“It’s Your Race, Take the Lead”: Reflections from an On-Campus Event

Article by: Margaret Zheng (Q19)

This summer, we all watched in awe as Team USA competed in the Olympic and Paralympic games. On Thursday, September 13th at the Riggs Alumni Center, Deloitte and the U.S. Olympic Committee gave students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with three olympic medalists: soccer player Abby Wambach, swimmer Cullen Jones, and Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann.

Margaret (second from left) with members of Team USA

As a former Deloitte intern, I was fortunate enough to also attend a Green Room reception prior to the main event. What surprised me the most was how approachable the athletes were. I spent the summer cheering on the US Women’s National Team during every soccer match, so I was undeniably starstruck when I shook Abby Wambach’s hand and started a casual conversation. She was humble, relatable, and even grateful that so many students took interest in her story. Throughout the night, the Olympians continually reminded us of how similar they are to the average student.

Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann became a paraplegic following a routine epidural injection when she was 18 years old. She returned to the pool after just three months, broke her first world records later that year, and won her first Paralympic gold medal with a record pace this summer. QUEST has primed us to persevere through any and all obstacles, to stop at nothing to fulfill our passions and dreams; Weggemann’s courage and determination exemplify this mindset. She left us with an important lesson: “Sometimes life changes us, but sometimes we change our own lives.” As student leaders, we must empower ourselves and take initiative in creating the best possible future for our generation through innovation and quality improvement. After all, “it’s up to us to push the boundaries. It’s up to us to take the lead and move forward from there.”

Swimmer Cullen Jones, a gold medalist in the 4×100 freestyle relay, and 2-time gold medalist/soccer phenomenon Abby Wambach shared similar stories of overcoming adversity. Jones’ journey began with nearly drowning as a toddler and has been anything but easy since then; he narrowly qualified for the team and battled extreme doubts from his own coach. However, Jones was relentless in the pursuit of his Olympic dream, asserting, “If you have a goal and you want to reach that goal, you have to plan how you’re going to get that goal.” Wambach referenced the event that served as both her biggest disappointment and motivator—her team’s loss in the 2011 World Cup. When the US and Japan met again this summer, losing was simply not an acceptable option for Wambach. QUESTees can certainly relate—we don’t fear challenges… we anticipate them, we prepare for them, and we defeat them with a clear plan of attack. We don’t settle for the status quo, and we’re willing to take risks or get our hands dirty if it means we can reach a higher level of excellence.

We don’t need to be Olympians to “go for the gold”. It all comes down to allowing our drive to outweigh any challenges we face in our daily lives. Weggemann, Jones, and Wambach reminded us that they, too, had humble beginnings but are successful because they will stop at nothing to achieve greatness. Who’s to say that we can’t do the same?

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