06/07/2010 04:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Nadia Comaneci's Olympic Journey and How She Found Her Focus


Not long after seeing my first hero, Nadia Comaneci win the Olympics, I enrolled in a gymnastics class myself. I made great progress, and eventually my babysitter invited me to join her high school team in an exhibition event.

Being so young, I somehow didn't know that I was "supposed" to be nervous. I was just focused on being like Nadia. I was performing with a bunch of girls easily ten years older than me, and I was in an auditorium full of spectators, and all I could think about was being Nadia.

That focus took away all the pressure, and my performance that evening received the lion's share of the applause--though I'm sure the pigtails and freckles didn't hurt. Little did I know that my idol shared a similar experience several months earlier, when her focus helped her make history....

Nadia Comaneci


(Story excerpt from When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out)

I never realized that I was going to make history.

I started gymnastics because I had way too much energy and my mom was sick of me breaking the springs on the couch when I launched myself from cushion to cushion. She was relieved when a neighbor suggested a place to try gymnastics. So at the age of six and a half, I was taught my first cartwheel.

It took me a few years to realize that I could be a successful gymnast. I loved learning new things and I loved the competition. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I also loved the coaches' attention. They would tell me, "Nadia, you pick things up so quickly" or "Nadia, great balance beam routine." The encouragement made me want it even more.

There came a period where I couldn't see my life without the gymnasium in it. Every thought was focused on the gym. And soon I had expectations of this big event everyone was talking about--the Olympics. I was first introduced to the games in 1972, by way of an eighteen inch, black-and-white television with a fuzzy screen. I imagined the Olympics was just another competition, but with a lot more people participating and a lot more watching.

Eight years after my first cartwheel, I was going to this big event with more athletes and more spectators. Many people say that it must be overwhelming pressure for a young boy or girl to handle. I think it's just the opposite. Quite seriously, I had no clue of the pressure of the Olympic Games. As a fourteen-year-old, I didn't care about pressure and I didn't comprehend the consequences.

I'd attended a competition several months before the Olympics where I had fallen off the beam three times in one routine and scored a meager 7.25. I was determined not to let that happen again. I learned from those mistakes and took those lessons with me to the Olympics. I knew it would take just one wrong angle of my foot to throw me off the beam or one hyperextended knee to miss my dismount on the vault.

I focused my complete attention on doing my routines just as well as I had prepared them. The most important thing was to forget about the extra competitors and spectators and concentrate on transferring what I did in our gym to this competition. There were so many external distractions, so I had to build a hard shell against all the noise and crowds and cameras and the idea of winning, and just focus on my routines. I paid attention to all the mistakes I had made in pre-Olympic competitions to ensure that I wouldn't make the same slipups a second time. A small mistake could be made at any second, so I put my "Olympic podium blinders" up and didn't take them down until my final score was posted.

In addition to the Olympic podium, I had my blinders up to the scoreboard, as well. So when I finished my uneven bar routine, I was oblivious to what the gasp of the crowd meant. I did catch the eye of a teammate who signaled me to look at the score. Across the Longines scoreboard flashed a 1.00. A one?? How had I scored a one? Something must have gone drastically wrong.

My friend explained that it must be a 10.00. When Longines was designing their Olympic scoreboard, they'd called the International Gymnastics Federation and asked if there was any chance someone would score a 10. The response was a simple, "Oh no, no way!" So Longines created a scoreboard that could only post 9.95 as its highest score. No one was prepared for a 10. No one knew that a young girl from Romania would see the Olympics as "just another event" and concentrate so hard on perfecting her routines. Ironically, I didn't feel the routine was a 10. But luckily, the judges did, and history was made.

My coach, Bela Karolyi, had taught me this intense focus through our endless repetition of routines. Regardless of whether I knew what the Olympics was all about, Bela did know, and he trained me to be prepared for the routines, but not necessarily aware of the games. He let me go on believing that the Olympics would be just another event, with more people watching. I spent more time around Bela than my parents, so he learned exactly how to shape my focus in order to score a perfect 10. Bela would give all his best effort, then I'd give mine, and together we found success

Success far greater than I ever imagined.

I never thought about making history. I was too busy putting my attention into making it

Motivational Weight Management Tip

My experience of working with the Biggest Loser contestants and Symtrimics has inspired me to leave motivational diet, health, and wellness tips at the end of all of my blogs. These tools will be driven from the actual advice shared in my weekly motivational Transformation Talks. This week's tip: You can find activities and exercises that you love! Workouts don't have to feel like work. Find something you enjoy and use this as your daily exercise. I love skiing and although I'm getting a true workout, it doesn't feel like it. You can make family outings, a pick-up volleyball game or even a trip to the mall exercise. If there is one activity you hate, don't do it. There are plenty of other ways to still get a workout.