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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A Look Ahead to the Special Olympics PA Summer Games

It’s amazing to believe that it’s already been a year since I interned at the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games! Here’s my blog post about it to get you in the Summer Games mood! https://theolympicsofblogs.com/2016/06/27/special-olympics-southern-californias-summer-games/

I leave today for the Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Summer Games! This is my first time going to a State Games as an Assistant Coach, and I’m excited. I’ll be helping coach swimming with many of the same athletes I’ve been coaching since January. I can’t wait to see how well they do!

The competition starts today and goes until Saturday, June 3. Over 2,000 athletes from across Pennsylvania are coming to Penn State to compete in Aquatics, Athletics (Track and Field), Basketball, Bowling, Equestrian (Horseback Riding), Golf, Gymnastics, Softball, and Tennis.

Check back here after this weekend to see how it goes!

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!

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!

The Olympic Museum

Here is a really amazing blog post written by my friend, Lili. She’s been studying abroad in London since January, and she’s been going on such amazing adventures! Recently, she journeyed to Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the Olympic Museum, and from what she wrote, it sounds like such an awesome museum! If you are interested in reading more about her travels or about any books she’s reading, check out her beautiful blog at http://lilisreflections.blogspot.com.

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Thank you so much for having me on the blog today, Carolyn!

I went to Switzerland in the beginning of March to visit a friend, and she just so happens to live in Lausanne… the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee! I took advantage of this awesome opportunity by spending a day in the Olympic Museum.

When you first walk in, you are greeted by a test track with the 5 rules of the Olympics listed: Fair Play, Excellence, Respect, Friendship, and Peace. This sets the tone of your entire visit because it symbolizes what the museum is all about. If you come from the opposite direction, you’ll climb a staircase full of dates and locations, which end up being the hosts of all recorded Games in years’ past. Pretty cool.

The museum starts you off by teaching you the history of the Games, bringing you through exhibits of what the original Games were like all the way through an exhibit on the life of the father of the modern Games. This entire first floor is very educational. I think the coolest fact that I picked up is that in the original Games in Athens, there were twelve Zeus statues on the ground to inspire athletes. Each of these statues was bought and paid for by a past Olympian that was caught cheating and exiled from the games. Their names were often etched into it, so they forever lived in shame.

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This exhibit also took you through the history of the Olympic flag. Originally it was not the five ring symbol we know and love today. And, on top of that, when it eventually became the five rings we know today, the regulations of the time prohibited the rings from properly interlocking. So the symbol we know today is still relatively young in the grand scheme of things. It was really cool to see one of the first and oldest surviving Olympic flags with today’s modern symbol.
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What stood out to me, though, was the torch exhibit. They have an actual torch for every single Games displayed and watching them transform and become more intricately detailed with each passing year was astounding. Plus, they have a Rio torch on display that I excitedly touched just to be able to say I did. Let me tell you, she is a beaut.

The next floor has some crazy history exhibits with so many interactive opportunities that you can spend hours here. Everywhere you look you could find famous outfits and equipment belonging to athletes that revolutionized their respective sport. You can then scroll through iPads at each station, select an athlete, and read in-depth bios and watch record-breaking videos of Olympians who I wasn’t alive to view myself on television.

The best part of this level, however, is the video screen. They have every single Olympic Games on it, and ten different ones can be viewed at once. You pick an Olympics, and you can view a 5 to 10 minute video about that year’s importance…the athletes that revolutionized sports, new sports introduced, any historical controversies—I found the video of the Games hosted under Hitler to be especially fascinating for this reason. I must have spent a solid hour there, scrolling through every year I have been able to watch on television, a few historically important ones, and the Games hosted in any city I’ll be visiting in the future out of sheer curiosity.

The third and final level of the museum is all about the athletes. You walk downstairs and there’s a ton of mannequins dressed in the old workout clothing of each country. There are simulators for you to test balance, reflexes, speed, etc. at the rate of an Olympic athlete, and they make you feel like you are so out of shape you should never get off the couch. There are interactive booths that let you sit down and view special interviews set up with famous athletes that simulate an environment where it feels like they’re talking directly to you. There’s an entire section on doping where I learned I’d be a really bad judge of character because I took a test just to be told I have no idea how to properly spot people doping. It’s all so interesting really.

But the best part is at the very end. They have the medal room. An entire room featuring a silver, bronze, and gold from every Olympics ever. It’s so fascinating to see the basicness of Athens 1896 (the gold was unfortunately missing to be cleaned) to the intricacy of Sochi 2014.

Right before you exit, you stumble into an actual Olympic podium from Sydney’s 2000 Olympics. Naturally, I needed a picture, and you know, I obviously went for the gold. Do you blame me?

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This museum is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I love museums and often wander off on my own when exploring them because my friends aren’t as into them as I am, but this is a museum that even the most reluctant museum goer will be interested in. Heavy on interactive experiences, you decide how long you spend in there by indicating what you are interested in and exploring with that in mind. I would go back if I ever find myself in Lausanne, Switzerland again. I will say this: Lausanne is a one-day kind of trip. While it holds such importance to the Olympics it’s a very small city with not a lot to do, so the Olympics Museum is more like a stop-over on a larger journey to, say, Interlaken or Bern, but it is a stop-over that is so, so worth it.