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Tips From The Top: One On One With Olympic Gold Medalist Anita Nall Richesson

I spoke to Olympic gold medalist Anita Nall Richesson about her journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?  

Anita: Well, I am an avid Latin Dancer.  I love salsa, bachata and merengue dancing and would do it every day if I could.

Also, I had home births with both of my babies- that means no drugs! Both of those facts about me usually surprise people pretty good.

Adam: Looking back, what is your sharpest or most significant memory from your Olympic experience?

The disappointment I felt after my first Olympic race was by far the sharpest memory from my Olympic experience.  I entered the race as the World Record holder in the event and came out a bronze medalist. By most people’s accounts, I should’ve been happy getting an Olympic medal, but I was dead set on winning 3 golds and breaking another world record. When that didn’t happen, my world was shook.

Adam: What is something that would surprise people about the life of an Olympian?

The biggest thing that might surprise people about the life of an Olympian is that the transition from elite level competition to the ‘real world’, upon retirement, is a tough one.  

It’s challenging to go from being the best in the world at something for a long time to figuring out new skill sets while creating a whole new life.  My entire life was devoted to training and preparing for my sport so I had no idea what interested me outside of the pool. My days were scripted for over 15 years of my life.  Changing the script was a real challenge for me.

Adam: ​How did you get here? ​What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

The biggest challenge I have ever faced was the challenge of sustained high-level health.  When your health is gone, your life alters significantly, and I know this first hand.

Just one year after winning Olympic gold, silver and bronze, I began a decade of on and off illnesses that eventually got misdiagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  This persistent health struggle ultimately took me out of the sport I loved. The biggest challenge for me at that time was that my desire to compete was high, but my body’s capacity to train was extremely low due to chronic illnesses and fatigue.  

Without answers or guidance from traditional Doctors, I finally met a teacher in nutrition school that put me on a path to heal myself. Ultimately, my unrelenting quest to figure out my own health lead me to my current passion and purpose.  Now, I am committed to helping others achieve their highest health possible and avoiding burnout.

Adam: What are the best lessons you learned from the achievement of becoming an Olympian and then a gold medalist?

The achievements (along with the setbacks) of my past paved the road for my current life.  I had never been on an airplane before my first major swimming competition and by the end of my career had traveled to 14 different countries. My experiences in sport opened my eyes up to the world of possibilities and experiences I never would’ve had without the sport.

Being an Olympian exposed me to travel, business, and public speaking. It also connected me to other elite minded individuals both in sport, business, and life.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader

There are many kinds of leadership.  I’ve discovered that, outside of the pool, my gift is thought leadership.  I’ve always been a forward thinker which at times can turn people off because they might not quite be ready for my forward-thinking ideas.  

An effective leader will always trust themselves and move forward with velocity, turning their thoughts into actions. Through this process, an effective leader will push the growth of others, connect deeper with those he/she is leading, and impact people’s lives greatly.   

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Be coachable, have a growth mindset, trust yourself and have a network of people with whom you can share your thoughts.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Anita: 1.) Take care of your body and health. 2.) Create a life you love. 3.) Be present.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Anita: Ironically, I didn’t receive much advice growing up. Through trial and error, I learned that the only one responsible for me is me.  Get in tune with yourself, trust yourself to know what YOU need FOR yourself. Taking care of yourself is not selfish, it’s assurance that you’ll be more capable of leading and guiding others once your own needs are met.

Janet Evans, my Olympic roommate and friend in 1992, told me to ‘move on to the next race’ when I was disappointed with my first race in winning a bronze.  You are going to experience disappointment and failures, MOVE ON from them…the quicker, the better. Putting them in your rearview mirror, extract what there was to learn from the experience and then focus on the present moment- it’s a must for success.  

Adam: ​What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Anita: Discover your own unique gifts and share them with the world.

Adam: ​What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Anita: When I stopped swimming, I didn’t have one hobby. My whole life, every minute of my day was allocated to my sport, which was ultimately the demise of my health.  Not having anything outside of my sport made the transition out of sport very difficult for me.  I realized really fast that I had to RECREATE myself fully.

During that time, I discovered salsa dancing, scrapbooking, roller-skating and ultimately the impact of food on our health. I am a foodie, an avid cook, farm to table advocate and lover of all things food and health related!

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