What does it take to become an Olympic champion? It clearly takes a lot of training. It also requires tremendous determination and a mindset that not many people possess. As such, there are plenty of life lessons that we can learn from Olympic athletes.
So, what’s the best way to become the Olympic champion of your life? Well, if you’re not sure where to start, then you’ve come to the right place. #WellnessWednesdays is a weekly Instagram interview at 19h00 SAST hosted by the founder of the World of Longevity, Gisèle Wertheim Aymés. It will help you become the champion of your life.
Danielle Brittain: Olympic Life Lessons
Dr. Danielle Brittain is the author of Warriors, and she is also the team doctor for the South African rowing team, yet her incredible journey started much earlier than that.
Her sons, Lawrence and Matthew, were the first brothers to win Olympic gold in South Africa during the Rio Olympics. This special feat came after a rough period in Lawrence’s life. This amazing reality inspired her to write a book based on Lawrence’s journey.
However, after she realized that Matthew’s journey was just as incredible, as winning a gold medal is no small feat, she made the decision to base the book on the two brothers.
That said, Dr. Brittain knew she still had to provide the backstory, which includes their father, David’s, history with rowing and attempting to enter the 1996 Summer Olympics. As such, it wasn’t long before the idea for the story grew from there.
The Warrior’s Journey
At the age of 15, Brittain was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same disease that her son Lawrence would be diagnosed with a few decades later. Nonetheless, Brittain underwent treatment and carried on with her school career.
However, the real complications came a few years later when she developed breast cancer, which she admits she had trouble coping with, psychologically and mentally. Moreover, this occurred around the same time that she joined the South African rowing team.
Mother and son’s cancer journey
While Brittain dealt with her own health concerns, she also had to grapple with the fact that her son had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sharing that the diagnosis came as quite a shock.
Brittain admits that she had an idea that something was wrong with Lawrence, yet they were shocked to find out that he had stage 4 disease, especially because he was still performing so well.
“He coped with a lot and performed incredibly well…We (as a family) are quite tough and we don’t have too many excuses for ourselves. We understand that there are no second chances and that you need to make the best of it now because you don’t know if you’ll get another chance later”
She adds that this mentality played a pivotal role in Matthew and Lawrence’s life journeys.
If there’s one attribute that we can adopt from elite athletes, it definitely has to be their resilience. Brittain shares that her upbringing, and the fact that she fell pregnant and got married at an early age, certainly played a role in making her tougher.
“We don’t let ourselves off the hook easily, and we rarely play the victim card, and we expect a lot. That said, it’s not always a good thing to be constantly tough on yourself, but that’s who we are. I think the boys being able to do what they did takes some guts, courage and some serious discipline”
Becoming an elite athlete
What does it take to win a gold medal? Admittedly, we’ve all watched an Olympic game and gone, “I could do that”, but could we actually do that?
“The hunger has to be there, and you’ve got to really want it – not your parents, or anybody else, but you have to really want it, and you have to be living that dream”
Brittain goes on to add that no dream is realized with about putting in hard work and as such, you’ll need to have a huge work ethic.
So what if you want to follow in her son’s footsteps?
Dr. Brittain tells us that if you want to be great at rowing, then you have good at anaerobic sprinting, and it takes years to perform at such a high level, adding that “you’re not here for a spring, you’re here for a marathon as it takes about 4 to 12 years to achieve that level.”
An athletic diet
Just because they showcase incredible fitness, it doesn’t mean that athletes have the healthiest diets, and that’s where Dr. Brittain comes in. Her job entails not only making the athletes healthier but also helping reduce the risk of illness, and the best way to do this, for everyone, is through diet.
“Recovery is important for every athlete and if you want to recover, you have to do the basics which are to eat well and to sleep well”. She adds that sleep is your biggest weapon, and it’s important to get at least eight hours of it.
In regards to your diet, Dr. Brittain recommends that you at least eat “80% of the time the best that you can.”
Photograph by Williams & Hirakawa—AUGUST
Mental health matters
With the likes of Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka taking a step back from their sporting careers in order to care for their mental health, it’s clear that the sporting world isn’t the easiest place to navigate.
“Elite athletes are under enormous amounts of pressure,” says Dr. Brittain, “It is a highly pressurized career and some of the mental sides of it is regularly looked over.”
Dr. Brittain shares that communities should be conscious of creating an environment that allows for athletes to speak about their mental health woes.
“We all love the stories of people winning, but it doesn’t just happen. A lot of things go wrong and a lot of things have to happen for people to able to achieve Olympic success…Parenting, overcoming difficulties and how to work as a team are just a few of the things that you’ll learn from the book”
WATCH THE INTERVIEW
The video interview with Dr. Brittain contains the entire dialogue of this interview, and you can watch it below.
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