Rich Wilson is the fastest American skipper to race solo around the world.  He completed the Vendee Globe 27,000 mile solo round-the-world yacht race this year in 107 days.  At 66 years old, he was also the oldest skipper to complete the race.  Rich is the founder of the SitesAlive Foundation, a non-profit platform to connect K12 classrooms to adventures and expeditions around the world.  He has a degree in mathematics and an MBA from Harvard and a Masters in interdisciplinary science from MIT.   He currently resides in the Boston area.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how his lifelong battle with asthma has provided the motivation to persevere both on and off the water.
  • 80% of success on the water is done prior to the start of the race.
  • Ironically, even in a solo racing voyage, the team is the most critical element of success.
  • Learn how he had not just one but two incredible strokes of luck which helped save his life when his boat capsized during one of his races.
  • Learn how he educated hundreds of thousands of kids around the world through the experiential learning platform of his sailing expeditions.
  • Excellence is knowing you put out your best effort on whatever axes are part of the equation.
  • “Most people will have a dream about what you should do but find what you dream to do and go do that one.”

Morris Robinson is a world-renowned bass opera singer.  He has regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera as well as opera houses all over the world.  He is also a highly regarded concert singer and has performed with many of the well-known symphony orchestras across the United States.  He is a graduate of the Citadel and currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • A 3 time All American football standout in college, at 6’3” and 290 pounds, he was deemed too small to make it in the NFL.
  • Learn why he quit the corporate world cold turkey to pursue a singing career.
  • If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
  • Learn how football helped prepare him for a career in the opera.
  • Talent is important but it’s not everything. You have to be willing to make sacrifices, work hard and apply yourself to achieve something great.
  • “If you have a dream, you have a right to go after it.”
  • “If you give your best at whatever you do, the product will be excellence.”

 

To some, Morris Robinson can be an intimidating presence.  He’s a big and powerful looking guy. Remember Popeye’s powerful nemesis Bluto?  Sort of like him.  There is also no pretense about Morris.  When he showed up for our interview, he was wearing workout shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.  If I told you that he’s an ex 3 time all American collegiate football player, that probably wouldn’t be much a surprise.  But if I then told you he’s now one of the great bass opera singers of our generation, you’d probably do a double take.  And Morris would have it no other way.

Morris has always relished the dichotomy of his existence – a 6’3”, 290 pound aggressive offensive lineman on the one hand and a talented performance artist on the other.  Those two seemingly contrasting personas have been a part of his identity throughout his life.  Even today with his football playing days well behind him, he certainly doesn’t “look” or “act” the part of a world-renowned opera singer (not that I personally know any of them).  An image of a polished, clean-shaven and formally dressed sophisticate driving a Mercedes may come to mind but certainly not a casually dressed, scruffy-looking former athlete driving around town in a Hummer.  That’s one of the things I love about Morris Robinson – he is who he is and he makes no apologies.

So what do you do when you finally come to the realization that your lifelong dream of playing football in the NFL isn’t in the cards?  Like most of us, you do what you feel you have to do to make your way in the world.  That is, you settle.  For Morris, that meant getting a job in corporate sales for a technology company.  That is what he did for seven tedious years until he woke up one day and felt empty inside.  Despite his success at it, the passion just wasn’t there.  He knew deep inside that it wasn’t in God’s plan for him to spend the rest of his days toiling away in corporate America.

His wife Denise also noticed that the spark was missing which is why, unbeknownst to Morris, she had secretly set up an interview for him at the prestigious Choral Arts Society of Washington.  The Director fell in love with his beautiful voice upon the very first note.  And that’s all it took for Morris to embark upon a new journey to rediscover this remarkable gift he had always had but which had laid dormant for many years.  It wasn’t so obvious at first how he could leverage his vocal talent into a career but that was beside the point.  Corporate sales had become a grind and he needed some excitement in his life.  With singing, he got just that.

With a voice as naturally sweet and powerful as his, it didn’t take long for Morris to get discovered.  But the road from salesman to opera star wasn’t an easy one. Talent notwithstanding, becoming an opera singer meant going back to school, both literally and figuratively.  He had to relearn how to sing operatically.  He had to learn how to act.  He had to learn multiple foreign languages (most operas are in Italian and German).  And he had to learn how to take critique. And lots of it.  While he had the advantage of a beautiful voice, singing opera is not something you just do.  It would be years of hard work and sacrifice and swallowing his pride to learn this difficult craft and make it as a professional opera singer.

So why did he do it?  Why did he decide to take this risk and essentially start over when he was already well ensconced in his corporate career?  Because according to Morris, “If you have a dream, you have the right to go after it.”  And he believed in himself.  His attitude from day one was that if someone else could do it, then he could do it too.  In his heart of hearts, he knew that if he wanted something badly enough and was willing to truly devote himself to it, he could accomplish anything.  No goal would be beyond his reach, even if that goal were as bold and audacious as becoming a world-renowned bass opera singer.

Doug Ammons is a scientific editor and researcher, a business owner, an accomplished author and filmmaker and a classical guitarist. But what he’s most known for is being an extreme kayaker.  He’s run several first descents in the US and overseas and soloed multiple challenging class v runs that most people would never touch, most famously the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.  Because of his many incredible kayaking accomplishments, Outside Magazine has named him one of the ten greatest adventurists over the last century. He has degrees in mathematics and physics and has a PhD in Psychology.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Kayaking extreme waters safely requires relaxation but also hyper awareness.
  • Learn why it’s important to have a “beginners mind”.
  • Water is the ultimate metaphor for life.
  • Why he takes extraordinary risks by soloing class v rapids.
  • The “Red Bullying” of America is bad for the sport.
  • If you could control everything in your life, life would be pretty boring.

 

Hearing Doug Ammons opine about water being the ultimate metaphor for life, you’d think you’re listening to a philosophy professor, not one of the most distinguished adventure athletes over the last century. Then again, this is no ordinary adventure athlete.  This kayaker, who holds dozens of first descents on treacherous Class V rivers, also holds a PhD in psychology and double degrees in math and physics.

At first blush, Doug may appear to be a study in contrasts.  His thirst for running incredibly dangerous rapids that could crush you juxtaposed with his intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge and meaning.  But that’s not how Doug sees it.  To him, it’s all a continuum.  He is a classically trained guitarist and likes to use music as a metaphor.  He speaks of the fusion of the power, the complexity and the raw emotion of the water with the music that he loves. Kayaking is much more akin to music or even poetry for Doug than it is a thrill-seeking, adrenaline-fueled sport.

But don’t be fooled. While Doug may like to wax poetic about being on the river, elite-level kayaking is an extremely demanding and potentially catastrophic adventure sport.  Any single wrong move while navigating through explosive whitewater can have fatal consequences. And he knows this reality firsthand.  Doug has lost way too many friends on the water, friends who were highly skilled, experienced and even cautious kayakers.  Doug will be the first to admit the role that serendipity plays in one’s fate on the water.  The difference between life and death can be a matter of inches.  He has had his share of near-death experiences himself.  Even with the best training and most thoughtful planning, you can only control so much.  The river has a mind of its own and cannot ever be tamed.

So what exactly does it take to kayak at the elite level? Years and years of training for starters. Of course, that goes without saying.  But what’s really critical is that you have a “beginner’s mind”, according to Doug.  That is, an openness and readiness to learn something new with each run.  No two rivers are the same and for that matter, no one river ever looks the same with each run.  Running rivers over and over will increase one’s confidence for sure but if that confidence ever turns into cockiness, it’s a recipe for disaster.

The other critical ingredient for success on the water is the ability to be both incredibly relaxed yet hyper aware at the same time.  If you’re too tense, you’re sure to make mistakes.  But you still need to be very focused and able to react without hesitation to whatever the river throws your way.  If there’s one thing that’s predictable about the water, it’s its unpredictability.  That’s what makes it so appealing but so dangerous.

While Doug’s reflective, philosophical nature pushes him far away from the adventure athlete stereotype, there’s a very good reason Outside Magazine named him one of the ten greatest adventurists over the 1900’s.  One could easily make the argument that he has done as much for the sport of kayaking as any athlete has done for any other sport on this planet.  The unexplored runs he conquered and the way he went about them – being the first and being alone – will forever brand Doug Ammons as a pioneer in kayaking and a pioneer in the world of extreme sports.

Kevin Gillespie is a chef, author and media celebrity.  He owns two of Georgia’s hottest restaurants: Gunshow and Revival.  Gunshow has been on GQ’s list of “12 Most Outstanding Restaurants”.  In 2015 he was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best Chef in the Southeast award.  He was also a semi-finalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award.  He is the author of two cookbooks: Fire in my Belly and Pure Pork Awesomeness.  He was a finalist on the sixth season of Bravo’s Top Chef cooking show and was voted the Fan Favorite for the season.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He got accepted to MIT but turned it down to pursue his passion.
  • How his appearance on Top Chef turned his restaurant and his career around.
  • Life opens doors for us all the time but we frequently walk right past them.
  • How fame has been a mixed blessing.
  • Learn how he reinvented the entire dining experience with Gunshow.
  • Hear about his plan B if money weren’t an issue and he could do anything in the world.
  • If you make great food and put smiles on customer’s faces, that’s success.

 

Some kids watch cartoons on TV.  Others watch sports.  But on most days you could find the young Kevin Gillespie glued to the TV watching any number of cooking shows.  There was something mesmerizing watching the chefs work their magic in the kitchen.  His passion for cooking only grew more intense through the years to the point where he recognized that this was more than just a passion – it was a calling.  A calling so strong that he was able to turn down one of the most prestigious universities in the world – M.I.T.  Had he listened to his parents or his friends or his teachers, he’d probably be a nuclear engineer today.  But fortunately he had the good sense to turn inward and listen to his heart.  And that’s how he knew that the only engineering he’d be doing in the future was in the kitchen.

The restaurant Kevin Gillespie was running at the time – Woodfire Grill – was struggling to fill seats and had only a month’s worth of cash left in the bank when he got that auspicious call from one of the producers of Top Chef.  He wasn’t really seeking the spotlight but he decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot.  His well-received appearance on the 6th season of Top Chef would turn his restaurant, his career and his life around.

Kevin was voted the fan favorite on the show from that season which soon translated into his being a fan favorite in Atlanta’s restaurant scene.  Woodfire Grill went from having half empty dining rooms to being booked solid months in advance.  Without a doubt, his celebrity status helped fill seats but the show did something for Kevin which was much more impactful.  Without the use of cookbooks or any lifelines, he had to rely entirely on his gut instincts to create recipes on the fly.  He learned how to cook with passion for the very first time in his career which allowed his true personality to surface in his unique culinary inventions.

Gunshow is a restaurant unlike any other.  Describing it as a Brazilian churrascaria-style steakhouse meets Chinese dim sum isn’t quite doing it justice.   In fact, it’s just about impossible to pin down its menu since there is no menu. The food options change on a daily basis and are entirely up to the whims of the chefs.  Whatever they feel inspired by is what you’ll find on the plate that evening.  This novel concept doesn’t just make the dining experience more fun and spontaneous for the guests but for the chefs as well.

Beyond the ever changing menu, Kevin has also completely flipped the service model on its head.  The chefs themselves break down that “invisible wall” to the kitchen and come pitch their inspirations directly to the guests.  After all, who better to explain the vision behind the dish than the very person who invented it.  So the chefs not only make their dishes, they explain their dishes and then they serve their dishes.  It’s a complicated system but they’ve somehow figured out a way to make it work seamlessly.

Kevin’s the most down to earth “celebrity” you’ll ever meet.  He’s finally gotten used to the lack of anonymity that comes with stardom but it’s taken a while.  He was never after fame but is incredibly grateful for the good fortune that has come as a result of it.  He doesn’t take any of his success for granted, recognizing that you’re only as good as your last meal.  And how does he measure success?  It’s not the dollars and cents or the 5 star Yelp reviews one would expect.  It’s much more simple.  If at the end of the day you feel like you gave it your all and had guests leave with huge smiles on their faces, for Kevin Gillespie, that is the definition of success.

 

 

Marquis Grissom is a former professional baseball player.  He led the National League in stolen bases in 1991 and ‘92, was a member of the National League All Star team in 1993 and ’94 and won four consecutive Golden Gloves.  He joined the Atlanta Braves in 1995 where he helped them win their first and only World Series.  In all, he played 17 years in the majors, hitting 227 homers, stealing 429 bases and finishing with a batting average of .272.   Today he runs the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, a foundation he started which teaches kids how to perform at their highest levels, both on and off the baseball field.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • How hard work at a very young age would help prepare him for a successful baseball career.
  • Learn which sport he always dreamed of playing as a professional. Hint: It’s not baseball.
  • Hear what his Plan B and Plan C were if baseball didn’t work out.
  • Hard work, discipline, focus and determination were the keys to his success.
  • How he was able to turn around a season-long slump just in time to help the Braves win its first World Series.
  • The lessons learned in baseball are life lessons kids will carry throughout life.
  • The way to not live in the past is to be even happier living in the present.

 

You don’t have to look real hard to see where Marquis Grissom’s work ethic comes from. He didn’t have a cozy lifestyle growing up.  If he wasn’t pumping water to boil for his parents and fourteen siblings, he was chopping wood, laying bricks, mixing mortar or doing a number of other odd jobs. His parents laid the foundation early on that you have to work hard to achieve anything in life.

It’s that strong work ethic ingrained in him at an early age that would underpin much of his success as a professional baseball player.  He was willing to do whatever it took to become the best he could be.  Being competitive wasn’t good enough.  He strove to be the fastest, the strongest and the smartest player on the field at every game.  That meant more batting practice, more fielding practice, more running, more conditioning and pretty much more of anything and everything to gain that extra edge. When the odds of a high school baseball player making it to the major leagues are a miniscule 1 in 5,000, it’s no surprise that it would take this kind of herculean effort to realize his dreams.

As talented and as driven as he was, he also had a good head on his shoulders.  He attended college instead of chasing the quick buck. Education was a value he always embraced, even with the lottery ticket to fame and fortune. And knowing that a prolific career in professional sports is never guaranteed, he always had a backup plan.  Had baseball not worked out, he could have been just as happy as a fireman or construction worker.

So when you’ve had a standout professional sports career with all the fame and money and glory that comes along with it, how do you prevent yourself from looking in the rearview mirror for the rest of your life?  It sounds like a worn platitude to say you just need to find something after retirement that fills you with as much passion.  But that’s exactly what Marquis did in founding the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association.

The mission of the foundation is to teach kids how perform at their highest levels both on and off the baseball field.  The staggering odds of making it as a professional baseball player aren’t lost on Marquis.  He knows the vast majority of these kids won’t ever see a dime from the sport. But if he can prepare these kids to go to college, whether or not baseball is part of the package, he’ll feel like it was worth all the effort.  And with 83% of his students going to college, mission accomplished.

You won’t find too many superstar athletes as modest as Marquis.  With all of his incredible talent and disciplined work ethic, it’s somewhat of a surprise that it’s luck to which he attributes most of his success.  It’s hard to argue that serendipity plays a role in just about any success story but in this case, it’s a very minor supporting role.  That said, for Marquis, it’s all beside the point.  For that was then and this is now.  And all that matters now is to show gratitude by dedicating this next chapter of his life to teaching the next generation the fundamentals of baseball and of life.

 

Jay Faison is the Founder and Chairman of SnapAV, a high growth technology company that designs and distributes audio-video products. SnapAV has been on the Inc 500 List for several years and was acquired by General Atlantic in 2013 for around $200 million.  He is also the Founder and CEO of ClearPath Foundation, whose mission is to accelerate conservative clean energy solutions.  Jay has received many accolades including the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeast region award and Politico’s Top 50 visionaries transforming American politics.

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • How his ADHD is a contributing factor to his entrepreneurial nature.
  • The biggest challenge in scaling the company was himself.
  • Intellectual humility is a key to growing as a leader.
  • Find a niche that others aren’t in so at least if you’re swinging for the fences, there aren’t any other batters to worry about.
  • Why he decided to give away the vast sum of his wealth while still in his 40’s.
  • How his pattern recognition allows him to see around corners where others can’t.
  • “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably not going to get there.”

 

When you’re running a small audio/video business and being overcharged and underserved by your suppliers, what do you do?  If you’re like most people, you get angry and frustrated and complain.  But not if you’re Jay Faison.  Because if you’ve got the mind of an entrepreneur like Jay, you see that broken supply chain not as a problem but as an opportunity.  And you seize upon it.  And that is how SnapAV was born.

Why didn’t anyone else see this obvious disintermediation play to create the Amazon of the audio video industry?  Jay has a unique gift of pattern recognition.  Some people who are incredibly bright can see several moves ahead on the chess board. Jay admittedly isn’t one of them.  But Jay is able to see multiple games being played at once and can choose which one has the best odds of success.  When you’re an entrepreneur trying to disrupt an industry, that intuition can help dramatically improve the odds of success.

There’s another gift Jay possesses that few entrepreneurs have. It’s intellectual humility. When you’re intellectually humble, you can recognize your blinds spots.  And when you can see your blind spots, you know how to ask for help.  In Jay’s case, he understood that the biggest hurdle in scaling his company was himself.  Like many entrepreneurs, he was great at doing but not at leading.  He had to learn how to let go and transition from being a tactical entrepreneur to being a strategic leader.  His vision, his leadership and his grit would allow him to build and eventually sell one of the fastest growing companies in the country.

For most entrepreneurs, selling the majority ownership in your business for $200 million is an accomplishment of a lifetime.  It’s a good excuse to kick back, relax and live the good life.  Buy a few vacation homes, a couple limited production sports cars and of course a private jet for good measure. You can simply rest on your laurels and not ever have to take on the monumental challenge and stress of starting something again.  But not if you’re Jay Faison.

Jay knew that the right thing to do is to give away most of his newly acquired wealth while he’s still in the prime of his life.  Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to write checks to a bunch of non-profits.  But never one to take the easy path, he contributed $165 million into a foundation called ClearPath.  It’s mission – simply convince conservatives of the importance of clean energy.  In other words, he chose to essentially launch another startup whose goals were far more daunting that those of his for-profit venture.

It hasn’t been easy.  The environment has become a very polarizing issue and while capital has provided him access to key people in Washington, convincing them to create and adopt environmentally friendly legislation has been a grind.  He’s well aware that success won’t happen overnight.  But he continues to chop away at it with the guiding philosophy that “we don’t inherit the Earth from our parents but rather, we borrow it from our children”.  It’s hard work but it’s well worth it.  Because according to Jay, when you’re trying to change the world, there’s simply a satisfaction you can’t get anywhere else.

Steve has been CEO of the Atlanta Hawks since 2014. After just his first year with the team, the Hawks led the league in annual attendance gains and set single-season franchise records for retail sales, sellouts and season ticket memberships.  Prior to joining the Hawks, Steve was the President of Turner Entertainment Networks where he oversaw the programming, marketing and strategy for TBS, TNT and several other prominent networks. Prior to Turner, he was at Coke where he served in several capacities, most recently as the Vice President of Sports and Entertainment marketing.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • If you’re selling a beverage for more per gallon than gasoline, you better infuse some magic.
  • Hear the pitch that allowed Turner to land Conan O’Brien.
  • He built TBS and TNT into mega brands in a world where brands were far and few between.
  • How he quickly turned around a drying franchise with the Hawks.
  • Two target markets – millennials and multiculturals – which were largely ignored by other sports teams became his most valuable audience.
  • Learn how to evolve a brand from awareness to likeability and “cravability”.
  • Creative ideas are his currency in the corporate world.

 

Some marketers have tons of great ideas but no ability to see the bigger picture. Other marketers are brilliant strategists but just can’t generate any novel ideas.  It is a rare marketing genius that can not only think way outside the box with an entrepreneurial  mindset but also tie those back to corporate strategy in a way that allows a company to achieve monumental leaps in brand recognition and corporate success.  That in a nutshell is the brilliance of Steve Koonin.

At Coca-Cola, he learned pretty quickly that if you’re going to offer a product with nothing more than syrup, sugar and water at a higher price than gasoline, you better infuse some magic in your marketing.  And did he ever.  Remember those dancing polar bears?  That’s Steve’s work.  Remember the Always Coca-Cola campaign?  Steve again.  Those are just two of many award winning campaigns he orchestrated that pushed the boundaries of Coke’s brand both within the U.S. and around the world.

It was that consumer packaged goods experience he gained at one of the world’s greatest marketers that allowed him to also flourish at Turner.  Back when he first joined, the cable networks which had any brand identity were mostly niche players (think Comedy Central, Animal Planet, Travel Channel).  The large networks were a mishmash of programming that had no rhyme or reason other than trying to generate large audiences.  Steve knew that the only chance to not just survive but to thrive in that industry was to take a risk and focus TNT and TBS exclusively on one genre (drama and comedy respectively).  That repositioning along with creating and acquiring exceptional content led to astronomical growth.  By the time he was done, TNT and TBS was generating more profits than all the major networks combined.

The remarkable turnaround he led at Turner might only be surpassed by the even more spectacular one he’s achieved at the Hawks.  The Hawks were a dying franchise when he signed on as the new CEO.  There was no excitement, no energy, no magic.   I wouldn’t merely say the Hawks were a weak brand.  It would be more accurate to describe the team as not having any brand.  But all that changed with Steve marketing magic.

So how does one turn around a dying franchise in record speed?  You start with knowing who your audience is.  The Hawks, along with most other professional NBA sports franchises, had mostly catered to upper middle class whites since that’s who held the disposable income.  But Steve and his team saw that there were two important demographics who love sports had been largely ignored in the past– millennials and muti-culturals.  So those became the two primary audiences to which most of the marketing would be directed going forward.

Millennials are more wired than any other generation so social media because the primary channel through which to reach them.  The engagement they’ve created with their social media campaigns has been astounding.  The Hawks are now consistently on Google’s list of the 10 most searched sports teams (the only NBA teams higher were Golden State and Cleveland) and the number 1 NBA team to follow on Twitter.   But it’s not just about reaching them.  You have to create “cravability” as Steve puts it.  That means coming up with fun, innovative, digitally-oriented programming that speaks to them in their own unique voice.  “Swipe Right Night” (an obvious play on Tinder) and “I’m having a secret love affair with the Hawks” (ala Ashley Madison) are just two of many standout examples.

Steve is full on sage advice.  The key to leadership?  Build the right environment and then get out of the way.  The key to hiring?  Focus on chemistry.  Skills can always be taught.  But what was likely the wisest and most heartfelt advice of all?  The advice he’d give to himself if he could go back in time.  Enjoy the moments more. You just never know when it’s all going to end.  My advice for Steve: heed your own advice and enjoy the moments more.  After a brilliant career spread across decades, you’ve more than earned the right.

 

Mandy-Rae is an accomplished freediver based in Vancouver, British Columbia.  She holds 7 freediving world records and 13 national records.  She owns Performance Freediving International where she teaches freediving courses to the general public.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Entering a flow state allows you to hyper focus and achieve amazing results.
  • The mammalian dive reflex is a survival mechanism we share with whales and dolphins.
  • Visualization plays a critical role in the pre-dive planning.
  • She views the 14 underwater blackouts including one trip to the ER not as deterrents but as learning experiences.
  • Success is as much mental as it is physical.
  • Working toward achieving ambitious goals should be fun and enjoyable, not feel like a chore.
  • Anyone can be trained to hold their breath for several minutes and dive deep. We all have the potential to push ourselves further than we think possible.

 

What’s so special about holding your breath under water?  Not much if your plan is to dive down 10 feet in a pool while holding your breath for a few seconds. But try going down 500 feet in the ocean while holding your breath for several minutes.  That’s what the competitive sport of freediving is all about.  It’s about as “pure” a sport as you’ll find.  No fancy equipment.  No burdensome rules.  No crowds.  It’s just you and the water and your willingness to see just how far you can push yourself.

So how is Mandy-Rae able to do it?  How is she able to submerse herself to depths fifteen times the pressure we experience on dry land while holding her breath many times the average human breath hold?  It turns out there’s both a physiological component and a mental one.

Let’s start with the physical.  There’s something known as the mammalian dive reflex that humans share with whales, dolphins and most mammalian sea creatures.  It’s essentially a survival mechanism that kicks in the minute you submerse yourself in the water. First our heart rate slows way down which reduces oxygen consumption.  Next, the blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow to the limbs while maximizing blood flow and oxygen to the most critical organs in the body – the heart, brain and lungs. Finally, the blood accumulation in the lungs acts as a protective barrier, preventing the lungs from collapsing under extremely high pressure.

As with any endurance sport, the physical element is just half the battle, sometimes even less.  The mental toughness is what separates the wheat from the chaff.  It is the mental edge which gives champions like Mandy-Rae the ability to set new world records over and over again.

First there is the pre-dive prep.  For Mandy-Rae, there is a mental shift that occurs from being a land-based human to a marine animal. It’s not just about the physiological transformation but the mental one. In her own words, you must learn to “become part of the water”.  For the next few moments, that underwater world is one in which you must feel very much at home.

Next is the visualization.  Just like with skiers going through an entire slalom race, turn by turn, in their heads before they leave the gate, so too does Mandy-Rae go through an entire dive before she ever submerses herself.  This exercise includes working through potential issues that may arise during the dive so if and when they happen, she’s already dealt with them and can be calm while working through them.

Finally, she enters what is commonly known as the flow state.  This will allow her to focus 100% of her mental abilities on the task at hand.  This will remove all external distractions as well as the internal ones – those voices in our head that give us pause and make us second guess ourselves.   In the flow state, there is no thinking and there is no feeling.  There is just doing.  It’s a hyper-focused mental state that allows her to push herself to the limits and achieve extraordinary results.

Why does she do it?  What drives her to go deeper toward the ocean depths again and again?  For one, it’s fun for her.  She truly enjoys going through the rigorous training and discipline it takes to set a new record.  She likes seeing how hard she can push herself. But just as importantly, achieving something you once thought impossible can be life changing.  She sees this in many of her first time dive students. The breakthroughs they have in the pool change them in profound ways by giving them the confidence to try new things in life and achieve other breakthroughs outside the water.

Mandy-Rae is the first to admit that she has a few physiological advantages that give her a slight edge on her record setting dives.  Her lung volume is larger than average and she’s able to equalize her ears rather easily.  But her confidence, her attitude, her mindset and her belief in herself are the advantages that any of us can share with her.  If there’s something you want in your life and you believe in yourself and apply yourself, there’s nothing holding you back.