Laura Wilkinson, #DreamChaser

As a follow up from my last post about Olympic comebacks, I was able to interview Laura Wilkinson for my blog! It was really amazing to talk to her, and she was so nice. I hope that she makes it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and the Olympics of Blogs can follow her along the way!

If you’re a fan of Laura’s after reading this interview, you can book Laura to speak at your events! She loves speaking and motivating people by sharing her journey. Click here for more information.

To catch you up if you didn’t read my last post, here’s her comeback video:

The Olympics of Blogs: How do you feel about returning to diving?

Laura Wilkinson: Well, it’s fun. It’s fresh and new again, but there’s some wisdom and experience there. You know, it’s kind of a neat mix.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it different now then when you competed in the past? Does it feel different?

Laura Wilkinson: I’m still kind of just getting started again. I haven’t been to many meets or been in that environment that much. It’s mainly just been training and getting my dives up again. So, there’s a lot of similarities, but it’s a different environment than I grew up training in and you know, it’s not the same pool. It’s a different situation, so there’s differences there. I don’t really know as far as the competing goes. I just haven’t done it enough yet.

The Olympics of Blogs: That makes sense. When’s your first big meet?

Laura Wilkinson: We have Nationals in August.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you feel ready?

Laura Wilkinson: Yes and no. I’m ready to mix it up with people. You know, we just went to our Zone meet in Moultrie [Georgia] this last weekend, and there were only 3 people, and 5 were going to qualify. There was no pressure. There was no meet atmosphere. It was kind of like, “oh well, we’re all going [to qualify].” So, I’m ready to get in that environment where you know, you’re nervous, there’s pressure, it matters. I’m excited to step back into that.

The Olympics of Blogs: Going back to when you competed at the Sydney Olympics, how
did it feel to stand on the platform before you dove? Were you focusing on the crowd or Laura_1-1just on the dive?

Laura Wilkinson: Somebody gave me really good advice before I went to the Olympics. It was a Canadian Olympian, and she had competed in her home country at the Montreal Olympics. She told me, “You know, when you get to the Olympics, enjoy the atmosphere. Enjoy the Olympic experience, but when you go to dive and it’s your time to compete, let all that go. In reality, it’s just another diving meet against people you’ve competed against before doing dives that you’ve done a hundred times. There’s nothing new there. All the new stuff is just the extra. It’s the people watching, it’s the tv, it’s the camera, it’s all just fluff. But in reality, it’s still just another meet.” I think knowing that really helped keep me grounded. I did, I soaked up the Olympics. I loved the Opening Ceremonies. I loved everything Olympics. But when it was my time to dive, I was able to just get into the meet.

The Olympics of Blogs: Did you get to walk in the Opening Ceremonies?

Laura Wilkinson: I did. I did at all three of my Olympics I got to. It was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you compete at the Sydney Olympics with a broken foot? Just thinking about that makes me cringe.

Laura Wilkinson: Well, I had a stress fracture in my left foot, and then I completely broke three bones in my right foot, the three middle metatarsals. And, the way it broke, part of one of the bones slid underneath my foot, and it calcified to the two bones next to it, what they call a bone bridge. So, without doing surgery to rebreak it back together and fix it, we casted it the way it was to give me the best shot at trying to go to the Olympics. So, it was like walking on a sharp rock. It was really painful. I had to walk in a shoe, like a tennis shoe at all times. I even had to wear a shoe up to the 10-meter then throw it down. So, there was a lot of pain there, especially on certain dives where you put all the weight on the ball of your foot. You know that’s right where it’s broken, and then there was fear of hitting it again. So, it was a lot. It was a lot of pain, [and] it was a lot of mental stress you know. But I think it actually became a blessing because it helped me focus on the things I needed to focus on.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel when you won gold?

920x920Laura Wilkinson: I didn’t really know. I knew I was doing well. I didn’t know that I was in the lead going into the last couple dives. I just knew I was kind of in the hunt, and I had made up some ground. So after I had done my last dive and there were 4 more people to still go and I couldn’t see the scoreboard, I just kept looking at my coach because he could see the scoreboard. After each person went, he’d turn around and he’d do the thing, kind of throw his arms up and go “yeah!” And finally, after the last girl went, he came running over and picked me up, and I was like “oh, we must have medaled.” But I had no idea we won until he just kept turning me around and saying, “We did it. We did it.” And it just kind of dawned on me at that point. Like oh my goodness, we won. So, it was a really neat moment that he got to tell me. I had no idea, so it was really cool.

The Olympics of Blogs: How does it feel to be the last female American diver to medal on the 10-meter platform? Do you think you could repeat winning gold in Tokyo?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s really neat. I seem to get mentioned a lot for that, but you know, at the same time, I want the U.S. to do well. It’s hard to watch some of our people come close and just not quite get there. It’s both. It’s exciting to leave that legacy, but then at the same time, I want people to follow in my footsteps. I want our country to step up and fill that void. And yeah, I don’t know. I’m kind of just focused on where I am right now. Like I do have those bigger goals, but right now, I’m just focusing on where I’m at and getting to that next step.

The Olympics of Blogs: I understand that. Do you have any advice for divers who are just starting their careers?

Laura Wilkinson: To not give up because it’s so easy to get frustrated. Diving can be a very frustrating sport. It’s a lot like golf. You do this half a second movement, and then you get frustrated, and you have all this time to wait. Then you have to try it again. It can be really aggravating. I think just stick with it and just keep going and not give up when it gets frustrating because that’s oftentimes when you’re close to figuring it out. Just keep going.

The Olympics of Blogs: That’s good advice. I remember that when I was diving, it could be so frustrating!

Laura Wilkinson: Yeah, it is. It drives you crazy. That’s why my coach is bald.

The Olympics of Blogs: Is it hard to train while having a family? Is it a lot harder with children?

Laura Wilkinson: It’s just a different dynamic. You know, I’m not doing the same kind of schedule I did before. I’m not doing 8 hours a day right now. It’s usually about half that, and once I come home, I’m Mom the rest of the time. But it is just different. It’s been a change for them with me being out of the house more this year, and one of my daughters has struggled with that a little bit. I mean, it’s like Mom going back to work. It’s just a different dynamic, so we’re all kind of adjusting to it. The really cool part is when my kids send me good luck notes. They tell me they want me to win because they want confetti to fall from the sky, you know. I came home and said I got second in the Zone meet, and my daughter said, “If you got second, then nobody must have been first.” It’s cool to watch them try to understand this and get all excited for me. It’s pretty cool to watch. And one time, my husband was filming, and I heard my son say, “That’s my Mommy!” It’s kind of cool when they’re proud of you, and it’s definitely a different dynamic, but it’s awesome.

The Olympics of Blogs: It sounds awesome! Do you think any of your kids will start diving?

Laura Wilkinson: I don’t know. One of them says she wants to, but she also told me after the Olympics last year that’s she’s going to go to the Olympics in diving, gymnastics, track, the pole vault, and something else. She had like 5 or 6 different events she was going to do at the Olympics. They’re still young. We’ll see what they choose to do.

The Olympics of Blogs: Thank you so much! I hope to see you compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics! Good luck!

Laura Wilkinson: Thanks!

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Olympic Comebacks

When the Olympics are over, what do Olympians do? Many of them retire, but some keep training for the next four years until the next Olympics. The really interesting and inspiring stories happen when retired athletes come back and begin training to compete at the Olympics after a long time in retirement. Here are a few of their stories.

Laura Wilkinson 

Here’s Laura’s comeback video. She competed the Sydney 2000 Olympics and won a gold medal even with a broken foot. Her medal was the first gold for an American female competing on the 10 meter platform since 1964. At the Athens 2004 Olympics, she won fifth place, and in 2005, she won gold at the World Championships. She competed at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and then retired. Now, at 39 years old, she is working to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Good luck, Laura!

Janet Evans

Janet Evans, a three-time Olympian (1988, 1992, 1996), won four gold medals and held seven world records by the time of her retirement. In 2011, she began training again to compete at the London 2012 Olympics, and at the age of 40, she competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She finished 80th out of 113 swimmers in the 400-meter freestyle and 53rd out of 65 swimmers in the 800-meter freestyle. Currently, she is the Vice Chairperson, Chair of the Bid Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, and Director of Athlete Relations at the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Committee.

Ed Moses

Ed Moses competed at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and won a gold medal in the 4 by 100-meter medley relay and a silver in the 100-meter breaststroke. Over his career, he also set two world records. He made a comeback and qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials but didn’t make it out of the first round in either of his events. Amazingly, he qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials after only 2 practices in the 4 years before.

Anthony Ervin

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Anthony Ervin, a three-time Olympian (2000, 2012, 2016), has won three gold medals and one silver over his career. He competed at the 2000 Olympics where he tied for first in the 50-meter freestyle and won silver on a relay team. He retired in 2003 and sold his gold medal on eBay for $17,000 to help the survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In 2012, he came out of retirement and won fifth place in the 50-meter freestyle. At the Rio 2016 Olympics, he won gold in the 50 free for the second time and gold in a relay.

Dara Torres

Dara Torres is the first swimmer to compete for the U.S. at 5 Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2008). Over her career, she won 12 Olympic medals including 4 gold, 4 silver, and 4 bronze. She has won at least 1 medal at each of the Olympics she competed in. In 2000, she made a comeback and competed at the Sydney Olympics after being retired for 7 years. At those Olympics, she won more medals than any other member of Team USA even though she was the oldest member of the U.S. Olympic swim team. When she was 41, she had her second comeback at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and won 3 silver medals.

The Olympics of Blogs will keep you updated on any more comebacks that happen before the Tokyo 2020 Games!

Additional News…

Tomorrow night at 8 pm EST on ABC is the ESPYS, the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards. Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics, will be accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on behalf of his late mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started Special Olympics. Eight athletes will be on stage with him. I’m sure it will be a night to remember, and I’m really excited to watch it!

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My Interview with Greg Louganis

12179421_10205593663180662_723909234_n-1On Sunday, October 25, I traveled to the Bow Tie Cinemas in Chelsea to see NewFest’s premiere of the HBO documentary, Back on Board: Greg Louganis. Greg Louganis is one of my favorite Olympic athletes because of his true commitment to the values of the Olympic Movement. He is actually one of the reasons why I began diving.

I don’t want to spoil the film, but here’s a short bio of his experience with the Olympic Movement. According to his website, he “is widely considered the greatest diver in history,” and because he won a silver medal in the 1976 Games, two gold medals (on 3 meter and 10 meter) at the 1984 Games, and two gold medals (on 3 meter and 10 meter) at the 1988 Games, I would agree. Most people remember his bravery after he hit his head on the board, continued diving within the hour, and won gold at the 1988 Games.

After the 1988 Games, he retired, and then in 1995, he and Eric Marcus wrote his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, where he came out as gay and HIV+. Back on Board is about his experiences while he was competing, at the Seoul Games, after he came out, his advocacy, and his current work as a mentor for USA Diving.

Incredibly, I was able to meet and interview him on the documentary, preparing for the Rio Olympics, and many other things. Below is the interview. You can watch the documentary on HBO GO and HBO NOW.

The Olympics of Blogs: What do you hope people walk away with from your film?

imagesGreg: Well, you know, it’s interesting because I’m just the subject matter, and it’s the director, Cheryl Furjanic, and [producer/writer] Will Sweeney who really chose what to focus on, how to tell the story, and what story to tell. We were together for three and a half years in the process, so they really had a lot to choose from. They focused on the diving and my entry back into the sport of diving. There’s some current day stuff mixed in there as far as challenges I’ve been through and so, I think what I found people take away from it most is that no matter how much you achieve, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all make good decisions and bad decisions because we’re human. That’s what people come away with. It’s the humanity.

It was interesting because it’s been focused on the LGBT film festival, but I’ve been getting responses from [many people]. One, which is very meaningful, was from a straight black woman, and she wrote that after viewing the documentary, she found the courage to come out to her friends and loved ones about her HIV status. She has two daughters who I’m assuming are HIV-.

And [the audience will come away from it with] how challenging it is in various communities – you know, the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the stigma of being LGBT. You know, all of those things. We’ve come a long way, and the advances in treatments since I was diagnosed in ’88 are wonderful. That I’m still here is truly amazing because when I was diagnosed in ’88, I didn’t think I’d see 30. Everyone was dying.

Even when I saw the film for the first time, I learned a lot because in a part of the film, I said that, “An atomic bomb could have gone off, and I never would have known.” That’s how focused I was on being successful in my sport and doing my homework, getting ready, preparation, and all that. I heard about AIDS, and that was kind of out there. I had friends who were dying, and it really brought home the gravity of what was happening at that time. I find that people are coming away [from this film] with its persistence and tenacity of hanging in there and believing things will work out.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are some of the differences between writing a book and being involved in this film?

Greg: Well, I worked with my coauthor, Eric Marcus. We started back in ’93, and that was a whole process. I knew that I wanted to share my story, and the only way I felt that I could do it justice was through a book. Eric is incredibly thorough, and working on it was very cathartic. But at the same time, there were points in the process of our working together where I wasn’t ready emotionally to deal with it. He really forced me to revisit and examine areas of my life where I just really didn’t want to go.

Eventually, I got there, and I think that was what was so telling. It was a New York Times bestseller for five weeks because it was so revealing and raw. I thought that I was sharing my weaknesses, but on book tour, I realized by sharing my weaknesses, I was actually sharing my strength. That’s kind of how I perceived this process of doing a documentary when I was approached by Cheryl Furjanic and Will Sweeney. I felt confident that I was in good hands, and my story would be treated with love and respect.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel to go back to diving after such a long time?

Greg: It was nice. I like the capacity that I came back in as athlete mentor. That’s been so meaningful. I feel impactful.

We are going to be in a tough spot in Rio. The state of diving right now globally is the entire world is chasing China. Mexico has poured millions and millions of dollars into their diving program, and it’s showing. They’re really coming onto the scene strong. Canada has a wonderful program. They know that they can’t support all of the elite athletes, so they pick and choose the athletes they feel have the best shot at success. Then they pour their resources into those athletes. It’s a very different model from what USA Diving is using. They [USA Diving] disbanded the National Training Center, which I feel is a huge mistake. I’d really like to see much more coaches’ collaboration and more of a sense of a U.S. team. I love what Canada does with their One Team campaign.

Right now in the states, it’s a little bit more about this club against that club against that club. If they [the club] have a talent, their tendency is to hold onto that talent to gain recognition. It really should be a collaborative effort in order to be successful. We have some tremendous talent, but we need to share resources, especially since many of the facilities are limited. There’s not that many full on dive facilities around the country. They are few and far between. To share resources, to share knowledge, and to share experiences is the only way we’re going to be successful.

The Olympics of Blogs: How will the U.S. men’s 10 meter platform diving be in Rio?*

Greg: David Boudia is still continuing. He gets it, which is exciting for me to see. They teamed him up. His synchro partner is Steele Johnson, who is a young kid, and he can mentor Steele through the process. Also, being teamed with a diver who is better than you elevates your performance. You rise to the occasion. I think that is very powerful and impactful.

*Greg won gold for the 10 meter platforming diving at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. In 2012, U.S. diver David Boudia won gold. I’m also going to see this event in Rio, so it was interesting to see what Greg thought about it.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did it feel to carry the Special Olympics flag in the World Games’ Opening Ceremony?

Greg: It was great. It was a great honor to be with all those guys. I had a lot of fun.

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Carrying the flag

Pins (And Their Place in the Olympic Movement)

In my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, they have frames filled with pins right above the computer. For a long time when I was growing up, I had no idea what they were for. However, it all clicked one day, and I realized that these were the pins my family had collected when we went to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

I was one at the time, so I don’t remember it, but my sister says it was really awesome. She told me that her pins were coveted because my mom had gotten Kodak pins that no one else had. Although I missed out on the pin-collecting fun at the Atlanta Games, I was able to experience my own pin-collecting fun this summer at the Special Olympics World Games.

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He was right outside of the LA Memorial Coliseum after the Opening Ceremony and would only trade for pins. People kept trying to buy them, but he kept refusing.

Amy, my supervisor at Special Olympics New York, gave me Special Olympics New York pins before I left. I’m so grateful that she did because I was able to trade those for really cool pins. Mine were highly desired because not many people there were from New York. From my experience, trading pins was a way to open up conversation and connect with people from anywhere. The pins bridged the gap between cultures and languages. Most of the delegations had pins from their countries with them, and it was a good way to approach a team and get to know them. Special Olympics athletes are so kind that usually they tried to give me their pins instead of trading. I always had to make sure that they also got pins from me.

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One of the coolest pin tradings happened on my last night as a volunteer. I was already done with my shift, and I was saying goodbye to everything at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza with my friend I had made during the Games. A man and a woman approached me and asked if I wanted to trade with them. They ended up trading me pins from the Atlanta 1996 Olympics! I traded some of my pins for an Atlanta Olympic pin, Paralympic pin, and a Diving pin. As I was talking with them, they told me they were Olympic historians, and they had been to 18 Olympics in total. They had actually just returned from the Pan Am Games, which happened in Toronto this summer. I got some advice from them about Rio, and I said I would see them there!

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Pins from the Fan Zone. We were giving them out for free- no trading necessary!

After I came back from the World Games, I wasn’t sure of what I should do with my pins. I definitely wanted to display them, so I could see them every day just like I could in my parents’ house. Eventually, I decided to arrange them on a bulletin board with my favorite photos from the Games. I just finished it this past week, and here’s the finished product:

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Thanks for reading! Please follow me for more updates on my Olympic journey!

The 2016 Olympics

After watching the 2012 London Olympics, I promised myself that I would be at the next Summer Games. Last December, I applied to volunteer at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I am anxiously waiting to hear back about volunteering, but in the meantime, I bought four tickets to the Olympics! Just in case I am not selected to volunteer, I’m still going!

I’m so excited that I am actually able to do what I promised! I am ready to see what I have dreamed about for so long. There are a few problems such as cost and place to stay, but those can be addressed closer to the Games. The important thing is that I’m going to the Olympics!

Here are the events I’m going to see:

– Soccer (AKA Football), 8/3/2016

– Archery, 8/6/2016

– Handball, 8/15/2016

– Diving, 8/20/2016

I’m most excited about diving because I will be able to watch Tom Daley, the diver who inspired me to start diving, compete! I have less experience with the other three events, but I know they will be so cool to watch! After two ticket raffles and then some, I am ready to go to the Olympics (and of course I’ll blog the whole time I’m there)!

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