THE BLOG
03/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Do You Repay the Parents Who Helped You Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

As you read my blogs, keep in mind that these stories, anecdotes and tools are all based around my philosophy for success: THE TURTLE EFFECT (Highlighted in the new book When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out). The Turtle Effect was taught to me by my mother when I was a young girl. She told me that I could achieve anything I wanted to as long as I remembered to have a soft inside, a hard shell, and be sure to stick my neck out. I hope this personal story will inspire you on that path to find your Turtle Effect in order to reach your goals, or perhaps more importantly, help someone else reach theirs....

I always wondered how I would ever repay my parents for teaching me the Turtle Effect and encouraging me to embody its invaluable lessons. Several years ago, I was given my answer in a way I had never hoped for.

In 2004, my mother found out she had breast cancer. Two years later, my father learned he had prostate cancer. I've always considered myself a very healthy person. I was even awarded an Olympic medal to prove it! And now I found that my family's gene pool was no better off than anyone else's.

For my mom, the recovery process started with surgery, the prognosis to be determined from there. We all hoped that the cancer had not spread from her breast into her lymph nodes. My father and I were there when my mother woke up from surgery, and had to tell her the terrible news. It had spread--which meant tacking chemo and radiation onto the recovery process.

As with my Olympic experience, if one family member was going through this, we all were. My sister, Laura, was halfway around the world in China, with two small children, so couldn't travel back for the surgery. But she was always on the phone, offering encouragement. For my part, I realized that I could use all the valuable lessons I had learned through my years in aerials to help my mom on her challenging path to recovery. And I know that support made a difference.

Two years after my mother's diagnosis, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Despite a horrific storm sweeping up the East Coast, I made my way across the country again to be by a parent's hospital bedside. What with flight cancellations and lost bags, my parents told me more than once to scrap the trip. But I knew that nothing would have kept them from being with me at the Olympic Games, and nothing was going to keep me from being with them at the hospital. Fortunately, surgery was all it took to rid my father's body of cancer, and he was back to tennis and skiing within a few weeks.

My mom and dad are both in remission now and will continue to use their Turtle Effect attitude to make sure they stay that way. No matter if it's cancer, jobs, academics, sports or even child rearing, we are always going to remind each other what it takes to swing the odds in our favor. Our genetic blueprint may not be any better than any other family's, but our soft inside, our hard shell and our ability to stick our neck out is.

I'm not arrogant enough to believe that I was the prime factor in my parents' recovery. As with the Turtle Effect, it takes a whole team to reach success. I am so thankful for our support groups, family and friends, doctors and nurses, and the advances in modern medicine.

I always knew I would find a way to contribute to those advances someday. My new book--which launched this week--has given me that opportunity. It's the reason I decided to give twenty-five percent of my net proceeds from When Turtles Fly to the American Cancer Society to help fund cancer diagnosis and research. I hope the gesture will help other families experience the newfound appreciation we now have for life!

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