It doesn’t matter if he’s competing in the Olympics or on Dancing With the Stars, Apolo Anton Ohno shows us what Commitment, Focus and Perseverance look like!
Last week 23 million people watched Dancing with the Stars and saw Apolo Anton Ohno and his partner Karina Smirnoff dance the Viennese Waltz to a tender Rascal Flats song about a woman battling cancer who only feels safe in the arms of the man she loves.
“He holds her close and for a moment she’s not scared,” says Apolo before the performance. “I am going to have to get to a place where I can show emotions I’ve never shown before.”
That’s what makes Apolo so special. Last week before they went on stage he and Karina had had an argument because Karina was trying to pull more emotion out of Apolo who has difficulty expressing himself. This week he allowed himself to be vulnerable, and the three judges, Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli each rewarded him with a 10 for a perfect total score of 30.
This week instead of an elegant Viennese Waltz, Apolo and Karino did a fusion of the Cha Cha and a Pasa Doble and it was HOT, HOT, HOT!!! It was so HOT I replayed it over and over again. After they finished dancing Karina said that Apolo was really shy about taking off his shirt and that it had taken him eight weeks to finally do it. Two completely different dances – one where he had to show such tender emotion and the other that required him to be so very SEXY. Both were out of his comfort zone but he performed them like a champ.
LIFE LESSON: It’s in doing what doesn’t always come easy that we stretch and grow. When you read my interview with Apolo you’ll understand why he has trouble showing his feelings. And yet he took to heart Karina’s coaching, he dug deep, transcended his fears, and emotionally connected with his partner in front of millions of people. It doesn’t get scarier than that. Would we have been so open? How many times do we either shut down or put up our guard when someone gives us constructive criticism? We have to remember to be receptive; sometimes people can see our strengths and weaknesses better than we can. Also it’s good to remain open to new experiences.
Twenty-three million people may watch DWTS, but that pales in comparison to the 190 million people in the U.S. alone who watched the Olympics in 2002, 2006, and 2010, the years that Apolo competed as a short-track speed skater. Years of commitment, focus and perseverance prepared him for the Olympics long before he got there and helped him win two gold, two silver, and four bronze medals, making him the most decorated American Winter Olympic athlete of all time.
Apolo was comfortable competing in the world of speed skating, and like a fish out of water when it came to ballroom dancing. But he went for it anyway not knowing that it was his appearance on Season 4 of Dancing with the Stars in 2007 that would allow him to develop a different side of himself that was both sensitive and sexy. He brought the same level of commitment, focus and perseverance to the dance floor that he’d brought to the ice rink, and this time it was millions of viewers instead of Olympic judges who cast their votes and crowned Apolo champion and rewarded him with the much coveted mirror ball trophy.
Five years later Apolo Anton Ohno is once again on DWTS Season 15’s All Star Show whose cast includes previous celebrity contestants and champions who are all willing to endure the same grueling, intense rehearsal schedule in the hopes of winning.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Apolo Anton Ohno as well as another DWTS All-Star Gilles Marini. I admire both men for overcoming difficult childhoods and for having such an incredible work ethic. Apolo and Gilles spend countless hours perfecting their performances.
LIFE LESSON: For those of us who watch the show we see the struggles and injuries that happen behind the scenes but we don’t see the countless hours that go into making these dances look effortless and elegant when they step out on the stage. Nothing worth having comes easy. In this day and age it seems so many people expect instant gratification or have a sense of entitlement. You have to be willing to work hard for what you want without any guarantee that it will work out. Do what you love and approach it with pride and joy and determination. The sense of accomplishment you will experience is better than anything you could buy.
Here is my interview with Apolo Anton Ohno, a young man who inspires us to always do our best.
Marsala Rypka: What are you most passionate about in life?
Apolo Anton Ohno: I’m passionate about what the Olympics symbolizes and the ideals that surround the games that can be applied toward anything in life whether you’re an athlete, a scholar, a writer, or a businessman. In America, people want to see someone win and someone lose, but the Olympics are about so much more than that. It’s about people being allowed to play and carry that struggle further, regardless of the outcome. A motto of the Olympics is “Citius Altius Fortius,” which means “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” I love so much that it doesn’t say anything about winning or losing. Faster, higher, stronger can be applied to anything we do while we walk this earth. It’s perfect because those three words encourage athletes to dig deep, come prepared, and give their absolute best and view that effort as victory in itself.
Ultimately, I can’t control whether I win or lose. When it comes down to it, it’s not up to me. But if I come prepared and give 100 percent, then I can walk away from anything in life with my head held high. Maybe it just wasn’t my day; if it was, then I can celebrate. But if it wasn’t then I can learn from that and go on to the next thing.
AAO: My parents divorced when I was an infant and I was raised by my father who came to the United States with only a camera around his neck when he was 18 wanting to pursue the American Dream. He worked 12 hours a day and ended up owning a hair salon in Seattle. He had no family in the U.S. to help him take care of me, so he did his best to keep me busy by getting me involved with competitive swimming and quad-speed roller skating at the age of six.
Growing up I would go over to my friends’ homes and their parents were the servants. The kids would snap their fingers and there would be the food. Of course I didn’t want to go home to my father who was a strict disciplinarian who believed in hard work and respect. I’ve since learned that parents need to make the hard decisions about their children’s lives, but at the time I was a rebellious teenager, who even ran away.
MR: In fact your father was at his wit’s end, and he brought you into the wilderness to help you come to terms with yourself.
AAO: Growing up I had no direction, and I was always fighting with my dad. If he said red, I would say blue, if he said white, I’d say black. Not because it was right or wrong, just because I wanted to fight. As a kid I had tons of energy. I was a strong personality who wanted to do what I wanted to do, who thought I knew more than the world.
Obviously that wasn’t the case, but at the time I thought I was always right. My dad didn’t see me putting forth my best effort toward anything. It was 10 percent here, 10 percent there. He didn’t care what I did in life as long as I gave it 100 percent. I had no idea what I wanted to do so my dad dropped me off at this cabin for a week that’s off the coast of Washington, about three-and-a-half hours from Seattle. The cabin was very isolated. I had food and I knew the area because I’d gone there for ten plus years, but there was no TV, no phone, no nothing. It sounds funny, but I was basically soul-searching at the age of 14, trying to find out who I was and what I wanted to do. It was tough love on my dad’s part. I was at a tipping point and I had to decide which way to go; to pursue the dream of the Olympics or go home.
I learned that no matter what path or decision you take, you don’t know what the end result is going to be. You’re looking up at that big mountain, but you can’t see the peak because it’s hazy in the clouds. In life we don’t know what the future’s going to hold, but we know that there’s a mountain to climb and the only thing we can do is keep looking up and keep climbing.
MR:What makes you angry?
AAO: Laziness or lack of trying.
MR: Who helped you turn your life around?
AAO: My close friend and mentor, David Creswell. I met him when I was about 15 and he was 21. He was working with the U.S. Short Track team as a sports psychologist, helping balance some of the kids’ lifestyles, teaching them to channel their energy towards techniques like visualization, imagery and healing. He showed me how to look inside myself and face my own demons. He taught me how to quiet my mind, which has been so valuable, especially in our crazy world. When he first started talking to me, I think we were playing badminton, and I was so competitive, I had to win every point. About halfway through I’d always lose focus and make a mistake and he would make these insinuating remarks like, ‘How do you feel about that last shot?’ He’d drive me freaking crazy. I started reading books like “The Odyssey: A Modern” Sequel” by a Greek poet named Nilos Kazantzakis, who also wrote “Zorba the Greek” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” which were both made into movies. Some of his philosophy on life is un-be-lieve-able.
AAO: The best thing was showing people that anything is possible. If you put your mind toward something you can do it. The worst thing was the amount of time it took from my life. We would train from about 10:00 a.m. until midnight.
MR: How did that compare with your training routine for the Olympics?
AAO: They were both insane. For the Olympics I’d be at the ice rink Monday through Saturday from about 7:00 am. until noon, and then again from 2:30 p.m. till 6:30 p.m. We’d skate every morning for about 2 ½ hours and we’d also so strength training, running, biking, jumps, sprints, intervals, dry-line training, drills, weights, and then we’d skate two hours in the evening.
AAO: My ability to adapt. In the Olympic world I was forced to adapt to any situation no matter how stressful, no matter what obstacles or problems were in the way. I couldn’t put things off until next week when my race was going to start in five minutes. Whether it’s Dancing with the Stars or the Olympics, I’ve learned to adapt in a way that allows me to stay true to myself and not stray from who I am.