Feature Story

Nikki Stone

Author and former Olympic gold medalist

Olympic athlete Nikki Stone is recognized worldwide as the first American to take home a gold medal as an inverted aerial skier at the 1998 winter games in Nagano, Japan. Despite reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour and jumping, flipping and twisting to a height of 50 feet before landing, Stone’s most remarkable feat was overcoming a career-threatening spinal injury just 18 months before the games. Today, Stone is also known as an author, including her contribution to the book Awaken the Olympian Within: Stories from America’s Greatest Olympic Motivators and her recently released book When Turtles Fly: Stories of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out. We’re excited to share a few of her tips for achieving your dreams in this 1:1 interview.

Q: You overcame a tremendous feat to compete and win in 1998. What tips would you share for other women overcoming what seem to be insurmountable obstacles?

Nikki Stone: After winning my Olympic gold in aerial skiing after 10 doctors told me that I’d never ski again, I now truly believe that everything is possible. When challenges hit, you can choose how it will impact you. The world’s most successful individuals didn’t allow setbacks to impede their efforts. You can’t sit around and wait for your success. Nothing worthwhile comes without effort. You have to take action in order to make things happen. And by finding your soft inside, developing a hard shell and remembering to stick your neck out you will find yourself on the right path to reach your own personal goals.

Q: What are three things a reader could do today to bring out their inner Olympian?

Nikki Stone:

1) Take the stress and pressure straight on by building your confidence. Start journaling to recognize what you do well and what you can improve. Each day, write down one thing you did well that day and one thing you could improve on. It’s often easy to see the achievements and improvements others make, but we have to take the time to recognize that regardless of what we are going through, we can change, too. Build your confidence by getting to know and appreciate yourself.

2) Focus on the process, not results. We need to learn to live in the moment and concentrate on what we have control over. And that’s the process, not the end results. For example, we can’t control someone else’s impression of our work; we can only control what we produce.

3) Be ready to bounce back when you fall down. Whenever I felt “defeated”, I’d remember a quote from General George S. Patton: “Success is how high you bounce when you hit rock bottom.” Bounce a Superball (or some other bouncy object) to remind yourself to have a hard outer shell when challenges present themselves.

Q: Your new book When Turtles Fly highlights how taking calculated risks can help you achieve success. Give us a glimpse inside.

Nikki Stone: I am terrified of heights, something few people would imagine of an aerial skier who launches herself several feet in the air at every competition. I would literally go in the woods and lose my lunch every time I had to do triple back flips. So why would I put myself through such agony? For an Olympic gold medal, that’s why! I would never fling myself into space just for the fun of it; I needed an incentive. I knew that I’d have to risk doing one of the most difficult maneuvers in order to impress the Olympic judges and win gold. When I weighed the positives and negatives, I realized that the nausea, shaky legs and risk of injury were worth it.

Looking back, I believe I still would have made the same decision if my outcome had been a fourth place or even last place finish. I would have been more disappointed in myself for not trying.

Q: How do you encourage other women to take life-enhancing risks?

Nikki Stone: Fear of failing actually holds people back more than most other fears… particularly for women. Ask yourself, “If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I try?” After you answer this question, ask yourself why it would be so awful to fail at the task or activity. We learn much more from our failures than we learn from our accomplishments.

Besides, if you don’t try, you have already failed. Why not give yourself the chance to succeed? Pick something that scares you a bit, and decide you are going to take the risk to follow through with it today.

Q: What inspired you to write your newest book, When Turtles Fly?

Nikki Stone: Growing up, my mother taught me that I could achieve anything I wanted as long as I followed the Turtle Effect philosophy. She told me that in order to reach my dreams I had to remember to have a soft inside, a hard shell, and be sure to stick my neck out. I always held that belief system close and adapted it to every situation I encountered.

The philosophy has been such an effective motivator for me that I wanted to help people develop this same confidence and share the tools that are common to those at the top of their given field. The philosophy holds true for any career or endeavor and I wanted to demonstrate these parallels through the stories of contributors who are at the top of their fields—including Olympic and X-Games gold medalist Shaun White, icon fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, bestselling author and leadership expert Dr. Stephen Covey, skiing champion Lindsey Vonn, Prince Albert of Monaco, celebrity chef Todd English, NFL quarterback legend Steve Young, Fortune 500 CEOs, Nobel prize-winners, and many more.

We all receive the emails that start, “I am not typically someone who forwards these stories/quotes/anecdotes along, but this one was so powerful/moving that I had to make an exception.” I wanted to write a book full of the type of stories that move you to action and you can’t help but forward them along. When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How To Stick Their Necks Out is available for purchase on Amazon.com (http://tiny.cc/F9Eqt)

Q: Where should readers look for you next?

Nikki Stone: Both of my parents are cancer survivors. I know that they are here today because of the advances in modern medicine. I want to help more families keep their loved ones around, and this is why I’ve decided to donate 25% of my proceeds of When Turtles Fly to the American Cancer Society. Over the next 2 years I will be attending various ACS events to help raise more funds and awareness for the cause.

I will also be continuing to deliver motivational speeches for corporate groups and educational organizations. It is an incredibly rewarding job when people share that they have made (or will make) positive changes in their lives because of something I’ve said. I will also continue to train Olympic athletes and business professionals in speaking/media skills and continue to write articles and columns for a number of magazines, newspapers, and websites—and soon start on my next book.

And lastly, but most importantly, I will spend every spare moment with my toddler Zali.