Published in the September 27 – October 10, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Bonnie St. John

Playful biting crisp air kisses my cheeks and an unmatchable energy of excitement dances through the crowd in anticipation of getting the first glimpse of the skier crossing the finish line. This is what I envision it would be like as I stand at the bottom of the Olympic slalom race hill in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1984 when Bonnie St. John became the first African-American ever to win medals in Winter Olympic competition.

On Aug. 26, I sat at the edge of my seat watching and listening with all my heart as Bonnie gracefully received the 4th Annual John C. Maxwell Transformational Leadership Award. Bonnie has a way of making you feel like she’s talking directly to you as the other 2,399 people in the room listen in.

At age 5, Bonnie’s right leg was amputated. In no way did this slow her down. Bonnie is a mom, business owner and best-selling author who graduated from Harvard, won a Rhodes Scholarship and was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a director for Human Capital Issues on the White House National Economic Council.

What struck me the most about Bonnie’s talk was her story of her women’s slalom Olympic bronze medal. In the finals, each skier has two runs to complete. The results of those two runs determines the medal winners. Bonnie’s first run was perfect, her finish time was the fastest of those competing that day and put her in the lead. The gold was waiting. During her second run, she fell but got back up as quickly as possible and finished the race. The end overall result was Bonnie winning the bronze. Now here’s the teachable moment. Neither of the run times of the gold medal winner beat Bonnie’s first run. Additionally, the gold medal winner also fell during one of her two runs. Bonnie with her big, gorgeous smile joyfully shared she is not disappointed about not winning the gold. “She won the gold because she was the quicker getter-upper,” she told the audience.


Bonnie looked at me and said: “In life, people fall down, people get up. Be the quicker getter-upper and you will win the gold in life.” This statement ignites me. When life hits hard, I want to be the quicker getter-upper. What about you?

I have learned in my life that valleys of angst as well as conquered mountains of victory are inevitable. But we have a choice. Stay down and pout and whine or be the quicker getter-upper.

In his book “Failing Forward,” John Maxwell teaches that it’s nearly impossible for any person to both move forward and believe he or she is a failure at the same time. Rehashing missteps and mistakes for too long sabotages concentration and eats away at self-confidence. Gold medal achievers quickly forget the negative emotions of setbacks and press forward.

Whether you have been downsized, let go, bankrupted, or dealing with family challenges it is tempting to internalize failure. To move forward through challenges, we need to bounce back — or, as Bonnie says, be the quicker picker-upper. Just like training for the Olympics, it’s nearly impossible to do this on our own. We need a coach to help us as we pursue our gold medal life training. Start your training to be the quicker getter-upper and win the Olympic gold medal in your life.