Bryan Clay isn’t exactly your prototypical decathlete. He is all of five feet ten inches tall and approximately 180 pounds, a good six inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than most of his competitors. That smaller frame should be a big disadvantage. But for the better part of a decade Bryan has been proving his doubters wrong. In 2004 he won a silver medal in Athens and in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he climbed to the top of the podium. He was the gold medalist in the most demanding event in track and field, the decathlon.
And it wasn’t just Bryan’s physique that made his success unlikely. As he documents in his new book, Redemption: A Rebellious Sprit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold, Bryan’s formative years weren’t exactly a straight line to success. He writes:
“My background gave me no hope of being a professional athlete. There were no sports stars in our family, no great lineage to carry on…. I didn’t even come from an intact home; my parents’ divorce tore me up and, in my younger years, put me on a path toward almost certain criminality. The odds were in favor of my landing in jail, getting hooked on drugs, or being involved in teenage pregnancy – not in favor of competing at any level in anything.”
In spite of all of that, Bryan built a life around his faith and his wife Sarah, allowing him to put all the pieces together.
Below are some memorable quotes from the book:
p. 123 “Some people have the idea that athletes try to outperform their marks in competition… I go in thinking all I’m going to do today is what I do every single day in practice… Don’t overexert to try and get some personal best. Just execute.”
p. 125 “Every day I focus on little goals, not big ones… I think of my daily plan. Big goals can seem impossible and get in the way of accomplishing little goals.”
Getting married – a quote from his coach, Mike Barnett:
p. 153 “Bry, as important as training and the Olympics are, you can’t put your life on hold… If you put the rest of your life on hold that whole time, you’re going to be a disappointed, unhappy person if you never make it.”
p. 209 “Bryan, I do not expect you to be perfect. I just expect you to do your best. I’ll make it good enough.”
p. 184 “I did not know it at the time, but winning Olympic gold is hugely draining…. After expending yourself on such a big competition on such a huge stage, you just want a break, but you can’t get one.”
As we approach the Olympic Trials next month and the Olympic Games later this summer, I would encourage each of you to pick up a copy of Bryan’s book. If you aren’t inspired by Bryan’s story, you don’t have a pulse.
photo credit: Bryan Clay