Most Olympic athletes are pegged as elite at a young age, and they are placed in training and coaching programs to specifically prepare them for the international stage. Others take a less direct path to the top.
Katie Meili was never considered “elite.” By her own admission, she doesn’t have a typical swimmer’s physique. She’s average height, small feet and hands, and was never particularly fast in the pool.
She recently described her unique path to becoming an Olympic medalist (Gold and Bronze) in the 2016 Rio Games to teens at our Marsh Road Boys & Girls Club.
She recalls early swim meets as a child. “I lost way more races than I ever won,” she said. “When I was 8, I wanted to quit, but my mom said, ‘We don’t quit when things get hard.”
And, she never quit. Despite coming in last place repeatedly, she began to learn that she wasn’t competing against others, she was competing against herself. She used it as motivation to work hard and improve her own technique and results.
Looking back on her journey, she’s found that there are three keys to success, which she graciously shared with kids at our Club:
- Set lofty goals. It’s critical to have dreams, but a dream without a plan is nothing. Katie encouraged teens to set a series of manageable goals, using the picture of rungs on a ladder, to help them reach their ultimate goals. Once you do this, you have to commit yourself to doing those small things, because the small things are critical to accomplishing the big things.
- Have a growth mindset. You can’t grow unless you push yourself out of your comfort zone. “You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” she told the Club teens.
- Be grateful. Katie described the moment before she swam her individual event in the Rio Olympic Games ( 100M breaststroke). Before the race, all the athletes sit in chairs in a holding room. You are there with all your competitors, awaiting your event. In those moments, where it’s easy for nerves to creep in, Katie began to name the individuals in her life who play a role – even if it was a small one – in helping her to achieve her dream and make it to that moment. She was swimming and doing her best as a way to honor them for their support.
Katie’s story is one that resonates with all of us. It’s a story of hard work and determination to reach the top. But, it’s also a story of recognizing the support we all receive along the way to make it possible. Kids at our Boys & Girls Clubs understand this, as they have the support of the Clubs in their lives. And the work of the Clubs is not possible without the volunteer and financial support of individuals and corporations in our community.
Katie inspired the teens to set goals, work hard and be grateful. And, we should all be inspired to do the same.