Persistence and the Right Mindset


Simplot Games Olympians Offer Advice and Perspective

By Houston Jones

The competition and excitement of Simplot Games weekend attracts thousands of high school athletes to Holt Arena, along with a group of dedicated Olympians who seek to encourage and motivate competitors. We posed questions to four of our guest Olympians to ask for their perspective on a variety of subjects. Those Olympians include: Stacy Dragila; Willie Banks; Andre Phillips; and Tyson Gunter. Below are some of their answers.

Stacy Dragila (2000 Olympic pole vault gold medalist and former world record holder)

Question: You weren’t introduced to pole vaulting until college. What was so enticing about it that you decided to make it your career? Any advice for people who think it’s too late to begin something new?

Answer: “I’m a little bit stubborn, you know? I wasn’t comfortable for a long time doing it but something in the back of my mind kept telling me to keep going, and then as I stuck with it a little bit longer pieces and parts started falling into place. For anything new, it’s a process. I wasn’t amazing at it right away, but something inside me said ‘Give it ample time and see where it can take you.’ And on the road to getting better at something new, even if you don’t succeed, you pick up new skills that can help you in other areas.”

Willie Banks (three-time Olympian and former triple jump world record holder)

Question: You’ve dedicated most of your life to the sport of track and field. What are you hoping to see in this next generation of athletes?

Answer: “The Simplot Games has given young people the opportunity to reach fans and social media. In addition, it gives high school athletes the chance to compete with the best up-and-coming talent in the United States and beyond. The Simplot Games also gives high school track athletes an opportunity to meet Olympians, world record holders, and world champions in track and field. It is the best of all worlds and I believe the athletes who compete in the Simplot Games will be fans for the rest of their lives because they can look back and say that they competed on one of high school’s greatest stages.”

Andre Phillips (1988 Olympic 400-meter hurdles gold medalist)

Question: This Simplot Games’ theme is all about Challenge Accepted. What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

Answer: “The biggest challenge for me throughout my career was being able to withstand the injuries related to my sport. Prior to the 1988 [Olympic] Games, I had been battling a stress fracture in my right shin. I actually fractured it during the 1986 track season and it continued into 1987 because I had not given it enough time to heal. The beginning of my quest to not only make the Olympic team, but to vie for a medal, was an arduous journey. My biggest asset was to ‘will’ myself to win. I was so mentally strong during the 1988 campaign to win the gold that I had to be more selfish to get the task accomplished. I put all my friends and family on the back burner and had tunnel vision focused only on Seoul, Korea, and the gold!”

Tyson Gunter (2016 Paralympian, 2013 and 2017 World Championships high jump silver medalist)

Question: For someone who has competed for as long as you have, what would you recommend to athletes who are faced with a seemingly impossible task?

Answer: “I believe some things are impossible, and that needs to be accepted, just like failure. We live in a society that is all about grinding it out, or ‘nothing is impossible.’ I don’t think that’s true. With that said, we are capable of doing WAY more than we think we can. Think of fleas. They are awesome because they can jump extremely well, but if you put fleas in a jar with a lid for a few days and then take the lid off, they will never jump out of the jar. They are conditioned to jump way lower than they are actually capable of. We have way more potential than we think. Some things are impossible, but most things are achievable if we start with the right mindset.”