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One Bite At A Time, Part IV (7/25/13)

BY JOHN COUGHLIN 

Me and Caydee spending time with Olympic medalists and mentors
Christopher Dean and Paul Wylie
The group that took in Paul Wylie's seminar on preparation heading
toward an Olympic Games included Team USA members Josh Farris,
Agnes Zawadzki, Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim, Caydee and myself.
My neighbor & fellow skater, Elise, showing some patriotism with me!
Sheer intimidation in our debut as curling enthusiasts

I was lying in bed the other night, daring to dream of my fairytale ending: the chapter in my career labeled the 2013-14 season. It has become a firm part of my belief system that in order to accomplish something, you must be able to visualize it. Your dreams are not something you should be afraid to speak of as if they are Voldemort, the villain in Harry Potter.

In the spirit of that mindset, I'm going to "journal" my thoughts here. Recently, Caydee and I had the honor of sitting among some of our elite training mates as 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie explained his path to Olympic glory. He spoke of emotional, mental and spiritual skills that could be trained and strengthened along with your physical attributes. He challenged us to look inward and decide what our story is — to make sure our story was positive and relevant to our intentions in the moment.

In the years that I have spent as a student, I have realized that it is near impossible to soak up every bit of wisdom thrown at you in a given lesson and truly apply it to your own work. One thing I have taken to is identifying particular pieces that really resonate with me and clinging to them, committed to incorporating them into my life. As I listened to him speak, I looked around at the faces and eyes trained intently on his every word and motion. We all scribbled on our piece of paper the key phrases or thoughts that hit home for us.

"Finish well." Paul uttered this simple phrase, possibly without the knowledge of the weight it would carry for many of us in the room. The beauty and complexity of speaking to a group is in the fact that they can all listen to the same words while hearing a meaning completely unique to their own lives. For me, it was crystal clear. It is a gift to be able to skate, an honor to skate for your country, and a great opportunity to have the future unwritten. It dawned on me the other day that our lives are constantly evolving projects — where we are never done growing or moving toward becoming the kind of people we hope to be. To look back upon the conclusion of a season and feel that we finished well is what any athlete would consider a true victory. This of course is not limited to a higher score or faster time; it is expansive and includes your growth as a person. Paul said that as you train yourself in athletics, you train yourself for life. If this is true, then I choose to train myself in a manner so that I can see the opportunity and blessing in all things that come my way. I don't believe in coincidence. Everything happens for a reason, and just as it is meant to. Experiences along the road are not good or bad. You are the lone interpreter of forces that act upon you. Your reaction dictates your direction. My faith in that will mean that my story will be one that finishes well.

Forgive me for taking a roundabout way to verbalizing my dreams and aspirations. Perhaps it is best I laid out the approach I intend to use in getting there first. After all, I hear success is most often achieved when planned for.

For figure skaters, the landscape of the Olympic dream has changed this year. The addition of the team event adds a dimension to our sport that was long overdue. Falling in line with gymnastics, where individual athletes compete in a cumulative format to achieve a group result, figure skaters could now share a podium with fellow Americans from different skating disciplines. When we skated in the 2012 World Team Trophy, which serves as a team event simulation, we experienced a new kind of energy within our sport — being part of something bigger than yourself. There is a sense of camaraderie that can only come from being vested in the same goal. To be a participant as a new trio of medals is contested in the Olympics would be a dream come true for any athlete. Being part of a skating duo, this would be the consummate reward. Ask any pair skater or ice dancer to list why they enjoy their specialty within skating and all will say something related to being part of a whole, sharing the journey with a partner, conquering obstacles as a TEAM. What better feeling for a team-first personality type than the reassurance that Team USA is literally skating every step with you and willing you toward your goal, one bite at a time?

I think the emergence of this event will make for a special "Champs Camp" this year. This annual event held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs will be the last time that the entire senior U.S. team gathers in one place before our U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, when the Olympic Team will be announced. Apparently, all of those silly "team building" activities had a larger purpose than any of us realized at the time.

With that said, my Olympic hopes definitely include being part of the very first team event. But I would be shortsighted if I did not pause and recognize that the Olympics are too grand to be contained within a few days in February every four years. We live the Olympic ideals every day. And the lessons passed along from past Olympians to eager hopefuls will last way beyond Sochi.