the time and my wife was there and they were staying there. And I just remember the one night though. My daughter and my son and my wife came to visit me and my daughter says you're going to go home with us tonight. And I was like yes. Yes! So excited.

 

Laura:

[00:15:16] They were things in real perspective, did they?

 

Matt:

[00:15:18] You know they do and they help us keep things in perspective. And a lot of what's really important and that was really what was important to me. It wasn't the after parties it wasn't the opening ceremonies in the village. And I mean those things are great. And I met Muhammad Ali in the village and I mean that was cool things that happened at the games. But ultimately it was just you know being able to have that opportunity to compete and you know try to try to pursue my highest goals for the for my career.

 

Laura:

[00:15:51] That's awesome. That's awesome. And the next year you got a silver at the World Cup and I think that's when you retired after that, right?

 

Matt:

[00:15:57] Next year was the World Championships.

 

Laura:

[00:15:59] World Championships. OK.

 

Matt:

[00:16:00] And I moved up a weight class because I was almost done. I started fighting right after the Olympics. The games were in early October and I fought early December in the UFC in Japan that year. And I started fighting throughout that year and the World Championships were going to be held in New York City in September of 2001. And so I had a great training camp and I was getting ready to go to the World Championships and somebody crashed some planes into the World Trade Center. And so they cancelled the worlds they postponed it till December. So I had a new training camp and new preparation and really enjoyable process honestly even through what was going on in the world and everything. The fact that I was just having fun and enjoying it because I really at that point didn't care of I made the team. I just wanted to go compete and have fun and I didn't carry all that pressure of wanting to win wanting to win and. I was able to put things in a better perspective. I was a little older. I've already won a medal at the Olympics. I knew what I was capable of doing but I wasn't sure that I knew weight class. I was moving up you know from 76 kilos to 87 kilos. It was quite a jump.

 

Laura:

[00:17:27] Oh wow. Mm-hmm. That's cool. That's cool. So following that you went kind of full time into UFC staff right? And that was kind of new at that time wasn’t it?

 

Matt:

[00:17:37] It was pretty new. It was not owned by the current owners at the time. And the current owners you know the Fertitta brothers and Dana White. Those guys weren't involved back then. But after my first fight they had purchased the company and started making some big changes. And you know with a lot of the rules were just coming into place. You know my first fights were there was like three rules no biting no eye gouging and I think you can attack somebody in the groin. And I was like.

 

Laura:

[00:18:08] And that's it. Those are the only rules.

 

Matt:

[00:18:10] That was it you know. And as things progressed they started putting in more rules and made it more of a sport. And now it's a worldwide sport.

 

Laura:

[00:18:19] that's so cool to be part of something like it's inception like that. Well I guess. Why did you decide to be done with wrestling and go into more of this mixed martial arts kind of arena?

 

Matt:

[00:18:30] The living and an athlete.

 

Laura:

[00:18:32] I wish you wouldn’t do that. Come on.

 

Matt:

[00:18:35] There wasn't a lot of prize money in wrestling and you know. You know it's in the name price fighter you know so I was like OK I'm going to go fight for a prize. And I just. I had a different perspective on things it was like Yeah I want to be the best in the world but I also want to make a living doing what I love to do. And that allowed me to do that.

 

Laura:

[00:18:58] That's awesome. We don't have much of that opportunity in diving like now. A lot of people go into kind of Cirque du Soleil type stuff. That's kind of our diving after they're done with their Olympic runs or their college runs. They're all kind of going into the circus shows now our performances on back of cruise ships and things. It’s kinda crazy.

 

Matt:

[00:19:16] Make a decent living such thing? Okay.

 

Laura:

[00:19:17] Well yeah. Well not quite that much I don't think. But they make a living. So yeah I hear you. So now I heard you also were a stunt man in some TV shows and films. Like what was. As an acrobat I've always wanted to do that. I always thought that would be so awesome. Is as cool as I think it is.

 

Matt:

[00:19:36] Honestly. Yes if you prefer.

 

Laura:

[00:19:40] Yes! I love hearing that.

 

Matt:

[00:19:41] I got to do some fight scenes. I had some opportunities to drive cars in New York City when they shut the streets down and use some different things like that on leverage. I did this one show called The tap out job. And it was great because they asked me to actually coordinate the fight scenes throughout. It was a television show that one but I've done some film as well. And I brought a lot of guys from my gym was like oh we need backup guy we need background people hidden bags and in the gym. And you know we need some preliminary fights so you know I got to hire you know a lot of people and coordinate some stuff. But that really was a lot of fun. But I never wanted to be famous. That was never a goal of mine. I enjoyed the work. I enjoyed doing the stunt work and being on camera and be on set. That was fun. But then it was never a goal of mine to be famous. So I just didn't continue to pursue that as much as I probably could have if that was really what I was driven to do. I was still fighting at the time. So it was in between fights. It was just an opportunity to make some extra cash and do some fun and exciting.

 

Laura:

[00:21:05] Well you did a lot of fun and exciting things. I love how one thing keeps taking you to the next thing and you also took a little dip into politics. So I have to ask was that fighting rougher than like being in the octagon?

 

Matt:

[00:21:16] Oh my gosh. Politics so annoying. And you know I ran as a conservative and I'm barely a conservative. And I'm leaning way more conservative than I do liberal. But I'm like this like almost anarchist libertarian. I'm like that far right? I'm farther right than most conservatives but in a more freedom kind of way. So it was interesting. I won a primary a very heated primary. And the thing was you know they didn't have anybody running for my seat in my district. And I was running for a State House seat. And so the last day of filing I've put my name on the computer and I started getting all these calls like why are you doing this? Who are you? What do you do? I was like well I'm going to represent my community and my people and what we got.

 

Laura:

[00:22:12] So was this not really like thought through? Like you just kind of on a whim nobody's running I should run or haven’t thought about this?

 

Matt:

[00:22:17] It was my strength coach and I we talked about it for months. Like you know I wonder if anybody's going to fill that seat. You know like you know and then like that morning after a workout I went home got on my computer and registered to run for the seat. And then all of a sudden they're like oh we've got somebody. I said well that's great if you got somebody you know let me out and I'll support them if I get on board. But you know I wasn't into I don't know how to put this any other way. But you know that the opponent was running against me was really pro-abortion. And that was kind of one of my big issues was I'm pro-life I'm very pro-life. So that was a hard thing for me to get over I said I can't support this individual and I'm going to have to try to run against her. So I did that and then I lost the general election on a two point margin.

 

Laura:

[00:23:22] Wow.

 

Matt:

[00:23:22] Yeah I did my whatever into politics a little bit.

 

Laura:

[00:23:30] Well I love that you stand up for what you believe in and you are not afraid of a fight whether it's in the ring or in the office. That's awesome. I love it.

 

Matt:

[00:23:37] You left out my probably my most favorite sport that I took up after this. You know what it was?

 

Laura:

[00:23:42] Oh no. What?

 

Matt:

[00:23:45] I raised professionally Whitewater.

 

Laura:

[00:23:48] Whitewater. OK. How did that happen?

 

Matt:

[00:23:51] OK. This is a great story because I have a gym. I have a martial arts school in Portland and it's also a fitness center. And this team of Whitewater racers asked me if I would donate some space for them to train in the offseason. While they couldn't do whitewater training if they could get in my gym and do strength and conditioning. And so I gave them some space and some time. We have a pretty big martial arts studio we have like two different mat rooms. Like we can have a kickboxing class going on in one room and a jiu jitsu or grappling class and the other and then I have a fitness area. And our fitness classes run 4 or 5 and 6 and so our martial arts classes go till like 9:00 o'clock at night. So I gave the the raft team my space and said Yeah come on in we're still training and nobody's in the fitness area you guys can use that. And then they invited me to go watch a race and then they convinced me to get in the boat with on that day and.

 

Laura:

[00:24:56] Of course. I'm guessing you are not hard to convince.

 

Matt:

[00:24:59] No no no. I was like I lost my whitewater sir. Let's go. And then the next weekend I start racing with that team. And I won seven regional titles which is the western region. Which is like basically the entire West Coast Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana that whole area where there is water.

 

Laura:

[00:25:25] And so how long had you been doing it when you started winning all the titles?

 

Matt:

[00:25:29] I got on a really good team and we just started winning but we never won the nationals we were second one year in third twice.

 

Laura:

[00:25:41] Man! So is this why you were coaching full time so you weren't still also fighting or were you still.

 

Matt:

[00:25:47] Still fighting MMA.

 

Laura:

[00:25:48] Of course you were.

 

Matt:

[00:25:49] And I was coaching and I had a ranch with 16 horses and.

 

Laura:

[00:25:57] Wow. And I'm starting to think your wife must be pretty incredible too. To like hold down the fort and the kids and everything else. I'm sure.

 

Matt:

[00:26:06] My wife is amazing she she surprises me every day you know with her. Just her kindness and generosity and her love and we're just down Oregon for the holidays. We live in Colorado Springs now because I'm the national coach for the Greco-Roman Olympic team. And my kids they still live in Oregon. They're 24 and 26 now. We went back there to visit our kids and my wife's father's dying and. He's just not a not a nice person at all and never was a great father but she is like an amazing daughter. Like she was just out there every other day we were driving two hours to the coast. And she was taking care of his affairs and his nurses and his hospice and his bills. And just being patient and kind and loving and I was just. She just impressed me more and more every day. So yeah she is a wonderful person. And you need that kind of support when you're whatever you're doing in life. I mean whatever you want to achieve in life you need somebody that's a partner with you and can help you navigate the rough waters.

 

Laura:

[00:27:20] Definitely. Definitely. And now like you mentioned you are now the head Team USA wrestling coach since like 2014 right?

 

Matt:

[00:27:28] Yes I took the job in 2014 right before the World Championships. And now I served on one Olympics in Rio and that was a lot of fun. But we didn't come back with any medals that year. And last year we got a silver medal at the World Championships and we've got two other bronze medals from one individual. And now it's a lot of team building. I mean you're dealing with. You've dealt with a lot of young men that they're not you know like they don't trust people they don't. Because I think there's this a huge father crisis. I just think there's a lot of dads that have abandoned these young men and they're like tough guys. But they're really not tough. The tough men on the mats but in life they just have a lot of difficulties because they don't trust people. They don't know how to be loved because they've never been loved necessarily and they don't know you know just as. It's hard. It’s hard working with some of these young guys nowadays. Because there's a lot of guys that just come from these broken families. And they all seem to end up in the sport of wrestling or MMA.

 

Laura:

[00:28:49] Alright. Well I guess it's a good outlet that way at least. But I mean do you find yourself when you're coaching. Is it more than technique and stuff that you're having to work on their their hearts and their minds more?

 

Matt:

[00:28:59] That's exactly what you know that was part of the reason I wanted to take our guys down to Mexico to build homes with the hope sports. And I just want to understand that they're more than just an athlete. They’re you know there are people that are valued. They’re you know God loves them and. But it's you know it's tough to share that message you know all the time with guys. You just gonna do it by example and by showing them that you care about them. But yeah we work on a lot of character strength stuff. We have a lot of different times where we're meeting about this camp that's coming up. I mean we identified five areas that my athletes identified. I know I put them in a room and I sat him down and I put them into small groups I said come back. You know there's got to be some things that we can get better as a team. And I'm not talking about wrestling I'm not talking about conditioning or skills or techniques. I'm talking about what do we need to get better as a team and our athletes did a really good job identifying the five areas. And one of them was first of all was communication. And then it was trust and respect for a sense of urgency, professionalism, and image. Because they know that they're not always doing the right things. So we talk about these things but it's like we've got to leave these things and we've got to day in day out. And so we're working on some things this camp that's coming up. Every day has got a different theme. One day is communication and we're going to have morning briefings we're gonna have the evening meetings. And in the middle of the day we're going to train wrestling.

 

Laura:

[00:30:40] Mm-hmm. That's great. So I guess you're working with the coaches too on hitting kind of those those things as well is that right?

 

Matt:

[00:30:47] Yes.

 

Laura:

[00:30:48] Awesome. Well and I love on your Web site. As I was stalking you for this podcast. That's what my favorite things to do with really cool people. You had this really cool blog post titled A coach's prayer. And I love your heart to serve and to raise up your athletes and your kids I imagine. It's just awesome. And so since we're on this podcast you know we strive to get to kind of the heart of purpose in people's lives either through or beyond their performance. And I'd love you to address that specifically for us? Like how do you help the athletes that you coach or the coaches that you coach even? Like know that their identities not just wrapped up in their results at the end of the competition. Like how do you help them find that purpose beyond their performance?

 

Matt:

[00:31:28] Well I think a lot of those. You know every year since I've been the coach we go out to Oregon for our base camp. After the team is made I'll get the guys recovering for a week and resting up. And then we were gonna say like we're going to jumpstart things with conditioning. So I tell him we're going to go out and do a lot of strength conditioning we're not going to do a lot of mat work going to stay off the mat. But during those times you know we go take him whitewater rafting you know. I take him out in nature and we would do hikes. I mean I just think it's so important to get out and see what God created and just be in his. Because most of my athletes are urban men. They come from you know Chicago and New York and you know bigger cities. And so it's a really unique experience to get them out there. And I just had Ellis Coleman one of my athletes and his wife over for dinner and as his young daughter she's three and. I mean it's just I think it's just those type of things you know building relationships with your athletes one on one, small groups, small teams. But you know I mean as a national team coach I mean I've got 30 guys that are on national team. So it's hard to have those one on ones when you have those camps. So you've got to Ellis lives and down and I just invite them over a couple weeks ago. It’s like Hey what day it is when I come over dinner it's like I'm looking forward to this. Great! You know? And so it's stuff like that I mean I bought some lawn furniture that came from amazon I had to put it together. It is like Ikea put together stuff.

 

Laura:

[00:33:08] Oh yes. Like everything in our house.

 

Matt:

[00:33:11] This is basically like Ikea lawn furniture. You know I asked one of my guys you know hey you come over and I hand them a little screws. And he's putting them in and we're just having conversations. It's finding those times just where it's not scheduled is not planned. It's just you know how we put my furniture together come over for dinner. You know let's go for a hike. It's those things. And I did take a small group down in Mexico and that was great. And they got to see me interact with my daughter and her boyfriend. And every year when we go to camp in Oregon my daughter comes over. And they she brings the board games and we have a board game night with the team. And those things are really important. I think they go a long ways.

 

Laura:

[00:34:04] Yeah definitely. And I know you mentioned the hope sports builds a couple of times. If you guys aren't familiar with that hope sports is a great organization. They bring down athletes to build homes for the poor in Mexico. And it's really cool because you do this amazing thing for this family who you know has nothing. And it's just going to really completely change their lives their children's lives everything. But it impacts the athletes so much and a different type of relationship is built a different outlook on life is built. And it's just huge and I love that you took your whole team out there because that's an amazing way to bond as a team going through such a life changing experience together like that.

 

Matt:

[00:34:39] Yeah. And I do. I mean I love whitewater rafting you know and I don't take these guys down when I go down. But you know I'll get them out on a class three run and it will splash and giggle and have fun and you know. So I mean these guys like I said these guys they're most of them are scared of stuff like that. They're fearful. They're frightened. And going through life scared as is would have to be difficult. It would have to be really hard. I don't know why there's so much fear in young men these days. But I try to fix that somehow by creating these different opportunities to where they have to face their fears. Every time you challenge yourself you get stronger and you get less fearful of whatever it is. I think all those things carry over life.

 

Laura:

[00:35:33] I think you just hit the nail on the head. I think to face a fear that's outside of maybe your sport or where you during all the time is a great way to begin to learn how to do that. Because I've met so many people who try to put their fears off and pretend they don't exist and push them away. But then it just it's almost like it gets bigger you know. But when you face it and you deal with it and you begin to confront it it loses its power right. And so I think what you do is brilliant. Like getting them kind of over that and maybe something outside of their normal realms. So they learn that they can face these things like can overcome these things. Because you can't be brave unless you're first afraid. Right? I mean we're not fearless we're terrified people but we choose to be brave and like confront that. I think that's awesome.

 

Matt:

[00:36:11] Yeah. And you know we climb a couple of 14 hours here in Colorado that for the listeners that's a 14000 foot mountain. And I think there's like 50 of them and we've done a couple real easy ones you know. But I've had these guys talk about you know like I started the character development leadership and character development show on YouTube. So I'm doing a podcast as well. And it's on my coach Matt Lindland YouTube channel. But you know and that was really. I did that because one of the guys said coach you'd never give us a leadership training. I was like OK let's see. I sent you out to the Marines for their leadership training course. When I walked to the top of a 14000 ft mountain together with me leading the way the whole way let's say. And I just kept going through these things. But you know what I'll do more stuff for you than help you with leadership. And that's what we're going to tackle in this next week coming up in our camp. Is we're going to talk about some some different ways to become a leader. And I think those five areas that are athletes identified are five areas that we can really hone in on and develop leadership through those areas for sure.

 

Laura:

[00:37:23] Oh yeah. Be great. Well, where can we follow you online to kind of continue to be inspired and encouraged. And led by you because you're just awesome.

 

Matt:

[00:37:33] MLinland just @mlindland. My first initial last name on Instagram. That's part of the one that I can deal with the most. But I think the best thing would be in coach Matt Lindland YouTube channel. That's where I'm doing a leadership show. I'm putting up some clips.

 

Laura:

[00:37:49] So awesome. I'll make sure to link all those things in the show notes so people can find you there. But I do have to ask you one thing before we go. You've tried so many different things. Have you ever jumped off a 10 meter platform?

 

Matt:

[00:38:00] Yeah of course.

 

Laura:

[00:38:01] OK. Well good. So we can do synchro now.

 

Matt:

[00:38:03] I did. OK. So I did it. I did it gainer off it.

 

Laura:

[00:38:06] Oh you see. I love it. Not only do you jump you do a gainer off of it. This is awesome.

 

Matt:

[00:38:11] Then I did a full game where I landed on my feet. Then I was like OK I'm going to do a one and a half. And I landed on my side and lost like all my life. Puerto Rico at the Olympic Training Center in Puerto Rico. You ever get that one.

 

Laura:

[00:38:28] No I haven't.

 

Matt:

[00:38:29] Oh my gosh it was. I barely got to the side of the pool because I couldn't breathe. But not quite went out but yeah. And then in Lincoln when my first year as a coach it was so fun. I'll tell you the story and then we'll go. So there's the platform up there in Lincoln in their pool. And so I got one of those folding mats that you know like the gym issues and they fold?

 

Laura:

[00:38:53] Oh no. Did you set up a slip and slide?

 

Matt:

[00:38:55] Aaaah! You know what it is!

 

Laura:

[00:38:58] Of course of 10 meter?

 

Matt:

[00:39:00] Oh yeah!

 

Laura:

[00:39:01] Oh nice. So what did you. Did you just dive or did you flip?

 

Matt:

[00:39:04] Oh yeah. We did everything. We got. You could get a up way across the pool side of that 10 meter. And the security guard pulls me in the next day and said Matt we need to talk. Because he pulls me in his office he shows me the video he goes my eyes only no worry.

 

Laura:

[00:39:26] Oh my God. OK. Next time I come up to Colorado Springs I'm calling you. And we are going diving together or you're taking me whitewater rafting or climbing a mountain or something.

 

Matt:

[00:39:35] Let me know. I would love to take you down the Royal Gorge. I've got a boat here. I've got a I've got a raft. I got a couple of kayaks and.

 

Laura:

[00:39:42] I'm not going to lie. I would probably be scared but I think it would be awesome.

 

Matt:

[00:39:45] It is scary. And like you can do it. It's the most rafting section in America. Everybody does it. But. Not everybody does it my style.

 

Laura:

[00:39:58] Well I'm sure that would be exciting. So I will take you up on that hopefully one day soon. That's really cool. Well Matt thank you so much for coming on for sharing all your wisdom, your heart with us, your stories. We really appreciate it.

 

Matt:

[00:40:10] My pleasure thank you so much.

 

Laura:

[00:40:13] Isn't he just incredible. I mean aside from all the things that I learned about his career I think it's just amazing how through all of it he remains unwaveringly committed to the character and leadership development of his team. To be so accomplished yet to still have the humility to find his worth and his integrity. It's just amazing. So many thanks to Matt for joining us today and I hope you get a chance to check out his youtube channel. Coach Matt Lindland. Matt is doing amazing things in the leadership development of athletes and he just has so much wisdom about how we not only grow as competitors but as people. Looking to improve their athletic performance with purpose? I'm offering a free live masterclass where I'll teach you how to improve your athletic performance without spending more hours in the gym. If you're ready for change and you want to take your performance to the next level then I want you to go and sign up at LauraWilkinson.com/masterclass. That's LauraWilkinson.com/masterclass to sign up for my free live masterclass on improving your athletic performance. I'll see you there. Be sure to join us next week as we have Olympic sprinter and bobsledder Lauren Williams joining us. On behalf of hope sports. I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for tuning in and have a great week. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and simpler media. For more information on Hope sports and access the complete archives please visit HopeSports.org.

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

+1 (619) 736-7306
[email protected]
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