I started and restarted this article a few times and it started getting pretty lengthy so I decided to break it into a few articles. My next post may not be on this topic but I will get the second one out soon. This is not a formula to success by any means but it is a guide to my experiences and many of the factors that led to my success.
I don’t necessarily consider myself an authority on this topic but as a Paralympic judo athlete I have enjoyed some success. I have won 4 medals at the 6 World Championships I competed in, 3 bronzes (2 individual and 1 team) and one Gold at the 1998 IBSA World Championships in Madrid, Spain. I have also competed in 3 Paralympic Games where I won 2 bronzes and 1 Gold in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. I have never felt comfortable singing my own praises but I felt I should point this out just to illustrate that I do have some familiarity with being a champion.
Because I have been a successful athlete, many athletes, both visually impaired and sighted have asked me about how I became a champion and how they can do what I have done and more. I would love to say that I am just a supremely gifted athlete but that would be quite an exaggeration. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe I have some natural athletic ability, and that certainly makes the road to athletic success little easier to travel. I believe athletic success comes from a combination of many things. Every athlete is different and needs different things but I will talk about some of the things that were most important in my athletic success and what I try to pass on to my students and the athletes I coach.
We have probably all heard hundreds of motivational quotes from famous athletes and celebrities about how winners never quit and quitters never win, or winners do what other are not willing to do, etc. Well, they are correct. One that I always liked, and I don’t know who said it first, is Ã¢â‚¬Å“Winners do what others are not willing to do!Ã¢â‚¬Â Becoming a champion requires that you make sacrifices and that you do things recreational athletes are not willing to do. My friends and girlfriends did not always understand but when I decided I was going to be the first American to win a gold medal in judo in either the Olympic or Paralympic Games, I though myself 100% into the pursuit of my dream. That did not mean I did not have fun or go to movies or out with my friends, it just meant that if you wanted me to go to dinner or to a movie it had to be after practice or whatever training session I had planned. People use to ask me what I was going to do for my birthday, and even my anniversary. If the special event fell on a judo day I would say Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m going to practice!Ã¢â‚¬Â
I always tell the story about what a roommate I had in college said one day when I wasn’t at practice. This was back in the early 90’s so cell phones were not yet necessary for survival, so when I didn’t show up for practice Mike said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Scott must have been hit by a car on his way to practice, that dude never misses practice.Ã¢â‚¬Â When he got home from practice, I called him from the emergency room and informed him that I had been hit by a car on my way to practice. He was speechless! I was hit in a parking lot by a woman who was not paying attention and I rolled across her hood then into the parking lot and up and across a median. I let her go because I didn’t want to be late for practice but I think I was in shock because the pain had not set in yet. When I was crossing the parking lot of the hospital where I eventually ended up, my bike fell apart so I locked it to a sign and walked to campus to catch the shuttle. By the time I got to campus I could not lift my arm so I went back to the emergency room and missed practice. This is an extreme example but I am just trying to illustrate that I had made a commitment to do whatever it took to be a champion and part of that commitment was never missing practice. I had a 3rd degree separation of the AC joint in my shoulder from the accident so I was off the mat for a while but I still went to practice every day, and after the first few days I would take my shoes off and get on the mat to watch my sensei demonstrate techniques.
As I said earlier, being a champion takes a combination of many things but I believe the road to success starts with a decision to be successful then making the sacrifices necessary to achieve your dreams.
I do feel that some athletes and especially parents of athletes take this too far. There has to be a balance, making sacrifices does not mean you cannot have friends or be in a relationship or go to school. I won the World Championships a little over a month after I graduated from college, and I won a Gold medal at the Paralympic Games 3 months after getting married and a gall bladder surgery. In 2003 I left the World Games a day early so I could turn in my final project in Graduate school and my 9-month-old son went to Athens with my wife to watch me fight in the 2004 Paralympic Games. With the exception of the 1998 World Championships, I was working full-time during all of this. I’m not trying to be boastful, I’m just pointing out that if you set your priorities and use your time wisely you can have a life while training. I will admit that it does make it easier that my wife was also an elite judo player, so she understood why I was spending so much time in the gym, in fact, she was usually there with me.
One more thing on making sacrifices and I’ll end this installment. I had a great sensei, Connie Lavergne, when I started judo. She was not only a former elite judo player and a great teacher, she was like a second mother to those of us who were in the judo club and were there all the time. She taught me so much and really prepared me to take the next step but when I started going to training camps and competition at higher levels she, along with my Paralympic coach, Larry Lee, told me that if I wanted to take the next step and really have a shot at the Paralympic Gold, I should move to Colorado where I could train with Larry full-time and train at the Olympic Training Center a few times a week. I am very close to my family and had a life in Lafayette, Louisiana and to be honest was a little nervous by the prospect of moving away. In my club I had become a big fish and was running many of the upper-level workouts. In Colorado, I would be a minnow in a vast ocean of sharks. What if I got there and failed?
I struggled with the decision for a while and after talking to Mrs. Lavergne and Larry, as well as my family and friends, I decided that I hade to move. I could have stayed in Lafayette and told myself I could have or would have, and maybe I still would have, but what it came down to is that I was not willing to stay there and not make it. There was no guarantee that I would make it if I moved but I would rather take the chance and fail than live the rest of my life wondering I was good enough and if I would have succeeded if I had taken the chance. The way I see it, there is not shame in failing, there is only shame in not trying.
Please do not take this in any way as a rebuke of those who are only interested in being a recreational athlete. One of the things I love about judo is that it is for everyone and I have trained with some really good judo players who were Ã¢â‚¬Å“recreationalÃ¢â‚¬Â players. This is only meant to give my perspective on what it took for me to realize me dream of becoming World and Paralympic Champion.
To finish out this installment of this series, I will give you a quote that you may have seen in my signature on other posts. As an athlete and now as a Paralympic coach, I am often asked for a bio with a personal quote and I got tired of looking for a cool quote so I come up with this one and I think it goes well with what I am talking about in this article.
Check out the latest article in this series:
What Makes a Champion Part 2 – Desire
Thanks for reading,
I’ll talk to you soon,