Most humans think Olympians were born with freak talents and that they were meant to be American heroes. While that may be true for the Shaun Whites or Lindsey Vonns, the reality is we are just regular joes that are willing to sacrifice everything for something we believe in.
The truth is we just get REALLY good at failure. Everyday we fail. Everyday we crash and burn. When I worked in sales, I had a boss tell me once, "sales is like banging your head against a wall every day." Welcome to training for the Olympics except more injuries and no 401k.
We think failures define our career...but in a good way. We view failure as an opportunity not defeat. It's a crack in our armor that we have to go back and make stronger. Failure is a moment when someone calls you to the carpet and you have to own the problem and be better. Training for the Olympics cannot be paralleled to anything else in life. Just the idea that this old man (coach) follows you around everywhere and tells exactly what you are doing wrong or right, where else do you find that? It's the mirror that you never wanted but the ultimate refiners fire. A mirror that pronounces your success and illuminates your failures.
So failure. Let's talk about it. "What is failure to you K8, 8 pull ups instead of 12?" I won't lie, sure that would set me back a little in my day but let's have an honest conversation. Failure is any moment when you think you are not good enough. When you make the Olympics, people assume that you always believed in yourself or that you were always previously successful. The truth is we aren't and the reality is that no one pays attention to your low moments. Here were mine leading up to the Sochi games:
Season before the Olympics:
World Cup finishes: 23rd, 20th, 19th, 29th, 21st, 23rd, 17th
Residual pain from a broken back at 16 years old
Why this mattered:
The year before the games is a year you are supposed to be ramping up and getting your top finishes. This season tells a lot about where you are as an athlete and how you will fare during Olympic trials. I went from a top 10 athlete to barely getting in the top 20 that season. My confidence was at an all time low and I was preparing to retire after the winter. The luge gods had chewed me up and spit me back out.
I broke my foot 3 days before trials began
Why this mattered:
Because I couldn't walk. I was on crutches for most of Olympic trials and every day I was terrified I was going to hurt my foot even worse. For luge athletes, we go FEET FIRST at 80 mph so there was some major self talk going on just to get me on a sled. I had trained 11 years for that moment and it felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. Coaches shook their head at me when I showed up for training. I knew I was the underdog yet somewhere deeeeeep deep inside, there was a tiny matchstick that was still burning and I was not going to let someone blow it out. I decided to look at my broken foot as an opportunity to forget my physical strength and hone in on my mental strength. As a result: I had some of the most consistent sliding in my career which ultimately got me to Sochi.
The best part? Most people don't know I broke my foot. They think I just walked on to the Olympic team. They don't even know the amount of times I contemplated retirement before making the games. Everyone just thinks that life through the NBC lens is reality. No my everyday life is not like the hunger games where we all wear matching USA gear.
The point is, spectators only see our 15 seconds on fame on tv. They don't know how many times we cry. They don't know how many times we look at ourselves in the mirror and think, "why am I doing this?" It is these moments that made me as an athlete. It was those times of doubt and failure that taught me grit and hard work. It is those moments that no one will ever know about but they are the moments that I now live for. Nothing defines you more than failures.
(Check the cast)
Failure got me to the Olympics because it taught me to reinvent myself every day. It taught me to uproot all my bad habits and replace them with better ones. Failure got me to the Olympics because I learned how to capitalize on the opportunities when they came. It only takes one moment of success to realize that you are good enough.
SO WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT
You are going to "fail" the rest of your life. No one will know your lowest moments. No one cares tbh. They only want to be apart of your successes. They only want to see the good stuff. Everyone will tell you no, that you can't do it. Don't listen. They say that because they couldn't do it themselves. So ask yourself, how will you view failure? Will you view it as defeat or a chance to be better?
When you find yourself in the trenches of life, just know that every athlete you see on tv has been there too. In fact they were probably sitting right next to you but you didn't notice. The only difference between you and them: they learned to love the trench life. They didn't avoid it, they took it as an opportunity to see what they are made of.
Success is gratifying but it is your failures that you should value most. It is your failures that you should really grow fond of. Learn to thrive amongst failure and you have found how to succeed in life.
WHAT IVE LEARNED
Don't let anyone tell you no, they have no idea what they are talking about
Embrace the hard
Crying always helps. A hug too. Oh and pizza.
Here is a TedTalk I did back in college. I talk about that broken foot I mentioned.