I remember watching the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games when I was almost 8 years old and seeing Zola Budd line up in the women’s 3,000m final, representing Great Britain. But everyone in South Africa knew where she was really from. And as she lined up on the start line, barefoot, I could hardly contain myself. In 1992 when South Africa was allowed to send a team to compete in Barcelona, I watched with joy and excitement as Elana Meyer raced her way to a silver medal in the women’s 10,000m final. I wanted to be just like her.
From as early on in my life as I can remember I loved sport. I loved watching it and I loved playing it. It really didn’t matter to me what sport it was - I tried my hand at everything and once school sport was done for the day, as the only girl on my street, I may have played more rugby and cricket than many boys I knew. Sport taught me how to win and how to lose. It taught me how to be a teammate. And it planted a dream in my heart to one day go to the Olympic Games.
In 2012 my corporate company, who happens to be a global partner to the Olympic Games, announced a worldwide internal competition where associates could win a trip to the London Olympics. I didn’t win that contest, but my enthusiasm in the creation of the entry I submitted caught my boss’s attention and I was asked to accompany consumer winners to London and ensure their trip would be unforgettable. It was the trip of a lifetime and as I walked into the Olympic Park in London I had this incredible sense of awe and wonder that words cannot adequately describe. And as if that weren’t enough I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, this time a working trip to create content alongside a media partner for our brand. I never imagined ever truly getting there and somehow I’ve had the opportunity twice.
Tony Robbins tells a story of an encounter with a drunk, homeless man in which the man asked him for a quarter. While he wasn’t keen on rewarding the man’s behavior, he wanted to teach him a lesson. He asked the man if all he wanted was a quarter and the man eagerly said, “Yes, a quarter will change my life.“ He then tells of how he pulled out his wallet, filled with hundred dollar bills, and sifted through it until he found a quarter, took it out and handed it to the man saying, “Sir, life will pay you any price you ask of it,” and handed the man the quarter before walking off.
Now, this may seem arrogant and entitled to some, but there is an underlying lesson in his story.
The clarity of knowing your goal is powerful. You have to be specific! The reticular activating system in our brain operates in such a way that when you decide what’s most important to you, your brain will go after it, no matter what. What I had actually dreamed about was to go to the Olympic Games as an athlete. But I wasn’t ever specific about the athlete part of the dream. I just stated I wanted to go to the Olympic Games.
You’ve also got to know why you want that specific goal. As soon as you set your mind on an objective, obstacles will start to show up and unless your clarity extends to why you’re doing it, anything will derail you. Sure, I wanted to be like Zola Budd and Elana Meyer, but my why was never strong enough to drive my initial ambition hard enough to compete. I was happy to just participate.
And finally, you have to take action. Nothing comes free in life and without the commitment and work required, dreams become buried in the reality of everyday life. That was true for me too. All kinds of shiny pennies distracted me from my original dream. I’d never be an Olympic athlete.
Life gave me exactly what I asked of it. As a young girl and then as a teenager I dreamed of going to the Olympic Games and I’ve been twice. I’m extremely grateful for both of those opportunities that were handed to me and as I challenge myself now to grow and develop into who I am as a person, my biggest learning is in always trying to have complete clarity on what it is I want from something and why. I want to win at life, not just exist.