Olympic Gold Isn’t For Everyone — But Excellence Is

Written by Kathy Kreiner-Phillips

Twenty two years ago, Kathy Kreiner stood on the Olympic podium listening to Canada’s national anthem being played in her honour. The gold medal had just been placed around her neck, and as the Canadian flag rose against the backdrop of the mountains near Innsbruck, Austria, a swell of emotion and pride passed through the hearts of Canadians everywhere.

A dream come true

Kathy had just skied the race of her life to snatch the victory in the Giant Slalom away from the highly-favoured German skier, Rosi Mittermaier. The teenager from Timmins, Ontario was declared the new Olympic Champion and Canadians immediately adopted her as their sweetheart and national hero. Kathy’s heart was filled with elation, but it was only as the days passed that the significance of her victory finally began to sink in — her childhood dream had come true. She had struck Olympic gold at the age of 18.

Two decades later, Kathy Kreiner-Phillips is a practicing sport psychologist who acts as a mental trainer to world-class athletes and uses her unique story to remind men and women from all walks of life that dreams really do come true. She motivates people to strive for excellence in all areas of life because “Olympic gold may not be for everyone — but excellence is.”

Excellence one step at a time

Personal excellence takes a dream, hard work and determination, as well as the support and encouragement of others. It can only be achieved by developing an individual game plan that you are committed to and by adopting a winning attitude that will carry you through to the finish. Kathy’s story illustrates key points that can help you make your dream come true — whatever that dream may be.

1. Dream big — excellence always begins with a vision.

Kathy’s first glimpse of Olympic Gold came while watching home movies of the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble, France where Canadian skier Nancy Greene captured the world’s attention by winning a gold medal. Kathy’s father, a physician, had travelled to Grenoble to serve as the team doctor for the Canadian ski team and he returned home with films and personal stories of the Olympic games and Nancy’s victory. Kathy was fascinated by Nancy’s win, and as she watched the scratchy film footage, the seeds of a dream began to grow in Kathy’s heart.

2. Set shorter, achievable goals along the way.

Setting short-term goals and reviewing accomplishments is necessary to keep efforts directed and focused. Without this strategy, we tend to become so focused on the dream that we lose sight of what we have to do each day to achieve it. Do not be afraid to revise short-term goals along the way. Even though they may appear to be a step off the original path, revised goals can revitalize a tired game plan.

An olympic dream may have seemed impossible to many, but not to a spunky, 10-year-old girl. Kathy began traveling with the Canadian ski team when she was 11 years-old and went to the Pan Am games when she was only 13. The trips were tiring and Kathy was away from home for long periods of time, but she knew that she was steadily working toward her goal of Olympic gold.

3. Get your mental game plan in order

Just two weeks before the Olympics, Kathy went to visit a friend in Germany. To her surprise, he was instrumental in helping her regain her winning attitude. “He built up my confidence and mental focus by asking me key questions such as, ‘Do you want to win? What will you be thinking about as you stand in the starting gate? What will you think about as you head down the hill?'”

While thinking about those questions, Kathy decided that she “kinda liked the idea of winning” and the two of them immediately put together a mental strategy to win the race at the Olympics. Until then, Kathy hadn’t spent much time working on the mental aspects of winning a race, but says that “developing a new mental strategy was critical in enabling me to get refocused, renewed and re-energized.”

By the time Kathy joined her team at the Olympics, she felt as though she was a new woman who not only had a dream, but also a very specific plan to carry out her dream. When the day arrived for her to face her Olympic challenge in Innsbruck, she was ready. “I felt like I was playing a part in a movie. I had rehearsed it over and over and was ready to ski the race that would win. As I stood in the starting blocks looking down at the crowds, I remember thinking, “They don’t know it, but I am going to win today.”

4. Don’t lose sight of the dream.

There are always barriers to face as you pursue a dream. The dream itself may provide sufficient motivation for most days, but when times get tough you need the encouragement and support of other people. Kathy is quick to credit the support of others. “My sister, Laurie, was always there to push me, to encourage me, to train with me. My dad provided the opportunity for me to pursue my dream, and my coaches nurtured my dream and helped me to believe in myself. My mom was the unsung hero — she was always there for me when I came home.”

A difficult year on the World Cup circuit in 1975/76 led some of Kathy’s closest friends on the team, to make the decision to retire as soon as the season was finished. Discouragement soon began to take its toll on Kathy as well. “I was just about to enter the opportunity to have my dream fulfilled,” Kathy says, “yet, for awhile, it was like I had forgotten what my dream was. I was almost ready to quit at that point.”

5. Give your dreams to God.

Kathy was too busy skiing to spend much time thinking about God. But she often felt something drawing her toward God and spiritual things. The night before her Olympic race, Kathy watched a movie that disturbed her and left her in tears — and wondering if there was a God. On the chairlift ride to the top of the mountain the next day, she recalls saying this small prayer, “God if you really are there — you do what you want with me today and I will be happy with that.”

She now says, “As I look back on my life, I believe that God honoured that prayer. I believe that God gave me my dream and drew me to Himself as I accomplished my dream.” Although Kathy didn’t become a Christian until several years later, she now says that “performance, losses, victories, goals and dreams are all viewed from a very different perspective when they are first and foremost offered to God.” As a result, Kathy believes that the success of any performance will be enhanced if we first say to God — “I will do my best. You do what I cannot do.”

Take a look at your life.  How would you describe it? Contented? Rushed? Exciting? Stressful? Moving forward? Holding back? For many of us it’s all of the above at times.  There are things we dream of doing one day, there are things we wish we could forget.  In the Bible, it says that Jesus came to make all things new.  What would your life look like if you could start over with a clean slate?

Living with hope

If you are looking for peace, there is a way to balance your life. No one can be perfect, or have a perfect life. But every one of us has the opportunity to experience perfect grace through a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:

Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.

Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? You can pray it right now, and Jesus Christ will come into your life, just as He promised.

Is this the life for you?

If you invited Christ into your life, thank God often that He is in your life, that He will never leave you and that you have eternal life. As you learn more about your relationship with God, and how much He loves you, you’ll experience life to the fullest.

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