Know what you want. Know where the finish line is. You can run as fast as you can. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re just going to tire yourself out.
Professional athletes have to perform at the highest levels. While not all of us will share Professional athletes’ athletic skills, we can learn insights from their workout routines about how we can improve our own exercise regimens. In this interview series, we are talking to professional athletes from all sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, Soccer, Olympics, Golf, Tennis, etc.) about the workout routines that they use to help them achieve top-level performance. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gary Hall, Jr.
Gary Hall, Jr. has 10 Olympic medals (5 gold) in the sport of swimming and is in the Olympic Hall of Fame. He defended his title as world’s fastest swimmer in back-to-back Olympics. Gary became the first person with Type 1 Diabetes to compete and medal in the Olympic Games. Son of Gary Hall, Sr. they are the first father/son duo to compete and medal in three Olympic Games each. He now serves as Secretary of Sanford Health’s Research and World Clinic Board and owns Sea Monkeys Swimming, a swim school in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and the story of how you became a professional athlete?
I was born into a swimming family. My maternal grandfather was one of the fastest swimmers in the world after World War 2, in which he served. My mother was a collegiate level swimmer and met my father, from Southern California, at a swim meet. Her brother, my uncle, was on the 1976 Olympic team with my father. My father held 10 world records, was World Swimmer of the Year twice, competed and medaled in three Olympic Games and carried the flag for the United States of America in the opening ceremonies of the 1976 Games in Montreal. All of my aunts and uncles swam. All of my siblings swam. It was just something that we did.
I climbed the ranks of the sport and qualified for my first Olympics at 21 years of age in 1996 at the Atlanta Games. I went on to compete in the 2000 Games in Sydney and 2004 Olympics in Athens. I won ten Olympic medals, five gold, and was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame after I retired.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I was always fascinated by the psychology of sport. Among a team of 100 swimmers all doing the same thing with the same coach, why do some kids do well at the end of the season and others don’t? Why do some crack under pressure?
My coach was a swimmer that qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, that the United States boycotted. He had qualified, and his lifelong dream was taken. Afterwards, he went on to graduate at the top of his USC class in psychology. He chose to go into coaching instead of practice (that pays much better) because he was never able to realize his Olympic dream. He ended up applying psychology to coaching in ways no other coach at the time could. It was fascinating to see the various approaches that he would take with his swimmers, varying for each individual, his approaches to motivation. The things that motivate or demotivate, the things that push us and challenge us were as important as the laps we were logging in the pool.
The competition is fierce. Tactics are used to gain an advantage in a sport that is measured to the hundredth of a second. The psychology of sport is fascinating, and the X Factor that we don’t fully understand.
You are a successful athlete. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Three characteristics that played a role in my success as an athlete are:
1) Fortitude is the word I would use to address the hard work that is necessary. It takes so much hard work and sacrifice. There is no getting around this. It requires something of a borderline obsessive compulsive disorder. Or fortitude.
2) Perserverence is the quality of being able to grow from setbacks, rather than retreat into excuses and negativity. Post Traumatic Growth is a thing. All champions possess it. It is worth noting that most successful people I know in sport, or business, had a traumatic event in their life that pushed them to extraordinary height.
3) Audacity. You think you can be the best in the world? It takes a brave soul to risk public humilation in defeat when chasing down something so big. Be brave. Be audacious. You can be the best. You can change the world.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
In swimming, one trains for an entire year for one big meet at the end of the season. At one point I qualified for the Pan American Games in Argentina. On the day of my race I got distracted talking to a girl on the Argentinian team after warm up. The team manager comes running up to me and yells that I’m about to miss my race. I ran toward the ready room, the check-in before being led out to the starting blocks, and arrived just in time to join the procession. The meet announcer methodically names off the competitors behind the blocks. After he announces my name I went to remove my sweats, and was horrified to realize that I had forgotten to put on my suit. In a panic, I started rolling up my sweatpants. Like I was going to swim in them. Then I turned frantically to the audience and shouted, “Does anyone have a suit I can borrow?” A teammate in the upper stands quickly reached into his swim bag and rubber-band-shot the skimpiest speedo I had ever seen. Catching it in the air, I wrapped a towel around myself haphazardly and did, on international television, what is recorded as the world’s fastest “deck change.” The starting gun went off and the adrenaline response was such that I turned three body lengths ahead at the halfway mark of the race, and finished a distant 7th place.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Don’t forget your swimsuit. I never made that mistake again, and grew as a person from that learning experience.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that might help people?
A few things I’m working on:
And last but not least, I have a learn-to-swim school in Los Angeles, Sea Monkeys Swimming.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about the workout routines of professional athletes. Can you share with our readers a few of the workout routines that you use to help you perform at peak levels? Can you help articulate what each of those workouts achieves?
I’m 48 years old. I’m juggling a lot of responsibilities (see above) and I’ve got two teenage kids. It’s imperative that my exercise routine overlaps with recreation. Meaning, I have to derive some enjoyment out of the activity. Logging time on a treadmill is not for me. I go surfing and play tennis. I love these activities. It connects me with the outdoors and it’s an incredible workout, that doesn’t feel like a workout.
What do you do to prevent injuries during your workouts or during your competitions?
I mentioned MitoQ earlier. Nutrition and cellular health are critical because they literally affect the whole body. We are made up of cells. Maintaining it through the aging process allows me to live unencumbered by injury. Work in proper stretching- the older you are, the more you need. And always, listen to your body. I’ve never had an injury.
Do you practice mindfulness or meditation as part of your overall training routine? Can you explain what you do?
As one of the fastest swimmers in the world, I was fortunate to have some of the world’s most brilliant sports science professionals want to use me as a lab rat. It was an education unparalleled by any university. I learned a lot about mindfulness and meditation through that journey. It’s very important stuff. The mind determines the difference between winning and losing at the highest level of sport. Swimming, by nature, is medatative. There’s sensory deprivation and sensory enhancement happening at the same time. The rythem of strokes for hours. The silence under the water. It isolates the participant in their mind.
As a Pilates instructor, I’m particularly interested in this question. What exercises do you do to strengthen your core?
Tennis, surfing, boxing, snowboarding and swimming are all core based sports. These are the things I love to do. Pilates is an incredible way to stregthen and stabilize.
Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Professional Athlete?”
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Since my diabetes diagnosis in 1999, I have used accomplishment in sport as a platform to advance patient advocacy and medical research. I have worked with so many non-profit and research organizations. Sometimes we choose our causes and sometimes our causes choose us. Playing a supporting role in these endeavors will lead to a world without diabetes. Let’s alleviate human suffering along the way!
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Sea Monkeys Swimming: www.seamonkeysswimming.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at [email protected]. To schedule a free consultation, click here.