By Marisa Bast
This summer, I attended the F.L.A.M.E. (Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere) program in Colorado Springs, Colo., an educational experience catered to minority students that is put on annually by the United States Olympic Committee. I spent four inspirational days at the training center, surrounded by an overwhelming amount of excellence -- excellence that presented itself in the form of Olympians and Olympic hopefuls, Paralympians, staff leaders, executives and 27 other college students.
The program, in its 20th year, consisted of an itinerary that was teeming with motivational presentations, leadership seminars and other workshops led by F.L.A.M.E. alumni, current and former Olympians, USOC staff and current Paralympians. Speakers included five-time Olympic medalist and basketball legend Teresa Edwards, speedskating Olympic medalist Derek Parra and Paralympic Judo medalist Dartanyon Crockett, whose story you may have seen featured on ESPN's "Outside the Lines." In conjunction with these presentations, we were able to partake in Olympic and Paralympic sport demonstrations including fencing, sitting volleyball and team handball, in addition to venturing outside the training center and visiting the beautiful Garden of the Gods, a national natural landmark featuring a magnificent set of red rock formations.
Needless to say, being a F.L.A.M.E. participant was an amazing, eye-opening and motivational experience. I was also able to gain an inside look at the U.S. Olympic committee, foster my own personal and professional growth, improve my leadership skills and communication strategies, expand my network and learn the values of hard work, integrity and perseverance from Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls and standouts.
In just four days, I was able to learn about sports, the Olympic games, various business tactics and strategies as well as the values of respect, friendship and sheer determination. My biggest takeaway from this program, however, was that hard work trumps all and is vital to one's success; in other words, you are capable of anything if you set your mind to it. As cliche as this sounds, it is 100 percent true. Hard work is blind to socioeconomic status, race, age and educational background. It rewards those who remain loyal to it, and abandons those who are fearful and shy. Hard work can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
Hearing how Olympic and Paralympic standouts like Derek Parra and Dartanyon Crockett overcame adversity, jumped over hurdles to attain success and lived like champions within and outside the boundaries of their respective sports was incredibly inspiring. They instilled a sense of passion and thirst for greatness within me simply by sharing their journeys to the Olympics, journeys laden with hardship, grit and determination.