You need to have a vision or a goal and work towards it. You also need to be flexible so that if something takes you off your path you need to be able to go back to the drawing board, figure out where things went wrong and start moving forward. Many times in my life I have not achieved my goals. I didn’t make me quit, it made me relook at why I wasn’t achieving it and then move forward with my new plan to achieve my goal.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mona Pretorius de Lacey.
Mona Pretorius de Lacey is a 6-time Karate World Champion, CrossFit Games athlete as well as a Commonwealth Games medalist in Olympic Weightlifting. She is currently in the South African squad for the Olympic Games in 2021 in Tokyo. Mona also has an Honours Degree in Sport Psychology as well as an Honours Certificate in Mindfulness Training. You can find her online coaching business at RAWR Strength)
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I would like to share the backstory of how I became an International athlete preparing for the up and coming Olympic Games as well as a business co-owner of RAWR Strength & as a Mental Performance Coach.
It all started at a very young age for my passion for sport. I grew up in a house where strength training was a part of our blood. My first sport I competed in at an international level where I became a 6x World Champion and a 3rd Dan Black Belt was Karate. Although sport was a big part of our life, I wasn’t always the most talented. I had to work really hard and train long hours to become a good athlete. I had to sacrifice playing with friends for training. I was away a lot for sporting competitions and together with this I had to keep my academic marks high in order to get into a good university where I could further my studies to achieve my Honors Degree in Sport Psychology. This could only be done with hard work, motivation, dedication and very good time management.
My passion as an athlete and the hard work I needed in order to achieve carried over to my current sport Olympic Weightlifting which I have been doing for 20 years. I have numerous records and international medals under my belt but my proudest would be my Commonwealth Games Medal I won in 2018.
I knew I wanted to do something that ties in both my passion for Sport Psychology (Mental skills training) and my sport. I owned a CrossFit & Weightlifting gym back in 2012 where again I had to balance being a gym owner with competing at a top level. Now I am currently seeing athletes both to improve and be a better Weightlifter as well as the mental side as a Mental Performance Coach.
I have always loved working with people and I believe my background as an athlete carries over well. I can now take what I learnt in my years of studying and combine it with what I have learnt as an athlete and a coach.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I am going to share my most interesting story as a professional athlete and how my career unfolded. I was definitely not the most talented athlete there but I was definitely the hardest worker in the room. I have had many ups and downs in my career but I took every down as a lesson. I would go back to the drawing board and start the process again to build myself up after a set-back. I never let a setback stay with me for too long because I do not like to dwell in the past, that’s why it is called the past. I knew I needed to focus on the present moment to make a success of my future. Although my journey of being an athlete isn’t over yet, I am still striving every day to be the best version of myself I can be.
It took me 18 years to stand on the podium at the Commonwealth Games, which for those that don’t know, is the 2nd biggest event to the Olympics. My first ever Commonwealth Games I was still a very young up and coming athlete. I was the youngest in our team and I ended up coming 5th which was a very good achievement for my age. That wasn’t where I wanted to leave it, I wanted to be on that podium with a medal around my neck. Just like the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games is only every 4 years. So I continued my hard work for another 4 years and qualified for the Commonwealth Games in India. I unfortunately was dealing with an injury in India and ended up not making a total. I was very sad about what happened but decided I needed to train smarter and go up a weight class. My low bodyweight with me still growing was very hard to keep so I decided to move up to the 63kg class. I continued to train really hard for the next 4 years and also got my Degree in Sport Psychology over the next 4 Years and opened up my own CrossFit & Weightlifting gym whilst working with athletes on the mental side of things as a Mental Performance Coach to help them with their sport.
4 Years later and I qualified again for another Commonwealth Games. This time in Glasgow, Scotland. I was extremely happy that I once again had a chance to show off all the hard work I have put in. With all the hard training I did and a very very busy life with work on top of that I failed to 100% look after my body and ended up training through another injury. I wanted to be on that podium so badly that I just carried on with training. When I got to the competition I had so much pain in my wrist and ended up not making another total. This was devastating to me and I would lie if I said I did not think of maybe throwing in the towel and calling it with my sport. What kept me going during these years was all the other competititions that I haven’t mentioned but I ended up doing really well in the smaller international ones but bombed out at yet another Commonwealth Games. I questioned all the hard work I put in, I could not understand why I failed when I put in 110% into every single training session. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just shine on the platform. A lot of people said to me maybe it’s time to focus on something else. You have so much going for you and career Mona, maybe you should just focus on that. I knew in my heart that I couldn’t bow out like this. This isn’t how I was raised. Like the person I am, I went yet again, back to the drawing board. This time things will be different. Surely after 16 years things will be different. I am going to make sure I listen to my body over the next 4 years working up to the next Commonwealth Games, hoping I would be chosen. Traveling overseas to compete and qualify was also very expensive for me as an athlete because we had to and still have to pay our own way to every single event. I had an amazing team who helped me raise funds to go to Malaysia to try and win gold so I can get an automatic qualification for the next Commonwealth Games in Goldcoast, Australia. I did it! This meant I could just focus until the Commonwealth Games, stay healthy and enjoy my training. I went to the Commonwealth Games in Australia and just felt different, newspapers and tv crew were interviewing me asking how I felt being in the team after 2 disappointing previous Commonwealth Games. I told them I felt different, I felt so much more ready and I felt healthy. I went into these Games in 2018 with no injuries at all. I did my best ever competition lifts, broke 3 South African Records and narrowly missed the silver medal with 1kg. I will still over the moon. I finally made it, I finally achieved my dream after 18 years in the sport.
My take aways from this, don’t give up on your dreams no matter what obstacles gets thrown your way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe my company stands out because it has been built on what I have learned and experienced as an athlete and coach over 21 years. I have taken what I have learned and turned it into an online platform so that I can help athletes become a better Weightlifter from all over the world. The same with my Mental Performance Coaching. I share my story as an athlete and I can relate to what the athletes are going through. I have also been working with corporate businesses helping their staff be better and more efficient with work whilst being more motivated. Hard work and resiliency can help you in anything that you want to be successful in. You need passion and drive to make your business a success. Just like training, you have to work smart.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Definitely my father. He was very hard on me but he also helped shape me into the person I am today. Being resilient is something he played a big part in my life. He helped me realize that you need to work hard for anything in life that you truly want. Nothing just gets handed to you on a silver platter. You have to make it work and no one can do it for you.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
My definition of resiliency is being able to make something work no matter what gets thrown your way. You put your head down and continue to work hard to achieve your dreams and goals. Being a resilient person also helps you bounce back from a setback a lot faster. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get affected by the setback because we are human after all. It just means we go back to the drawing board, see where we went wrong and continue to move forwards.
Characteristics of a resilient person in my opinion is a hard worker no matter what happens. You keep your eye on the goal and you stay as motivated as possible. You focus on what you can control rather than just worrying about all the uncontrollable out there that could affect us. You keep focused and calm during very stressful events and try and focus on the best possible outcome.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
David Goggins. He has overcome so much in his life and even with obstacles thrown his way he still focusses on what he can control and makes the best of it. He doesn’t let negativity from the outside world stop him and he sets his eyes on a goal and puts in 110% daily to achieve that goal. He doesn’t wait for things to happen but rather he makes things happen to be successful.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Definitely. I was told I could never get my Honours Degree in Sport Psychology and be a professional at the same time. When they told me that I took that motivation and made it work. In my mind I felt like I have accomplished so much more already so why can I not do both and do well at both. It was extremely hard and it took a lot of sacrifices. But I made it work. I won international medals and still completed my degree with Honours.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
It took me 18 Years to stand on the podium at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. After so many small injuries I finally got my body healthy and strong and stood on that podium. Commonwealth Games is only held once every 4 years just like the Olympics. When you fail at it, you have to wait other 4 years before you can compete in it again. After my 4th Commonwealth Games everything came together perfectly for me to break 3 South African Records, get 6 out of 6 lifts and Win a Bronze medal.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I was never the most talented athlete which means I had to work harder than others but I also believed I wanted it more than others. I put in everything I had to to be the best I can be. Before my Weightlifting career I was a Karate athlete. I failed my very first grading which was for yellow belt. A very embarrassing moment for me. All my friends passed and I was kept behind. I believe that was my defining moment even though I was only 8 years old. I could have quit but I didn’t. I took that failure and turned it into a success. I became a 6 time Karate World champion and a 3rd Dan Black Belt Karateka all under the age of 16 Years.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1stly you need to want to be successful. If you don’t want to be successful then I don’t believe that you can become more resilient. I wanted to prove to myself that I can be a better Karateka than the 8 year old girl that failed her first grading.
2ndly you need to be disciplined person. You must have that drive and motivation to work hard no matter what gets thrown your way.
3rdly you need to have a vision or a goal and work towards it. You also need to be flexible so that if something takes you off your path you need to be able to go back to the drawing board, figure out where things went wrong and start moving forward. Many times in my life I have not achieved my goals. I didn’t make me quit, it made me relook at why I wasn’t achieving it and then move forward with my new plan to achieve my goal.
4thly you need to have confidence and believe in your abilities. If you don’t believe you can do something then it will never work. If I didn’t believe that I could stand on that podium or that I couldn’t get my degree while being a professional athlete then I would have never been able to do it. It’s hard sometimes I know, but you have to believe that you have the capability to do it better than anyone.
5th and final point make sure you keep reminding yourself why you started in the first place. Of course you will face hardships and of course you might feel like quitting sometimes but remembering why you started in the first place is so important to continuing moving forward. Do it for YOU!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have always wanted to help young kids in orphanages. I have wanted to create an opportunity for them through sport by having a big space where I can train these kids and do life skill sessions with them and help these kids have a safe space and a community to grow and develop. I want to be able to give these kids a chance to become something in life and even if I can help just one of them would be amazing. Each and every child should have these opportunities and places where they feel like they have a sport family.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
David Goggins. I would love to be able to talk to such an inspiring person who have helped me this last year to keep my eye on the target and continue to pursue my Olympic Dream.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!