Training for your own life

Overcoming adversity

My husband gets tired of hearing me say, “You can’t tell me what to do!”—but I believe it’s true. So, it resonated with me as I listened to Amy Van Dyken-Rouen speak a few weeks ago when she asked, “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?” If anyone has the right to ask that question it’s Amy, winner of a record six Olympic gold medals—and now, as she put it, “in training for my life.”

Amy suffered from severe asthma in childhood and, on her doctor’s advice, took up swimming to strengthen and cope. But Amy didn’t just swim. She was twice named Swimming World’s American Swimmer of the Year and then became the first American woman to win four Olympic golds in one season, winning her second two in the next Olympics. Amy looked at swimming as a challenge to go harder and faster—and to heal.

It turns out that overcoming asthma was just Amy’s first big challenge. Last summer, she was in an ATV accident that severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Two months after starting rehabilitation she declared, “I’m a better person than before the injury,” and took her first painful steps. Walking again is her next challenge. Undoubtedly, says Amy, it’s not a question of if, but of when.

It’s an understatement to say that Amy Van Dyken-Rouen is an inspiration. But what can we apply to our own lives from Amy and others who overcome adversity of every kind? What do you do when you hear, “You can’t,” “You won’t,” or “You’ll never”? Do you believe it, or do you go out and do it against all odds? When you think about it, we’re all in training for the lives we want—every single day.

As Amy pointed out, every one of us has obstacles in our lives. What’s important is how we take those obstacles and turn them into something positive. Her strategy is to think of one thing in a day that makes you smile and dwell on it. And her advice is to “Order the cheeseburger,” after reflecting on the dull lunch she ordered just before her terrible accident. “Life is short and none of us knows what’s around the next corner. Live it up, make the most of your life.” In her dreams, Amy is not in a wheelchair. Visualization helped her win races and meet numerous challenges—and it gives her confidence that she will walk again.

Adversity can destroy even the best of us. Or it can give you unimaginable strength of character depending on whether you pick yourself up and do something positive—or not. I can think of many positives that stem from adversity, like: finding parts of yourself you never knew were there; forcing yourself out of a rut; solidifying relationships and friendships; building self-confidence; applying new skills; learning tolerance and empathy; gaining respect. The list is unending.

Once adversity hits, you can’t go back. It’s impossible to step in the same river twice. To go back would be to destroy where you are now, what you’ve learned, who you’ve become. Few people would choose to do that. No, you have to go forward—and much better to go forward positively like Amy has done, as well as Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, J.K. Rowling and many, many others.

Adversity can be caused by your past decisions or the risks you’ve taken. It may be caused by coincidence or be guided in some way. Often we don’t know the cause. What we do know is that it will visit all of us in ways we can neither predict nor understand. When it comes, use the newfound wisdom it brings with it to decide what you’re going to do about it. And don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t.

Categories: Human Resources, Management & Leadership