May 22, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight
Olympian Adam Kreek Inspires Students
Adam Kreek is an expert in high performance. An Olympic gold-medal winning rower who was named Athlete Leader of the Year in 2010, Adam seeks to help organizations build stronger teams, create and manage success while overcoming failure, and develop the necessary capacity to effectively deal with change. His warm and energetic presentations combine impactful stories drawn from his 13 years as an elite athlete with opportunities for authentic audience participation. The result is memorable learning and a renewed passion for personal growth and team betterment. Adam recently presented to a group of high school students in Alberta, inspiring them with his incredible stories from his Olympic career and his recent journey across the Atlantic:
Adam Kreek’s high school rowing coach set him on his life’s path.
Kreek joined the rowing club at 16 years of age, and found he enjoyed the hard exercise and being outdoors, he told Cold Lake High School students in a May 15 presentation.
He also gave a talk at a lunch, following the school presentation.
One day, said Kreek, his coach said to him, “You’re an Olympian – you just don’t know it yet.”
“He planted a seed,” Kreek told the students.
That seed flowered into competition in the 2004 Olympics, where his team placed fifth, and the 2008 Olympics, where they won the gold medal, as well as a 2013 attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and Miami.
Kreek recalled the nervousness he felt, as the team got ready at the starting line. That nervousness, he said, is good, because it focuses the brain for the task of bending down and lifting the equivalent of 80 pounds, 40 times per minute.
After about 30 seconds, lactic acid kicks in “and you’re pushing as hard as you can,” said Kreek.
At the end of the race, “you’re seeing stars. You’re seeing black and white,” and legs are wobbly, he noted.
But there’s nothing like the thrill of victory.
“It really sinks in when you’re standing on the podium,” said Kreek, adding he realized he was either going to sing or cry, so the team belted out the national anthem at the top of their voices.
To get to that point, however, requires both physical training and a winning mental state.
The training included a yearly plan built around competing in one race per year, making that a priority, and “one race every four years that mattered even more.”
Winter was broken into six-to-eight-week cycles in which each rower strived to be in the top eight, “or you were no longer in the boat,” said Kreek.
That phase, which Kreek called “base building,” is followed by a “race building” stage in which a rower ensures his or her body “is as juiced, as pumped, and a s strong as it has been in your life,” he noted.
Dealing with stress effectively becomes an essential part of training – indeed, of any area of life, he said. Stress is necessary for survival, and “there’s an increased power that comes from nerves,” said Kreek, with a clearer mind and muscles firing more effectively.
“You need to remember that your nerves are there to serve you.”
Kreek stressed it’s important to have habits in life, so when a stressful situation occurs, the “rehearsal” has prepared the person, and instinct kicks in, making the stress easier to deal with.
He also told students one major way to deal with stress is to “forget the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can control.”
Kreek found this out six months before the Olympics when he had two herniated discs in his back. A doctor told him to give up his rowing, but a sports psychologist advised going with what he could control. Kreek sought a second opinion and, with physical therapy, his back was healed within eight weeks.
Staying active is also vital, he noted.
“It’s important that we go physical so we don’t go mental.”
All these lessons became important for Kreek when he and three other men set out from Dakar, Senegal to row across the Atlantic Ocean to Miami. He said the trip, planned for four years, appealed to his curiosity and his desire to gather scientific data.
“The ocean is one of the most brutal environments,” said Kreek.
On the quartet’s 73rd day out, “this wave came … and before we knew it, the cabin was flooded,” he stated.
That’s when instinct kicked in, as the men deployed the life raft and turned on the emergency transponder beacon.
“Thank goodness we went through disaster training,” said Kreek.
The Coast Guard showed up and dropped supplies to the group, which was eventually taken aboard a ship. They had to return later for their boat and raise $100,000 for the cost of rescuing it.
“We were able to recover a lot of scientific data,” said Kreek.
Recovering from the incident took about a month, as the men had sore calves and were exhausted.
The ocean trip, Kreek noted, “is a good metaphor our lives,” which are a journey such as that one was.
He said he hoped his visit would plant a seed in someone else, or help that seed to catch interest.
“(It’s to) capture the imaginations of the youth in Cold Lake and get them curious about the world,” thereby empowering them, Kreek stated.