Note: This story is part of the new upcoming book, ‘Rings to Cubicles‘ which covers inspiring Olympians.
Greg is a renowned Olympic athlete, and many consider him the best diver in the sport’s history. The sportsman inspired many people with a history full of resilience and numerous achievements. He won five Olympic medals, thirteen world championships, forty-seven national competitions in the United States and became a sporting icon.
Despite his acknowledged success, many don’t know what he went through in his life. His life has been full of twists and difficulties since childhood. Greg had a complicated relationship with his father, often manifested in an oppressive and abusive manner. He also suffered for being different from other boys his age due to his dyslexia. Fortunately, he found a way to focus all that energy he kept inside. At nine, he discovered diving. Just two years later, he did his first of many impressive performances, fascinated the judges with a perfect ten at the Junior Olympics.
Louganis continued his impressive rise to stardom. When he was only sixteen years old, the athlete went to his first Olympic Games in 1976 in Montreal, Canada. There, he gained his first Olympic medal, a silver. Later at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USA, Greg convincingly won two gold medals, one in the 10-meter platform and the other in the 3-meter springboard. Everything was proceeding ideally in Greg’s life. All was on track.
Four years after this Olympics, Greg found out he would have to fight another battle in his life. Only six months before the Seoul Olympics, in 1988, he was diagnosed HIV positive. For a moment, he saw everything he fought for crumble to pieces. He wanted to leave everything, abandon the ship, go home and wait for his death. He decided to report to his trainer, whom he considered as a second father. He said he just found out about his AIDS and was considering returning home, but the coach encouraged him to move on, saying he would not give up on Greg. Many times in our lives, we encounter this experience when we end up unable to continue. In these dark hours, it is good to have the support of people who root for your success. This was a key role that Greg’s mentor played.
Although the severe depression affected Greg, the sport was the only thing that made him get out of bed and go for his practice. In September of 1988, he was present at the start of the Olympic Games in Seoul.
Over the course of this Olympics, Greg went through another challenge. He experienced one of the most surprising and dramatic situations in the Olympics’ history. During one of his dives, as he turned in the air, he hit his head on the platform, falling awkwardly into the water. Everyone at the arena gasped. After getting out of the water a little dizzy, he noticed blood oozing out of his head. He suffered a deep gash. Nobody knew what would happen. The organization informed Greg’s crew that he had only twelve minutes to perform another dive and get the score needed to continue in the competition.
Ron O’Brien, the coach, said: “You have already conquered many titles. You are well established in the sport and a legend for all. Everybody will understand if you cannot get back on the platform”. Despite this, Greg decided to try one more time. He told his coach, “I’m not giving up without fighting. We have been through a lot to be here.”
Then, Greg received medical attention. Five stitches on the head without anaesthesia. He returned to compete. When he went back to the same springboard that hurt him, he performed a new dive, but this time, it was perfect. That dive earned him the gold medal. And what a sweet victory that was. Greg followed this fantastic performance with a gold medal win at the 10-meter platform.
To achieve at this top-level, athletes like Greg go through many difficult times in their careers. There is no right or wrong moment for problems to happen. They just happen, and you have to deal with it. Keeping your mind calm and confident is not an easy task. A ton of emotions emerges in those moments, messing up your thoughts as if your head is inside a blender.
There will come a time when all of this will pass, but sometimes you have to be very fast in making quick decisions. Even when your first desire is to pack your things and leave without talking or looking at anyone. For sure, this occurred to Louganis. But Greg carried on, and that made all the difference.
Those impressions that once bothered and suffocated him, leaving him lost, not knowing where to go, were transformed to catalyze his energy and aim for the results. That is when he came back stronger because he understood he was not alone on the platform. He carried with him all the support and the heart of people beside him, and that gave him the strength to concentrate and perform another dive.
In our lives, we have to deal with some unexpected situations. To reduce or mitigate them, we must plan and train ourselves well, but still, we can not prevent all events. The frustration is inevitable. Later, fear comes into play, the fear of trying it again, fall again and experience all of that reaction again. Greg felt all of this. He trained a lot to avoid unplanned mistakes, like a minor misstep, that became a giant rock in his journey. Years of effort and preparation were put in doubt by a fraction of miscalculated second. The shame and fear were present, for sure. But particularly in these times of uncertainty that exceptional humans come to light and take power from where we thought there wasn’t any.
Being afraid is nothing more than the dismay that something bad will happen. It paralyzes and leaves you stuck, without walking forward, not wanting to risk yourself. We are driven by these sentiments, the reaction that blocks us from taking a step further, and this turns into a vicious cycle. You give up, then you become disappointed, and that concern puts you down. Without the will to change, then you don’t change, and so on, until the rest of your life becomes a failure. Unless you take the courage to try it again, just like Louganis did. This vicious cycle will only end if you persevere and throw yourself into your dream. This is the true meaning of life. We only keep walking and evolving if we continue to struggle for what we believe.
Get back on the springboard of your life, the same one that hurt you. This is the main message that Greg Louganis has for us.