For many of us, watching the U.S. Olympics evokes reverence and admiration beyond words, as top athletes across the world perform against each other with unmatched vigor and stamina. We watch in awe as athletes perform on the global stage with grace, grit, and near perfection. What we do not see is the immense amount of work and dedication that goes into mastering each technique and maneuver with precision, repeatedly, with every inch counting. The few short minutes we witness provide a narrow view into the mountain of challenges Olympians face and are required to overcome every day. They train a lifetime to perform for a single moment and they only get seconds on the clock to prove their greatness.
In my previous role at a national university, I had the pleasure to oversee and execute a five-year strategic partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which provided opportunities for education to 350 American athletes. As part of that journey, I had the honor of working side-by-side with Olympians, helping them begin or finish their education while they masterfully trained in their sport.
During this time, I witnessed every type of athlete, many of whom were young women and mothers with families, balance their personal lives with the desire to do whatever it took physically, mentally, and emotionally to win a medal.
My proximity to these women athletes helped me learn so much about perseverance and hard work. I learned the true meaning of dedication and sacrifice. These Olympians, whether they knew it or not, were giving me a real-life case study and lesson about leadership, first-hand.
I had the honor of being present at three U.S. Olympic Games where I watched in wonder as female Olympians walked to the stage to accept an Olympic medal they had trained for their whole lives. Later, I watched many of these same women achieve yet another goal by walking across the stage and becoming college graduates. Their hard work and dedication to achieving their goals were unrivaled.
At the U.S. Olympic Games, there is a ceremony held at USA House following a medal ceremony called The Order of Ikkos. It is the opportunity for the athlete to honor a coach or mentor who has helped them get to the podium. The coach receives a medallion in a public ceremony in USA House. It is often a moving and emotional moment for everyone. These ceremonies were some of my favorite memories from the Games. To watch an athlete, recognize the village around them is a powerful moment. To hear and see a world-class athlete understand that it took more than just their own talent and abilities is powerful.
My recommendation to all women is related to what the female Olympians taught me about what it takes to rise to a champion moment. In the Olympics, it takes a good coach to get to the podium. It takes a strong network of family and friends to support you and love you through difficulties. Life and leadership are no different. As women, it is important to find a good coach. Find someone to mentor you. Find someone you admire, who inspires you to be better, and keeps you humble. Someone who tells you when you are on the wrong path. Someone who keeps you grounded. In leadership, it is also important to know your own strengths and weaknesses. Admit the areas where you are weak and build your village accordingly. Hire people who are strong where you are weak. Learn from them. Don’t be intimated by them.
Most of all, these Olympians taught me to take risks. You cannot really reach your goals by staying comfortable. You have to take risks. You must get out of your comfort zone to get to the next level. When you take risks, you can fly higher than you ever thought possible. Simone Biles, Olympic Gold Medalist once said, “I’d rather regret the risks that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all.” Another quote that I live by is, “You have to believe in yourself when no one else does, that makes you a winner right there.” - Venus Williams, American professional tennis player.