Apolo Ohno: A Superstar’s Message about Dreams and Determination

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Apolo Ohno receiving his gold medalLast week I had the opportunity to see Apolo Ohno speak about his 8-medal Olympic career and the path that led him from a trouble-bound youth into an international speed-skating superstar.

He talked about the challenges he faced at various junctions along that journey. Turning points made a common theme that he returned to again and again. What do I do next, he kept having to decide. At several earlier stages he took steps backward, regressing into a life that was unproductive, even destructive. Eventually he transitioned to making decisions that brought positive changes (and remarkable results).

He talked about where that trail of better decisions led him, into success and eventually absolute dedication—the kind of determination that brings unimaginable accomplishments…like leg-pressing 2125 pounds (more than my Honda!) and, ultimately, winning more medals than any other winter Olympic athlete in history.

It’s tempting for most of us to feel very separated from such lofty goals. While we’ve worked hard for good results in some form or another, we typically don’t aspire to his level of perfection. We’re just regular people trying to live normal lives. What does that kind of determination mean for me? We may ask ourselves. Actually, it’s not necessarily that far off…certainly our speedy trips to the restroom seem like Olympic-worthy performances, don’t they?

But in the end it’s not all about being the greatest athlete, or being the greatest at something else, or even being an athlete at all… sometimes it’s simply about accomplishing our goals, whatever they may be. We each set goals in our own ways, and there are relevant lessons to take for ourselves, even from a superhuman athlete.

Apolo Ohno summed up the key components that led to his accomplishments into two lessons that we all could take to heart. Ultimately his recipe is to make decisions that carry oneself forward, and whenever possible to turn obstacles into opportunities. That’s what led him to the mantra that eventually became the title of his book, Zero Regrets.

We each can focus on decisions that, though they bring challenges, can move us forward. For some of us that means working up the determination to stick to that cumbersome diet. Maybe it’s the discipline stay on that medication regimen or keep that food diary. Perhaps it’s getting back to exercising outdoors, or working up the courage to walk to school or work without restrooms along the way. Perhaps it’s to venture into uncertainty and take a vacation somewhere outside our comfort zone.

Regardless, there is much to learn from someone who so aggressively pursued his dream. The key is to have that dream, and make steps that move you toward it, no matter what it may be. Simply stated on his book cover, “Be greater than yesterday.”

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Tags: Narratives

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Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.

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