Sep 19, 2012

Behind Every Olympian There is a Story

By Peter Blumert, MA, CSCS, USAW

I can’t count the number of times I heard the broadcasters say this during the Summer Olympics last month. Every Olympian has a unique and personal journey with how they achieved, for most, the pinnacle of their sport. The story of 2012 French Olympian Margaux Farrell is no different.
In the summer of 2006, Margaux’s club coach approached me about a young, talented 16-year-old swimmer who possessed many qualities that had resulted in her being one of the best in the state of Connecticut for her age group. I was told that she also had some deficiencies that could hinder her from reaching her potential: stability, strength, and reaction time off the blocks.
During my first meeting with Margaux as I was taking her through an evaluation, I noticed immediately some of the qualities her coach was talking about: drive, dedication, commitment, and a strong desire to succeed. I asked her to give me a couple short and long term goals. Can you guess what her #1 long-term goal was? “To make the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games. “ I had heard some crazy goals in the past but this was one of the best. When I reaffirmed her response, her very serious confirmation showed me that this girl had something very unique and special about her.
I worked with Margaux for the next two years, her junior and senior years of high school. There were days that she did not want to be there, especially Saturday mornings at 9am AFTER a 2½-hour morning practice in the pool. But once she was warmed up and we got her focused on the goals for that session, her competitiveness and work ethic took over and she always gave her best.
She went on to pursue her athletic and academic career at the University of Indiana from 2008 – 2012 on a full scholarship (one of her other long-term goals). She excelled both in the classroom and in the pool winning many honors and awards, including being named a Big 10 champion.
A couple months prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics, I got a very excited and enthusiastic email from her saying that she had achieved her goal; she was going to the Olympics! She had just barely qualified for the 4x200m freestyle relay by placing sixth, the final spot, at the French Olympic trials.
Aug 1st, 2012, was a very special day for me. Not only did the Americans win gold and set a new world record in the 4x200m freestyle relay, the French team took 3rd for the bronze medal. Margaux did not swim in the finals, but she did swim in the semi-finals to help France qualify for the final while allowing their two top swimmers to get a little extra rest. I was and still am so proud of Margaux! She achieved every goal that we wrote down just six years prior and even surpassed that goal by bringing home a bronze medal.
After her event, I was able to talk with her club coach who was able to be there and cheer her on. A few things that Margaux reflected upon after it was over was: the overwhelming atmosphere of competing at the Olympic Games, she felt like the weight of the country was on her shoulders, she hardly remembers even swimming her event, and because of that, the strategies she had prepared were non-existent once she was in the pool.
  • Although it may not seem like it, Margaux’s story is filled with many qualities that we can all relate to, regardless of what we are pursuing in life. Listed below are a few traits that helped her become the athlete and person she is today (besides picking good parents):
  • Commitment to excellence – from when she was a young girl to the Olympic Games, it didn’t matter how she felt, she gave it her best. No matter how well she does, she always looks for areas she can improve upon and where she can give just a little bit more
  • Sacrifice – the amount of hours that she has spent training is ridiculous, even if you only count the hours she has spent outside of the pool (dry-land training, weight room, therapy, recovery, etc). She had to miss many social events with her family and friends in order to achieve the goals and aspirations she set
  • Dedication – there were many days she did not feel like going to practice or to class, let alone get out of bed before there was even a shade of sunlight in the sky
  • Support system – without her family, friends, coaches, and teammates, it would have been impossible to achieve what she did
  • Belief in herself – I can’t overemphasis the importance of this. She had doubters and people saying she wasn’t good enough. She experienced a back injury just months prior to the Olympic trials, but she never let any of it affect her to the point of giving up
  • Goal setting – writing down goals was crucial to her development, but the most important part was her strong desire to accomplish them
  • Team player - Her role as a member of the team was to swim a fast enough split in her team’s semifinal relay heat to qualify for the finals so that two team members could rest and prepare for the finals a few hours later

The next time you are faced with a challenge, whether it’s on the playing field, at home, or in the office, use some of Margaux’s traits and attack it. You might be pleasantly surprised at how you deal with the setbacks you will encounter and the success rate of meeting the challenge.
What is next for Margaux? She is taking a year deferment from starting her graduate studies at USC to literally, take a break. She wants to reflect back on her journey about where she has been and what she has been through, to what does the future have in store for her. She is contemplating about going another four years and trying to make the 2016 Olympic team, as she is not satisfied and feels that she has not reached her full potential in the sport.
Working with Margaux and getting to know her as a person, will be something I will never forget. The chance to play a small role in helping someone achieve his or her goals is an amazing experience. Being a part of a journey like this is what makes those 16 days every four years so special.

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