KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Jennifer Heil, who is one of Canada’s great Olympic athletes.
All of us face setbacks in life – you had a few along the way. We wish, the whole country wishes, that you got the gold medal in Vancouver. You get up there and you have the silver, how do you deal with that?
JENNIFER HEIL – It’s really interesting. If you had asked me the question, “How do you deal with the silver medal,” a year ago or two years ago I think my response would have been very different. To be honest, winning the silver medal was a gift – it was a personal gift because I didn’t know how to deal with that silver medal in the moment. The next day in BC Place when I stood on the podium in front of 40,000 Canadians, it clicked and I realized how fortunate I was to be in this position and have these opportunities to have my entire country behind me. But I still didn’t know how to make sense of the experience and it took me quite a while to figure that out.
Reflecting back, everything I did to prepare for it I prepared without compromise. I went out of my routine, I created a new structure – one that would work for me that went on to launch B2ten and has given many other Olympic athletes opportunities to train without compromise. By doing this, by forging my own path, by having the confidence to do that and having an incredible team behind me, it doesn’t matter if I brought home a gold, silver, or bronze medal because that process was the exact same.
To me I look up there and some journalists said that I had the most pressure of any Canadian athlete, excluding the men’s hockey team but they dealt with it as a team. I stood up there and had to face my fears, and I had to face that fear of not performing in those 30 seconds, to be perfect, and to me that was an incredible moment and an incredible achievement. It was the greatest achievement of my career. I mean, I look back and I can hardly believe I stood up going down that run with the amount of pressure I was feeling. It was a huge personal victory and I really feel that in sport and in the Olympics what matters is going out there. A lot of people are held back from the fear of not achieving, so to be able to go out there and lay it on the line and let go of the fear – that’s a victory and I did that in that moment.
KM – How did you let go of the fear?
JH – It’s a very interesting perspective and I have to let go of that fear every time I stand in the start gate, over a hundred starts whether it’s a world cup competition or a world championship, but it was the hardest in 2010 to let go of that fear because I had my whole country behind me and waiting for me to bring home that medal. It happened in a really unique way – I was in the start gate, this was probably 30 seconds until I was about to push out of the start gate, and I still was holding on. Then my name was announced, and they said, “Jennifer Heil from Canada” and it was like this incredible sound made its way up to me from the mountain and it was like the entire mountain vibrated and I could hear this [cheering]. That support, despite all the pressure, that support allowed me to let it go and allowed me to embrace that moment and realize what a beautiful opportunity I had and I that I had to embrace that opportunity.