How You Can Use That Olympic Spark to Persevere Through Adversity

Fireworks are seen over Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Fireworks are seen over Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremonies at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. (Morry Gash/AP Photo)

Teammates, I love the Olympics -- from the opening to the closing ceremonies to everything in between -- but more than anything else, I love to learn about the athletes and their personal stories of persistence in the face of adversity.

The Olympics are a celebration of individual perseverance -- of childhood dreams finally realized over countless years of hard work and undying determination. One of the many wonderful elements of the Olympics is that only a handful of Olympians ever will gain fame and fortune. For most, it's the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal they refused to let go.

Friday night during the opening ceremony, the CEO of the Vancouver Games said: "Lives of great significance start with a spark." Knowing that billions around the world were watching, he implored the next generation to find their "spark" from the athletes performing in these Winter Games so a new generation of inspired athletes can raise the Olympic bar. He encouraged the Olympians to "seize their moment" and to "never, ever give up." It was an excellent speech, and the words resonated with me.

An extraordinarily small number of people will ever become Olympic athletes. It's hard work, and it takes talent, persistence, luck and unusual amounts of support from family, friends and coaches.

I know I tried for the 1992 Summer Games and never got there. My Olympic spark started in high school when I found a sport in which I could excel. Rowing was perfect for me, a seemingly simple movement while sitting down and going backwards. One particular day after completing what I thought was a tough workout (and feeling pretty good about myself), I boasted to my coach, Hart Perry, that I wanted to row in the Olympics. I'll never forget his response: "Then train and row like an Olympian."

That one statement was my Olympic spark. Coach Perry could have responded a thousand different ways, ranging from laughter to a ludicrous stare, but instead he took this 15-year-old boy's comment seriously and essentially said that if that's what you want, then it starts now and you better raise your game. If you want to be the best, then do what the best do.

I'll never forget how he responded to me. I wasn't the best rower on the squad -- and I certainly wasn't the healthiest (asthma and pneumonia plagued my early days of rowing) -- but he gave me a reason to believe in myself. Although I never made the Olympic podium, let alone the Games, that single spark has since ignited multiple fires within my gut to go after my dreams.

Most importantly, he gave me a reason to believe in myself.

Not everyone has a Coach Perry in their life or the Olympic dream in their head, but everyone has the capability to dream their own Olympic-sized dreams. And once you find your Olympic spark, seize it with all your might and go after it like an Olympian. There's a Coach Perry out there for you, and an Olympic medal with your name on it.

You just need to keep your Olympic flame burning brightly by never, ever giving up.


P.S. Thanks, Coach Perry, for teaching me how to believe in myself.

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Alden Mills, creator of the Perfect Pushup, is CEO of Perfect Fitness. Mills went to the Naval Academy and later became a Navy SEAL. After retiring in 2000, he earned his MBA at Carnegie Mellon. His ultimate mission is to inspire everyone to pursue their dreams.

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