“My failures taught me much more than my success ever did. I learnt that if you really want something, you have to keep going and going and eventually you will reach that level.” - Rebecca Wardell
Ms Rebecca Wardell, shares her experiences with Singaporean youth athletes, coaches, and staff from NYSI and SNOC.
Olympian Rebecca Wardell, who competed in the Heptathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, was in Singapore to share her experiences as an athlete and her latest adventure which saw her bike across Europe, Turkey, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia before heading back home to New Zealand. The sharing session was jointly organised by the National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI) and the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).
Over 40 people turned up at the NYSI Satellite @ Kallang to hear Ms. Wardell speak. The audience comprised of youth athletes, coaches, and staff from NYSI and SNOC.
Central to Ms Wardell’s sharing was the importance of persevering through hardship. After failing to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a 400m runner and the 2004 Athens Olympics as a 400m hurdler, she finally achieved her Olympic dream at the age of 30 after qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the Heptathlon.
She said, “My failures taught me much more than my success ever did. I learnt that if you really want something, you have to keep going and going and eventually you will reach that level.”
She also imparted some important advice to the youth athletes present. Speaking about the importance of focus, she said, “When I was in school, I already had the dream of being in the Olympics. In order to say focused, I always asked myself if what I am doing now is getting me to that next level. Things like parties were just distractions from my goals. Besides, I can party when I’m retired. I only have the chance to be an Olympian when I’m still young.”
Ms Wardell shared about her incredible journey biking from Europe all the way home to New Zealand. The trip raised $17,500 for the Forward Foundation, a charity whose goal is to inspire the next generation of young female leaders in New Zealand through sport.
Her journey had its fair share of ups and downs. Some of the hardships she endured included biking through the deserts of Western China, where she slept in open drains beside the highway. She also recalled having to bike through mud, sand, and snow.
she highlighted the generosity of strangers in many of the countries she biked through.
“Many times, we’d bike to a restaurant exhausted and asked the owner if we could sleep there. Not a single person on our journey turned us away. Many even invited us to their homes where they took care of us and fed us,” she said.'
“Her experiences are inspiring not just to the youth athletes who were present. I feel like everybody can take away something positive from what she shared,” said Nur Dyana, NYSI Athlete Life Executive.
Chee Ee Ling, member of the Singapore junior kayak team, agreed. She said, "It was a very meaningful session because I got to learn about how she overcame her failures before finally achieving her Olympic dream. As an athlete, there are many lessons from her story that I can apply to my own life."
Ms Wardell will complete the last leg of her journey by biking across New Zealand back to her hometown.
Ms Wardell handing out Olympic pins to the youth athletes.
The central message to her sharing session was persevering through adversity. According to Ms Wardell, "My failures taught me more than my success ever did."
Below is the transcribed question and answer segment of her sharing session:
What was one of the greatest challenges in your Olympic journey?
Wardell: Keeping my body in one piece., The heptathlon is very draining on the body so it was a daily battle to stay in shape and do the training I’m supposed to do. I also had surgery on my right hip just before Beijing and I was lucky I managed to rehab enough to qualify for Beijing.
What are the issues girls in New Zealand face?
Wardell: These days, there’s a lot of other things young girls can do in New Zealand. Organized sport is uncool, people would rather go to mall and hang out instead of participating in organized sport. It’s not as attractive as it used to be. The program gets young women funding to run a project in the community. For example, we give them a thousand dollars and have them plan a sporting event in their community. This empowers them to keep sport as a part of their lives.
What was the most fun part of the journey?Wardell: Without a doubt, the kindness of strangers. Being in a restaurant and asking these people if we could stay the night and they’d say yes. Not a single person turned us away, and they would feed you and care for you. I think for me it’s the interaction with the people I’ve met on the road.
How much have you raised for the charity?Wardell: Friends and family are donating as well as people back home. Its great knowing it is coming from the community., At the moment, I’ve raised $17,500. Slightly short of $1 a km. The generosity is amazing so far. The trip is fully self-funded so all the money goes to the charity.
Who really supported you when you were persevering through the trip?Wardell: My family, brother, sister. When the going got tough they really kept me straight. My coaches as well - they are the rocks. It’s the people around you when everything is going terribly, those are the guys who give you the most support. I couldn’t have done it without them.
How do you constantly stay focused when you are in the Olympics or on the journey?Wardell: When I was competing, I always asked myself, “Is what I’m doing right now helping me get to where I want to be?’ I think if you ask that of yourself enough, some things are not helping you so much and some things are very good for you. Constant awareness of what is taking you in the right and wrong direction. I struggled a lot with training in university - a lot of distractions such as parties and other things going on. I told myself, ‘I can go to sleep early and train tomorrow morning, or I can party, but only one of those will get you to where you want to be.’
What’s different or the same between this biking journey and your journey as an athlete?Wardell: Struggling mentally every day, to be honest. The menial things like packing the bags and packing the bike. I got really tired and fatigued which really relates to training as an athlete. What kept me going? I used to think a lot about New Zealand and picturing home. I kept my eye on my dream in those tough moments. A lot was also enjoying the journey and being in the moment. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing then there’s no point to what you’re doing.
I encourage everyone to enjoy what you are doing, whether it is your sport or work. Otherwise, what is the point?
Who was your role model growing up?Wardell: Carolina Klüft - she won the gold in Athens in the Heptathlon. I was in the stadium watching her., It was instrumental in my decision to change sport. You can see she loved what she was doing. Her passion and energy you could feel even from way back in the stands. She showed great sportsmanship all the time, did a lot of social work with kids, she was the ultimate athlete. I really look up to her.
What’s your next big adventure?Wardell: Probably going back to work, I’ve applied for a job back at the IOC. But for now, I’ll save the grand adventures for another time.
During your journey you met many Olympians. What are some similarities among Olympians that you noticed?Wardell: Even though we came from completely different countries and backgrounds, the common thing was sport, we can share our conversations as athletes and it’s a great way to unite with someone who you would not have much in common with. We all share disappointments, success, and injuries so that was a universal language. Sports unites people from all backgrounds.
What’s it like to compete at the Olympics?Wardell: The morning of the first event I was catching the bus from the village to the track. I felt like I was going to pass out because I was so nervous. When it’s something you’ve wanted since you were 7 and you’re finally reaching there, seeing my family in the stadium as well, it’s unbelievable. In the Heptathlon, everyone does the lap of honour at the end so that was an incredible thing to experience. It was worth all the hard work.