Shaun White stood atop the mountain after winning back to back Gold Medals in the superpipe event of the Winter Olympics in 2006 and 2010. He missed the podium in 2014, taking 4th place and looking like his best days were in the rearview mirror. On February 14, 2018 White competed once again in the halfpipe event but this time as a 31 year old faced a competitive field with an average age of 21. He managed to put himself in a podium position posting a score of 94.25 but trailed the leader, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, who had put down an almost flawless run scoring a 95.25. Going out for his 3rd and final run of the competition, in true Shaun White fashion, he put down the best run of his life. White landed a combination of tricks NEVER BEFORE done in a competition, and scored a 97.75 to win his 3rd Olympic Gold in the superpipe.
Every 2 years the world tunes in to the Olympic Games with the hope of witnessing greatness. It doesn’t matter if you are the fan of the particular sports, you may wind up cheering for your country, for the underdog, or simply for the greatest displays of human potential. I look up to Shaun White as one of the greatest athletes in any sport, and these are the lessons we can all learn from his journey.
Pursue Your Passion
I have always loved the quote: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Not only is pursuing your passion a good way to lead a happy life but it is essential in achieving success. I’m not sure if any type of athlete embodies this quote more than Olympic athletes, many of them can barely make a living doing what they do. Shaun White is a rare breed of Olympian in that he has a huge net worth, but I guarantee that if you took away all the money he would still be riding a skateboard, snowboard, or surf board on a regular basis. As big of a celebrity White has become, what sticks out to me is the lack of media appearances. Of course he has his share of stardom, a few cameo’s on shows and some video games, but most of the media on him is documentaries. Why documentaries? My guess is that he’s too busy doing what he loves, so if you want a piece of him it’s gonna be on his terms, and he’ll be riding.
Mentors can fast-track your success
A good mentor can be invaluable. They know ins and outs of the industry and can take you under their wing and put you on the fast track for success. If you are going to ride a plank of wood for a living who better to mentor you than legendary skateboarder and entrepreneur Tony Hawk. At the age of 9 Shaun White caught the attention of Hawk, who befriended the young prodigy and mentored him. White made his initial pro sports debut on the skateboard scene at 17 years old winning gold medals in the Summer X games. He is poised to compete in the 2020 Summer Games in the debut of skateboarding as an Olympic Sport. The versatility to be at the top of 2 different sports puts him in a category of his own, not even super-athletes like Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson could be all-stars in both of their sports. Behind the scenes White is a successful entrepreneur, very much like Tony Hawk, with his hands in many different enterprises and his name on the cover of video games and clothing lines. If you have achieved success in any field be sure to take somebody under your wing, and if you don’t already have a great mentor, seek one out. It’s never too late.
Your competition is You
Part of greatness is understanding that there is never a moment to relax. Your greatest competition is yourself, therefore, you are always being pushed and never satisfied. In 2010 White had good enough score to win without taking a second run. He was in 1st with a 46.8 out of a possible 50. Instead of taking a “victory lap” and playing it safe, he went for it. He performed a trick (Double McTwist 1260) never before landed in competition and nailed it. He upended his greatest competitor, himself, improved his score to a 48.4 a repeat Winter Olympics Gold. Champions don’t measure themselves against their competition because they know that by doing so they are limiting their potential.
Preparation = Victory
I caught a glimpse of greatness my senior year of college in 2004, when I was fortunate enough to be on an undefeated football team. Our coach, Urban Meyer, would always tell us that “the most prepared team wins.” We believed that our preparation of weight training, film study, conditioning, and grueling practices was what gave us an edge over the competition. I thought of this quote watching a documentary on Shaun White a few years ago. He was preparing for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and trying to hit a trick that he had previously injured himself on during training. The movie detailed how he literally spent 7 straight weeks in a controlled setting, practicing the trick over and over into an airbag. I can’t help but to think how few people out there would dedicate SO much physical, emotional and mental energy toward one element of a sport just to have a chance at being a champion. I believe the relentless dedication to improvement and the commitment to train harder than others are willing to train is how the great ones prepare for victory. Do today what others won’t, so you can do tomorrow what others can’t.
In order to compete in snowboarding and skateboarding you have to be fearless. Shaun White is obviously tough, and this is most evident in his earliest years. He was born with a Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect for which he endured two open-heart operations before the age of one. White has had to overcome numerous crashes and injuries throughout his career but perhaps none as impressive as what he did this past fall. In October White was in New Zealand training for another run at Olympic gold. He had a nasty crash (video link) that resulted in a helicopter ride to the ER and 62 stitches plus surgery. Once again he conquered his fear and came back in just a few short months, qualifying for the US Olympic team in PyeongChang. We all face adversity at different times in our lives, and what I hope we can learn from watching Shaun White is that anything is possible if we just choose to keep fighting no matter what.
Last but certainly not least is the importance of giving back and living with a heart of gratitude. The 31 year is known for making charitable contributions to St. Jude’s Hospital, Boys & Girls Club, Make a Wish Foundation and the Tony Hawk Foundation. He has been able to use his talents and accolades to positively impact the lives of others which is why his Heart of Gold shines brighter than any of his other gold medals. These are some great lessons we can learn from Shaun White ‘s epic road to greatness.