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What It Takes to Become an Olympian

Did you hear the one about the guy who got into the Olympic spirit so much that he tried to swim the Atlantic Ocean?

True story.

The unnamed man attempted to swim 3,600 miles from France to New York. He made it one or two miles before lifeguards picked him up. One or two miles is still quite an effort, but a two-mile swim is only .0006% of the required distance to swim the Atlantic.

Nice try, big guy.

While that swimmer went to a ridiculous extreme, many people watch the Games then set out to achieve athletic and individual goals as a result.

And that’s awesome. Setting goals and improving yourself is a big part of what Dave teaches. But, as you start to become a better swimmer, lose weight, get out of debt, or actually train for the Olympics, the key thing to remember is this: Gold medals don’t just happen.

You won’t wake up a week after you start training and suddenly run a sub-10-second 100 meters. Your fifth 200-meter swim isn’t going to make Michael Phelps shake to his core with fear.

That takes years, even decades of practice, with hours and hours of time in the gym, the pool, or the court. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously created the “10,000 hour rule”—the belief that becoming a success in any field requires practicing a specific task for 10,000 hours.

And that’s what a lot of Olympic athletes have done. They’ve made sacrifices, both incredible and not so smart (like going thousands and thousands of dollars in debt) to achieve something that few people on earth can call themselves: Olympians.

A Sacrifice That Paid Off

Gabby Douglas, who recently won gold medals for the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition and as a part of the team competition, moved 1,000 miles away from her home and family to chase her Olympic dreams and train under a world-class coach. After originally declining her 14-year-old daughter’s requests to make that massive transition, Gabby’s mother finally relented.

Obviously, this was a tough decision for Gabby, and especially for her mother, who had to make many financial sacrifices along the way as well. Her mom, Natalie Hawkins, explained it this way to Yahoo:

"Worst, gut-wrenching decision I have ever made in my entire life. Lost sleep, lost hair, earned a few grays, I cried. I went through the whole gamut of emotions, I was angry, and then I came to a place of resolve. I said, 'OK, Natalie, you have this one chance to get this right. You mess this up, it's not going to come around again. This is gymnastics.'”

Today, at just 16, Gabby is the key part of an historic Olympic team. All because she realized that it takes more than just talent to win a gold medal. It takes recognition of that talent, first, combined with self-discipline, dedication and a lot of sacrifice.

It Take More Than A Dream

She’s not the only one. Almost every athlete from every country at this year’s Olympics had to make some type of sacrifice to get to where they are. Success doesn’t come easy.

Having a dream and setting a goal is a great place to start. But, eventually, that goal must turn into action, which will eventually lead to some type of sacrifice.

If you want to swim the Atlantic, then you’ll need to do a little more than say, “Hey! I’m going to swim across the Atlantic Ocean,” and jump in. If you choose to do that, you might want to inform the nearest lifeguard, but that’s beside the point.

Bottom line: To achieve your dreams, realize that it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. But, in the end, the experience will have been worth it.

Tell us about the dreams you're working toward by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.