Not long ago, you learned how to Do it Like an Elite Athlete, in 12 Steps. And as promised, I’m back with the profiles of some real-life elite athletes whom you can look to as role models in 2016 and beyond.
The attitudes of these modern-day heroes of motivation will give you hope for the future, as well as the inspiration and focus necessary for excelling in the present. Adapting key strategies displayed by these role models will provide you with valuable insight, gained through your training (preparation) and your challenges and setbacks. Like an athlete, you can utilise these experiences to not only build your resilience and your bounce ability, but to develop your character, wisdom and the enjoyment of your achievements.
Elite Athletes, Modern-Day Role Models
There are lots of well-known personalities you can look to for examples of how to succeed. Athletes make great role models for all kinds of success (family, business, career, life) because their stories and their struggles are chronicled, relatable and inspirational.
Here are some elite athletes we can turn to for stories and examples of how to achieve, and surpass, goals:
Kelly Holmes: At age 12, she committed to training. At age 14, she declared her dream to compete in the Olympics. When Britain hadn’t the funds to support training for the games, Kelly joined the army, working as a truck driver, physical trainer, and eventually climbed to the rank of sergeant. She was known for being “tough,” “single-minded,” “dedicated,” and “determined.” In Athens, 2004, she became a two-time Olympic gold medallist, breaking two personal-best times and one UK record.
Muhammad Ali: From a young age, Cassius Clay, one of the greatest boxers in world history, entirely committed himself to learning the art of boxing. He showed unrivalled courage in the fight against racial discrimination, all the while earning Olympic gold and becoming the first fighter to ever hold three Heavyweight Champion of the World titles. He was known for his fancy footwork and lightning speed…and didn’t give up his philanthropy or public activism, even after a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.
Usain Bolt: The “World’s Fastest Man” wasn’t born that way. He started competing in regional championships at the age of 14 and steadily worked his way to three Olympic gold medals and the breaking of numerous world records. Usain won both the 100m and the 200m in record times, making him the first man in Olympic history to do so. In those same games, he set a new world record in the 4x100m. In the IAAF World T&F Championships, he set two individual world records and won three gold medals. Usain suffered a number of hamstring injuries, but came back to set his 200m personal best, pleasing everyone with three gold-medal-winning performances in the 2015 World Championships. Following this domination, Bolt gained status as the most decorated athlete in the 32-year history of athletic world championships. He is recorded as being the highest-paid athlete in track and field to date.
David Beckham: This elite athlete is often touted for his good looks and style, but that title is an injustice to his real football accomplishments. Beckham, who is best known for his free-kick accuracy, physical endurance in the right midfield position, versatility in all positions, field vision, efficiency, and composure under brutal pressure, has been captain of the English National Team, scored in three separate FIFA World Cups, and has won the MLS Cup. He has been a UNICEF UK ambassador since 2005 and continues to campaign and fund work to protect children all around the world.
Jessica Ennis-Hill: A celebrated track-and-field star, Jess took an interest in competition at an early age, spending school holidays at athletic camps. She worked to develop a remarkable hurdle technique by the age of 10, and at age 14, won a high-jump competition at the National Schools Championships. Ennis-Hill is an Olympic heptathlon gold medallist and former World and European Champion. After suffering a fracture and a resulting one-year disruption, she came back to win the World Championship heptathlon the next year and the indoor pentathlon the following year. After the birth of her son in 2014, she came back only one year later, to everyone’s amazement, to take the World Championship with impeccable style.
Jonah Lomu: This rugby phenomenon was “too large” to play wing; however, today, his size is the standard for wing recruitment. He was the first global superstar to come out of the rugby union, and was acknowledged as one of the top players at the 1995 World Cup. His legacy includes the distinction of being the youngest-ever All Black to play an international match, at the age of 19. After developing a rare kidney disorder, he took time off for a transplant, and then made a notable comeback. He was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame and the IRB Hall of Fame.
Paula Radcliffe: Known for her anti-doping campaigns, Paula is not only a champion runner; she’s a champion for all athletes. At the age of 11, she joined her first athletics club, and went on to compete in the World Cross Country Championships at 16. She won a gold medal in the World Championships in Helsinki, won the London Marathon three times, and the New York Marathon once. This mother of two is a former marathon, half-marathon, and cross country World Champion and current world record holder who has been voted BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. Paula, who is an asthma sufferer, has worked through troublesome pain, including bunions, cramping, a fractured toe, and knee pain—particularly near the end of her career.
Michael Johnson: This track-and-field champion broke standards by running with short strides and a rigid, upright posture…and broke records doing it. Known for his consistency on the track, Johnson shattered the collegiate record in his very first race at Baylor. He’s won four Olympic gold medals and eight World Championship gold medals, has been inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame, and owns his own sports management company.
Roger Federer: Roger was among the top three junior tennis players in Switzerland by the age of 11, was Switzerland’s national junior champ by 14, was the first Swiss male tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title, and was ranked #1 in the world for some part of seven years. He went on to set a record by earning 17 separate Grand Slam singles titles. He won the World Junior tennis championship, Wimbledon title, and the Orange Bowl, among others.
Andy Murray: Andy’s eventful childhood included his survival of a school shooting at eight years of age, as well as winning the U.S. Open Junior title and BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year. This Olympic gold medallist, who is known for his consistency, returned from back surgery to produce his 500th career win.
Michael Jordan: This five-time MVP led the Chicago Bulls basketball team, which drafted him from The University of North Carolina, to win six NBA championships. He was chosen as NBA Rookie of the Year and led the U.S. Olympic team to two gold-medal wins. He was the first player since Wilt Chamberlin to score more than 3,000 points in one season. Jordan endured a number of injuries throughout his professional career, as well as the violent death of his father. The attributes he brought to his team included agility, power, and leadership. Today, he is an entrepreneur celebrated for his motivational influence.
Shelly Ann Frazer Price: This two-time Olympic gold medallist was the first Jamaican woman to take the 100m gold. She secured the Jamaican title at World Championships, and is the only woman to be awarded the 100m World Championship three times. At only five feet tall, this explosive runner has been crowned Female Athlete of the Year and the Fastest Woman on Earth, and has received the Golden Cleats Award.
Joe Calzaghe: This southpaw, who has been boxing since the tender age of nine, holds the distinction of holding the longest reign as a Super-Middleweight World Champion. He managed to maintain the WBO title for no less than ten years, and defended it successfully in 21 bouts. He also fought as a light-heavyweight, winning The Ring He was voted Young Boxer of the Year and has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. At his retirement, Calzaghe finished with a 46-0 record. He now owns a promotion company and runs anti-bullying campaigns.
Jonny Wilkinson: Best-known for his drop goal in overtime to win the World Cup for the England Rugby Union, this fly-half is one of the strongest tacklers and most accurate kickers in the game. Captain of England’s team, he was chosen as BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and accepted the Order of the British Empire award. He conquered shoulder and neck surgery during his career, and is respected by his peers for his relentless training and avoidance of public exposure.
I encourage you to choose one (or more) of these elite-athlete role models and commit to learning more about his or her struggles, journey, and victories. Apply what you absorb to your own path, for motivational and inspirational help.
And, of course, there are those “elite” athletes who have are not so good role models…and we can learn some things from them, too:
John McEnroe: Known for not taking responsibility for his own actions while simultaneously blaming others.
Vinny Jones: Notorious for being a dirty player with a poor attitude.
Prince Nazem Hameed: Refused to return after being defeated, demonstrating his fear of failure.
Lance Armstrong: Will forever be remembered as a cheater and liar who got caught and brought the sport into disrepute.
There are plenty of terrific role models brought to us by professional sports. There are also some pretty terrible ones. You know the difference: all that’s left to do is learn and create your own path with the inspiration you gather from the stories of the greats.
How can you translate these elite athletes’ stories to your own path? It’s simple: motivation, inspiration, resilience, and courage are attributes that you can use to enhance every facet of your life. They are characteristics that you can learn, adopt, and carry with you to conquer fear and to be better than you were yesterday—every day.