Monday, July 30, 2012

Overcoming Obstacles: The Olympians Who Shine For More Than Their Talent

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My father has a quote pinned up by his desk. It's by Henry Ford, and it says, "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right".

When we were kids, we were told we could 'be' anything. The world was our oyster. We heard this over and over again growing up, but somewhere along the way, we started to doubt ourselves and our abilities. Maybe it's because we grew more realistic with age and started to notice other people's failures and fears. Today, I wanted to focus on confronting these fears with courage.

I watched the Olympics this weekend and was amazed by story after story of athletes who overcame obstacles large and small to compete. It reminded me that even the impossible is possible if you keep your eye on the prize.

As you start this Monday (with all the challenges that Monday's bring), I wanted to highlight the stories of just a few athletes in the 2012 London Olympic Games who have overcome intense obstacles to become the athletes that they are today. My hope is that by reading their stories, you too will be inspired to face your fears and challenges.

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GLADYS TEJEDA - Gladys is probably the most unlikely athlete of all at the Games. She grew up the youngest of nine in a farming family in a rural area of Peru. Throughout her teenage years, it was obvious that Gladys was a natural runner, but her aspirations never went beyond local races. During her very first race, Gladys actually had to borrow a pair of running shoes because her family couldn't afford a pair. In 2007, Gladys's family acquired their first TV, and in 2008, they were able to watch the Beijing Olympics. As they watched the track competitions, Gladys's brother suggested that she compete in the next Olympic Games. Shortly thereafter in 2009, a trainer in Peru heard about her talent and offered to train her in the capital city of Huancayo, 100 miles away from home. It was the first time she had ever been away from her family. Now, just 3 short years later, Gladys is representing Peru in the women's marathon. It is only her third marathon EVER!

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JOHN OROZCO - John received a lot of press this weekend. At only 19 years old, he is the standout from the USA's gymnastics team. John grew up in the Bronx and began his gymnastics career when his father, a sanitation worker, saw a flier for free gymnastics classes and enrolled him at the young age of 7. John instantly took to the sport and by the time he was 10, he told his parents that he planned to be an Olympian one day. His family sacrificed for him along the way, often spending more money than they had for his training AND driving him an hour north to practice every day, sometimes twice a day. John was even ridiculed in school for 'wearing tights', but nothing could stop him from attaining his goal. Now John has made it to the Games and is even considered the USA's best chance at winning an individual all-around medal.

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HIROSHI HOKETSU - At the age of 71, Hiroshi is the 2nd oldest athlete in Olympic history. He competed in his first Games in 1964, representing Japan in the equestrian category. He wakes up at 5 am every day to train and the hard work has clearly paid off. He has surpassed people more than half his age to secure a spot in the London Games. Hiroshi has been nicknamed 'the hope of old men' in Japan, and he deserves every inch of that title. He is defying the limits of age and showing the world that it is never too late to do what you might have done.

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DOTSIE BAUSCH - Dotsie is representing the USA as a cyclist. Looking at her now, you would never guess that she has overcome an eating disorder and a drug addiction to be where she is today. Dotsie was a model in New York City in the mid-90's. Like most models, she was under extreme pressure to be thin. She developed an eating disorder and cocaine habit to meet the demands of her career. During the worst period of her disorder, Dotsie weighed only 90 pounds (and she was 5'9"!). Her family was eventually able to get her to therapy for her disorder. As she started to heal, her therapist allowed her to workout again, but advised her to choose a new activity that had no connection to her past. She chose cycling. Today, Dotsie is representing the USA on the women's long track cycling team. She is the healthiest she's ever been, and she is using her position to make others aware of the dangers of eating disorders.

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TAHMINA KOHISTANI - Tahmina is a shining example of persistence. She hails from Afghanistan, a war-torn country where women do not have the same rights as men. Tahmina started running only 8 years ago, and every day she is faced with challenges that most of her competitors could never dream of. Her daily training in Afghanistan is marked by intense verbal abuse. The men in town gather to jeer and taunt her, saying that this is no activity for a woman. One time when her coach confronted the crowd, a brawl even broke out in the stands. Faced with so much opposition, Tahmina considered quitting at one point in time because the conditions were so unsafe. But she continued to train, and is now representing her country in the 100 metres. She hopes that one day her strength will give other Afghan women the courage to follow their dreams.

Here's to believing you can do whatever you put your mind to! Happy Monday!


  1. I absolutely loved reading this, Thanks for the inspiration!

    Christina Pearce

    1. We all need a little inspiration on Monday morning!