David Boudia is an Olympic champion diver. He recently won silver and bronze medals in Rio and the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic games. Diving since he was 11, he qualified for the Olympic trials when he was 15. A talented child gymnast, Boudia clearly remembers the acrobatic joy that diving gave him. “I loved the thrill that came with the free fall and the adrenaline that surged through my body when I flipped through the air,” he says.
Despite all his diving success Boudia is afraid of heights. A “healthy fear,” he shares. And then there’s the matter of the outfit. “My first day of diving I cringed at the thought of wearing briefs like that,“ he shares. “Not only do I have to wear my underwear in front of millions of people, I now have to jump off the equivalent of a three story building while in them.” Although the Olympian is able to manage his fright he still gets a twinge of timidity when stepping onto the diving platform. “I don’t think it will ever go away completely,” he adds.
Boudia who recently released his candid memoir, Greater than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption, (Nelson Books), talked to me about overcoming his fears and what winning is all about.
Jeryl Brunner: You are afraid of heights and yet diving is your livelihood and you’re one of the best in the world. How do you manage to dive?
David Boudia: I was terrified because I was 33 feet up in the air going head first at 35 miles an hour towards the water. I think any sane human being would think, yeah, that’s pretty scary.When I was about 15. It came to a point where I was on the platform, thinking to myself, what am I doing now that’s going to get me where I want to be in the future? If I’m not going to overcome this fear, I need to walk back down those stairs and kiss my dreams goodbye. That was something I was ready to do. In order for me to do something to get me to my goals it means I have to take an action step. It means getting over this fear and actually diving off the platform.
Brunner: How do you get over your fear?
Boudia: I do a lot of mental exercises like deep breathing, controlling my heart rate so it’s not bouncing out of my chest. I do visualizations. I close my eyes and constantly see my movements time and time again. So when it comes down to the point when I’m ready to dive, I’ve already done it a thousand times in my head.
Brunner: In your book you very openly talk about your dream of making the Olympic team in 2008 and then hitting rock bottom.
Boudia: Because it was my dream for so long, I put everything that I had in that basket. I was so focused on the destination of making the Olympics. Then when that wasn’t enough, I wanted to win an Olympic medal. It was all about the destination that I thought would bring me joy and happiness. When I reached that pinnacle, it proved to be hollow. I was always longing for something more.
Boudia: Our culture is constantly feeding us that the American dream will satisfy. If we’re healthy, rich and famous we’re going to get everything that we’ve ever wanted. I got a taste of that in 2008. But as I got more recognition it was totally the opposite. I wasn’t fulfilled with the things that I thought should bring me happiness. I was on that pursuit of making everything that I do be about myself.
Our culture says make it all about you. I wasn’t finding satisfaction in that. My life became what I could do to please myself the most. I did that with alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. I had been constantly feeding, what I like to call, my “me monster.” Everything I did was about me. Finally it came to a a point where that was not my purpose in life.
Brunner: In your memoir you very openly talk about smoking marijuana and being very destructive and then transforming your life. Why did you decide to you to write your autobiography now?
Boudia: Through this book, I want to inspire people and show them that struggle is real. So many of us struggle constantly. We don’t have to mask it. There’s hope. The way I found hope was through my faith. That’s how I learned to be real with myself and change. I want to help provide people hope.
Brunner: You talk about the devastation you felt when you didn’t get a medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. How did your mindset change in the 2012 London Olympics when you won the gold?
Boudia: When I didn’t medal in 2008, it taught me about the pursuit I was on. I characterize 2008 as a destination that wanted to be conquered. 2012 was more about focusing on the journey and process – taking baby steps. Instead of being so overwhelmed with what I could get at the end, I thought about taking time to enjoy. It was about valuing what I was doing day-to-day.
In 2012, when I won the Olympics and I saw the flag being raised, I felt an an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness – knowing that it wasn’t me alone who got me to this point, I wasn’t the only one standing up on this platform. It was my coach who put in the hours, my parents and my then fiancé, now wife,who made sacrifices. I also thought of my weight coaches, dietitians, massage therapists. There are so many people who play a big role. Also, being a winner takes a lot of humility, knowing to say that you are wrong. It’s being open to find ways to change to make it better.
Brunner: How is Rio different from the 2012 Olympics for you?
Boudia: This is third Olympics, I’m ready to enjoy. Since 2012 I got married, My wife and I had a child. I am trying to really enjoy this journey that I’m on. Things are busy and chaotic. But there’s just so much more joy when you are able to share that with your family.