If you’re struggling with an idea for your next great email-marketing campaign, convinced that you don’t have the right stuff as a content creator, or thinking about giving up your marketing career to become a fly-fishing guide, this post is for you. It’s all about inspiration – specifically, being inspired by amazing Olympians.
Our work lives might never be filmed and edited into three-minute packages suitable for prime-time viewing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t face adversity and need to overcome obstacles. With that in mind, here are three tales of Olympians who faced incredibly long odds but became great champions nonetheless.
Hermann Maier crashed during a downhill run in 1998 at the Olympic games in Nagano, Japan. It wasn’t just any crash – it’s considered one of the most dramatic in Olympic history: at 80 miles per hours, Maier catapulted 30 feet, landed on his helmet and rammed through two safety fences.
But he got up. And days later he won two gold medals. But that wasn’t all – Maier wasn’t done crashing. Or winning.
Two years after his Olympic victories, Maier went for what should have been a career-ending ride on his motorcycle. According to a press account, “Maier was thrown from his motorbike in a horrific accident near his home, sustaining injuries so bad that surgeons spent seven hours operating on him. They narrowly saved him from kidney failure; they were nearly forced to amputate his right leg.” His doctors offered him hope that he would someday be able to walk without pain. They didn’t think he would ever ski again.
But four months later, Maier was back on the slopes. And in 2006, he won bronze and silver medals at the Olympics in Turin, Italy.
What drove him to mount those amazing comebacks?
“I like to win,” Maier said. “If I lose, I’m not very happy.”
After American gymnast Kerri Strug, then 18 years old, landed her final vault routine in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, she gave a salute to the judges and promptly collapsed in pain. The performance that clinched the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. Women’s Olympic team had rendered Strug unable to walk and she had to be carried by her coach to the podium to accept her gold medal.
It turned out that Strug had torn two ankle ligaments in a fall earlier in the competition. But she had been advised by her coach that she needed to nail her final performance to clinch the gold – a win that had seemed assured at the start of the competition but had become tenuous after disappointing previous performances by Strug and her teammates.
That final vault made Strug a national hero. It not only earned her that coveted gold medal, but it also got her on a Wheaties box and the cover of Sports Illustrated.
But that wasn’t the end of her glory days. Strug went on to earn a master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University and worked as kindergarten teacher before beginning a career in government.
“It’s important to push yourself further than you think you can go each and every day – as that is what separates the good from the great,” Strug said.
Wilma Rudolph won acclaim as the “fastest woman in the world” and become the first American woman, and the first African American woman, to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
The odds were stacked against Rudolph at the start, when she was born prematurely and into poverty in the racially segregated American south of 1940. She had 21 brothers and sisters. As a child, she was afflicted by pneumonia, scarlet fever – and polio, which affected her left foot and leg and resulted in her having to wear a leg brace for many years.
By the time Rudolph entered high school, she had overcome her disability and was athletic enough to become an outstanding basketball player and track star. She continued to compete in track in college, despite having given birth to a child before enrolling.
She was the youngest member of the U.S. team competing at the 1956 Olympics, in Melbourne, Australia. There, she and her relay teammates won a bronze medal. She won her three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and retuned home as an international celebrity. Her accomplishments after retiring from competition included establishing the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, which benefits young athletes.
“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose,” she said. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”