Kayla Harrison Gold Medal Rio Olympic Games

Kayla Harrison Gold Medal Rio Olympic Games

To all the athletes at the Olympic Games, gear up for the biggest challenge of your life. This is just the beginning, not the end.

For the past two weeks we’ve been watching some amazing athletes perform in one of the most prestigious competition on the planet, the Olympic Games.

For most athletes, these games are the pinnacle of their athletic career. To be able to compete (and even more so to win a medal) in the Olympics is every athlete’s dream.

There are a lot of benefits to being an Olympian. However, most people don’t understand the responsibilities and even the risks that come with this achievement, and particularly that come with being an Olympic Champion.

I often hear people say, “He’s an Olympic Champion; he’s set for life.” However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most competitors in the Olympics are in their twenties or early thirties, and many are teenagers. These young athletes spend their entire lives training and practicing one skill. It’s what they have done all day, every day.

Most people only reach their goals by investing time, money, and effort to get there. It is easy to watch Michael Phelps winning 22 Olympic gold medals and say, “I wish I could do that.”

But do you really? Do you wish you could get up and work out 6 to 10 hours a day? Do you really wish your entire income rested solely upon your athletic abilities, which will inevitably decline as you age?

Do you really wish you could give up eating the foods you love in order to stay in shape? Do you really wish you could give up spending time with friends and family to keep training and practicing your skills year-round?

Being an Olympian is a lifetime commitment that doesn’t always end as planned.

There are far more athletes who don’t get any medals at the Olympic games than athletes who do. There are more losers than winners in athleticism.

Don’t get me wrong. There is no such thing as failure, only life lessons. Also, just being a competitor at the Olympic Games is truly an amazing accomplishment, which most athletes only dream of achieving. However, these competitors, in the heat of the game, don’t always feel that way. The fact is, the feat of making it to the Olympic Games is not “enough” for many Olympians.

Being an Olympian comes with a lot of perks, but also a lot of sacrifices. For example, as an Olympic athlete you’re essentially “on schedule” your entire life. Someone (a nutritionist) is always telling you what to eat. A coach is constantly telling you what to do, and when to rest. An organization is telling you when you will compete and whom you are going to compete against. Orthopedic doctors and physical therapists are on call and ready to treat you when you are injured or in pain. All of the scheduling, organizing and planning has been done for you.

An athlete’s sole responsibility is to follow directions, train and perform. Athletes can easily develop what I call a “tunnel vision” to help them focus and reach peak performance in competition.

All the coaching staff is working for them, so they can focus only on the task at hand.

But we all know real life doesn’t work like that.

The real struggle faced by Olympians starts after the Olympic Games, not before or during. Especially for the ones that win medals. The more gold medals you win at the Olympic Games, the harder time you’ll have after the games are over. Not immediately after the games, but when you are left with yourself and your thoughts.

Often an athlete’s self-worth, the same as their net worth, is measured by the number of medals they have won, or how well they compete.

You’re probably saying, “That statement about self-worth is not true.” And I agree with you. One’s self-worth should come from inside out, and shouldn’t be in proportion to the number of medals around their neck, their skill level, or their world ranking. However, reality is different.

The more they need to prove to themselves, or to someone else, the stronger the drive. The bigger the trauma one has experienced in his or her life, the higher the chances of winning more medals.

The bigger the fire an athlete has, the stronger will be his or her desire to put it out.

In the event of losing at the Olympics, athletes are left disappointed because they feel like they let their coaches, friends, family and even their country down. Many feel that they still have a lot to prove to others and themselves.

Furthermore, out of all athletes, Olympic champions will struggle the most. That is why Michael Phelps (swimming), Kayla Harrison (judo), Anthony Erwin (swimming) and many other Olympic champions and medalists have struggled with depression, alcoholism, and drugs, or even publicly expressed having suicidal thoughts years after winning gold medals at previous Olympic games.

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Everyone remembers McKayla Maroney, an American former artistic gymnast. She was a member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team dubbed the Fierce Five in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, where she won a gold medal in the team competition and a silver medal in the individual vault event. Now 20, she admits that she went through an identity crisis when she retired from gymnastics. “I’m worth more than a gold medal. I’m worth more than being a gymnast. I am not what I do. I am who I am, and I’m what I love”, says McKayla in her interview with US Magazine from August 2016.

Athletes expected the Olympics to give them something only they can give to themselves. That is self-worth, validation, acceptance, and balance. After the Olympics, experiencing that type of letdown is a hard pill to swallow.

Since Olympians have been guided all their lives by coaches, trainers, strategists, nutritionists and even sports physiologists, they are going to feel lost once they are done with their athletic career. This explains why some athletes keep coming back from retirement.

Athletes are not only lost, but also disappointed because they still feel the same as they felt before winning their gold medals. That is something they didn’t expect.

Coming from the Olympic Games, athletes need to learn, often for the first time, to plan and cook their own meals, manage their own schedules, learn a new skill and even deal with their own thoughts. They need help to integrate into society, and to learn how to live a normal life.

Now you understand that being an Olympian and an Olympic Champion is not a pure gift, but in fact is something that most of these athletes must overcome.

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Olympians are young people. These athletes worked so hard to reach a level that most people won’t achieve in a lifetime.

The problem is, where do they go from here?

If you are 31 years old and your name is Michael Phelps and you have already achieved greatness, after the Olympic Games are over you’ll feel a slight let down. There’s a valley for every mountain.

Olympians and Olympic Champions need to understand where their drive is coming from, and how they can positively use it at the end of their athletic career.

The Olympic Games may be over, but the drive is still there. The race is over, but there’s still a lot of gas left in the tank.

Michael Phelps may never swim at the Olympics again, but that doesn’t mean he won’t race against himself. 2X Judo Olympic Champion Kayla Harrison won’t take anyone down on the Olympic mat after the games, but her fight is far from being over.

The Olympic Games are a wonderful display of passion, drive, commitment and excellence.

Until you understand what drives these phenomenal athletes, one should never wish to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if is Michael Phelps, Simone Biles or Ronda Rousey.

Becoming a world champion in wrestling at the age of 18, and thereafter a member of the Romanian Olympic national team until my mid-twenties, didn’t help me prepare for what real life had in store for me. I struggled for years after retiring from my athletic career, trying to adapt to a life without coaches, physical therapists, routines and food plans designed specifically for my body type.

Furthermore, I was suddenly left alone to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I felt like a racecar without a steering wheel driving a hundred miles an hour.

That is when I realized I needed help. I needed a structure and a plan to find my life purpose. Over the last 15 years, using my competitive background, I have designed a coaching program that has helped me, along with many other former athletes. It provided me with a structure outside athleticism using the very same skills that helped me win the world championship to thrive and succeed in the real world.

The same power that one uses to break world records or earn gold medals can, without an outlet, become a drive that pushes one to self-destruct.

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Whether they win or lose, I congratulate everyone for participating at these Olympic Games, and wish them good luck in one of the toughest competitions they will ever face, that is, the challenge after the Olympics that we call, LIFE.