Following is a story from a friend who recently had the privilege of hearing a remarkable Olympian speak. Her dedication is something from which all musicians can be inspired. It is a long post, but it is worth the read.
Alisa Camplin is Australia’s first female winter Olympics gold medalist, winning in arial skiing at Salt Lake City in 2002. She won eight years after deciding, at age 19, to learn how to ski for the exact purpose of becoming an Olympian arial skier. It was incredible to hear how disciplined and dedicated she was to making her Olympic dream come true.
For instance, for three years of those eight years she rose at 4:45am and completed training before working 8am-6:30pm at IBM and then either 7pm-10pm coaching gymnasts, or 7pm-1am delivering pizza. Her weekends were either more work, or training, or both.
In summer training she realised that the women were averaging 15-20 runs a day, while the men were averaging 30. She stopped taking the training bus to practice and would cycle there early instead so that she could start straight away and be the last person to finish. She averaged 38 runs per day.
Her injuries have been extensive; 6 concussions, broke her sternum twice, dislocated shoulders, broken clavicle, 6 ribs broken 8 times, plus more, including having her second knee reconstruction a few months before she took bronze at the 2006 Olympics.
Besides her dedication, what stood out was her planning and her attention to detail. When she first met with Australia’s arial skiing head coach at age 19, she found out that there were seven key components needed to succeed at the sport: skiing; acrobats; physical conditioning; mental skills; experience; team/coaching/support; and finances. The current Australian champion—who had placed eighth at the Olympics—scored a 65 out of 70, according to the coach. Alisa got him to rank her, too. She scored a 5/70. So they developed a plan to get her to 65/70 by year seven, breaking down each year’s goals into clear steps.
Alisa left nothing to chance. She rigorously tested different foods, drinks, and music to identify the ones that were best for her blood sugar levels and best prepared her to compete. She had the same breakfast for five years straight.
Alisa had contingency plans for everything. She was so good at making use of her time during bad weather delays that she eventually preferred it because it gave her a competitive advantage. A photo of her on the hill under an umbrella is one of her favourites, because that day every other competitor was getting wet in the rain, as she was the only one who had thought to pack an umbrella.
A year in advance of the Olympics, she realised she wasn’t consistent enough in her performance, which she determined was because of two things: her own mental doubts and her coach being so upset about scoring changes that he no longer thought the team could perform well enough to win. So she organised a sports psychologist to work with her, and a technical coach who believed in her ability to win. She did affirmations, trigger-and-response plans, took up meditation and visualisation and became her ‘own greatest cheerleader’. She focused on keeping things positive in her bubble, and following the right processes. Anything that wasn’t positive was pushed out. As a result, she became a consistent performer.
Because they didn’t know if she’d be able to sleep before her big day at the Olympics, she had days where she purposely trained on no sleep. In case anything went wrong with her coach she had a backup coach who was trained and tested to know exactly how to step into her coach’s place. Then, six weeks before the Olympics, she broke both her ankles. So 5.5 weeks of her preparation was entirely mental—visualising her performance. And she took gold.
Alisa noted that her drivers changed over time, but there were always things drawing her forward, keeping her committed and willing to make sacrifices. Sometimes it was to prove the naysayers wrong. Other times, it was to represent Australia. On the day, it was mostly about proving to herself that she could do it, and succeed for her team.
She has taken a similar approach to her professional career—a lot of planning, very driven—and is a top executive with IBM. After her infant son died due to congenital heart problems, she established a foundation that has raised millions for cardiac research and equipment, some of which was used when her daughter was born with a hole in her heart that healed over after birth.
She is a remarkable person.
The big thing with sessions like that is what to take away from it and apply. There were a few things she said that aren’t new but are worth reflecting on, such as…
- A goal without a plan is a wish.
- You can fake passion (as she had with marathon running, her original plan for an Olympic sport), but it won’t stick.
- Goals need to be personally important.
- Ask self “Why do I want to do this?” Ask self again. And again. And again. Knowing and connecting with the layers feeds your dedication.
- Ask, “Am I working hard enough when no one else is watching?”
- Focus on the process—what you can control and achieve—not the outcomes.