Monday, January 25, 2010
MY OLYMPIC STORY [A young girls’ struggle to overcome the odds against her and make her long-standing dream come true.
The Olympic Story of Dana Hee
Have you ever been so afraid of failure, that you couldn’t even think of succeeding, much less even try?
That’s how I lived my life for the first 22 years. From the age of three, I was passed back and forth between an orphanage and raging alcoholic, suicidal, low income, abusive family. From there I eventually ended up on the streets, in a commune, a halfway house, a government shelter, and finally a foster home at age sixteen.
Never trusting the illusions of love and safety, I left the foster home right out of high school. I then struggled for the next six years to make it on my own. On the surface, I presented my ‘survivalist’ game face that everything was just fine. But the overwhelming impact of the years of broken promises, emotional turmoil, and pain had taken their tole. The devastating feelings of sadness and despair from the past, blocked out any sense of hope I might have had. Time and again, I found myself running from any chance, challenge or dream because I did not believe in myself.
The thought, that I wasn’t good enough, had been instilled in me since childhood. It was as if the two words, “I can’t,” had been programmed into my mind. By the age of 25, I had become my own worst enemy of success. That is, until I made a decision that would change my life forever.
The decision that I would make did not happen overnight. It came from years of self-loathing, after running away from yet another of my dreams, and then some.
You see, in high school, I had discovered that I had a real talent and opportunity to be successful in the track and field event of high jump. With a scholarship offer and a sponsorship with a top Stanford University coach, I began to dream of Olympic Gold. I just knew that if I could win an Olympic Gold Medal, then I would really ‘BE’ someone.
Then I would be recognized, loved, and wanted. But just as the going got tough, I let my old fear of failure get the best of me. I couldn’t bear the thought of what would happen if I tried my best, and discovered that I wasn’t good enough. It was just like that old saying, that the higher up the ladder you climb, the further you have to fall. And I had become really afraid of hitting that ground. So I gave up. I just turned and walked away from my dream.
Years later, I was still kicking myself for my cowardice, when another opportunity popped up with my newly found talent in Taekwondo. Placing second in my first National competition in 1986, I discovered that this sport was to be introduced in the upcoming ‘88’ Olympics in Seoul, Korea. The revelation, that here was my second chance to make my Olympic dream come true, hit me square between the eyes. At that moment, it became startling clear to me that I could not just walk away again.
I’d been given a second chance, and by God, I’d make the most of it! This time I swore to myself, that no matter what, I would take this dream and make it come true. And if I failed…well at least I would know that it wasn’t because I didn’t give it 100% effort. I would know that, for once in my life, I did not let my fears get the best of me!
So with a glimpse of hope and an ounce of courage, I took one step forward and started climbing that ladder to Olympic Gold with my dream from the past.
I analyzed where I was, versus where I wanted to be. I listed the things I needed to do, then I figured out how to accomplish them. And step-by-step, I inched my way upward. Right off, I discovered that I had the raw talent, though I’d still need a lot more work. It also became clear that my biggest hurdle was my lack of self-confidence.
Champions have to believe in themselves, yet from my experiences and disappointments in life, I’d developed the bad habit of saying, “I can’t.” As a result, I had very little self-esteem! It was something that seemed impossible to change, and yet I just had to find a way!
In the next two and a half years, I trained like crazy. First for about 3 hours a day, then 6, and finally right before the Olympics, I was training 8 hours a day! I traveled and competed in every tournament I could find that would be beneficial. I researched and experimented with physical, mental, and dietary programs. I solicited funds from local businesses, help from top coaches, and ideas from top competitors. Yet despite all my efforts, the real reason for my ultimate success was really because of a life changing experience I had while training up-state New York with a famous coach.
I had determined that although I was faster and stronger than many competitors, I did not have the stamina. And without this endurance, I would be unable to win. What good was it that I could win the first round or two, yet then lose in the third? Though I had trained like a maniac trying to increase my stamina, I discovered that I didn’t even have the mindset to persevere. Once I got tired, that was it. My mind overruled my body, and I would quit.
So I went to train with a rival’s coach who was known for producing competitors with amazing stamina and determination. His athletes had that ‘indomitable spirit’ that I was lacking. Right from the beginning, I ran into trouble. For, one of the biggest elements to his training program was running. That was something I had been doing as little of as possible. I had discovered back in high school, that long distant running would produce in me, a ‘racing’ heart that would then trigger an asthmatic reaction that would close off my lungs. But since I was there to train and learn, and I was determined to improve, I went with the program as best as I could.
One of the runs he’d have us do was an extremely difficult one up and through a cemetery. It seemed impossible for me to do this run successfully, and on my last two efforts, I had been forced to stop and walk up the steepest hill. On this third attempt, despite my determination, I found myself laboring as usual as we began to climb the dreaded hill. About a quarter of the way up, with my breathing coming hard and fast, my heart started racing. A few beats later, the asthmatic reaction set in, and my desperate lungs began closing off further. Panic stricken, I came wheezing to a stop, bending over, trying desperately to get some air into my starved lungs. My coach, who’d been staying alongside me to encourage me, came up to me – I thought to help reassure me. Not!
To my surprise, he came up behind me, placed his hand on my back and started pushing me unceremoniously up the hill! Oh the indignity of it. He completely ignored the fact that I couldn’t even breathe, and that I was close to passing out or getting violently sick. “How insensitive!” “How unbelievable!”
As I stumbled forward from the pressure of his hand, I became angry and started moving forward on my own. As I put one foot in front of the other, muttering angrily to myself, trying to pull away, he kept pace, with his hand resting on my back as a reminder that he was not going to let me stop. Fuming with anger and indignation, it was with surprise that I discovered I had reached the top of the hill, and that I hadn’t passed out.
Although my breathing was still labored and wheezing, I discovered that, I could keep going! That revelation sounded off in my head like a trumpet from heaven. As my coach pulled ahead and let me continue on my own down the hill, that thought pounded in my brain with each forward footstep.
I realized that I had been thinking, “I can’t make it,” “I can’t do this.” “I’m going to pass out!” Yet, once I had taken my mind off of that negative thinking, and focused on something else…I had discovered that, “Hey,” “I could do it!” “I could keep running.” “I didn’t pass out!” From that time on… everytime I began to think, “I can’t,” I learned to replace that thinking with, “I can!” Those two little words changed my life forever.
Throughout the remaining months of training, I used those two words as much as possible. And though it was never easy, and my mindset did not change overnight, I now knew in my heart, that amazing things were possible if only I believed in myself, and could just continue taking that one step forward!
This knowledge became the powerful key to my success. So much so, that when I got knocked out with a spinning kick in the Olympic Finals competition, I got back up and won the match. When, in Seoul, two weeks before the Olympic competition and a back injury got the best of me and forced me to stop training, I started practicing by ‘visualizing’ my fight moves. When it became obvious that my Olympic coach had dismissed me as a potential medal candidate, I let my disappointment, anger and frustration fuel my determination to prove him wrong.
As the morning of my competition dawned with my back rested, I felt it in my spirit that I was ready for competition.
Then…just before I entered the ring for competition, that old fear of failure started creeping back into my mind. “Who did I think I was?” “I would never be good enough!”
But, just as those thoughts started to take hold, I began replacing them with the truth. “I was ready!” “And, I was good enough!” And I took one step forward, and entered the ring. When my first match was halfway over, I knew that although my body was not 100%, my positive mindset made up for it. As I faced my toughest opponent (Chinese Taipei) in the semi-finals, I knew in my heart, that I was good enough to win. I knew that I had the strength, the speed, the training, and the determination. And most important of all, I truly believed in myself.
When my hand was raised after my final match to let everyone know I’d won the Olympic Gold, I smiled to myself, because I finally realized that I was, indeed, a winner. I had conquered my fears!
Standing on the Olympic podium watching the American flag flutter gracefully upwards to the music of our beautiful National Anthem, my heart swelled with pride and joy. As the cameras clicked their last photos, and I turned and walked past the cheering crowds, my mind reeled with the wonder of what I’d accomplished. Who would have thought that a scrawny, timid, lonely little girl with no self esteem or self confidence, would grow up and win the prestigious honor of being an Olympic Gold Medalist for her country?
Who would have thought that it would be possible to make a dream come true with a vow of commitment and faith in the two little words, “I can.”
As I gave one last parting wave to the crowd, and stepped out of the Olympic limelight, I realized that this was only the beginning. Somehow I knew, that this one moment in time would last a lifetime. Because, I now knew, that if I could just keep taking that one step forward, it was possible to make my dreams come true!
Cc Dana Hee, 1992