What do you cross a "Lost Boy from Sudan" and a motivational keynote speaker from New Jersey? A powerful experience in the magnitude of connection and the sliver of distance between lives.
At 8 pm tonight, in Alepho Deng and Dr. Jeff Salz are performing “Across Worlds – A Tale of Two Lives” is an inspiring story of two lives, a Lost Boy from Sudan and an American mountain climber. It is an unforgettable experience of loss, endurance and redemption chronicling their respective ‘life’s adventure(s)’. Tales of growing up in New Jersey and mountaineering in South America are interwoven with a childhood in an idyllic Africa, unchanged for centuries, suddenly swallowed up by gunfire, bombs, wild animals and starvation… and a journey to a place called America.
In 1987, when Alephonsion Deng was seven years old, his village in Southern Sudan was attacked by his own government troops. To avoid capture he ran into the night with many other young boys. Without food, water, shoes or parents, he crossed 1,000 miles of lion and crocodile infested territory. After five years of fleeing war, starvation and wild animals, he reached Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and began his education. Nine years later, in 2001, the U.S. Government welcomed Alephonsion Deng as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
Every child has a right to a joyful beginning, full of hope, affection and possibility. Alepho has lived through the harsh reality of war – loss of home, family and friends. Most tragic of all is the sudden end of innocence and opportunity brought about by violence beyond the control and understanding of any child.
My story is not one of sorrow, pity or feeling bad. In fact, it is a celebration of the spirit of mankind, of the goodness in the world, and of fortitude, faith and caring. As my journey has taught me, you cannot change what has happened but you can create your own future. …. Alepho Deng
8pm, Saturday, March 8th 2014
2822 State Street
Carlsbad, California 92008
I hope to see you as we experience a wonderful journey of adventure AND as Jeff says, "inventure."
Driving to the DFW airport for a motivational keynote presentation, an interesting lesson revealed itself. The classroom of said lesson - you ask? Icy driving conditions can teach us a lot about Age of Speed leadership.
Let’s be clear. Icy roads are THE most terrifying driving nightmare you could have. In Western Canada icy roads are not the same as icy conditions in the Southern United States. Packed snow can be slippery but tires on Southern States ice is a pure, unadulterated, white-knuckle experience.
On Monday morning, school cancellations were all over the news. The masses stayed indoors and rush hour traffic was lighter than normal. Even so, every major artery was reduced to a crawl. But, the roads were fine. Bridges were slippery while the balance of the roadways were dry, clean, glorious pavement with bountiful friction. Easily navigated by four willing tires.
There were three categories of people out there.
1. Nervous Nellies (2 out of 10 drivers)
This lot can find them selves at the front of the pack. Out front simply because they were driving the slowest and it was difficult to get around them. Why they’re on the road must have something to do with necessity because they’re not driving like they want to be there.
2. Oh Jeezers (6 out of 10 drivers)
This group adventured out their front door with a reasonable amount of experience in difficult driving conditions. They were generally content with driving slow and being stuck behind the Nellies. They are often heard muttering under their breath, “Oh jeez.”
3. Yankanadians (2 our of 10 drivers)
These are the remaining 20% who are familiar with winter driving conditions and feel comfortable getting around no matter what the weather. This group, normally from the northern climes, can get stuck behind the Nellies and the Jeezers while getting frustrated, annoyed and fed-up with the lack of progress.
The lessons on Monday morning were clear.
So what have we learned about the business of life here?If you’re a Nervous Nellie, God bless you, we love you the way you are, but please let others pass. If you’re an Oh Jeezer, there is hope! And she might be in the Prius with oranges on her plates and a bumper sticker that says, “Follow Me.” And if you’re a Yankanadian (those from the South who know how to roll can be honorary members by the way) be patient. Your time to lead is ahead of you. Seize it when you can.
- It only takes a couple of people to slow everyone down. And the kicker is, the slowest people can be holding everyone else back.
- If a Yankanadian can get out in front of the Nellies the Jeezers quickly catch on and follow the quicker path. This means progress is flipped (on the plus side) by people who seize opportunities for leadership.
- If you see a Prius with Florida license plates, don’t be too quick to judge. It turned out this one Floridian tree hugger was a good driver and proved she was a Yankanadian. In other words, don’t judge a person’s aptitude by his or her appearance.
The experience of hearing a motivational keynote speaker giving Olympic speeches on peak performance – generally, no one knows the dark times of retirement. For a professional or Olympic athlete, retirement depression is very real. Some of the despair is minor, if not imperceptible. Some of the hopelessness is flat-out suicidal. Gold medalists, champions and also-rans alike, we all experienced some degree of depression in retirement.
Sugar Ray Leonard’s post boxing comebacks resulted from his own haunting words, “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring.” His well-documented life revealed extreme bouts of depression. Other retired elite athletes have made the same brave admission of depression: Ian Thorpe (swimming), Bill Walton (basketball), Dame Kelly Holmes (track), Andrew Flintoff (boxing) and Eddie George (football) to name a few. Warriors, too proud to seek help or admit weakness resorted to suicide - Junior Seau (football) and Wade Belak (hockey) to name two names - too many.
From personal experience, the depression after the Olympics in Albertville wasn’t from placing 15th. Going through a divorce didn’t help. Working in a place-holder job compounded the effect. The despair was directly from the loss of purpose.
For four years, every waking moment leading to the Olympic Winter Games was mapped out. Training, competing, team travel, a fraternity of world cup colleagues all vanished with the extinguishing of the Olympic flame.
This week, a smattering of Gold medalists will be recognized in the media. To my family’s credit, a welcoming party was waiting at the airport upon my return from Albertville. But the following 18 months were empty.
I remember sitting at a conference six months after the Games. A gentleman came over gushing about how much he was inspired by my Olympic story. The gift of his words was lost on me. Inside I was in agony. My mouth said, “Thank you,” but my heart was destroyed with the pounding of, “You have no idea what you’re saying. I am nothing.”
In researching this topic for you, many articles surfaced regarding post athletic depression. In many cases, references to "entertaining fans" or "the media spotlight" is what the athlete misses.
I have to disagree.
A life of purpose is the big loss. The meaning of every day is gone. No matter what others think or may say. It is the internal compass unable to find north like an astronaut spinning into nothingness.
If you’ve recently experienced a loss of identity or purpose, reach out to others who’ve gone through what you’re going through. They can be an extraordinary source of direction, clarity and comfort.
If you know a recently retired athlete please forward this 70 Second eBrief to them. If you are that retiring athlete, reach out to me. I know how you feel and what it takes thrive instead of feeling like you’re lost in space.
Either way, be brave! Grab onto a helping hand.
You'll never forget the moment when you look into an athlete’s eyes - specifially one who just placed fourth at the Olympics. Despite my position now as an Olympic keynote speaker remeniscing about a moment 22 years ago... the memory is still fresh.
Laurent Sistach placed fourth in the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Speed Skiing. I found him in the bar the night following the finals. Hiding behind a glass of Jagermeister he looked up slowly, shrugged and gazed back in the glass as if it were a crystal ball beaconing his future.
For eight years he had trained hard. His reward? He got to watch the medal ceremony wondering why those ancient Greeks didn’t have a fourth podium, an aluminum medal and a token crown of olive branches.
Somebody has got to lose though. (Besides, imagine being a fourth place luger. Or a fourth place doubles luger…)
At the Olympics there really are only a few dozen really happy athletes. The rest are thinking about a small mistake, equipment failure or a crappy seed.
The great equalizer is something that nobody knows about though.
It is the athlete’s party at the end.
If you watch the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, realize that 50+ buses lined up outside the Olympic stadium waiting to take the athletes off to a party that was only for them.
No coaches, no officials, no media… just music, dancing and, flat out fun.
Figure skaters run around like Lilliputians between the legs of lumbering Bobsledders. Lubricated skiers mix with semi-vertical lugers. Gunless biathletes with toothless hockey players. Spry ski jumpers with red-eyed boarders. Medalists with non-medalists. But every single Olympian has the same thing on his or her mind. It’s over and I am free for this one night.
Even the person who placed fourth is free.
The Greeks have a saying that the fourth-place athlete should remember in the days and weeks following.
In the Olympics, you don’t lose.
You win second place… you win third place… you win fourth place.
Ah… bugger it. You placed fourth and the feeling sucks.
Cheers Laurent! Where ever you are.
(This blog was an updated reprint from an eBrief published in 2006 after the Torino Olympic Winter Games.)
It’s safe to assume Olympians visualize their performance before hand. BUT... there is a special sequence of imagery to cement peak performance before your own event.
Watch a figure skater, bobsledder, skier, snowboarder (or any other Olympian for that matter) and you will eventually see them visualizing the way they want to perform. What you may not know is the comprehensive nature of their visualization and imagery.
This three-part approach is what I've used for two decades as an Olympic motivational speaker and what you can use in your quest to be the best at what you do.
- Experien-tualize it. This is a new word to better describe visualization and imagery. Just seeing something in your mind's eye is not nearly effective as adding the other five senses of sound, touch, taste and smell. Bring in all the senses to the imagination and the subconscious is imprinted at a more profound level. If you are about to go on an important sale or a pressure situation - experience every detail in your fertile imagination.
- Outcomes not ideas. What are the outcomes you seek? As you experien-tualize your performance, be clear on the outcomes. Who will be impacted? What are the benefits therein? Where will you end up? Why will this feel good? When will everything happen the way you want it to? Simply having an idea of what you want is weak. Being deliberate about the outcomes further enhances the performance you are asking from your subconscious mind.
- Before, During & After. Don't just experien-tualize the performance. Run through the exact experience you want before your peak performance, your optimum self during and the exact results after crossing the metaphorical finish line. Athletes who don't visualize after the run crash more than those who see themselves crossing the finish line safely and strongly.
In summary, experien-tualize the outcomes you want before, during and after your performance and you will reach your goals fast -- just like your Olympic heroes competing in Sochi.
If you've never attended an Olympic Games as a tourist, host city resident or as an athlete, you can only imagine the sense of community this event creates. None of us in 1992 could have imagined the power of connection social media would do to reconnect our significant friendships.
As odd as it may seem, your event only lasts a relatively brief period - in some cases, seconds. All that training, all the tribulations and mountains of preparation. Yet the climb is infused with cherished memories of friendships and brother/sister-hood.
Some of our best friends were on the other teams on the world cup circuit. Yes, we each belonged to a team leading up to race or game day. Individual athletes competed for personal excellence and to summit the medal podium - if possible. But after every event we were a family. We broke bread together, we shared rides, toasted local beer, and even, exchanged competitive insights (but not the best advice ;-)
If you found your way to an Olympic Games as a tourist you will generate fodder for flashbacks. As I write I have dozens. Here are a few I have as a tourist from 1988 in Seoul:
- Chatting with a Hungarian weightlifter on the subway (his frame took up 1.5 seats)
- An unforgettable night at the Lufthansa House
- Celebrating with a Danish Olympian after the closing ceremonies
The flurry of sound bites, stories destined for Olympic keynote speeches, medal runs dedicated to family members who've passed away -- all accumulate to memories infused in the hearts of friendships beyond compare.
Those of us who competed together in Albertville are each weighing into Facebook or other conversations of the extraordinary time we shared in our Games. In Sochi - memories are being made in the same way.
Three months after the Olympic Winter Games I overheard my dad talk to a buddy of his. As if it was yesterday, the echoes of his voice fill the air, "Those Olympic Games were the greatest experience of my entire life."
Three years later, my dad passed away.
What a gift it is to share an Olympic experience with those we love.
Whether they are family, acquaintances, teammates, fellow competitors or Facebook friends.
After reading this Canada's National Post article I had to respond.
Let's get the facts straight. (I trust I'm qualified since I represented Canada at the Olympics in Albertville in the 1992 Olympic Winter Games.)
1. Nicolas Bochatay (Swiss team - not French) was NOT racing or training when he was killed by hitting a snow cat. He, and others on the Swiss team were free skiing the morning of the finals. The driver of the snow cat was coming up the hill on a tourist slope - far from the speed skiing track. The accident happened on the blind side of a large roller. Nicolas piled fatally into the machinery simply because he saw the snow cat at the last millisecond. Because the race committee tried to keep the accident quiet, it was leaked out to the media the same morning, "Speed Skier dies at Olympics." Later that day, the facts were revealed but the media didn't give it the same attention. The damage was done and the story wasn’t as juicy.
2. I've crashed three times going over 100 mph in speed skiing. Not once, before or during the crash, did I feel my life was in danger. It’s terrifying to watch the Downhillers navigate turns with rock faces, cliffs and trees behind protection fences. The last thing on a good athlete's mind is the danger. Overcoming fear is part of the human condition. This is part of the appeal of watching the Olympics. How do they handle the pressure?
3. FIS, the international ski federation would have to be the one to initiate inclusion of speed skiing in the Olympic program. The politics in sport have EVERYTHING to do with money. This is why ski cross, slope style boarding are included in the Olympics. Viewer eyeballs means more money. Speed Skiing has traditionally had a pretty scarce lobby effort within FIS and speed skiing has a small viewership in world of broadcasting.
4. Citing a speed skiing death from 1965 is like saying the Presidents shouldn't ever go out in public because of Kennedy being shot in 1963. Just as security detail changed 50 years ago with the secret service, speed skiing organizing committees have made the fall line safer and death free for 50 years.
5. Speed skiing is very exciting to watch. You can easily anticipate crashes in the qualifying rounds, if that is what floats your boat. Plus, when someone is skiing over 200 kmph or 120+ mph they are constantly being violently buffeted by aerodynamic turbulence, a wall of air and 240cm skis constantly catching edges. The Olympic champion, Michael Prufer exceeded 230 kmph on his Gold medal run and at one point was practically riding on his tails before the speed trap. Every athlete in the world struggles with the same factors of mental toughness: how to overcome the instinct to flinch at real-time speed. This is quintessentially demonstrated in speed skiing.
6. For the author to comfortably add, "the sport doesn’t require much athletic ability" I invited him and all those people under the category of "some may say" to strap on some boards and give it a go.
7. There is no judging in the speed skiing. Judging involves bias. The athlete who wins at speed skiing is the fastest, strongest and went from the highest point on the track.
8. The Olympic motto is Swifter, Higher, Stronger. What part of Speed Skiing doesn't match Citius, Altius, Fortius?
Should speed skiing be included in the Olympic program? Yes.
Will it? Not with the likes of inaccurate and biased reporting found above.
Etienne was 10 years old at the time. His parents were never around. He was confident, self sufficient and absolutely stuck to my side every time I walked around the Olympic speed skiing venue. Although he's 32 years old today you have to wonder what impression was made at the Olympics then... and what kinds of impressions are being left on young minds today.
At this very moment, a Russian boy or girl is following an Olympian somewhere in Sochi. The dynamic is heartwarming. The power of the Olympic movement plays out on both highlight reels and in chance encounters at the Games themselves.
Etienne only spoke French. I used to think I spoke pretty good Francais, but alas, every time I would speak to Etienne he would raise an eyebrow, shrug his facial features and then nod. He was shy and reserved.
After the speed skiing competition, Etienne knew I was disappointed. He grabbed my hand, gushed a flurry of empathetic commentary and he locked his eyes with quiet assurance. The roles of reverence were flipped.
On the day before I would leave Albertville, Etienne showed up again. I had been accumulating a bag of pins. It took this young French lad both hands to receive this unexpected gift. His mouth dropped open. He stood motionless.
Knowing this would be the last time I'd see the youngster, but wanting to keep it light, I said, "à bientôt mon ami." (I'll see you later my friend.) Tears welled in his eyes but he held his head up to keep eye contact.
You and I... we make decisions in life at times of emotional intensity.
The first impression of the Olympics I can remember were the Opening Ceremonies at the Summer Games in 1976. Even though Montreal was 2,000 miles away and the march of the athletes was coming across a small television... the energy was visceral. It was captivating for a 14-year-old boy to be struck by the emotion of the moment.
As an Olympic keynote speaker, I sometimes relate the story of my own emotional buzz moment. It was two years later, at 16 years old, as I was experiencing the opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games. My mom still reminds me of how I was pumping my hands in the air saying, "I love this. I love this. I love this."
Think back in your youth and identify what impressions you had from influencers in your past.
- How did they impact you?
- What did they say and do that stays with you today?
- Just as important, what impressions are you making to those around you?
You never know when an Etienne will cross your path - or what impact you will have. You may never know. But are your actions held to the highest standard - an Olympic standard?
One of the principles of the modern Olympic Games supports international understanding.
In Sochi and across the globe, this is happening one child at a time.
Time and again, after delivering an Olympic keynote speech, the question most asked:What was the best part of competing at the Olympics? The answer is always the same. “It was great to share it with family.”
Maybe this makes perfect sense, since, at your deathbed, family is what matters most.
Of the 3,000 athletes competing in Sochi, a couple of hundred will go home with medals and the rest have a nice little participant souvenir. Medal or not, sharing with family is a true highlight.
You’ll hear plenty of stories from the Olympics. Heartwarming stories like Alex Bilodeau’s credit to his brother Frederic for the daily inspiration he displayed while dealing with Cerebral Palsy.
You’ll never hear stories about the Mitchel Malyks in Sochi. Mitchel placed 26th in the men’s luge singles. The only media sound bite that could be picked up is Mitchel (18) is the youngest competitor in his event. The true story is one of family pride.
His father John is a long time family friend. We basically adopted John when he moved to Alberta. When I was the executive director of Alberta Luge, John became my right hand man. Along with my brother, we all were roommates in the years leading up the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary in 1988. John volunteered the Olympic Organizing Committee in luge. He even competed in some smaller races. Fast forward to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
John flew his entire family to Sochi to cheer their Mitchel on. Did they hope Mitchel would medal. Of course. But what mattered to them was the family experience. I can’t speak for Mitchel, but chances are, this is what he will cherish from his time at Sochi.
Its reported, NHLers, Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith and coaches Mike Babcock and Lindy Ruff aren't bringing family overbecause of fears of terrorism. That’s a shame since their experience will only be with teammates.
In Albertville, the host committee organized a family hosting exchange. My folks stayed at a family’s home in Bourge St. Maurice. We stay in touch with them to this day. Families communing with families – the quintessential Olympic experience.
What motivates you to succeed in your business?
In your life?
Chances are… if you boil it down… family is what will drive you to the Olympic principles of excellence.
When Canadian, Karen Lee Gartner won Gold in the Women's downhill, it was infectious for the rest of us in the other ski disciplines. Twenty two years later, as an Olympic public speaker, I still remember how contagious another Olympic athlete's experience was.
If memory serves correctly, Karen's highest result in previous world class competition was a 5th in a world cup. The highest world cup result I had was also 5th at a Les Arc World Cup.
And, yours truly used what I called, The Yahoo Theory.
"If that yahoo and do it, so can I."
The Olympics is an entirely new experience for most athletes. We are normally in our own world. Our circuit is different from all other sports, including the ski disciplines. We never cross paths with figure skaters, hockey players and curlers.
Yet, at the Olympic Winter Games, the circle becomes very tight. 3,000 athletes converge into a tight knit community. We exchange stories and ideas.
But, when a compatriot wins a gold medal, it becomes infectious for the rest of the athletes around him or her.
NOW... when the media announces that an athlete has "No hope of winning a medal." This is pretty much not the case. Every athlete hopes they can win a medal. Look at the Australian short track speed skating gold medal winner in Salt Lake.
Steven Bradbury trained hard and made the Olympics. In the semi finals guys in front of him fell and he advanced to the finals. In the gold medal round, a handful of speed skaters fell in the last lap and voila... the unlikely hero takes home Gold.
Steven's preparation, persistence and being the right place, at the right time - paid off. No different than any athlete who is more than just an Olympian tourist (there are a few of those).
Enjoy the Olympics and make those Olympic Gold medal dreams an infectious part of your dreams and aspirations.