Life Lessons From Olympic Stars
Top winter athletes share their winning strategies. Use them to up your game.
Vonn, NBC Olympics/USOC Don't miss the 2014 Sochi Olympic games beginning Feb. 6 on NBC
When it comes to accomplishing dreams, Olympians make it look so easy. But there's a lot of work that goes into being a world-class athlete: pushing through training, learning how to stay calm under pressure and keeping confidence up—even after a major setback, such as a loss or an injury. While you may not be gearing up for the games like these women, their tactics can still help you thrive. Take their advice on how to reach your personal best.
Embrace your body
"When I'm using my body to push past boundaries, I'm thinking about it as a vehicle for learning and growth—instead of just thinking about how it looks."
—Gretchen Bleiler, 32, snowboarder, 2006 Olympic medalist
Bleiler, NBC Olympics/USOC
"Heels make me stand up and feel more confident and sexier. They also help with my posture, since I'm a big sloucher. I have this pair of Jimmy Choos that are my secret weapon."
"I always feel my best when I have given it my all in the gym. I feel so strong and confident. It also doesn't hurt to throw on a pair of great-fitting jeans!"
—Nicole Joraanstad, 33, curler, 2010 Olympian
"There is something about everyone that makes them feel self-conscious, and I'm no different. But I also have a hundred things to be proud of—like how healthy and strong I am—for every 'flaw.'"
Knight, NBC Olympics/USOC —Erin Hamlin, 27, luger, two-time Olympian
"I play my best when I'm at a heavier weight. The more I gain, the bigger my legs and arms become. But I embrace it. It's a mark of my training, and I am really proud of my hard work. You should never feel insecure about being muscular and fit."
—Hilary Knight, 24, ice hockey player, 2010 Olympic medalist
Maintain your motivation
"The desire to always grow motivates me. When you get comfortable doing the same thing, you get stagnant and stuck. Life is about challenging yourself to learn and to become the best version of yourself."
Jones, NBC Olympics/USOC —Gretchen Bleiler
"I focus on what is right in front of me and break down what I have to do into small steps. And I remind myself that these steps are building up to something worthwhile."
—Kikkan Randall, 31, cross-country skier, three-time Olympian
"I am very competitive, so when I'm in the middle of a grueling workout, I simply think of what my competitors are more than likely doing, and that makes me want to do it even more."
Eliassen, NBC Olympics/USOC "Every year, there is something else I want to achieve. This is what drives me through a tough day of training. Lifting, cardio, plyometrics and agility drills—I dislike them all. What I do like, though, is the feeling of making progress. It's all about improving. And to do that you must push yourself."
"At the end of the day, I want to have no regrets. That's why I train hard every single day."
Bowe, NBC Olympics/USOC "You need to build 'treat yourself' moments into your life—whether that's taking a walk, watching television or even grabbing a cup of coffee. These things make you happy and provide balance in life."
Change can be a good thing
"After London, I was broken. I couldn't understand how I could be so good to something (track and the hurdles) and have it not love me back. I wanted to get as far away from track as possible. Switching to bobsledding gave me a different perspective, which in turn restored my love for track and my desire to compete."
Meyers, NBC Olympics/USOC Center yourself
"I do focused breathing. I breathe in and hold for two seconds, breathe out for 10 seconds and repeat. It slows down the body and the mind."
"To quiet my nerves, I try to focus on the process and not the outcome. I play my best when I'm in the moment."
Prepare to eat great
"When you have a hectic schedule, it's easy to make bad food choices. I plan out my meals at the beginning of each week. On Sundays I do three to four hours of prep work and then cook everything. It makes things much easier when I get home from practice because everything is all ready to go."
Next Page: Destress and recharge [ pagebreak ]
Fenlator, NBC Olympics/USOC Destress and recharge
"I like spa days with my teammates and getting my nails painted Barbie pink. There's a misconception that if you're an athlete, you don't take care of your looks."
"Yoga is a big part of my destressing. Even sitting on the floor for 10 minutes to center myself, stretch and relax can be a huge game changer."
"Believe it or not, Twitter calms me down. I enjoy interacting with people."
"I love grabbing a good book and going to my local café for a tea latte. Just getting away from everything, even if it's for an hour or two, can really change my whole mood."
—Sarah Hendrickson, 19, ski jumper, 22-time World Cup medalist
"I watch my favorite shows—The Walking Dead, The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation—on Netflix to unwind. Actually, I eat most of my meals while watching Netflix. It's like my companion."
"I'm very outgoing, and I love hanging out with my teammates and family. But I also need quiet time, when I take 30 minutes to myself. I think that, especially in a team-sport environment, you need that to be fresh around other people."
Find someone who inspires you
"Roger Federer and my boyfriend, Tiger Woods, inspire me. It's incredible what they've done in their respective sports, especially Roger. He is the nicest and humblest guy. You would never know that he's the best tennis player of all time. And Tiger is so mentally tough. He can block everything completely out and stay in the moment."
"It took Dan Jansen, the speed skater, four Olympics to win a medal—a gold one at that!—but he never gave up. I won't, either."
Don't be afraid to be amazing
"I'm fearful when I push myself. It's a tough thing to do, but you need to acknowledge that you have what it takes to succeed."
"Setbacks have made me appreciate my success even more. When I fall, I always get up. It's part of being an athlete. You have to have a short memory and just focus on one day at a time."
—Lindsey Vonn, 29, alpine skier, two-time Olympic medalist
"Bobsledding transformed my body. I actually have a butt now. I've also gained about 30 pounds of muscle. This isn't the body I'm used to, but I'm still very proud of it."
—Lolo Jones, 31, bobsledder, two-time Olympic hurdler
"I'm definitely not an angel when it comes to food. Some-times after a hard workout, you just need something. For me, that's Chipotle."
—Brittany Bowe, 25, speed skater, three-time World Cup medalist
"There's a quote from the rapper Nas that I really love: 'Understanding the mission of your life is knowing that you're here to make history.' I'm summarizing, but that's the gist."
—Jazmine Fenlator, 28, bobsledder, two-time World Cup medalist
Find a mantra that matters
"'Stay in the moment.' Life goes really quickly, so you need to soak it up instead of living on the phone and spending hours posting pictures. Enjoy life as it happens."
—Hannah Kearney (at left), 27, mogul skier, 2010 Olympic medalist
"'Dare to be...' I leave it open-ended. Dare to be bold, dare to be great, dare to laugh or whatever. It depends on my mood that day. Dare is such a great word—it's edgy, progressive and responsive!"
"My motto is 'Just have fun with it.' It takes the pressure off. If you take anything too seriously or think this is the deciding factor of your life, you won't do well."
—Grete Eliassen, 27, freestyle skier, six-time Winter X Games medalist
"'Don't take any second for granted.' I have been good at learning from every experience I've had so far, but I also know that I have let a lot of great moments and opportunities slip through my fingers. "
Bounce back even stronger
"You have to love what you do, because things aren't always going to go the way you want. Setbacks are like failed relationships: Yes, they hurt, but you pick yourself up and get back out there."
"This life can be very up and down. One incredibly valuable tool is meditation. I start and end each day with a 30-minute session. It helps keep me in touch with who I am and what I really want out of every day."
"View a stumbling block as a learning opportunity. If you allow it to defeat you, it will. Honestly, if I give everything I have, I can't be disappointed with the outcome."
—Elana Meyers, 29, bobsledder, 2010 Olympic medalist
Don't neglect your core!
"It isn't just about being on the mountain. I spend over an hour in the gym working on mobility and doing core strengtheners, such as exercise-ball rollouts. They're great for anyone: Get into plank with forearms on ball. Keep back flat, core tucked in and scapulas fired; roll ball out in front of you, then back in. Do three sets of 10 reps."
Next Page: Your secret weapon: hard work [ pagebreak ]
Kearney, NBC Olympics/USOC Your secret weapon: hard work
"On a team, everyone has a different role. But no matter which part you play, your effort must always be there. Even if we're not playing our best, the amount of effort you put in is something you can always control."
—Julie Chu, 31, ice hockey player, three-time Olympic medalist
Guilty pleasures, allowed
"When I get off the mountain, that's when I indulge—chocolate, croissants, cheese. Cheese is my go-to. I wish I could have a diet of just cheese: grilled cheese, mac and cheese, even Caprese salads. I love it all."
"All food is good food to me. But I won't eat sweets unless I feel like it's really worth it. Every year for my birthday, my mom makes this coffee cake with an Oreo crust. That's worth it. It's not something I would eat every day, though."
Shred stress your way
"Lounging around and reading is a good destressor. I've been reading The Climb, Into the Wild and Maiden Voyage. I love books about the outdoors."
—Hana Beaman, 31, snowboarder, four-time Winter X Games medalist