By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2
Apolo Ohno with me at the IDEA World Fitness Convention
In my last blog I talked about the amazing Jack LaLanne, and the IDEA Inspiration Award he received from the organization, for inspiring so many people across America to take control of their health by incorporating exercise and good nutrition into their lives.
Today I want to talk about someone very different, yet so similar to Jack in many ways.
Every year, during the World Fitness Convention, Peter and Kathie Davis, the founders of IDEA, invite someone to speak to a few thousand health and fitness professionals gathered for the convention. It is always someone who has put their special mark on the fields of sport, fitness or health, or someone whose career has had a real impact on the above fields.
This year, IDEA invited APOLO OHNO. If you’re a sports fan, you have inevitably heard of him. Apolo Ohno is the most decorated American Winter Olympic athlete of all time, having won eight medals for short-track speed skating. He is a twelve-time holder of the men’s national speed skating title. He is not an average man. His story is unique……
Apolo was raised by a single father, a hard working immigrant from Japan. A wild and rebellious teenager who loved to ice skate, he discovered his natural gifts as an athlete early on. His wild nature and talent for sports proved difficult to balance from the start. He made a name for himself as a promising young speed skater but his lack of preparation for the Olympic trials in 1998 caused him to finish last. This almost ended his career before it began. At the tender age of fifteen, he was approached by his father and asked to go into solitary “confinement” so he would have a chance to think about what he really wanted to do with his life. He spent nine days in an isolated house up in the mountains, all by himself, facing his worst demons and fears. Those nine days of soul-searching were probably the most important and life-changing days of his life. His father asked him to call to be picked up once he had made a decision. And he did. The decision was a complete and unrelenting recommitment to speed skating. As a result, “… at the 1999 world junior championships he won first place overall – one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history. From that moment on, the world of speed skating had a new champion and Apolo was on his way to legendary status”. (1)
In front of 5000 people, he shared his amazing story of strength, discipline, self-sacrifice and never wavering devotion to training. He knew who he wanted to be. He knew he wanted to be the best in the world. For many years it required almost total isolation. He did not have a normal life; he could not afford distractions. He surrounded himself only with people involved directly in his training: coaches, trainers, mentors and others. Before the 2010 Winter Olympics, the regime of almost inhumanly intense training sessions and extremely precise diet completely reshaped his body. He had to learn how to achieve total focus and mental toughness in order to be able to face the best competitors on the planet, with millions of people watching his every move.
This training came in handy later on, when he was asked to compete in Dancing with the Stars. According to Apolo, no sports competition, no Olympics with its billion viewers, brought on as much fear as dancing in front of the audience of a few million. He had to face his demons again. And he did, the only way he knew how – by hard work and becoming the best. He later won the competition on the show. Yet another victory.
How did a person in his 20-ies achieve all this? How did he endure the years of tough preparations and sacrifices it required? By making a decision about who he wanted to be and what he wanted his life to be and following that path precisely. By hard work and commitment to his training AND his health. His efforts paid off in more ways than one. His goal was to have zero regrets. He has none. What a great thing to be able to say!
What does it really take to be successful? What does it take to be good? What does it take to be the best?
Both Apolo Ohno and Jack LaLanne showed that it takes incredible courage and inner strength to achieve amazing results – whether it’s weight training, losing weight, eating healthy or winning medals. In a way, they are all the same. All require that first initial decision, that first step so many of us are afraid of taking. And above all, they require a never-ending commitment. Rewards always wait for us at the end. The doors are always open. You just have to enter.
For Apolo’s own account of his life story, please read his recently published book: “Zero Regrets. Be Greater Than Yesterday”.
1. “Zero Regrets. Be Greater Than Yesterday” – Apolo Ohno; Atria Books (A Division of Simon and Schuster) – 2010.
Stay tuned for the story about Dr. Daniel Amen, the best-selling author of “Change your brain, change your life”, coming in the next post.