When I was first asked to represent Great Britain at the 56th International Olympic Academy (IOA) I was obviously over the moon. Any opportunity to represent your country is a huge privilege and that alone had me excited, but in all honestly I didn’t have a clue what to expect, as I had never heard of the IOA before. On top of this, I spoke to a friend who had been before and she didn’t give much away apart from saying, ‘you’ll have the time of your life’. A couple of weeks before we left, we had a briefing meeting with the British Olympic Association and the message was similar, pack some clothes, have an open mind and be ready to meet some of the most amazing people you’ve ever met.
Last year I came to the realisation that I am the type of person that needs to consistently challenge myself to stay satisfied with life. I went through a period where I would come home everyday and rant to my mum and sister about not feeling fulfilled. I remember a specific conversation with my mum when I was telling her that I just wanted to go away for a while to a place where I would be with great minds and exciting people. Although this was a whole year ago, low and behold, an invitation to go to a 2-week academy with Olympians, academics and young leaders from all over the world pops up in my life.
Like I always say, and like I will forever say, in this life you attract what you think. Therefore… YOU CREATE YOUR LIFE!!
So we arrive in Athens on Saturday 11th June and go straight to our beautiful Metropolitan hotel. We stayed here for two nights before going to the Olympic Academy at Ancient Olympiad. We shared rooms and so from the off there was an opportunity to meet someone from a different culture, my room mate was from the Maldives and before you knew it we were exchanging gifts and showing each other pictures of our respective countries.
Watching everyone walk in, introduce themselves and proudly say what country they were representing caused the excitement to really start kicking in. Over the first few days we did some sight seeing and where taken on some tours to some of Athens beautiful archaeological sites.
After a 4-hour drive to Ancient Olympia, we arrived. It all felt quite surreal. With my love of superheroes, the best way to explain it is to imagine you were in the X-Men film as a mutant and you were arriving at the Charles Xavier School for Mutants. The palm trees, the mountainous views, the sports facilities, the swimming pool, the lecture hall and dormitories. It just felt like over the next two weeks I was going to experience something special, something unforgettable.
It wouldn’t take long before I was sitting someone down for the purposes of motivating and inspiring him or her. I was sitting down with my friend from Croatia who is a professional karate player, she let slip that she wanted to be at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but she thought it was more likely that she’d make it to the Olympics in 2024 instead. I gave her the look…
Her eyes widened as if she knew she had said something wrong but didn’t know what was coming next, ha!
I said look, ‘if you want to be at the 2020 games then you’ve already lost by saying you ‘might’ be there, that’s not good enough. You’ve got to see yourself there, you’ve got to feel it, smell it, imagine yourself on the mat walking out in front of the crowd. You said that was your ultimate goal and when you talk about it I can tell by your body language and through your eyes that you really want it. Now everything else has to match up, the way you speak about it, the way you train, everything in your life needs to be geared towards it because that is your ultimate goal.’
What I’ve started to learn about coaching, training and mentoring people is that a lot of the time the lessons you’re giving other people are just as appropriate to your life as it is to theirs. I was sitting there telling a future Olympian hopeful that in order for her to achieve what she wants in life then she needs to believe it. At the same time I keep having doubts in my mind as to whether I can be the entrepreneur that I want to be, it’s imperative that I practice what I preach!
When you set yourself a target or a goal and you are uncompromising in your efforts to achieve it, you will. It’s that simple, I don’t deal with maybe’s and what if’s, if issues arise on the journey then I can deal with them head on, but don’t imagine (and therefore create) negative scenarios on your journey if they haven’t happened yet. Set a plan, have a strategy, consult with the best people in your field and do everything in your power to get to where you want to go.
So back to Athens, lol.
I was in my element and everyday I woke up I was so excited. After a few days people started commenting on how ‘positive and exciting’ my energy was. I felt as though we had been given an opportunity to build relationships with like minded people from all over the world and develop relationships, discuss ideas, strategies etc. there was no way anything was going to get me down…
I vividly remember a hilarious lunch conversation with my friends from Belgium, Aruba, Austria, Estonia and Argentina, what a mix! The conversation ranged from laddish type subjects on women and sports through to philosophy, race and even Vegan diets. It was a moment I look back on as significant because it encapsulated the whole ethos of the trip, multiculturalism, learning and fun.
In the first week my two friends from China took me out for lunch and we spent a few hours talking about Chinese Sports policy and the way it’s changed over the years. Again, the common understanding was incredible and our ability to make sense of each other even though at times we could barely understand each other was great!
I actually started writing this blog in the below picture with my two good friends from Taiwan and Thailand. This trip really highlighted my love for helping people, whether that be through motivating them or simply helping them feel included or overcome a language barrier. I’ve got an innate ability to try and bring people together by helping them be understood and bring the best out of them by encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones.
Then the moment came, I was playing football on what I now know was a very uneven surface and I ran and stepped into a pothole and overextended my knee, probably one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt. I had to go to the hospital and the doctor warned that I’ve either severely strained or torn my Anterior Cruciate Ligament. Obviously I was devastated, but my first question to myself was, are you going to let this ruin this opportunity? If you know me you already know the answer to that question. I still went to every lecture & seminar, attended all the outings and unfortunately for me, my friend from the US was a 6 foot plus wrestler and my friend from Argentina was a 6 foot plus Rugby player so I was embarrassingly carried around the track during the torch relay!
I could go in to so much more detail about the conversations that I’ve had and the things that I’ve learnt but we’d be here forever. Ultimately this post is a thank you to everyone who conspired to make this the best 2 weeks of my life, the Spirit of 2012 Trust, the British Olympic Association, the IOA and all of my amazing friends from all over the world that I promise to stay in touch with and visit in their respective countries as soon as I get the chance!
I learnt a lot of the past 2 weeks, but the following 3 things I thought would be good to highlight:
- Spend more time being thankful for the position you are in, the country, the community, your family… Everything! There is always someone who has less and someone who has more so acknowledge that you were put in your position for a reason, focus on the good things and use it to propel your life to wherever you want it to go.
- You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. The lectures were great, the discussion groups were cool too, but my best learning came from sitting down with people (whether they could speak English or not) and asking questions. The things you find out from asking people questions and most importantly, LISTENING, is amazing. Always be willing to listen before you speak.
- Always have a positive attitude. After the injury I could have stayed in my room and sulked (not to mention that my room was at the top of the facility so it took me a while to go back and forth), but that’s not in my nature, and I don’t believe it is in anyone’s nature, you just have to develop the kind of mind-set that allows you to tackle any challenge head on.
‘Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.’ -John Wooden