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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Two Years on the Blog Today!

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Happy second birthday to my blog!

When I started this blog, I was so nervous to have people read my writing that I almost didn’t do it. Even though I still get nervous about it sometimes, I’m glad I started it and created an opportunity for myself to learn more about blogging, writing, and the Olympic Movement. I hope that reading this blog for the past two years has been fun, informative, and inspiring, and I hope you enjoyed it!

Here’s to many more years for the Olympics of Blogs!

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Trading Tuesday: Graduation

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My family and I outside of Madison Square Garden

Two weeks ago, I graduated from Pace University. It was a really fun day, and I was excited that my family could come to New York City to watch it. Thank you, Mom, Dad, Liz, Adri, and Derek for coming! It meant a lot to me. ❤

unnamedThese are the three pins I wore during graduation. They are some of my favorite pins out of my entire collection because they are symbols for the amazing experiences I’ve had at major sporting events. Every time I look at them, I remember all the people I met and all the things I was able to do, and I feel proud to have volunteered at the LA 2015 Special Olympics World Games, the Rio 2016 Olympics, and the Austria 2017 Special Olympics World Games during my college experience. Without volunteering at these Games (and getting these pins), I would not be where I am today. Those experiences were so valuable to me and helped teach me more about the world, myself, the Olympic Movement, and humanity. My experience at Pace and in New York City taught me how to push myself and make my dreams happen.

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You can see the pins proudly displayed on my Stole of Gratitude!

I wore these pins on a blue stole called a Stole of Gratitude. At the time, it seemed to be the only place where they could go and actually be seen, but now, it’s perfect that they were on that stole. I am so thankful for those experiences, and I have immense gratitude for all the opportunities I’ve had so far in my life and that I will have. I gave my Stole of Gratitude to my thesis and academic advisor, Bill. He really deserves it for helping me so much before, during, and after my time at Pace.

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Bill and I after the ceremony

Thank you, Pace, my family, the Honors College, and my friends for a wonderful college experience! Amazing Awaits!

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My cap

An Interview with Eloise, a Special Olympics World Winter Games Figure Skater

Over the Special Olympics World Winter Games, I had the amazing privilege to meet so many incredible people from around the world. To get to the Opening Ceremony, for example, I got one of the last seats on the South African delegation’s bus. This was such a cool experience because I became friends with many of the players and the head of the delegation. In addition, I met Sue and David Carruthers, the parents of Eloise, who competed in Figure Skating for Team GB.

Throughout the week, I ran into Team South Africa and the Caruthers a few times, and I’m very glad I did. Both groups really contributed to how much I enjoyed the Games. On March 21, I interviewed Eloise for my blog, which was really cool because she is one of the best female figure skaters in Level 4 skating in the world.

Here’s the video. Please excuse the poor sound quality. It was hard to find a quiet place at the rink!

The video ends with Eloise’s free skate, which I just made it to see on Thursday! She won seventh place, and her skating was absolutely beautiful.

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It was really fun to meet and cheer for Eloise at the World Games! 😀

My Experience at the Austria 2017 World Winter Games

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With the mascots!

One week ago today, the Closing Ceremony for the Austria 2017 World Winter Games happened, and although it’s sad that the Games are over, I had such an amazing time that I can only feel grateful. The people who live in Graz welcomed all of the athletes, volunteers, families, and coaches and made the World Games into a special experience.

My last day volunteering was March 23, and it was one of the best days of my life. I volunteered for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). I ran the soccer station, and it was really fun to see the athletes get recognized and cheered for by Unified cheerleaders, their caretakers, and their Unified partners. It was awesome to see all of them up on stage receiving medals and smiling so wide! Later that night, I just made it to watch Eloise, a British figure skater whose parents I had become friends with on the bus to the Opening Ceremony, compete in her free skate and win seventh in the world in Level 4 Figure Skating! After watching Figure Skating for a long time, I went to a special party held to thank volunteers and tried a lot of Austrian desserts with people who had also been volunteering at MATP. That day, my heart felt so full of love and happiness. There’s no other place in the world where you are able to meet people from so many different countries and cultures and become friends with them.

At the 1987 World Games, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, said, “You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.” That definitely happened at this World Games where 2,700 athletes from 107 countries competed. Medals were won, friendships were made, and the world was changed. We, the volunteers, spectators, families, Special Olympics staff, and the people of Graz made these Games special for the athletes. They truly were the stars of the Games.

Some of the best moments of the Games for me were:

  • Meeting athletes from around the world and cheering them on, especially those from Team USA, Team Canada, Team Great Britain, Team Austria, and Team South Africa!
  • Becoming an honorary member of Team South Africa and getting to eat lunch with them and seeing them compete!
  • Becoming friends with fans and volunteers from around the world!
  • Meeting Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s son.
  • Meeting Mary Davis, the CEO of Special Olympics International, again (she gave a presentation at Pace University last year!).
  • Experiencing the culture of Graz.
  • Getting to see some of the people I had met at previous volunteer experiences/internships again.
  • Dancing with Team Austria on the first night I got to Graz and doing the conga line with them!
  • The award ceremony for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). The athletes were so happy to get medals, and they loved the applause!

Here’s a video summarizing my trip!

Trading Tuesday: Austria 2017

unnamedThis pin is the perfect choice for this week’s Trading Tuesday because I just made it today! Currently, I’m volunteering at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. This pin is awesome because I ❤ Special Olympics, and it’s really cool to have my picture on a pin!

I have been having a wonderful time meeting athletes, fans, and volunteers from around the world. People are completely open with friendship, and they are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. So many people have helped me since I’ve come here and gone out of their way to do so. I think everyone recognizes that we are here for the athletes. This is their time, and by making sure the focus is on them, the athletes’ happiness, kindness, and openness is able inspire everyone else. I know I belong within the Special Olympics community because it is one huge, international family, and these Games have confirmed that. Even if people have different abilities, languages, races, or religions, Special Olympics proves that everyone can come together and find similarities.

Saturday night was the Opening Ceremony in Schladming, and I’m so happy I was able to go. It was so beautiful. The entire ceremony focused on the athletes as the stars. Even though it was pouring and bitterly cold the entire time, the stands were completely filled, and it didn’t stop people from cheering for each country as it paraded out into the stadium.

In Messe Graz, the place where Floor Hockey and Floor Ball are located and where I’m volunteering, there is a Coca Cola station where you can take a picture holding a Special Olympics pillow, and then have it made into a pin. Coca Cola is one of the sponsors of the Games, and they had such a cool idea with these pins.

My last day volunteering is on Thursday. So far, I’ve been working in the cafeteria where athletes, coaches, staff, and volunteers eat, but tomorrow and Thursday, I’m volunteering for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP).

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Go Team USA! Go Special Olympics!

An Interview with Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey Coach

The Special Olympics World Winter Games start a week from today, so to start getting everyone excited to cheer on Team USA, I interviewed David Durandisse, the coach of the Unified Floor Hockey team from New York City that will compete in the Games.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are you most excited for about Austria?

David: I’m excited to be visiting Europe and being a part of this huge event. I remember our first practice and now that we are this close to departure, I’m excited to see all the work come together and pay off.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were you chosen to coach the team?

David: I was offered the opportunity to join the team and I accepted.

The Olympics of Blogs: How long has your team been training for the World Games?

David: We have been practicing since September, so about 6 months.

The Olympics of Blogs: How has your team been practicing to prepare for the World Games?

David: We have been conditioning to get their stamina up; live scrimmages to get a feel for the game against opponents. We have done a bunch of drills and live game scenarios to map out what we want to do in games.

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The Olympics of Blogs: Will you and your team walk in the Opening Ceremony for Team USA?

David: We will be walking in Opening Ceremonies.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think they’ll win gold?

David: I believe we have the players to win gold. We have a combination of size and speed that should work to our advantage to create scoring opportunities. I believe if we can put that together we will surely win gold.

The Olympics of Blogs: After coaching a Unified team, what do you think about Unified sports?

David: Unified sports is a great concept. I have seen two sides come together as one. Individuals who may have not had a chance to come together, now have that opportunity through unified sports. They have created friendships that will last a lifetime.

The Olympics of Blogs: What has been your favorite moment as a coach for Unified Floor Hockey?

David: Hanging out with the team and bonding with the coaches. We all started this journey months ago, and along the way we have shared many laughs on and off the court.

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You can watch Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey team walk in the Opening Ceremony on ABC on March 18 from 2-5 pm ET!