Finding The Champion Within

The truth is that you don't need to have won anything to start doing something today. Define your goals, rely on a network of people to help you achieve them and turn your weaknesses into your strengths.
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Wendy Boglioli is a 1976 Olympic gold and bronze medalist in swimming who continues to pursue a life of health, fitness and performance at the age of 57. Here, Huff/Post50's newest blogger shares her insights on being a champion in your everyday life.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as a national spokesperson is meeting with thousands of other Boomers who remain active and optimistic about the future. And why shouldn't we be? Those of us over the age of 50 have accomplished many things in our lives that have brought us reward, satisfaction and joy. For me, winning a gold and a bronze medal in the 1976 Olympics remains a profoundly important accolade that I remember fondly. But if that experience were only a fond memory, I would have let many more opportunities pass me by in the years since.

Whether it's the 65-year-old who's running his first marathon or the grandmother of three who's finally learning how to surf, there are champions all around us. When we embrace our diverse experiences, we can leverage them to forge ahead towards new opportunities that we might not have even imagined doing. Start by turning these three common misconceptions about champions on their heads to continually push toward new beginnings.

Misconception number one: Champions don't take baby steps. Champions aren't born champions: They are made by taking deliberate steps to achieve their goals.

It's easy to fall prey to discouragement when our dreams seem too grand and far off. By focusing on smaller tasks along the way, we are capable of Herculean leaps later on. When we're in "champion mode," we perform actionable tasks every day that bring us closer to our big-picture goals.

Swimming in a chilly Wisconsin lake as a young girl, I dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal and I certainly couldn't have done it without that end result in mind. But equally as important were the incremental accomplishments that piggybacked off of the sum of the previous ones. It was all of the grueling workouts, swim meets and dedication to my goal that put me on top of the Olympic podium as our flag was raised.

Apply this to your life today: Champions make conscious decisions every day that bring them closer to realizing their-big picture goal, and this is something we all can apply to each of our endeavors. My coaches didn't tell me to just go swim and hope that I made the Olympic team one day, so why do so many of us tell ourselves to "run today" if our goal is completing our first 10k run or triathlon? Instead, we need to give ourselves specific objectives each day that bring us measured accomplishments and put us closer to giant leaps. Try "30-minute tempo run on Tuesday" or detail a daily menu for yourself each weekday. Without these baby steps and small goals, we cannot tackle anything larger than what we can already do.

Misconception number two: Champions are self-made. Champions bring their can-do attitude to every day's tasks, but they also tap into a community of coaches, mentors and friends to find the knowledge and encouragement necessary to meet their goals -- both big and small. I relied on many people to help me achieve my Olympic dream, and I continue to do so to this day. My husband was both a coach to me and a source of encouragement when I had my sights set on the U.S. Olympic Team. Thirty-five years later, I continue to leverage his expertise and motivation while putting in my training, which now includes our shared love of stand-up paddling.

Apply this to your life today: Finding others who can help us reach our goals is easier and closer than most of us realize. Advice and companionship as you train for that 10k may be from your spouse, a coworker or a coach. Online forums can be a valuable tool for researching optimal food intake, training regimens and camaraderie. Never underestimate the value of a shoulder to cry on, a partner to push you in the final 50 yards or a hand to high-five at the finish of a race. If you aren't leveraging these human resources, you aren't tapping into that greater power that all champions value and use every day.

Misconception number three: Champions win every time. The reality is that champions lose many more times than they prevail. But they leverage their setbacks -- whatever they may be -- to gain a fresh perspective and recalculate the best way to reach their goals. There were many times when my Olympic goal seemed like it would remain a dream. Through many trials and tribulations, I earned a spot on the 1976 Team when few people believed I would make it given my "old age" (which was, by the way, just 21).

At the Games, the obstacles did not cease. A powerful, systemically doped East German swim team swept every gold medal except for one going into the culminating 4x100 freestyle relay. If my three relay teammates and I acknowledged the sheer adversity we were up against as we took to the blocks one last time, history would have remembered us differently. Instead, we focused on our own race and didn't let thoughts of doubt pass through our heads. Rather than dwell on the losses we had experienced, we used them to our advantage to extract our hidden potential. We won that last event against all odds by being hungry for it.

Apply this to your life today: If you've been telling yourself that you're "not a runner," "you're not flexible enough for yoga," "you've always been overweight" or "you just don't know where you'd find the time," stop now. No matter how we try to justify our excuses (and believe me, we all can come up with good ones), ultimately we cheat ourselves out of a new experience, new discoveries and a fresh outlook on life no matter our age. The truth is that you don't need to have won anything to start doing something today. Define your goals, rely on a network of people to help you achieve them and turn your weaknesses into your strengths.

Until next time my friends, keep on moving!

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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10 Inspirational Athletes Over 50

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