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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS28-Season-One-Celebration-with-Laura-and-Guy.mp3

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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It has been an incredible first season of the Hope Sports Podcast with 27 elite and Olympic athletes sharing about their journeys, challenges, failures, and triumphs. Laura Wilkinson has interviewed athletes both in and out of her sport, a task that proved challenging with sports that differ so drastically - like NASCAR. “We always eventually get to their story,” she said. Some stories brought laughter - like David Colturi attempting to hide a split suit at his first cliff diving competition. But others were incredibly raw and tear-filled - like Katie Ulhaender losing her father or Frank Shamrock’s story of abuse. But what tied each conversation together is the common thread of overcoming. Each athlete had something to overcome, to rise above. Whether physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual, the struggles have been real and heartbreaking. But with the support of friends and family or a nagging, relentless sense of hope, all of these athletes have overcome. Success hasn’t always looked like winning gold medals or getting to the top, though. In fact, the greatest victory for most athletes is the opposite - discovering deeply that it’s not, in fact, about the victory. It’s about the journey. “It’s about how far we’ve come, how much we’ve changed,” says Laura. 

It’s this profound realization that leads athletes to use their platform for good, for more than just winning. Season One had amazing guests like Dana Vollmer who is empowering female athletes who are mothers through the Power of Mom, or Sarah Wells who is inspiring the next generation of Canadian kids to dream big through the Believe Initiative, or Ryan Hall’s Steps Foundation. Their stories are trickling down to up-and-comers like swimmer Michael Andrews who, at age 19, is already pursuing a purpose-based career. 

This season was also particularly special for Laura as she began recording interviews while in a neck brace after fusion surgery. Hunkered down in her closet (in the pursuit of a quiet space), Laura listened to stories of athletes overcoming incredible challenges, all while she herself was living in the tension between an immobilized neck and Olympic dreams. Hearing their stories fed her own sense of purpose, hope, and commitment to her recovery. Back at training, she carries the wisdom from other athletes with her, as well as their support and friendships. 

Season Two will launch this fall - chock full of more stories from athletes that are deeper than the headlines and the latest wins, but that are rich with perseverance, meaning, and wisdom. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it! 

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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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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Laura:

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

 

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

[00:14:37] So heartbreaking.

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

[00:23:37] Wow.

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

 

Abbey:

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

 

Laura:

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

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

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

 

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS20-Olympic-Hurdler-Sarah-Wells-Catalyze-Self-Belief-with-Action.mp3

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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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[/et_pb_post_title][et_pb_text admin_label="Excerpt" _builder_version="3.18.6" _dynamic_attributes="content"]@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiI[email protected][/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label="Podcast Player" _builder_version="3.22.7"]

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label="Show Link" _builder_version="3.22.7" text_font="||||||||" text_font_size="13px" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat"]or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS19-Professional-Swimmer-Michael-Andrew.mp3[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type="1_2" _builder_version="3.0.47"][et_pb_image src="@[email protected][email protected]" _builder_version="3.18.6" _dynamic_attributes="src"]
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About This Episode

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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