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Megan's Story: Having A Dream Is Great – We All have Them, But Being Inflexible With Your Dream And Refusing A Change Of Direction Can Be Bad. Megan Discovered How To Balance Things In This Respect. Learn How…

Dont fall in love with your dream

I wanted to be a gymnast since the day I could walk—and watch Power Rangers. At two years old, I was religiously transfixed by the TV show, particularly because of the pink ranger, Kimberly. I was mesmerized by her graceful, yet powerful crime-fighting flips across my screen.

From my first lesson, I was in love; the kind of real, visceral passion you feel when you know you’re following the path intended for you. There were also sparkly leotards involved, so—win-win.

From my first lesson, I was in love; the kind of real, visceral passion you feel when you know you’re following the path intended for you. There were also sparkly leotards involved, so—win-win.

I learned quickly of the necessity to fight—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—to be the best. Even with all the talent in the world, there is genuinely no replacement for hard work when it comes to long-lasting success. “You can’t hire anyone to do your pushups for you,” as Jim Rohn says.

Talent is not enough

I committed to being at the top, even if it meant commuting a minimum of two hours  roundtrip—thanks, Mom and Dad—to get to the best coaches and toughest training daily. I’d do anything to deserve success in gymnastics.

Years passed—sixteen to be exact. I won state championships, grinded twenty-plus hours a week in the gym, journaled every crumb of food I ate, whacked my head on rock-solid gym equipment, covered my body in blood & bruises, and creatively fought mental blocks. Just pretend the beam is a foot-wide, Megan.

College recruitment was just around the corner, and I knew my goal of competing at the university level was nearing.

Persistence

I was excited and committed, albeit…tired. I had become more aware of the outside world.  I persisted, making great efforts not distract myself with the shiny exterior of a normal life, with its football games and high school dances.

Gymnastics was all I’d ever known, and I had dreamed of succeeding at it since I was a toddler. There was no way I could turn back now. Everyone who had invested in me along the way desperately expected me to succeed as well.

I became a friendless and exhausted people-pleaser. Deep down I knew something felt off, but it did not affect my resilience in achieving my goal of competing in college.

Changing Course

As world-renowned speaker Les Brown says, “If you don’t have the courage to act, life will often times move on you and force you to.”

During floor practice one fateful day, I landed a tumbling pass sideways and felt a sharp pain shoot up my back. Spooked and in pain, I briefly sat out, but then picked myself up and moved on.

Over the course of the next six months I continued to train through incredible back pain. If there was any time to push myself, it was now. I fell asleep laying on a bag of ice every night, praying for improvement.

I saw multiple doctors, chiropractors, kinesiologists, physical therapists—you name it. They couldn’t find anything wrong or heal me in any way. “Back spasms,” they said. It was the most frustrating experience—to know something was wrong, but not be able to prove it.

There came a point when I could hardly walk, much less tumble, swing, and catapult myself around the gym. I saw one more doctor—a gymnastics specialist this time. He ran uniquely-spliced MRIs and X-rays and finally, we had an answer.

“You have three stress fractures in your vertebrae,” he said. Before he finished his sentence, I interjected, “But I will be able to compete again, right?” I asked with a raised, panicked voice. The look on his face answered my question.

Due to the fact I had trained on the fractures for so long, the bones would never heal, and only worsen. This is where No Pain, No Gain really bit me in my ass, or so I thought.

I was so close to my dream, but now so far. I was confused and angry as my doctor closed my gymnastics book and handed me a blank slate to adjust my rigid course.

The “Q” Word

Quit. What a frightening word. Something I thought I’d never do or even verbalize. You simply can’t quit and be successful… right? A dream I’d spent my whole life trying to achieve evaporated in a matter of seconds. I was miserable.

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light” (Aristotle)

There is always light—always, always, always. My light was a chance to rest, for what seemed like the first time in my life, and reevaluate my path. I was just as clumsy and annoyed during this process as you can imagine. I’m thankful for my wonderful, insistent mother for directing—forcing—me into new athletic arenas. Crew. Dance Team. Volleyball. Something always felt off, and suspiciously non-gymnastics-y. I hated it.

Gratitude

In Oprah Winfrey’s book, What I Know for Sure, she recalls an emotional and painful memory while being doubled over on her toilet, crying tears of despair. She was hardly able to speak to her friend Maya Angelou on the other end of the phone.

“Stop it right now!” Maya demanded of her. “Stop it right now, and say thank you!”

“Say thank you!?” Oprah asked, mystified, confused why, when her life was such a mess, her dear friend would demand this from her.

“Say thank you because you know God, and you know He put a rainbow in every cloud. The rainbow is coming. Say thank you even though you can’t see it. It’s already there.”

Back then, I had a hard time being thankful for what I was going through—but today—as I reflect on this time, I find myself on my hands and knees, humbled and thankful, that God placed that challenge in my path.

Throughout the next few months of exploring new sports, I stayed relentless. I focused on the good, as my family challenged me to.

One day, I stumbled into a diving practice. It clicked. Amazingly, I felt more aligned to this new sport than I had to gymnastics for the last few years.

Diving In

Daving new challenges new path

The physical impact of diving on my broken body was much less than gymnastics, and I already knew the basics of flipping, twisting, and pointing my toes to a tee. There were new challenges, of course, but I remained a nimble and coachable machine. Two-a-days? No problem. Hurling myself off a ten-meter platform? You got it.

Slowly but surely, it became crystal clear to everyone around me that I had been good at gymnastics, but I was great at diving. Something I never anticipated or explicitly sought along my path materialized right before my eyes.

Megan dream is not over

I traveled to Michigan to train under one of the best coaches in the nation, who even guaranteed to help me qualify for the Olympic Trials if I was interested. A level of success I had never entertained, was now an option.

The colleges that began to scout me were more competitive than the ones that were originally looking at me for gymnastics. Penn State, UNC Chapel Hill, Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois—huge schools with the best athletics in the world were asking me to come for all-expense-paid recruit trips to be wined and dined.

My world opened, and I leaned in.

My final recruit trip was to Division I school Drexel University in Philadelphia. It didn’t seem as shiny as the other options, but after I toured the campus and met the coach, I fell in love. During a brief period of indecision during signing season, the coach offered me a free ride.

I had earned a full-ride athletic scholarship exactly one-and-a-half years into my diving career. My original dream of being a competitive college athlete had manifested, just in a completely unique way. I cried happily and exhaled deeply— it was happening.

Making a Splash

Diving—and well, let’s face it, college—is not without its own beautiful challenges. My freshman year, I had a blast traveling the country, dominating competitions, and making the best friends of my life.

I learned about myself, and taught myself to embrace my mistakes.

Right before the Conference Championship, I smacked at practice—a diving term for a fancy, high-velocity belly flop—off of the three-meter board and blew out 50 percent of my eardrum. I underwent surgery and watched the biggest meet of the year from the side of the pool deck.

Always remember to have a sense of humor, and never take yourself too seriously. The sentence “Megan missed the most important meet of the year due to an EAR injury,” will never cease to give me a good chuckle!

The year following, with my lavish new eardrum intact and fully healed, I approached the same competition with increased hunger to prove myself. I won the Conference Championship meet that year. I was on top of the world.

Work hard and be on top

Amazing payoff amazing feeling

Maintain Awareness

Awareness is everything. Any shift you feel along your journey, good or bad, is there for an important reason: Pay attention to it.

My junior year at Drexel, I felt another change in myself. I was angered easily, unhappy often, and started doubting the output of my input. So what if I win every competition, I thought.

I began placing less emphasis on milestones I previously lived by. My original dream had shifted throughout the years, and I was extremely grateful for what I accomplished. But it was time to create something else for myself, outside of the athletic world.

I had always formed my identity and dreams around being an athlete. I was certain that was what my entire life would always revolve around. I realize now that I was burned out—tired of winning, losing, and being screamed at two inches away from my face. For what? My goals and fulfillment weren’t in this world any more.

My life had been opened through travel, exciting relationships, and uncovering new talents, all which I felt more confident and equipped to pursue, thanks to gymnastics and diving.

Fail Forward

Life is always rolling on, even when you think the world is crumbling around you and you can’t possibly pick yourself back up. Your tough times will show you just how strong you are—and you require them just as much as you need success.

I couldn’t fully explain back then the source of my newfound resistance with diving, but I knew through my body, mind, and in the depths of my soul, it was time to be free. It was the firmest conviction I held since I knew I wanted to be a gymnast at two years old.

No one, and I mean no one, agreed with my quick exit from the diving, and athletic, world—not my parents, my teammates, my coaches—everyone I monumentally looked up to at the time.

Now, I don’t think you should make a habit of ignoring your mentors—but at some point in your life, it is essential to experiment with going against the grain, and stand up for what you feel and believe.

Your actions may not be popular amongst those closest to you, but you’ll feel when the time is right to make the jump.

I took out $60,000 of loans to complete my once zero-dollar education. I grew up. I saw a counselor and asked for help everywhere else I needed. Life was not immediately sunshine and roses, but it was different in a good way. I grew confident and learned to love myself—not as an athlete, but as a human being.

Megan and parents

Flexibility

Why do you really want to achieve that dream? How bad you want it will determine how flexible your approach with securing it. It takes courage to change your approach and admit you were wrong. As much as it goes against your biological and evolutionary inclinations, failure on your way to success is not meant to be feared, but welcomed. If you must fear, fear mediocrity and lack of action.

The successful person has failed more than the unsuccessful person has tried.

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your path. There will always be someone available to discourage you. Who do you choose to listen to?

Ignore How

Do you think Steve Jobs dreamed of creating the iPad, or Apple Watch? No. He dreamt of improving the world through technology—and his approach shifted regularly and magnanimously. He wasn’t afraid to return to the drawing board in an effort to achieve his initial objective. He loved the outcomes and feelings he created, not the products he designed.

Never fall in love with your idea or dream. In order to achieve it in the first place, you will need the humility to modify it, repurpose it, or even scratch it from time to time.

Be specific about the direction of your dream—but general about your approach. As long you make the decision to achieve it, the how isn’t significant.

In the years that followed my college athletic retirement, I finished my education with vigor, freedom, and excitement to create new opportunities. I secured an amazing job, and started traveling the country and world. I paid off all of my loans. I live on the beach in California, where I work from home. I feel freedom to try new things and dig into my larger purpose of helping energize and inspire people. I am by far the happiest and most successful I have been in my entire life, and I know it’s only going to get better.

I urge you as you grow and fight for what you want out of life, to embrace flexibility—even if it means a few fractures along the way.

Author

Megan Helicek Megan Helicek

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