AAU Sullivan Awards: Plummer Takes Home the Hardware.
Stanford senior Kathryn Plummer took home the AAU Sullivan Award this year.
Once every two years, the greatest athletes from around the world represent their countries with pride and compete to etch their names in the history books. This massive event is truly a spectacle, and there may be no one better equipped to break down what it takes and what the stage feels like more than Lauryn Williams. As one of only five athletes, and the first American woman, to take home hardware in both winter (bobsledding) and summer (sprinting) events, Williams can provide unparalleled advice and knowledge on the topic. So we sat down with the legendary competitor to hear all about her experiences on the global stage.
Q: How did training for a huge event like this differ from how you trained normally year-round?
A: “You don’t train any differently for the games. That’s one of the biggest pieces of advice I give to people who are training for the team. Do what you know works, don’t do something completely different. A lot of times people get poor performance at the games because they are like ‘ok, I made the team, now I have to go above and beyond.’ But the thing that helped you make the team is the thing that will help you perform while there.”
Q: Can you walk us through what your training routine looked like?
— Lauryn Williams (@LaurynCwilliams) September 11, 2013
A: “I trained roughly three hours a day, six days a week.
We would start with early morning, 6 a.m. weight room workouts, then we’d come back in the afternoon for the running portion. Depending on what day it was, it would be a harder workout or a sprint workout.
Wednesday was our recovery day, so we could regroup — which was really important. A mistake athletes everywhere make is overtraining. A lot of times, you’ll hear people say ‘you need to work smart, not hard,’ and I completely agree. You can’t work yourself to the bone and think it’s going to make you the fastest.”
Q: Competing on that stage also meant added pressure and expectations. How did you prepare mentally for that?
A: “The biggest thing for me was telling myself ‘I am good enough to be here.’ So often you second-guess yourself and compare yourself to the competition, but, in reality, mental prep is knowing you’ve done everything you possibly could to make the result go in your favor. Then you just need to go out there, relax, and realize your potential.
In my sprinting events, I often had only 100 meters. I had 11 seconds or less to make the most of my moment, so if I had spent the time thinking about what my neighbors were doing — it would have gotten me off track and the result wouldn’t have been as good.”
Q: You can give really unique insight on this since you have competed and medaled in both summer and winter events. What were the biggest differences between the two?
A: “The biggest difference between the two is the atmosphere and size. When I was on the winter team, we had around 230 total athletes representing the US, whereas just our track and field team had over 180 people one summer. So that one sport is pretty much the size of all the sports for the winter. But that smaller size helps you get to know the people better. It’s a lot more intimate of a community and more of a family environment in the winter.”
Q: How did that transition from sprinting to bobsledding come about?
A: “My track and field career was getting ready to be over and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do next in my life after sports. So I started playing with some different options and I ran into a friend at an airport. I had just read an article about her trying bobsled and asked her ‘hey, I heard you did bobsled? How did you like it?’ She had nothing but praises to say about bobsled, and what a great opportunity it was. She said ‘Lauryn, you’re fast and powerful, those are two tools you’ll need. So if I were you, I’d give it a try.’ So I did, and six months later, I was at the Games!”
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you had when you made the switch?
A: “Definitely the learning curve. Track and field is a very individual sport while bobsled is much more team-oriented. It was one of my biggest life lessons — it taught me how to compete against someone but also have their best interests at heart. You want the overall team to win. It was a very steep learning curve, and I depended on the other girls to help me so that I could be good enough to represent the USA.”
Q: As someone who has truly excelled at multiple sports, what advice would you give to young athletes who want to go down that path?
A: “It’s a great way to diversify yourself. I work in financial planning now and that’s a common term that we use, but it applies to multiple parts of your life. You want to be multifaceted so that you can give yourself different skills and strengths. The more things you expose yourself to, the better opportunities you’ll have long term. It’ll also make you more well-rounded as a person. Plus, what you learn in one sport could be useful in another.”
Q: When you look back at your career, were there any moments that really stood out?
A: “I would say in 2012, when I did my part to help the 4×100 relay team win gold and break the world record. I was part of the qualifying relay, but wasn’t chosen to participate in the finals. You would think that would be a negative experience for me, but it was kind of that redeeming moment that I realized in bobsled later: it’s bigger than me.”
“You’ve got to understand that your actual performance may not be what’s best for the team, but there are still things you need to contribute that are going to be integral to the team’s success. I felt so much satisfaction when they got around the track and I realized I had done my part.”
Q: Did you have a moment early on in your career where you realized ‘yes, I’m good enough to compete at the highest of levels?’
A: “I don’t think I necessarily did. For me, it was a constant thing that was always popping up in my head. As I built up confidence from high school to college to the pros, I was working to create that mindset that I was good enough. It was all about giving myself positive self-talk.”
Q: Take us back to those medal ceremonies – what’s it like up there with the National Anthem playing and millions of fans looking on?
— Lauryn Williams (@LaurynCwilliams) February 22, 2014
A: “It’s incredibly cool and kind of cliché to say, but there’s no real way to describe what that feels like. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that all these accomplishments and ceremonies are just moments – the whole sum is what matters the most. These are all just chapters that you’re adding to in your life. You think about all the buildup, all the practices… that’s really what that moment is about. So it’s cool to stand there on the podium and hear that anthem, and you appreciate it, but you realize that it’s part of a bigger picture.”
Q: As your athletic career started winding down, was it hard to adjust to life post-track?
A: “It was definitely very difficult. Transition is always hard for athletes, because so much of our identity is tied to our sport. We have to spend a lot of time making sure that we don’t get so tied up in the pressure of the moment and only see ourselves as an athlete. We need to spend more time on who we are as an individual, outside of sports. That gives us the best chance of transition, but there’s no way you can prepare perfectly from sport to life after sport. It’s going to be tough for every elite athlete to say ‘I am no longer that, I am now this’. But if you prepare yourself as much as possible while you’re still competing, that can make the transition much easier.”
Q: Along those lines, you founded Worth Winning, a financial advisory company dedicated to helping fellow athletes and young professionals. How did that come about?
A: “Well, I was a finance major and always had an interest in math and money. Once I got out of college, I decided to go pro (in track), but I always still had this interest in finance.
I hired a financial advisor in my own life, because I knew that was important. The problem was, the advisor didn’t do a good job of helping me organize my finances. I needed help with things like creating a budget and figuring out how much rent I could afford – and the advisor wasn’t cutting it.
I started asking my friends about stuff like this and noticed a gap. They were pretty elusive and didn’t really want to talk about it. I decided that it was up to me to be the change that I wanted to see. I wanted to take a holistic approach and look at all aspects of a person’s finances. Nobody was really focused on serving young professionals.
It’s tough for athletes because we need to plan for two retirements: one from sport and one from your job after your athletic career decades down the road. You need to be very forward-thinking about those things, and I felt like I’d be the best person to help. Who better than someone who has gone through all those same things?”
Q: Has your athletic career helped in the financial world?
A: “Oh, for sure. One of the biggest things that has helped me advance my career in the finance world has been the idea that I’m not competing individually, but that I’m trying to help the whole team. I am always open to sharing with others what I’m up to. If I can help you, I should share it. It’s not about having one right answer. The more we know, the better off we all are. A lot of the info people shared with me during the Games are things that I have now applied in finance.”
Stanford senior Kathryn Plummer took home the AAU Sullivan Award this year.
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