You have to set your mind that you are not giving up. It takes an unwavering commitment to your goal to keep you moving forward on the days you don’t feel like it or when doubt tries to take over.
You have to get creative and think outside the box. What brought you to the roadblock simply leaves you at the roadblock. So when you face a roadblock of sorts, you have to find a new way to get around it, go over it or break through it.
You must be willing to do things that others won’t do or that people may laugh at. If you want to do something that’s never been done, you’re going to have to do things that others aren’t willing to do.
You have to let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can control. To move forward, you have to let go of the things that you have no ability to change. Use your energy to focus your efforts on the things you can do.
You have to trust the process, believing that what you are doing will lead you to success. You did not stand on top of an Olympic podium by accident or by luck. You have to first believe it can be done. Believing doesn’t guarantee the outcome, but without belief, you are guaranteeing it will never happen.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Wilkinson.
Beating what many said were impossible odds in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history, Laura, starting in eighth place and with a broken foot, came from behind to win the 2000 Olympic platform gold medal.
Laura has also won the 2004 World Cup and the 2005 World Championships, becoming the first woman in history to win all three coveted world titles in platform diving. Along the way, she has won 19 US National Titles, been voted by the American public the 2000 US Olympic Spirit Award winner, and was nominated for an ESPY award. Laura has also been inducted into five different Halls of Fame including the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
People always notice something that sets Laura apart from her competitors, her smile. She smiles during the most pressure-packed and fierce competitions, almost like she’s removed from the situation, acknowledging her family and teammates in the stands. Laura explains, “I smile because I love what I do. I make a commitment before the competition to enjoy the experience however it turns out.”
Laura attended the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games as a reporter and analyst for NBC. In 2017, following a nine year retirement, Laura returned to competition. She is now currently training full time with her eyes set firmly on a fourth Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.
Laura hosted a season of the Hope Sports Podcast, where she spoke with elite and professional athletes each week about purpose beyond performance. And she is currently preparing to launch her own podcast- The Pursuit of Gold- later this year. She also created an online course called Confident Competitor to help eliminate performance anxiety and help athletes approach competitions with confidence.
Laura is also the wife to Eriek Hulseman and mommy to four amazing children by birth and adoption.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I grew up as a gymnast and didn’t find diving until the end of my freshman year of high school. I earned a college scholarship, then gave up that scholarship for a shot at making the Olympic Team. After competing in three Olympic Games, I retired to become a mom. Now in my forties with four children in tow (two biological and two adopted), I’m training again towards a fourth Olympic Games.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
After giving up my college scholarship in order to train full time to try and make the Olympic Team, I broke my foot in three places just three months before the Olympic Trials. The surgery that was required to fix my foot would have kept me from competing at the Trials. So we decided to cast my foot the way it was, hoping that it would heal well enough to walk on, maybe jump off.
I couldn’t train like I normally would, so my coach and I had to really think outside the box and focus on my mental game. I got my cast off and was back in the water just two weeks before the Olympic Trials.
Although my physical training time had been limited, we had completely transformed my mental game. That transformation not only helped me qualify for my first Games, but it put me right on top of the Olympic podium.
What that taught me is that although physical training is obviously important for sports, the mental game is what separates the best from the rest.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My longtime coach, Kenny Armstrong. I grew up with a dream of going to the Olympics but always felt foolish telling people. After being told by so many others that I didn’t measure up, Kenny was the first person to tell me that he believed I could make my dreams come true. Knowing that someone else believed in me made such a difference in my motivation, confidence and determination.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I think resilience is being able to comeback from, overcome or push through a really difficult situation. It’s getting knocked down time and time again but always rising back up. What I see in resilient people is an unwavering determination to reach a goal, a refusal to see things as impossible, and courage to look fear and pain in the face and keep moving forward.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Without a doubt, Amy Purdy. A severe bacterial infection at 19 gave her a small chance of surviving. She had both legs amputated and later required a kidney transplant. She went on to become a three-time Paralympic Medalist Snowboarder. Since the last Winter Olympics, she’s experienced quite a few health problems but is always outspoken about her trials, how she is facing them, and encouraging everyone else in the process.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
When I first started driving, I was told I was too old to start a new sport by one teacher and another coach told me I was a waste of space. I was told not to put all my eggs in one basket. There was a constant drumbeat of people discouraging me to pursue diving at the level I desired to. But instead of believing the doubt and fear of others, I chose to use that as fuel and pursue my dreams harder. Seven years after i started diving, I won an Olympic gold medal.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
After a 9 year retirement, I started competing again. Everything started off great, getting second at my first nationals, but the following year I discovered I needed a two-level cervical fusion. I was scared and devastated at first. But whether I was going to continue diving or retire and be a full-time mom, the surgery needed to be done for my health and safety.
Knowing that I was going to be unable to physically train for several months followed by a slow return to the pool, I took advantage of the downtime. I wore an Orthofix bone simulator every day to speed up my fusion recovery, and I looked back at my career and began focusing on the mental game once again.
During that time I was able to not only pull together all the mental skills I had acquired, but I put them together in an online course to help other athletes grow in their mental game as well.
I’ve never known another diver to return to platform diving after a neck fusion, but I kept pressing forward and began competing on the 10-meter platform once again just over a year after the surgery. I’m still pressing forward to the Tokyo Olympics.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
The lessons I’ve learned in the pool have helped me so much in my life outside the pool. I had a wrist surgery in early 2005 that ended up being a complete botch. I didn’t know that at the time, and I was considering retiring from the sport but wanted to compete at one last World Championships that summer.
I was in excruciating pain following the surgery that never got better. I progressed my way back up to the 10-meter platform despite the pain, but each day I was up there, I never knew how many dives I could perform due to the pain. Some days I could do upwards of 10 dives off the top, but other days might only be 1 or 2.
Workouts were unpredictable in that way, but it forced me to focus on quality over quantity. That shift in mindset — knowing that the next dive might be the last one of the practice- made me focus on each dive in such a way that it felt more like a competition. There was more weight to it in that sense, it had to be great.
That change in mindset helped me win the World Championships just six months after surgery.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- You have to set your mind that you are not giving up. It takes an unwavering commitment to your goal to keep you moving forward on the days you don’t feel like it or when doubt tries to take over.
- You have to get creative and think outside the box. What brought you to the roadblock simply leaves you at the roadblock. So when you face a roadblock of sorts, you have to find a new way to get around it, go over it or break through it.
- You must be willing to do things that others won’t do or that people may laugh at. If you want to do something that’s never been done, you’re going to have to do things that others aren’t willing to do.
- You have to let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can control. To move forward, you have to let go of the things that you have no ability to change. Use your energy to focus your efforts on the things you can do.
- You have to trust the process, believing that what you are doing will lead you to success. You did not stand on top of an Olympic podium by accident or by luck. You have to first believe it can be done. Believing doesn’t guarantee the outcome, but without belief, you are guaranteeing it will never happen.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Be vulnerable. We’re always trying to present our best side and make ourselves look good. But when we open up and share our difficulties with people, we make connections and inspire others to keep going and overcome.
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
“You don’t have to have the lead if you have the heart to come from behind.”
“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Olympic Gold Medalist Laura Wilkinson: “5 Things To Do To Become More Resilient” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.