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April 15, 2017

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A champion athlete who never gave up

PRESSURE is positive power — at least for DeeDee Trotter, twice Olympic champion and brand ambassador for EF Education First, who spoke to the company’s employees in Shanghai earlier this week.

Trotter, who won a gold medal as a member of the US women’s 400-meter relay team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, another relay gold at the London Olympics in 2012 and an individual bronze medal in 400-meter in London, told the Shanghai audience that she had to take the pressure she felt as an athlete and use it to propel herself forward and upward toward her goals.

Despite qualifying for the US Olympic team in 2008, Trotter was unable to compete due to a knee injury, and had to have reconstructive surgery, with her doctors warning her that she would likely never be able to compete at the same level again.

After that surgery, the sprinter said everyone around her had told her to retire, but her personal mantra — “I can, I must, I will” — carried her through. Following a tough couple of years of rehabilitation, training and losing races, she managed to qualify for the 2012 team. At that Games, she placed third in her individual 400m event, and gave her team a 10m lead over the rest of the field after running the first leg of the 4x400m relay.

Trotter retired in 2016 after a 13-year career as a track-and-field athlete, and is now traveling the world as EF’s ambassador and a motivational speaker, delivering talks in Stockholm, Berlin and Bogota. The definition of champion changed for her when she won her bronze medal in 2012, as even though it wasn’t a gold medal, she had given her all to achieve it.

“I gave so much of myself, I sacrificed and worked through the (physical) pain, and I became mentally stronger,” she says. “It showed me that a champion never gives up. A person who won’t stop fighting, who won’t quit on their goals, that’s what a champion is.”

While there is “no I in team,” Trotter told her Shanghai audience it is important that every team member pushes themselves to be the best they can be as individuals, so that the team as a whole can be the best.

“As a world-class sprinter, I had to be my very best, and in order to do that, I had to sacrifice, I had to communicate, I had to work extremely hard. By doing that, it didn’t matter what was in my way or what I had to overcome, it made me a better individual which made me a better person for the team,” she says.

Communication was important for the team to work together, she says.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Trotter had to do one of the hardest things she’d done in her life and pull out of her races at the last minute because her knee hadn’t healed completely and she couldn’t run.

“I had to call on one of my teammates to take the spot, and I had to tell my coaches the process wasn’t going to go the way we had planned. Nobody gives up their spot on the Olympic team — selfishly people will run, even hurt — but not at the cost of the team, not me. I made sure I gave them my honest truth, and I told them my very best could damage the team today.”

The relay team, with a replacement runner, won the gold medal in the 2008 relay race. Trotter says that as a member of Team USA, she had a responsibility to put the best out there, even if it didn’t include her.

The crowd listening in Shanghai had the opportunity to meet Trotter at the end of her speech, and to get up close and personal with her medals, which she passed around the room. With EF’s employees spread over multiple sites in Shanghai, the motivational speaker said it was vital for them to work as a team to make their collective dream work.

The four members of the US team which won the London Olympic relay had all trained in different states, with different coaches, sports agents and sponsored by different shoe companies, but came together as hard-working individuals to comfortably win the race by nearly three-and-a-half seconds.

The team ran the race in 3 minutes and 16 seconds, one second slower than the world record and the fastest time in 20 years.

The members of the relay team were competing against each other but that only made them a better team, Trotter says, because they were each working every day to be their individual best.

“The only thing we had in common was the distance that we ran and a common goal — the goal to get the gold,” she says.

“Each person is working to be the best so when the team comes together, we’re the dream team. Great things can be achieved when you do your very best, you work hard and sacrifice independently,” Trotter concludes.


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