JOEY CHEEK … TIME MAGAZINE’S 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE … OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL, SPEED SKATING, 500 METERS; SILVER MEDAL, 1,000 METERS, 2006 … WORLD SPRINT CHAMPION, 2006 … OLYMPIC BRONZE MEDAL, SPEED SKATING, 1,000 METERS, 2002 Sports, more than any other activity, has proven that a truly democratic society owes the individual nothing more than an opportunity. KEITH JA CKSON, former sportscaster 32 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME Iknew, from the first moment I could stand, that I wanted to race. I started in-line skating at ten and yes, I always wanted to win. Even as a kid, I was ultracompetitive. I was a fairly unstable, high-strung kid who was thirsty to be a champion at something. Skating looked to be my ticket because I was so good and so quick. I made it to the national level of the competition my first year on skates and I thought I had really arrived. The next year, I moved up an age group and got shellacked, never even making it out of the regional competitions.
And now I know why. Not only was I small for my age, but I didn’t train. I thought I could just go out there and win, but now I knew those days were over. THE KEY MOMENT The first time I was beaten was a sobering experience for me, and it was the last time I would let myself get too high or low after any season or race. It’s a principle I still keep with me fifteen years later. I never let myself get too big an ego because the universe will always find a way to knock you back down. It was also the last time I would race without having outworked almost everyone in training. Today, at the international level, I am not close to being the best athlete on the ice, but few work harder than me and I’m convinced that’s the reason I’ve found success. I also try to outthink my opponents. I want to be the smartest athlete in every race. SMALL GOALS, BIG RESULTS I have three technical goals that I work on every practice session. Number one: keep my back round; number two: head level; number 3: making my stroke as my right leg comes back to my body. And because I have trained so hard and in such detail, every big race feels like just another practice. Okay, we’re not speed skaters, but it’s good to know that this elite skater is still working on fundamentals. So, next time you think you’re too good to hit balls off a tee, or too old to kick a ball off a wall, think of Joey Cheek. JOEY CHEEK 33 IT HASN’T ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY . . .
The crucial moment for me came leading up to and just after the 2002 Olympics. Up until 2002, the problem was that my self-worth was tied into how I skated. I was so set on qualifying for and winning the Olympics that I would live and breathe it night and day. I’d go to bed after a great session and worry that I couldn’t repeat it tomorrow. If I had a bad practice, I thought it was the end of the world. I was not sleeping well at night. And if you don’t sleep and you worry all the time, your performance suffers. Somehow I managed to make the team and won a bronze medal, but I did not get any enjoyment out of it. I made a pledge to myself that either I quit or I untie my sense of self-worth from how I skate. And so winning the bronze was worth it because of the very valuable lesson I learned. CARE LESS, WIN MORE During the next four years, I promised myself that I’d forget about the outcome and focus on the process, the training, to see where it took me. And let me tell you, I loved the last four years. I worked through injuries and it just didn’t bother me. I refused to worry about things I could not control. I just set my own individual goals. Which weren’t shabby, considering that Joey has three Olympic medals. I found out how much I really loved the sport. It wasn’t easy, though.
I had my mom and a sports psychologist helping me with this transformation. But it paid off. The year after the 2002 Olympics, I won medals at every World Cup event and the world championships, including my first world gold medal. What was best for me, though, was that I was smiling the whole time. It was fun to skate and, oh yeah, it was great to win. THE OLYMPICS I had a great Olympic experience in 2006 and I was thrilled with the result: one gold and one silver. But I have to say I really would have enjoyed it even without the hardware. I know I would not be the person I am today if I had not been an athlete. I proved to myself I could accomplish great things. But what you do with those accomplishments really defines 34 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME you. If you want to live on, you have to try to make a lasting impact, and for me that’s all about helping people to better their lives. MY WRAP But let’s face it, the fact that he won has given him the chance to spread the wealth: the real-world gold.
He knows his notoriety, fame, and recognition will fade, but while it was fresh in the minds of the world, he wanted to use it to help someone else. And so he rallied his supporters to match what he donated to help Africanshe’s particularly committed to the Save Darfur Coalition, which is concerned about genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. What he donated is the prize money the United States Olympic Committee gives to every medal winner. For taking the gold he got twenty-five thousand dollars for his bronze he received fifteen thousand dollars; and he quickly handed it over to an athlete-driven humanitarian organization called Right to Play. His donation prompted others to match it to the tune of over four hundred thousand dollars. Joey’s not exactly living in the past. Right after the games he was accepted to Princeton and began classes in the fall of 2006. He finally has balance and, in my mind, as bright a future as any young man in America. JOEY CHEEK
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