Apolo Ohno on The Weight of Gold

“Every thought that enters our mind has a direct impact on how we feel, what we say, and ultimately the decisions we make.”Apolo Ohno

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with many an Olympian, each with a uniquely impressive journey from obscurity to heights most can’t fathom.

But what happens after the medal ceremony wraps, the klieg lights shutter, and the career comes to a close? When your entire life is centered on a moment now passed, how do you then shift overnight from podium to pedestrian? 

One would presume the many skills learned as an athlete -- mindset, focus, discipline, and teamwork -- would translate to seemless success in the civilian world. Ironically, that presumption would be misplaced. In truth, this transition is fraught, and has felled some the greatest competitors among us.

We love to celebrate our Olympic heroes. We relish in the dissection of their habits, wrapt in what makes them tick; what makes them great; and what distinguishes the very best from everyone else -- all in service to that sliver of inspiration and applicability to our own lives.

But this particular story, the story of civilian assimilation, is less told. It's far less understood. And it's woefully under-appreciated. But it’s also a story perhaps more instructive -- and equally compelling -- as the deconstruction of greatness.

From private mental health struggles to debt, loss of identity and a lack of opportunities in retirement, the systems sending our athletes to the Olympics aren’t supporting them well in the long haul. And it’s gotta change.

That change begins now, starting with the recently released HBO documentary, The Weight of Gold.

Expanding upon a recurring theme of this podcast, the film presents a potent look at the mental health challenges our Olympians often face from their lived perspective. Executive produced and narrated by Michael Phelps, the world’s most athletically accomplished mental health advocate, it features a myriad of celebrated athletes, including today's guest.

Meet Apolo Ohno, here to help untangle this dark thread that connects those who have stood in the spotlight.

An eight-time Olympic medalist in short track speed skating, Apolo is the most decorated American Olympian at the Winter Olympics, and was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2019. He is a Twelve-time U.S. champion, a three-time overall World Cup champion and in 2008 he was Overall World Championship gold medalist.

Not to mention, Today, Apolo is a New York Times bestselling author, serial entrepreneur, and acclaimed commentator for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Oh yeah, he also won Dancing With The Stars in 2007 and rocked the Ironman World Championships in 2014.

Despite his post-athlete career successes, Apolo knows well the mental perils of elite athleticism. Raised by a single dad, Apolo took his dream all the way to the very top. When it was over he didn't just face what might come next. For the first time he had to discover who he was off the rink--and reimagine his life wholesale.

This is a conversation about what it’s like to have a passion with a shelf life. The mental health repercussions of Olympic pursuit. And the pitfalls of prodigious success at a young age.

More broadly, it's a dialog about why we sabotage ourselves, and how to break this bad habit.

And it’s about deconstructing those preconditioned beliefs we all have about who we are and what we are capable of achieving.

Today, one of history's all-time great Olympians provides a master class in mindset and intention: how to use it to our advantage, and what it takes to break the mold of what is possible. 

My hope is that this conversation will help you form a more holistic idea of who you are and what you seek to offer the world. I hope it encourages you to see the strength in vulnerability and the power in asking for help. 

But more than anything, I hope it breaks whatever illusion you have about what an Olympic athlete is and what an Olympic athlete is not.

The visually inclined can watch it all go down on YouTube. And as always, the podcast streams wild and free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

May you receive Apolo with an open heart.

Peace + Plants,

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Thanks to Jason Camiolo for production, audio engineering and show notes; Margo Lubin and Blake Curtis for video, editing and graphics; and theme music by Ana Leimma.

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