Gold Medal Lessons in Resilience

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Last updated: 11/10/2023

Olympian and WORKFit champion shares blueprint to success.

Navigating through life, especially for those seeking employment, can be a challenge. This led IMPACT Community Services to create the unique WORKFit program, aimed at enhancing the employability of job seekers by, among other things, honing their resilience skills.

Natalie Cook, a five-time Olympian and celebrated beach volleyball player, is a firm believer that the WORKFit program provides jobseekers with the skills they need to thrive in the workplace. Her extraordinary achievements are underpinned by resilience and a determination to achieve her goals. Nat’s journey from victory at the Sydney 2000 Olympics to her various pursuits beyond the court is an inspiring tale.

Nat will be in Bundaberg later this month where she will be guest speaker at IMPACT’s Annual Celebration on Monday, October 23 at The Waves Sports Club. In this Q&A session, Nat offers her valuable insights on how everyone can seek to apply a resilient mindset.

Tell us a bit about you and the moments that shaped your life?

I was born in Townsville in 1975 into a sporting family—mum was an infant swim teacher and dad played semi-professional football for Crystal Palace—and was encouraged by my grandparents and my parents to play lots of sport, and I did. From taekwondo, skateboarding, BMX, and basketball, to cricket, football, and swimming—you name it, I was playing and that's really what shaped me as a person.

I had a strong desire to win at everything I did, and what I've realised is that winning is a mindset or an attitude, not a score. So that is really what I built over my life as a young athlete. After moving to Brisbane for Dad’s job at the beginning of high school, I came across a notice on the school noticeboard that said volleyball trip to Canada and America, and the rest is history.

What are you most proud of and why?

Representing Australia at five Olympic Games. Walking into my first Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Atlanta in 1996 was one of the highlights of my life. And winning a gold medal on Bondi Beach in 2000 was pretty special as a reward to everyone that supported the journey and believed in me, or not. Maybe they didn't, but they supported my dream anyway because I believed in it. So, I had lots of people around me supporting that dream.

Life is full of ups and downs, and you’ve certainly achieved some remarkable highs. What advice would you give to people about building resilience and staying committed to changing their lives despite the challenges they may face?

The only thing certain in life is change. Life is uncertain and things will often change.

There’s always going to be challenges, and things may not go to plan. Serious injuries definitely posed a challenge. It's very difficult to go back to basics and do rehab and strengthening when you've been so strong and powerful.

Bouncing back and overcoming obstacles is really about focusing on something else. I have a strong vision of always focusing on what's next. A guiding question I use is “how do I make it better?”

You need goals. For me, I talk about gold medal goals. So often they're big goals, but they could be little ones.

And you need a plan. It's best to write the plan when you're in a good headspace so that when something does go wrong, you can just enact the plan. And put the right people around you to make sure you can deliver the plan one step at a time.

Often you can go two steps forward, and five steps back, so you’ll need to be flexible. Understand that it might change. Have backup plans. I call it a plan A and then I call it another plan A. So not plan B or C or D, but once Plan A doesn't quite work, then bring out the second plan A, which absolutely talks to commitment and determination to follow through on the plan.

Were there times when you doubted your abilities or questioned whether you could achieve your goals? How did you deal with self-doubt and maintain a resilient mindset?

You never get rid of fear, and you never get rid of doubt, you do it in spite of those fears and doubts. But it becomes more familiar. The first time I jumped out of an airplane, I was, excuse the French, scared shitless, very fearful. The second time I was still afraid, but I knew what was coming. So, I think it's the fear of the unknown more so, and that's where the doubts creep in.

When this happens, it's about replacing it with a positive thought, flipping it the other way. So ironically, on the day we won our Olympic gold medal, the night before I was rehearsing my winning speech, which, you know, that partly gets a lot of doubt out because you're actually going, well, when I win this thing, this is what I'm going to do.

And it just sort of propels your mind forward and pulls your body into the state of I am going to win this thing. And like I said before, winning is not a score, it's a mindset. So, you're in that winning mindset all the time and have little tricks to stay in that.

How do you continue to apply the lessons of resilience you learned as an athlete to new challenges and endeavours in your life?

We have a mantra, “once an Olympian, always an Olympian.” I am always an Olympian, always have an Olympic mindset, an Olympic mode. And when I need to go to a high performance or to the highest level, I just click into Olympic mode, which really means a focus, a commitment, a determination, a resilience.

Any final words of wisdom you would like to share?

Life is meant to be a wild ride. Let's live our best life. We are the author of our own story. Sometimes we can't control what happens, but we can control our response. So, get ready to write your own book, to create your own story, to paint your own painting. And if it doesn't quite go to plan, rip the page out of the book and write a new story.

I wish you all the best in making your story the most exciting, action packed, adventurous, humorous, or fun story possible, whatever genre you choose. But as you can probably tell, mine's action, adventure, excitement, and passion.

If you are, or someone you know is, a jobseeker looking for extra support, please reach out to the WORKFit team on 07 4153 4233 in Bundaberg or 0428 793 261 in Hervey Bay or go to WORKFit - Impact Community Services.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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