Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday by Apolo Ohno

These were my favorite passages from his autobiography. I love reading biographies because you really go deep into a person’s psyche. I find that extremely interesting.

“It’s complicated and yet not. You have to figure out who it is you want to be. Not what you want to be—who.  There has to be a vision, a dream, a plan. Then you chase that with everything you’ve got. That means you have to put in the work, the practice, the training. There aren’t any shortcuts. If you want something, you have to be  100 percent clear in how you plan to get it. You have to be relentless in your pursuit.” 

“Real victory is in arriving at the finish line with no regrets. You go all out. And then you accept the consequences.” 

“THAT HUMBLES ME. It’s especially humbling when you consider how it all started. My dad came to the  United States with no money. He spoke no English. He had three cameras around his neck—one Canon and two  Nikons—figuring that if times got really, really tough, he could sell them and have maybe enough money to eat.  He made his way to Seattle. There he worked as a janitor, as a dishwasher. He thought he wanted to become an accountant and instead became a hairstylist. He raised me by himself. When I was young, he tried most of all just to keep me busy—swimming, singing, skating. Anything just to tire me out.” 

“When I was just fourteen, I was invited to train with a junior national team developmental program all the way across the country in Lake Placid, New York. I didn’t want to go. In fact, I didn’t go. And then I did. Because my dad showed me what trust, what courage, and what love are all about. Here, he understood, was an extraordinary opportunity, and when opportunity like that comes around, you have to go for it. Otherwise, what are you left looking at? Regret.” 

“The first thing to do was to get myself together and get across the line—to win silver. I did that, got my blade across the line, won the silver medal. The way I finished proves that nothing is ever over until it is, in fact, over.” 

“It turned out that I had sliced one of my thighs open in the crash. But it never occurred to me to do anything but get stitched up as fast as possible and get out to the podium so I could accept my silver medal with a genuine smile. The world was watching, kids especially were watching, and it is so important to handle yourself—no matter the situation—with class and with grace. It is more important to be a champion off the field than on;  that’s what resonates with me.” 

“Every single one of us has a path to travel. Everything happens for a reason. This I believe. Not to sound preachy or religious, but I profoundly believe God has a plan for me. I was blessed with certain gifts. Those gifts have put me in a position where I might inspire others I might touch along the way —and they, in turn, can help illuminate my path. To those who thus might suggest that athletes, especially  Olympic athletes, are not role models, I say: I see it differently. We all need something and someone to believe in. We need to work hard and dream big dreams and chase those dreams with abandon, with zero regrets.” 

“IT GIVES MY father great pleasure now when he is stopped wherever he—or we—go, and upon meeting him,  someone says, “Thank you for raising Apolo.” My dad is an extraordinary man. He wants only the best for me.  He leads by example on so many fronts. He is in some ways my best friend. He’s my best teammate, my best coach, my top consultant. He’s my biggest supporter and my biggest fan. We work as a team. We are a team. It is incredible, actually—the whole story. Single dad raises Olympic medalist? And yet, because it’s our story,  because we have lived it together, it seems maybe as if it simply was meant to be.” 

“When my father’s father was a young man, he decided to get away from those fields. He went to Tokyo to study.  He knew no one there—no family, no friends. What he had, however, was determination and belief in himself.” 

“TO SAY THAT my grandparents were disappointed in my dad’s choice would be an understatement. Their oldest son was doing—what? And going—where? To a country with which they had no meaningful connection of any sort? To say that my dad thoroughly underestimated the challenge that lay ahead of him would also be putting it gently. He had no friends in the United States. He had no family. What if he got sick? What if something dumb happened? What if there were a horrible accident? What then? “You’re only eighteen,” he was told. “Who are you kidding?” My dad’s response: “I’m going.” 

“My dad was daring. He was resourceful. He had utter confidence in himself that somehow he would figure it out. Plus, his mind was made up, and once his mind was made up, there was no second-guessing. There was no room and no time to be scared or to entertain even a sliver of doubt. “I’ll manage,” he told his parents. My dad’s first stop in the United States, cameras around his neck: Portland, Oregon. He spoke almost no English. Once in  Portland, he decided he wanted to go to Seattle.”

“So now what? There was no time for feeling woe is me, no wallowing in self-doubt. Life favors those who make decisions and who take action—who do something.” 

“Obviously, my father had big dreams for his very little boy. As I got older, as I grew to be a man, his hope was that I would literally fulfill the destiny he could foresee for me, that I would prove to be a leader and so much more, someone who would inspire those I touched to reach for their better selves. Apolo: look out, here he comes, and there he goes—there. And all of you—you’ll want to follow him.” 

“One very good thing about being a hairdresser: nearly all his clients were female. As soon as he started opening up to all these women about the situation, they would suggest this answer or that option. By simply acknowledging his fears and opening up about them, he suddenly had all this willing support. As time passed,  Dad came to understand another fundamental truth: if you stick with something and you keep doing it, you build more and more confidence. He also found he had within him an enormous well of empathy. Here were all these single moms in the same sort of boat he was, raising a child—or children—without the teamwork of being in a  partnership. And thus, with each success, no matter how minor, he understood the wholly fulfilling joy that comes with raising a child. That kept him, and us, going.” 

“When I was five, Dad bought me a bicycle and a set of training wheels. He took the bike out of the trunk of the car and put it on the sidewalk; he turned away for just a moment to grab the training wheels, intending to attach them to the frame. Just that fast, I grabbed the bike, launched myself onto the seat, and took off—my first time on the bike. It wasn’t elegant—I wobbled. But I did not fall.” 

“FOR A GOOD, long while—more or less until I was in middle school—Dad’s plan worked just fine. He worked. I went to school, did all those extracurricular things, and, along the way, turned into the classic latchkey kid. I learned how to cook—spaghetti, lasagna, chicken, burgers—and how to take care of myself. Dad and I  even worked out how I should answer the door at our town house if a stranger showed up; we had a thorough emergency-procedure plan. By age eight or nine, I already saw myself as independent in the extreme—except for the one time I was alone at home watching some monster movie and got so freaked out I had to call Dad. The monster—I can still remember—had a huge vein pulsating in his forehead; it looked like his head was going to explode.” 

“I did not hear anything like the ocean at the swimming pool when I was swimming lap after lap. But I  nonetheless got to be a pretty good swimmer. When I was twelve, I was a state champion in the 100-meter breaststroke. I held club records in the breaststroke and the backstroke. Dad dreamed of me going to Stanford  University. But I didn’t really like swimming. Swimming is very, very difficult. I swam mostly to make Dad happy. Skating—now that was different. The moment I saw in-line skates—four wheels in a straight line, not the two-and-two of a quad skate—I wanted a pair. On in-line skates, you could really go fast. I quickly became not only very good but more, an age-group national champion and record holder.” 

“Dad had zero faith that a tow truck was going to come rescue us. It was him and me; we had gotten ourselves into the situation, and now we just had to keep working at it to get out. Back and forth he rocked, back and forth,  back and forth—until finally the tires caught and we slid out onto the highway, backward.” 

“PASSION Passion is caring for something, loving something, dedicating a portion of yourself, your mind, your heart, and your soul—because you’re passionate about it. Passion is the spark for everything. By itself, passion is never enough. Just like talent is never enough. But it’s your fire starter. Without passion, you won’t do something 100 percent. That’s the bottom line. And what’s the point of doing something if you’re not doing it  100 percent?” 

“Short-track started in Europe more than one hundred years ago. As early as 1906, skaters in the United States knew about it, and in the 1920s, crowds would pack Madison Square Garden to see it. For years and years,  Canadians and Americans dominated the sport; then it caught on in the Far East, especially in China, Japan, and  South Korea.” 

“There’s such a premium in short-track on strategy and on the mental game. In the longer events, for instance, the action starts off slow and picks up speed later, the jockeying early on aimed at staying behind. If that seems counterintuitive, it’s also just plain smart. Being in front brings with it wind resistance, and dealing early in a  long race with that resistance burns up energy you might well need on the final laps.” 

“In short-track you need both endurance and speed, even if you’re not taking part in the longer races. You have to advance through heats, quarterfinals, and semifinals just to get in position to win; that takes staying power.  “That,” I said, watching the pack night after night on TV, “looks so cool.” Dad said, “Well, maybe then you  ought to try it.” Three weeks later, I was on the ice. Just having fun.” 

“That day in Eugene, I was the farthest thing from world class. I had no feel. But at least I knew, after I was told,  to sharpen my blades. So I did, and that same day I raced. I still remember one of the others I skated against: a pretty girl, with a blond ponytail, a little older than me. She would go by me, her hair blowing behind her; she might even have lapped me. I might be a national in-line champion, but in short-track, I obviously was not very good. Yet. Dad and I started to drive up to Vancouver, just across the border in British Columbia. Short-track was a much bigger deal then in Canada than in the United States; there were any number of strong skaters in  Vancouver I could watch and learn from, and there were more frequent competitions. Besides, it was for sure a  shorter drive than to Eugene.” 

“While I was on the ice, Dad sat in the stands with his video camera, taping everything. He had taped swim meets for years, so this was natural for him. When we’d get back home, I’d watch the tapes, see what I was doing wrong and sometimes even right, watch the others—Bryce Holbech, Andrew Quinn, Philippe Tremblay, and the other Canadian boys would get down—and learn.” 

“On the other hand, I was easily distractible. I am still easily distractible. My laptop, my cellular phone—they call to me even when I’m doing other things.” 

“I went through puberty early. It all started when I was just twelve. On top of which, I had to endure the ups and downs that could happen only in those years. We came back to school once after vacation, and my skin had broken out so badly it looked like I had Skittles all over my forehead. I was sitting in history class—Pacific  Northwest history—with my friend Gavin. A girl I liked—Angela, I still remember—sat down next to us. She  looked over at me and said, “Oh my God, Apolo, what happened to your face?” The shame. The embarrassment.  The humiliation and mortification. I put my head down, and it stayed down for the rest of that class. Our teacher noticed. He said, “Apolo, you’re awfully quiet today.” What was there to say?” 

“Those graffiti-covered walls and halls made what seemed like a perfect stage for break-dancing. At least it seemed that way to me. So I would dance. If you would have asked anyone back then, I was known in middle school as a kid who liked to entertain. I liked to make people laugh; I was very, very social. In the school cafeteria, there was the area where the black kids ate, the area for the white kids, the one for the Pacific  Islanders, another for the Asians. I never picked sides. I hung around the Asian kids mostly, but I bounced around everywhere. I didn’t care.” 

“Dad was becoming seriously stressed about me. What was I doing? Sports, and the success I was having in short track—Dad quietly hoped that would be enough to keep me away from my friends. As if. And now Dad and I  fought, seemingly all the time. He would threaten to send me to military school; I didn’t believe that for a  second. Meanwhile, Dad knew—he had zero doubts about this—that the company I was keeping was threatening to derail my life. The truth is, even though he knew that for a certainty deep inside him, he really had no idea how bad some of these guys could be.” 

“Don’t be tripping. Relax, dude.” I looked in the backseat of the car, and there were a bunch of television sets.  They were in the midst of robbing houses. I was in the eighth grade. At another point, these same guys had a bag with them. I asked, “What’s in the bag?” “Some weapons.” I was thoroughly scared—as I am now—of guns.  This bag held a collection of guns: 9-millimeter handguns, some .22s, some .45s. That’s the moment I asked myself: What am I doing?” 

“Dad found Jeroen Otter, who was then the U.S. national team’s senior head coach, and said to him, “I don’t know what the next step is. I don’t want Apolo’s short-track career to slow down or even come to a stop because  I don’t have the information we need to help him.” Otter knew about me. My name was circulating in short-track circles: Did you hear about the up-and-coming kid, the one from out in Seattle? Did you see that race, or hear about it, maybe it was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the kid was wearing a two-piece skin suit—or what he thought was a skin suit—an old Nike shirt that was too small and a pair of tights? The kid is thirteen, maybe fourteen, years old. And he doesn’t have, like, any money—but what he’s got is talent.” 

“We think he could be somebody.” After that, Pat went to the entrance committee and argued my case. The committee then agreed to make an exception and admit me. This all happened amazingly fast, in part because  the program was due to begin in just weeks.” 

“Dad shook his hand, looked him in the eye, looked over at me, and said, “Good luck”—as in, Good luck with this kid because you’re going to need it. Pat shot us a look that said it all: Oh, boy, what am I getting myself into?” 

“That next morning, I needed a road bicycle for bike training. Some of the athletes there had custom-made bikes,  machines worth thousands. Dad went into town and bought one for precisely $623.28. That very day, I rode the bike with the others. I didn’t feel a thing. I wasn’t tired in the slightest. I rode like an animal. Pat told Dad I  could be one of the best skaters in the world. Dad said he didn’t know if I was going to stay in Lake Placid for even three months. “If you can keep him that long,” Dad said, “I’ll be happy.” Meanwhile, Dad said to me, “If you don’t like it, you can come home in three months. At least then, that will be your choice.” 

“PAT WAS MY first real coach. It didn’t take even one full year for him to turn me into a champion. Pat was intense. He could be strict. Pat had his ways. Pat also knew what he was talking about. He was a two-time national champion. He trained with us, on and off the ice. He became a force in my life—a force for positive change. Which I needed, because for that first month in particular, I was predictably homesick; the food at the training center was predictably repetitive; and I was, predictably, tired and sore.” 

“I went to public school in Lake Placid; it’s right next to the training center. There were only about two dozen kids in the class, and so, in a change from middle school in Federal Way, I had to pay attention. That’s not,  though, why at the beginning I felt so strongly out of place there. The kids in the school were, for the most part,  white. Where was the diversity? I had grown up surrounded by Asian kids, black kids, Latino kids. Here it could seem as if everyone’s family had been in Lake Placid for generations—everyone’s except mine, of course.” 

Hence, however, the reprise of my nickname: Chunky. At some point, the sports medicine people took the body fat percentage of everyone on the junior development team. Mine was the highest on the team. I came in at 12  percent; everybody else was in the 6 percent to 8 percent range. That made me very uncomfortable. I thought, I  can beat some of these guys—and I’m fat? That somehow just didn’t seem right. This body fat test proved to be the trigger I needed. Clearly, I had skills. I had talent. I might even have a special gift. And Pat saw that. Pat hung back and let me do my thing. He didn’t apply any undue pressure. 

“Dad said, “Apolo, don’t worry about the race,” which was three days away. “You just need to get better.” I said,  “Dad—I’m going to race.” For Dad, this settled it. I had come into a new world. Maybe I truly could grow to become a serious young athlete. On race day, as the others zipped around the track in warm-ups, I glided slowly,  trying to loosen up and warm up. Every time I moved my hip, though, I felt a sharp jolt. Brutal.” 

“Pat had helped me exploit all that. And now, suddenly, I was feeling the flow. The senior world team trials were scheduled for March, in Walpole, Massachusetts, a town that sits between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.  Two weeks before the event, we were doing practice nine-lap trials. I clocked a 1:28.3; there were only a  handful of guys in the United States who went under 1:29, let alone 1:28.5. The truth is, for most of that timed nine-lap trial, I was going easy. When I was on the ice, and I was feeling it, I suddenly wasn’t worried about anything. Dad, school, girls, friends, the general angst of being a teenager—it all went away. It felt … pure. It’s why I liked the sport so very, very much. It was a departure from everything else. Even, it seemed sometimes, a  departure from reality.” 

“Overall, because of the way the point system worked, I had just won the U.S. title, making me the youngest short-track winner in American history.”

“national team, because of course I had made the U.S. team, and not the juniors but the real deal, even better. The top two from these trials were to represent the United States on the World Cup circuit—me and, as it would happen, Gabel. For Pat, for me, for my dad, here was undeniable proof: I could be somebody. The 1998 Winter  Olympics were about eleven months away.” 

“Every entity—business, nonprofit, a professional sports team, an Olympic training squad—has its own distinct culture. In this instance, a lot of things from the get-go were working against me. I was not only younger, I was very much an outsider. When the senior trials ended, the then-president of the speed-skating association didn’t come over to say hello to me or Dad or even to shake my hand.” 

“In Colorado Springs, obviously, the other skaters were older, and in some cases much older. They all knew one another, and in some cases had been friends—rivals, yes, but still friends—for years. A related piece of that dynamic: nobody had ever gotten to the top of American short-track as quickly as I had. The others had, for the most part, worked their way up, in many cases together, through the junior and senior ranks, and it’s fair to say that as a consequence, some skaters had little intention of accepting me as the number one guy on the team.” 

“For starters, this was all new to me, and I allowed myself to wonder whether I belonged in the same arena with the Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Italians, Canadians—everyone from all over. I had so much going on in my head. “Hip in,” I wrote on the skin suits we wore as racing gear. Too bad that wasn’t the only piece of advice I  had to think about, and you can’t be running down some checklist when you’re racing. Plus, it seemed that every single one of these guys, no matter where he was from, had been programmed to perform without showing any weakness or even any doubt. Did they ever get tired? If they did, would they show it?” 

“Not only that, they skated in packs that were so tight I wasn’t sure how or where or when to make my moves.  Hesitation leads to doubt, and doubt is a confidence and performance killer. And then, once again, my blades felt off. Whom was I supposed to turn to for help? A mechanic? Did we even have a mechanic? One of my friends?  None of them was there in Japan with me. Otter? It wasn’t his job to look after me and only me.” 

“The idea in short-track is to peak in the winter, for the worlds or the Olympics. But that doesn’t mean you slack off in the other months, even in the summer. Summer is when you build your base; that is, you work on your endurance and overall fitness.”

Instead of putting the focus on things I needed to do, I was messing around. I didn’t dedicate myself. There was no want in my heart. I had no clue what it really took. I went through that summer and fall giving half the effort  I had in me—if that much. I turned defiant; I mouthed off to coaches. I quit races. I quit competitions. I quit on myself and everyone around me. 

“I simply didn’t understand what it meant to become an Olympic athlete, and I didn’t understand the rarity of the gift I had, an opportunity before me that you can’t buy. I clearly had talent. And I was throwing it away. I  dragged myself to the Trials in January 1998. I showed up not wanting to make the team—at least, that’s what I  was telling myself. I didn’t even really want to skate at the Trials. I already had it fixed in my head that I wasn’t going to the Games, so why bother to show up merely to be humiliated?” 

“You have that kind of talent, an amazing talent. You have in front of you a path that you can follow, a path that  can lead you to places you can’t even imagine right now, places likely to be very different from those of your  friends back home—and maybe even a path very, very different from anyone else’s.” “You,” he said, “have found your passion. You have found your craft. You have to allow it to blossom within you.” He was talking about speed skating. And so much more. He was teaching me right then and there the most fundamental thing:  You have to dedicate your heart and soul to something. Then you go forward; you don’t look back. And you don’t hold back. You go after whatever that thing is without being afraid to fail.” 

“There was so much to think about, and yet the conclusion, to my father, was obvious. I was not there yet, and he knew the only way for me to get to that ultimate understanding was by myself; a life marked by regret was worse, way worse, than trying your best and maybe coming up short. Did I have the courage to confront that?  And if not now, when? How could he help me get to that place? It was a long, long series of plane rides back to  Seattle. The minute we would land in Seattle, he figured, was the start of a new chapter, maybe even a new life.  What was that going to look like? I needed direction. How to provide it?” 

“FINDING EMOTION As a man, as an athlete, being stoic and cold often comes with the territory. It’s a facet of a persona—the aura of invincibility. Especially when you’re younger, it may feel indisputable that you need at certain times to adopt that persona, to use it as a tool to become stronger and better. But in the end, you become truly stronger when you acknowledge that you are not invincible.” 

“Then again, as he saw it, I was at a critical juncture in my life, and there was no time like now to do what needed to be done. It was tough love, and he believed I needed a dose of that most. I was so hardheaded, so defiant that he believed it not only was the best option, it truly seemed the only option. As he saw it, I was at the top of a  cliff. I had just been kicked off, straight down. Now I would have to climb up—a steep climb, to be sure—and I  would have to do it myself. No matter how torn or defeated I was, I would have to steel myself for the climb.  And in doing the climb, I would show him I was strong. More important, I would show myself the strength I  could already wield at fifteen and unleash the potential for even more within me as I went along. In that way, my father was giving me a gift.” 

“You have a choice. I don’t care what path you go on in life. I don’t care if it’s sports or academics or business.  Whatever it is, it’s all fine by me. But whatever that is, you truly have to do it one hundred percent. Dedicating yourself to your craft—that’s what is important to me.” 

“NINE DAYS AFTER dropping me off, Dad came to pick me up. In that call from the pay phone, I hadn’t said anything to him about what decision I had made. On the car ride back home, I told him. “I want to try this,” I  said. “Are you willing,” he asked, “to really put forth a true effort? From the bone?” I told my father: “I want to  skate.” With clarity of purpose, everything suddenly seemed different. I didn’t just want to skate—I loved it. I  realized, too, that while I had to want to buy into the training, the discipline, the self-sacrifice, I needed direction and guidance, too. You truly can’t get there by yourself. I needed not only to truly and profoundly depend on  Dad for help but also to welcome those—coaches, trainers, others—who could help me along the way. “I’m in,”  Dad said.” 

“Downside: as an alternate. The two best skaters get to compete in the individual events. Four guys skate the relay. The fifth guy is typically there as insurance. The worlds that year took place in Vienna, Austria. I actually did get to skate, in the relay heats, but mostly I observed. I watched other guys skate, and I vowed I would never forget what it felt like to watch those other guys skate in races I thought I deserved to be in. The whole time I  was there, I was also making promises to myself and writing them in my journal: I’m not going to mess it up this time. When I go home, I really am going to be the different person I decided in Iron Springs I would be. I know what I want to do. I want to be the best I can be. I want to be the best in the world.” 

“In essence, my plan was to go hard and then go harder. At night, when no one was on the track, I ran three times a week at the local high school, Decatur High. When Dad came home from work, we would do what’s called dry-land training: exercises that focused on strength,  flexibility, and balance. Or we’d drive to a nearby park trail so I could in-line for mile after mile while Dad kept me company on his bike. I read books about nutrition. I cut out what seemed like every single trace of fat from my diet. I also started taking online classes, working toward my high school diploma. The months rocketed by,  and as the summer drew to a close, I went back to Colorado to report back to the team and get back on the ice.  What, I kept getting asked, happened to you? You look lean. I smiled. We went out for a training ride. I led. Pat—who was the newly appointed head coach—told me to slow down on the hills. I just kept dropping people. I  couldn’t help it. Not only was I the fittest guy there, I was obliterating every other guy in the program, hands down. I was doing double the work of everyone else, and it was easy. I was attacking the sport with a completely different mentality.” 

“Dave watched practices and workouts. Gently, with no pressure at all, he suggested that each of us start keeping a logbook—to write down goals especially, but also thoughts, experiences, anything that came to mind.” 

“No way, I thought. I had kept a journal those few days in Iron Springs, and also on occasions such as the worlds in Vienna. But in general, I didn’t see the point in setting goals or in committing to writing a continuous record of my development.” 

“Dave was undeterred. If he would win several points in a row, he would ask, “Are you losing your focus—and why? How could you handle this situation differently?” For the first time, I was being prompted to think consciously about the mental aspect of being a world-class competitor. Maybe, I decided, Dave was a pretty cool guy after all. He and I started running together in an area in the northern reaches of Colorado Springs called  Garden of the Gods. As we ran through canyons of red rock, Dave would talk about things I had never heard about before: visualization, meditation, breathing exercises. Breathing exercises? “Yes,” Dave said. “If you pay attention to your breathing, not just how often you breathe but whether, for instance, those breaths are shallow or deep, you can not only bring real focus to bear on what you’re doing right then and there, you can also teach yourself to be calm no matter what’s going on all around you.” 

“In the 1000—in the final—it was me, Dong-Sung, Fabio, and another Korean, Lee Seung-Jae. To say I was the underdog would be a gross understatement. But because of my work with Dave, my mind was ready. Even without fully understanding it, I was in the zone. With a couple of laps to go, I made a phenomenal pass to go from fourth to second, ahead of Dong-Sung, just behind Fabio. Dong-Sung not only saw it, he felt it, felt what was happening; he felt me, and I could feel his uneasiness. It was as if I could read his mind: Who is this kid?  How did he sneak into that space?” 

“They didn’t even have anyone in the race, but nonetheless they knew the sport had just changed. What’s more, it felt easy. The action all around me slowed down; I was relaxed, concentrated, confident. I was in control and in the zone. Just like Dave had suggested it all would be, could be, and should be.”

“We discussed positive affirmations. I practiced the art—and it is an art—of talking to myself in a constructive fashion. I began to visualize, to play out in extraordinary detail not just what I wanted to happen in training and races but also how I wanted such events to play out.” 

“In his gentle way, Dave was reaching a place of depth inside me. But now I was genuinely starting to see, and to understand, the potential and the power in the mental edge.” 

“The night before my first race, Dave and I went together into the arena, the Maurice Richard Arena. We walked high up into the stands. “Go sit down,” Dave said. “Pick a seat—anywhere, any row, doesn’t matter. I’m going to leave you in that seat; I’ll come back in an hour. I want you to visualize how you want the day to go tomorrow. What do you want to have happen tomorrow? Imagine potential problems. Produce solutions. Not  just what you might do or what you could do—but what you will do.” 

“the other skaters were projecting. I could literally feel it. The guy next to me, for instance, was already fatigued and just didn’t want to show it. It was like a secret whisper on a communications frequency to which only I  could be attuned.” 

“No American had ever before won a junior worlds. Dave couldn’t have been happier; Pat, too. Me, too. This race made me a firm believer, not merely in my physical skills but in the power of the mind.” 

“To use another metaphor, it’s not just letting off the gas pedal. It’s letting off the gas pedal while opening the window and the sunroof and turning the car into a convertible, and then, just to top it off, unfurling a parachute behind the car. What if my pain threshold could be ramped way, way up? Pain is temporary. Lactic acid is simply a chemical, a by-product of what happens when your muscles are working. It was obvious that a mere fifteen or twenty minutes after a workout, all that pain was gone. Other guys might say, “I can’t deal with that  pain,” or, more likely, “I don’t want to deal with it.” Or “I’m just not good at it.” I saw it as entirely within my control. Doug came back with exactly what I wanted to hear: “Let’s do it.” 

“The last question asked, “Is there any other information you think would be important for me to know in order to  help you reach your goals this season?” I wrote, “I want seven world championships, six gold medals, and to be  a legend in speed skating.”

“If, as a premise, all world-class athletes had physical talent, what could separate one guy from the rest? Since everything else had to be equal, it figured that the guy who could make the best use of the mental edge would consistently be in a better position.” 

“For me personally, I need to be much more consistent when doing my meditation, really work on how I  meditate, feel my chi more focused but relaxed at the same time. I really want to start learning chi gong and  [begin] using it every day to improve my imagery, healing, circulatory skills. I want to be at a competition, and when I am not jogging, I need to be meditating. I believe that when I prepare mentally for a workout beforehand,  I am much more efficient during the workout and I feel much more confident. On a visual basis, I am pretty good with self-talk. I think that I need to mentally start using the meditation skills for recovery. I have to learn how to push myself but at the same time be very smart about my recovery. This all leads to the Olympics. For me to become an Olympic champion I need to be doing mental work all day every day. While eating … while working or [doing] school work I really need to be focusing on the moment. Most important—consistency.” 

“Ali had insecurities—sure, he did. He admitted afterward that a lot of times before he fought, he was scared. But did he ever show it? Never. He transcended his fears. He convinced himself he was the greatest of all time and the other guy in the ring was simply—and about to be demonstrably—inferior in all ways, foolish even to dare to get into the ring with him.” 

“Read this,” Doug said to me one day, handing me The Inner Game of Tennis, the 1974 classic by Tim Gallwey,  mindful that I had a lot of time in the sauna, or back in my dorm room, to think. “Here’s what you’re looking for in this book,” Doug said. “Gallwey talks about ‘Self 1,’ the thinker, who is constantly telling ‘Self 2,’ a silent doer, what to do: bend the knees, watch the ball, follow through. Gallwey says that when you master the inner game—you confront fear, doubt, lapses of concentration, dealing with negative thought and low confidence— the scoreboard, the outer game, will take care of itself. To do that, you have to learn to control Self 1.”

“IT DAWNED ON me that summer: I wasn’t racing against other guys or other countries. Not really. I was racing against myself. If I allowed myself to be who I could be, the possibilities were endless.” 

“Truth be told, it hurt. That race hurt. But I didn’t show that to anyone. The pain was momentary. It went away,  and I was left with the satisfaction of knowing I was so strong. The next week, at the World Cup stop, the rest of the world would find out how strong I was. Now Kim Dong-Sung was in Calgary, too. Marc Gagnon. Li Jiajun.” 

“I won the 500, 1000, and 1500, and I set American records in the 500 and 1500. I crossed the line first in the  3000, too, but was disqualified after the referee ruled I had interfered with Kim. I won the meet overall title, my  second career World Cup overall, and around the rink you could see the other coaches assessing this new dynamic:” 

“We could be in big trouble. The Ohno kid is ridiculously strong this year. He can do things nobody else can do.  He is strong. He is patient.” 

“I had enough in me to hold him off and win the 3000. Later that same day, in the 5000 relay, we Americans won: me, Rusty Smith, Daniel Weinstein, and Ron Biondo, our first-ever relay world title.” 

“Osteopathic medicine, surprisingly not all that widely known, has been around since the 1870s. It is based on a  philosophy that focuses on the unity of all body parts, with the muscles and bones a key element in positive health; the emphasis is on a holistic approach and on certain manipulative treatments designed to spark the body to heal itself.” 

“Now Dad reminded me: “Shut your ears. Don’t listen to the television or the reporters. Focus on the journey and  your future.” 

“In a perverse way, it would turn out that all the publicity, though decidedly unwelcome, made for an unexpectedly positive turn. Suddenly, a lot more people knew my name.” 

“Mitt Romney, the president of the Salt Lake organizing committee, said, “Following September 11, there were some people who wondered if these Games could be pulled off. Now they seem more important than ever. They  can be a source of healing, not only for our nation but for the world.” 

“At these Games, my helmet cover—black numbers on a stretchy yellow background—said I was racer number 369. Number 369 stepped onto the ice, and the place erupted. There were tens of thousands of people in the arena, and because NBC had already featured me on TV in the pre-Games buildup, they knew what I looked like, and they chanted my name, time and again—“Apolo! Apolo!”—mixed in with the home-crowd fervor: “U-S-A! U-S-A!” It was so loud out there on that ice—outrageously loud. A crowd of 15,900 people had turned out;  this was the largest crowd to watch short-track in Olympic history.” 

“Dong-Sung especially would know how fast we were going. He would feel it. And he would see that I was so strong, so calm, so relaxed.” 

“Any doubt in your mind that, no collision, you win the gold last night?” “No doubt, no doubt. I could feel it. I  was tasting it in that last corner, going into that last corner, that I was going to have the win under my belt. But— this is short-track and, you know, maybe it just wasn’t my day to win.” Later, Dad would receive a forwarded email from James Holbrook, the arbitrator from the Trials controversy. It read, “Apolo Ohno’s humble and gracious remarks last night reflect great credit on himself, his sport, his team, and our country. I know you are  justifiably proud of this remarkable young man.” 

“Dad told me later how proud he was. He said a father can only hope that everything he has tried to instill in his son—about winning, about losing, about facing challenges—gets through. “When you stepped onto the podium  to get your silver medal,” he said, “I was so proud of who you had become.” 

“That Wednesday we glued it, stripped it down, wrapped it, and an enormous roar went up from the stands as I  took to the ice. It felt like “Welcome back, and thanks.” Ted Robinson, who was calling short-track for NBC at the Games, was truly gracious. He said on air amid the roar that the way I had handled myself had given “all of  us, even those of us much older than him, a tremendous lesson in maturity, in grace, and in Olympic  sportsmanship.” 

“I knew for a certainty that Dong-Sung’s strategy would be to go to the front early and hard. He knew I was cut,  and he was going to try to burn me out. If I did try to pass, moreover, Dong-Sung would do everything in his power not to let me pass. From his standpoint, it had to be better to lose that way than to let me pass cleanly,  because a clean pass would prove unequivocally who was stronger, and they would write about that thing in the  Olympic history books, tell that story for years and years to come.” 

“To know Asian culture is to know how important it is not to lose face. Meanwhile, Dong-Sung also knew something else, and I did, too: if I were leading, he wouldn’t be able to pass me. In October, in this very arena, in this very same race, the 1500, I had beaten Dong-Sung.”

“This wasn’t just my moment. It was Dad’s, too. It was a moment as well for everyone who had played a part in my journey. The thousands of cheering fans then transformed the moment into something so very much more.  This was, after all, only five months after 9/11; our country was coming together; it felt like everyone there was cheering not only for me but maybe for all of America. So many people wanted me to win. And I was able to deliver, the first male to win a short-track gold for America and Americans. It felt simply amazing. Really—no words. I kissed the medal.” 

“Thirty or so years after my father had left Japan, they played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Olympic Games in my honor. My father watched the American flag go up with indescribable pride. Afterward, Dad clapped and laughed and accepted congratulations. That night, he stayed with me—I was still at the Residence Inn downtown —and slept on the floor. There was the gold medal. It was right there with us. Dad held the medal. But he wouldn’t put it around his neck. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I felt the weight of memories. I felt the lightness of so many joyful emotions. I couldn’t believe it.” 

“But because I ate the way I did, I am passionate about nutrition. I see the way it can help improve people’s lives,  not just their health but how they can function each day, the way they feel about themselves.” 

“A-list athletes, dignitaries, celebrities, you name it—President Bush, Lance Armstrong, Cal Ripken Jr., Katarina  Witt. I was a nineteen-year-old from Seattle, and these sorts of people wanted to talk to me? And they genuinely wanted to hear what I had to say? Six years before, I had been hanging out with kids who might be juvenile hall regulars. Now the Utah Department of Public Safety was awarding me an official sheriff’s jacket and star?” 

“Life certainly moves sometimes in mysterious ways. On the way to the NBC studios, for an interview at the close of the Olympics, Dad and I sat still and quiet in the back of a car as soldiers and other law enforcement personnel checked it thoroughly for anything that might be amiss. This was standard operating procedure for all vehicles coming into the restricted security spaces around the Games sites—we weren’t being singled out—but it nonetheless consistently made for a tense, quiet moment or two. The soldiers would check under the hood of the car. They slid huge mirrors underneath it, checking for bombs. In this instance, as the mirrors were being put away, two police officers checked our identification as we got back into the car. Everything was quiet and official—until the passenger-side door was pulled open, one of the soldiers peering in. He recognized me instantly. He declared, loudly, “Apolo, we’re so proud of you! We’ve been watching everything you’ve done,  and we are one hundred percent behind you!”

“Back in Los Angeles, I was invited to Elton John’s Oscar party. The short-track world championships were being run at the same time, but I’d hurt my ankle in training and couldn’t compete. So, there I was: “Hello,  Elton, I’m Apolo.” “Hello, Denzel, I’m Apolo.” “Oh, hi, Halle, I’m Apolo, nice to meet you.” “We all know  who you are,” they said, “and thank you for your hard work and for winning those medals for the United States  of America.” 

“My own path proved some elemental truths: Don’t be afraid to reach. It’s okay to be unique. It’s okay to be smart. What you’re here to do is figure out what you really, really care about and then go after whatever that is with everything you’ve got.” 

“It’s okay if you aren’t born into something. You’re probably not. I wasn’t. I wasn’t born into speed skating. It doesn’t matter where you start from. Look at me. You come from a so-called broken home? What about me?  You face gang violence? Look at me. Of course, we are all products of our own environments. But we can get out. Where are diamonds found? Where is gold mined? It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. And it’s okay along the way to fail. I failed. It took that failure for me to realize what my potential was and to dedicate myself to something I truly believed in, to understand that it was going to take a whole lot more than going through the motions, no matter how talented I might be.” 

“Life will give what you ask of it. My job was to ask big, loudly, and consistently.” 

“This is why I loved Olympic sports—because of the struggle. The entire Olympic experience, the Olympic dream, the fact of being an Olympian—all of that was now in my blood, in my eyes, in everything about me. I  felt the power of the Olympic spirit. And I wanted to train as if I had nothing, as if I’d had no success. It’s why I  put my medals in my sock drawer instead of on display. I wanted to act as if I had done nothing, won nothing, yet.” 

“Hyun-Soo), who celebrated immediately after the ball hit the net by pretending he was a short-track speed skater. Everyone got the reference. It was immediately dubbed the “Ohno Celebration.” The World Cup stop in  November 2003 was in Jeonju, South Korea. It was eighteen months after Salt Lake. This would have been my first trip to Korea since the 2002 Olympics, but the controversy would not go away. I was still the guy who,  amid the victory in Salt Lake, was called “the most hated athlete in South Korea” by one Korean newspaper.”

“Even so, I really had no choice. No way could I go to Korea. “It is with great sadness and regret that I am announcing my withdrawal from the World Cup stop in Korea,” I said in a statement released a week before the event. “Although the Korean Skating Federation has proposed a security plan in great detail, it has become obvious to myself and those that I trust that my security cannot be guaranteed. It is unfortunate that a few people feel the need to make death threats against me. I am an athlete, not a politician. Cyber-terrorism is every bit as dangerous and wrong as any other type of terrorism. Without the arrest of the criminals making these threats  against me, I see no other choice but to not compete at this World Cup event.” 

“I always think it’s better for people to try to put past grudges behind them.” That Yonhap story also said of  Christina, who was born in San Jose, California, to Korean immigrants, that she was “questioned, or rather  lectured, on how Korean she is, and asked how, as the holder of a U.S. passport, she could presume to take up  the Korean LPGA’s invitation to play in the annual South Korea–Japan international match in December.” She  told the agency, “There are times I go into press conferences in Korea, and I actually feel scared.” 

“They thought they knew my tempo, my rhythm, my heartbeat. Even if they did, I would show them not a thing,  not even on days when I was hurting. They saw so little that you could almost hear the Koreans saying to themselves, This guy Ohno is so good, he’s like a machine. And in many ways, I was.” 

“The four years from Salt Lake to Torino saw enormous changes in short-track. I saw how the sport was changing. Again, I made myself a change agent. Change, for many, can be paralyzing. I embrace it. Change can be empowering. Change can put you ahead of the curve.” 

“Two years out from Torino, I made another vow: I was not going to have any pizza until after the Olympics. For me, of course, given my history, this was big. For any athlete, having a slice of pizza every once in a while wasn’t all that significant. It wasn’t about that. It was the self-discipline and mental fortitude I was proving to myself that I could exert in yet another aspect of my life.” 

“In a sport that was always one tick away from being entirely out of control, who else would have done everything he could to take charge of the things he could—and should—control to put himself in position to excel? It’s why my approach toward food and nutrition underwent such a thorough transition, and why I not only had to think about it entirely differently, I had to think about it in the first place. That is, I had to give serious thought to what and why I was eating, as well as to how and when. “Apolo,” Dave used to say, “here’s a watermelon. Everyone always says, ‘Oh, I wish watermelon didn’t have seeds’; that’s why they invented seedless melons, right? Eat this watermelon and focus on truly enjoying it even with the seeds. Don’t let the  seeds distract you.” I understood now what he was after; this was another exercise in honing and refining the power of my mind. It didn’t come easily. But I finally got to a point where I could forget about the seeds.  Instead, the experience of eating the melon became a sensory adventure into the sweetness of the fruit, the juice,  the texture, the temperature.” 

“It was just one of the reasons I loved short-track. Long-track racing, for instance, is about throwing on a pair of skates and hammering against the clock; short-track is like doing the same thing but with a hundred-pound weight on your back, with your body aligned so that the g-forces tear in the corners at your quads and your hips.  You have to be so strong—in your core, your back, your legs, your mind.” 

“In 2005 they finally wised up. To the front and catch us if you can; that became their strategy. That kind of racing would demand strength, speed, and efficiency. So my training had to change. It’s why I started working extensively with John Schaeffer.” 

“John has best been described as a bull in a cage that isn’t big enough. John’s training can be spectacularly complex. He is a published author and sought-after professor who teaches for the International Sports Sciences  Association, the organization that trains the trainers. No matter how complex, though, John’s work is often remarkably elemental. John bases his training on what you can do when he gets you. Then he takes your body to a place it has never been before, physically and mentally. He puts you in position to push yourself, your body,  and your mind to levels you would never have thought possible.” 

“BEYOND PERFECTION A coach would say, “Great race!” And I would come back with something like this:  “No, I need to do more.” I have to accept that I am forever striving for perfect. It’s part of me to my core. But I  also accept now that nothing is perfect. And it doesn’t need to be perfect. That doesn’t need to detract in any way, shape, or form from whatever it is I’m pursuing. My personal best is good enough, as long as I give it everything I’ve got. It’s too intense and too unforgiving a life if you live trying to be a perfectionist. Perfect is,  in a very real sense, unattainable. It’s a little like being on a perpetual StairMaster—the thing never shuts off, the stairs piling down and down, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but never, ever off.” 

“It’s not like I understood at all what he was doing, or how. I only knew that what he did worked—even if, on occasion, it made me wonder what special frequencies or vibrations he was attuned to, because he was definitely operating on a level of intelligence and sophistication that sometimes left the rest of us wondering, How did he know that?”

“No way. There were twelve, maybe fifteen seconds left in the race, and I absolutely turned on the jets. I went all out. Every bit of training I had ever done in my life—the time was now to bring it, and I brought it. Around the final turn, I made sure to keep to the inside. Not a chance anyone was going to slither through there. You want to get by me? Try the outside. But there wasn’t enough time left in the race for that.” 

“I flashed across the line, clearly first, and yelled, not a word, really, just a sound, “Waaah!” I threw my hands up in the air, a look of redemption, relief, gratification, joy, happiness—all of it, all mixed up, all together—across my face. It was a clean race. I had won fair and square. I had come back, beaten the odds and the obstacles. I  was the 2006 Olympic 500 champion. It was electric. It was perfect—or, at that instant, given everything, it surely seemed as close to perfect as perfect could be. Perhaps others hadn’t believed I could win this race, of all races, but I had believed in myself. And here was living proof of what faith and belief, hard work and discipline,  courage and tenacity could get you: a wire-to-wire, undisputed, unchallenged, emphatic, no-question-about-it victory.” 

“Fear kills your potential to be who you are and who you can become. The trick is to acknowledge it—and then let it go. Blocking out fear never works. You’re just closing the door. You know it’s still behind the door,  lurking. But if you open the door and greet it, you’ve made an appropriate acquaintance with that emotion: Hi, I  know you’re there, but, no, you can’t come in right now. Later!” 

“What if this was, in its way, another door? A door to my future after skating, perhaps the kick start to a  blossoming entertainment career? Even if this was… a reality show?! Even if it involved… dancing?! What did I  know, aside from break-dancing in the halls back in middle school, about dancing? My friends were calling me now. “Apolo, if you’re going to be on that show, you have to win.” I had to win? Then again, who was to say I  couldn’t learn how to dance like a master? If I put my mind to it, if I gave this 100 percent, anything was possible. Even dancing.”

books Coach Learning Motivation Purpose Well Being

davidsonhang View All →

Purpose: I create an empowering context for curious and hungry people looking for fulfillment, experiences, and creativity. We do this by developing their growth mindset, introducing self-love, and powerful group experiences. It results in people with strong boundaries, resilient mental health, and practical life skills

People leave with the ability to land their dream job, have autonomy and flexibility with their lifestyle, travel the world, and create from their heart and soul.


Davidson was once broke, insecure, low-confidence, and frustrated by doing all the wrong activities. Addicted to drugs, validation, and wallowing in self-pity. No relationship to family, and at the mercy of other people’s suggestions and opinions.

It was hell.

After spending $100k hiring different coaches, traveling the world doing workshops around the world, reading>1000 books, and through curiosity, have created the most effective system to remove people from that situation. My life’s work is to bring joy and abundance to people who as on a similar path as I was and bring back the joy and abundance of their life.

Through shared experiences and storytelling, I inspire and model behaviors that lead to a richer, more fulfilled life full of joy, experiences, passion, and ecstasy from the richness of relationships and being able to experience the depths of the human experience.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.