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My Olympic-sized Hard Shell

By Nikki Stone
Sports Motivation
Updated: June 30, 2008
When you grow up making your own Olympic Podium out of tables and chairs as part of your dream of winning your own Olympic medal someday, nowhere in that equation is there a doctor telling you that you will never complete your dream and never compete in your sport again…never mind ten doctors telling you this. But, that is what happened to me two years after my first unsuccessful trip to the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.

In the year following my 1995 World Championship win, I found myself laid up and visting my tenth doctor office in as many weeks. I had learned that, through my years of continually launching myself 50 feet in the air, I had put such stress on two of my discs that they had become badly misshapen, leaking fluids, and in serious risk of bursting.

After trying every exercise and procedure possible with no improvements, I started to slip into a deep depression. Just when I thought I had hit rock bottom, I came across a picture of boxing great Joe Frazier. Joe won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1964, but did it with a broken fist. I figured that this man needed his fist for boxing as much as I needed my back for jumping. If he could come back from his devastating injury, then why couldn't I?

As a young girl, my mother had taught me that, if I wanted to reach my goals, I had to follow a philosophy that I now call "The Turtle Effect". She told me that, in order to find success, I needed a hard shell, a soft inside, and I had to be willing to stick my neck out. Now, I realized that I had to build up a hard shell to overcome my current adversity. Joe Frazier could be the initial incentive that I needed to start my own hard shell.
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We often feel we are the victims and we are the only ones going through such challenging life obstacles. It helps to draw inspiration from others who have been through similar adversities, but didn't let their challenges paralyze them. Sometimes someone else's setbacks can give us the perspective we need to conquer our own.

I renewed my search for a way to beat my predicament. Luckily, I found an eleventh doctor in Boston who thought I could overcome my spinal injury, but he told me it was going to take a great deal of work and a big risk. He convinced me that I would have to develop the muscles that supported my spine in order to compensate for its degenerated condition. It would require intense weight training and, in my current condition, it would be extremely painful.

In order to get through the pain, I found a quote by General George S. Patton, "Success is how high you bounce when you hit rock bottom". I realized that a ball with a hard shell was the best at bouncing back. So, every day that I went to the gym, I would bounce a superball to remind myself to have my own hard outer shell -- because no obstacle was too big to overcome.

I now give all my speech attendees and personal development clients a superball to remind them to bounce back when challenges present themselves. We all have the power to bounce back if we stay strong.

With my hard outer shell in place, I was jumping just one year after that. And 12 months later, at the 1998 Winter Olmpics, I would win America's first Olympic gold medal in the sport of Aerial Skiing… and prove 10 different doctors wrong.
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