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Sunday, June 6, 2010

National Sports Academy's Commencement Speech

The following is the Commencement Speech that I gave at my former high school, National Sports Academy's 2010 Graduation. It was a honorable opportunity which was important to me, and as I talked with parents and staff afterwards, important to them:

To get to speak to you today has created a neat opportunity to assess what I’ve been doing in the last decade since I sat where you are sitting now. I am honored to address you after having created a career in biathlon, which started exclusively at NSA, and after representing you and

the US at the Vancouver Olympics.

There is something special about reaching a culminating event in one’s life because of how deeply and internally tethered you become to the goal of reaching that event. Making it to my first Olympic team was that type of goal for me. I think it actually existed subconsciously for a lot longer than I realized, especially since I grew up with historic Olympic symbols and venues all around me here in Lake Placid. Once the goal to make The Team was declared, not exclaimed however, it became a quiet and internal contract with my self, observed more through my actions rather than discussion.


{Photo Courtesy of local photographer Todd Bissonette. A portion of the purchase of a Graduation photo goes towards NSA's Scholarship Fund}

When these momentous goals become achieved, you are released; once narrowly driven, and then openly observant. You are at a vantage point where you can look back to see how you got to where you are and look ahead to the possibilities of where you can go next.

The end of the Closing Ceremonies in Vancouver and returning back home to Lake Placid, set into motion the reflection of how an Olympic accomplishment came to be. Before I could move forward to finish the competition season and to look ahead to future years of competing and life, it was important for me to acknowledge how I achieved my goal.

If I were to look at this year, sure, I can recognize the dogged determination and patience, and the ability to seize the right opportunities when they arose. But, it took a lot more than one year and my own potential to carry an entire career from its beginning to the Olympics.

A key element to my success, both in life and in biathlon, has been my mentors; they come in all ages, appear in all the places that I live, and have been found in all phases of life that I have transitioned through; they’ve been teachers, employers, coaches, friends, neighbors, family and kids.

When I talked at NSA earlier this month, I mentioned how every few years I had reason to assess my situation and find change in order to forge ahead with new goals and aspirations. Sometimes decisions, like qualifying for the Olympics, came from inner motivation, but others like spending a year abroad, or pursuing a biathlon career, were offered, fueled and stoked by these important individuals around me. They’ve all worked so well it is as if they were strategically placed to play key roles at challenging times.

Returning to NSA a decade later is symbolic of that, because NSA is where I first began to sow the seeds of my mentor relationships.

And most notable of mentors has been the ubiquitous NSA “earth science” teacher who made nearly every interview I did leading up to the Olympics. Kris’s canny, and in retrospect pivotal, suggestion to try Nordic skiing and biathlon came at a time when I was no longer enjoying alpine ski racing and was ripe for a new challenge.

Because I thrive in this environment of support and synergy, I’ve created strategies all along the way so that these resources are never far from reach, despite my unconventional and independent path.

Simply because my mentors have been so important to me, I encourage you to find these people in your lives. Cultivate these mentor relationships because they will be invaluable when ascending life’s challenges. Just recognize how beneficial it has been to have someone to individually and intently coach you in your respective sports. Now imagine having such a resource as you develop your careers, complete your education, form families, figure out your finances, or simply figure out what in the world you will do next since today marks your final day as a student-athlete at NSA.

Essential to finding a mentor is being open to them because you might not notice them until you find you really need one. Their wealth of wisdom and support might not be tapped in to until you initiate that connection. Conversely, they might have already contributed to you without you realizing it. Often because they are ones who can more easily see your potential and passion to pursue it, and will gravitate to guiding you.

Whether you’ll go on to pursue the Olympics, or strive to be swifter, higher, or stronger in any goal you choose - that quest will be enhanced by the supportive people around you. The partnerships you form can actually help you take more responsibility for your self, because it is through these connections that you can begin to realize your potential and ability to achieve that height.

You are at a unique point at graduation time where such a concept has more clarity – okay, maybe not right this moment, but soon. So take note:

Mentors offer guidance, perspective and commitment;

they give advice, encouragement, and inspiration;

their conversations can incite, provoke;

their perspective can be a critique, but through your discussions solutions can be found.

Keep this all in mind, so that some day you too can give someone guidance, perspective, advice, encouragement and inspiration.

I’d like to nudge you in one direction where I think your presence could be greatly felt and appreciated: the youth of our Nation needs our help. One challenge that we are all facing together is the epidemic rise of childhood obesity. As we are all learning, there are a myriad of factors contributing to this health crisis and the lack of physical activity is one that we can relate to best as athletes.

  • In its simplest terms 32% of children in NY are overweight or obese, and nationwide childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past three decades – in my lifetime – well almost. That amounts to about 25 million children.*
  • In a 2007 study 47% of boys and 27% of girls in high school got at least one hour of exercise a day, 5 days a week.

We are all very fortunate to have grown up with families and in communities and schools where we were able to play enough to find a sport and pursue it as far as we have. I can speak for skiing, and am blessed to have learned a life-long sport.

But, could you imagine your self now without your sport? Actually, what I mean is, could you imagine your day without time to move, to sweat, to race, to challenge, to play, to relax, or to get outside?

The benefits of an active lifestyle are critical to creating a healthy mind and body and for the prevention of chronic diseases. For too many youth access to time and safe places to be active and play are limited or non-existent. School is often the best opportunity for kids to get up and move. And this is where I think you fit in.

Michelle Obama’s LET’S MOVE program, is new, but one of many, nation-wide initiatives targeted at improving the quality of children’s health. The primary goal of Let’s Move is to end childhood obesity in one generation – at my 40th year NSA high school reunion I wonder where we will be?

The keystone goals of Let’s Move are to :

1. increase and improve information and tools that parents need make the desired changes in their families to lead more active and healthy lifestyles

  1. improve quality of school meals, since many kids rely on school for both breakfast and lunch
  1. create greater access to and increase affordability of healthier food
  1. and, most relevant to us today, is to increase physical education in schools

Mrs. Obama cites in her opening address on the Let’s Move website that this initiative will “rely on major sports organizations” to achieve that fourth goal. For example, one of the leading actions has been by the NFL. Their new movement – NFL 60 – was launched to promote 60 minutes of activity a day for a new active generation.

National strategies and task forces can advocate for change only to a certain point because it is apparent that the necessary hard work to heal and to prevent childhood obesity needs to be community-based; it needs to be local.

With that, I have a proposal: local athletes like ourselves can be the role models, coaches, and supporters to get kids moving and having fun. We know first hand the benefits of being strong and fast. In addition, we also know how these benefits positively impact other areas of our life, improving the strength and vitality of our minds, emotions, confidence and motivation, to name just a few.

Helping the kids in your community is akin to the maxim that one person can really make a difference and it is at this point that I return the value of mentors. Kids in your communities need your help; they and their families need mentors to help guide them through this complex health issue.

For kids, you are real live student-athletes, you are the local hockey players and skiers, that they can talk to, run with and play with. They can see and feel what it means to be active. They can feed off of your energy to create and to pursue goals, even if it is just to have fun. Exposing kids to active lifestyle choices when they are young is crucial in developing life-long habits of being active. Athletes are similar to kids in that we both need to maintain healthy habits: like paying attention to how much exercise we are getting or what foods to eat to be well fueled for the day. Such behavior keeps our bodies and minds strong so that we can grow, learn and perform well. By demonstrating that it is normal to be active daily we can help kids put our Nation’s advice in to practice.

In closing, as you reset your life’s priorities, create and recreate your goals, keep this community need in mind. Through movement we YOU CAN give kids guidance, perspective, advice, encouragement and inspiration. And lastly, I wish you all the best.

Resources:

Photos coming soon - but some can be viewed on Facebook

National Sports Academy

NFL 60

Let's Move

*I learned from a pediatrician that my childhood obese and overweight statistics are probably low, primarily because these numbers are only on the rise right now and not steadily quantifiable.

2 comments:

John Spear said...

Wonderful speech, Haley. I'm happy I was there to see you deliver it.

h a l e y j o h n s o n said...

Well, I was honored to give it. Thanks.