Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 114 - Michelle Mead - ALWAYS FORWARD

On TV, live and in person during the TV promotion, I lost focus. I was on a teeter totter. I was going up the big ramp and I lost focus and fell off of the teeter totter and cracked my C1 in half and had spinal cord injury four, five, which is just below — C1 is, they call it the hangman’s injury. I broke my neck basically in two places.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 114 - Michelle Mead - ALWAYS FORWARD

MICHELLE: [00:00:00] On TV, live and in person during the TV promotion, I lost focus. I was on a teeter totter. I was going up the big ramp and I lost focus and fell off of the teeter totter and cracked my C1 in half and had spinal cord injury four, five, which is just below — C1 is, they call it the hangman’s injury. I broke my neck basically in two places.

[Intro Music]

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JESSE: [00:01:26] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today has done a multitude of sports. To say that she’s a multi-sport athlete is a bit of an understatement. She started, I’ll say, life for her sporting career as a gymnast, eventually moving on to working with a professional ballet company for 10 years, has done things like competed in Amateur World Championships and duathlon. She was ninth at the inaugural Outer Banks Marathon. Welcome to the show, Michelle Mead.

MICHELLE: [00:01:55] Hi, Jesse. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be part of the podcast.

JESSE: [00:02:00] And so in case, we will try not to dive too deep into it because this isn’t really quite the purview of the show. In case anybody’s like well wait, what was the smart part, you usually do the smart part. Michelle has done insurance in, I can’t even begin to explain what you already explained to me before we got going. But she helps small businesses now with their insurance and that kind of thing. So, that’s the smart part, which I guess if we were doing this live, we could have people say yes, I want to hear about that or not. But for the sake of most people, I’m assuming if they want to know more about insurance, they can probably get in touch with you if they’ve got a small business that has needs for such a thing.

MICHELLE: [00:02:45] Absolutely, they can reach out to me any number of ways. I’m sure you’ll have my email and contact information. But we offer health reimbursement arrangements for small businesses. And that enables business owners to offer a benefit. Many times smaller businesses are priced out of the small group market. So, what we do is we help facilitate by offering a benefit program that an employer can fund the insurance for both premiums as well as any out of pocket medical expenses. So, they’re great programs, they’re IRS sponsored and we work directly with the ACA, the Affordable Care Act, and it’s really a fantastic program. I’m so excited to be part of it because so many people need insurance.

And health insurance is such an important component to everyone’s lives. And I’m a good example of somebody who never thought you needed insurance. And I always like to say you don’t need insurance until you need it. And so it’s really, really important for everyone to have some type of health insurance. And I always like to say the superheroes of the world who think that they don’t need some type of coverage are always the ones who need it the most. Because they’re usually the ones that are doing the extreme sports, zooming down the skateboard ramps, mountain biking, doing all kinds of at risk things because they’re in great shape. But the minute that a crash occurs or something happens that’s bad, like what happened to me.

JESSE: [00:04:27] Right. We’re obviously very much going to get into your story. Even with something as minor, I’ll say minor, I crashed at 70.3 Eagleman and shattered my collarbone. It was bad enough I had to have surgery, whereas most people who break their collarbone don’t. I hit the pavement going 25 miles an hour in essentially a skin suit, so it’s just body against road. And going to a race like that you’ve got health insurance through the race. So, number one, if nobody tells you that, know that because nobody told me that and I had to figure that out for myself that the race would help cover some of that. But then you don’t expect, like, I didn’t expect to go down. I didn’t expect to hit the pavement. It was a freak situation going around a turn with gra– I wasn’t doing anything extreme.

The most extreme part was just the riding fast part, but that’s par for the course. There was no hill. It was flat. [crosstalk] It’s a situation where it’s not even something that you would think would be an issue, as you mentioned, until it is and then you need some kind of coverage. I would have been in a world of hurt. Well, I mean, I had insurance through the ACA at the time, but then having the help from USA Triathlons insurance for the race and all that kind of — and my membership with them definitely helped. But I guess we can jump straight into your story since we’re already here. We can jump back to the early days in gymnastics and ballet later. So, what did happen to you? Why? Where were you? Give me the primer, lead me into what went on.

MICHELLE: [00:06:31] Sure. Well, I was coming off of a competitive season. I was coming off of my — I’d just completed a half Ironman and I was getting ready for cyclocross season, which is kind of that next fall thing that happens in my seasons normally. And I was asked to participate in a television promo for Northeast Ohio Cycling, which was the largest cycling event here in Ohio and it was down at Edgewater Park.

So, I was like, “Oh, yeah, sure.” So, I went down to do the television promo to promote the event. And since I’d been doing a lot of the cyclocross races and stuff, doing obstacles. And that type of thing was not anything that I hadn’t done before. I’d been at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Biking Park, I’ve done a lot of the weird things like teeter totters and skinnies and all that kind of stuff, mountain bike race as well and cyclocross, the whole kit and caboodle.

And on TV, live and in person during the TV promotion, I lost focus. I was on a teeter totter. I was going up the big ramp and I lost focus and fell off of the teeter totter and cracked mice C1 in half and had spinal cord injury four five, which is just below — C1 is, they call it the hangman’s injury. I broke my neck basically in two places. There’s like a 4% survival rate. So, I’m in the 4% that actually survive that injury.

Going over, I mean, I never lost consciousness so I knew what was happening. And I knew I did something really bad when I was kind of laying on the ground, and I couldn’t move anything. I hit the ground and it was kind of like the white light for a minute. And then I was just kind of laying there and I had little trouble catching my breath. I couldn’t really breathe well, but it was kind of just on the ground.

And then I was trying to figure out what happened. And I felt like I was kind of encased in glass. It was really, really a scary experience because I couldn’t move anything. Like it was almost like you were frozen. So, then EMF came and put me on the flat board and off to Metro. I went and pretty much I got to Metro and they had to do the X rays and MRI to see what they were dealing with. And there wasn’t really a big option after.

As soon as they saw what was going on, they’re like, yeah, you’re going to surgery now. We’re calling your people. So, they called in all my family and everything because at that point, they really weren’t sure what the outcome was going to be. So, 16 hours later I came out of surgery and it was just a strange time to come out of surgery and I couldn’t move anything really. I could feel my toes, I could feel my feet but my whole upper body from the waist up, I had no movement. And that was really, really a terrifying time for me because being as active as I had been I’m like, this could be a new reality. And it was really a sobering experience to not be able to even move your arms or hands at all. I mean, it was just like, whoo.

So, then I was just not sure what the next steps were going to be. I started to feel a little bit of movement. They had me on pretty high doses of a lot of drugs at that point, just coming out of surgery. But within two days, they had agreed that I was a good candidate to go into MetroHealth’s Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy group. Because I was so fit they felt I had a great opportunity to potentially get movement back.

And at that point, they couldn’t really give me any indication as to whether I was going to get anything back. Nobody knew. They had to wait till the swelling and everything went down. And then eventually, I started to be able to feel a little bit of movement, like in my left pinky finger. So, I started to just focus in on that, and moving that, and then eventually, with a lot of work with our occupational therapy.

The therapists were amazing at MetroHealth. They really walked me through a lot of things I couldn’t do myself, so they would start with just basic movements, so just moving my arm back and forth. And them manipulating it, because I couldn’t do it at all. I mean, I had no feeling at all. And so it took many, many weeks. I eventually started to get feeling back in my hand, in my left hand. So, then being an Ironman person you get one little thing back, and it gives you the glimmer of hope.

And then it’s like, all right, I’ve got the left back so there’s no reason I can’t get the right back. And it’s more of that I was taking it really a day at a time. And at no point during the whole process of recovery, did I ever — I never had the thought that I wasn’t going to get better and that I wasn’t going to get everything back that I had. I even had the inclination that I was going to do, and I still have it today, the goal of still doing a triathlon.

Now, my goals have shifted a little bit. I no longer want to do the full Ironman distance, but I’ve been helping coach others so that gives me the fix — That gives the long distance fix that I need as far as just being able to be a positive influence for others. And since I competed at a pretty high level they usually listen to my advice. I work with some of the best coaches in the country.

I worked with Rick Kattouf. He’s out of South Carolina now and he got me to World Championships. And I was competing at a pretty high level, at an elite level for both marathons and duathlon and into tris. So, still at it today, but I’ve kind of put the Ironman distances aside. But I still think we’ve been through COVID times and everything, I still have the bite to want to try and do at least a sprint. So, it started running a little bit again.

I got my legs back. My legs came back relatively quickly. So, when I was going through rehab trying to get my upper body back engaged, I set my Strava and I started a walk around the spinal cord injury floor up at Metro, which I was always troublesome for them. Because usually the people on the spinal cord injury floor are not walking around. But I was in so much pain because I couldn’t take the pain, like the oxycodones and that type of thing. That did not work well in my system.

It would shut down my bladder and I had lots of problems on that. So, they took me off of all of those meds which left me kind of wide awake at 02:00 in the morning. So, I started with the walker and it was good because it made my hands work also by holding on to the walker. I’d like to make my left hand, I’d have to put my right hand on the walker and then I’d start walking around though. I started Strava-ing my laps around the floor. So, the nurse is like, “She’s up again.”

JESSE: [00:15:07] So, it’s not the same thing, but it reminds me of my father. He’s in his late 70s now. and he had been in the hospital a little while, about a year or two ago. And it was like his thing to like, I don’t know, I guess to show himself that he felt good. So, dad, if you’re listening then you can tell me later, I guess. But it was like he would get up and be like, I’m doing laps. He’d be like I did 15 laps today, or I did 30 laps today, or he’d have a goal of how many laps he wanted to do. And I don’t — It’s more unusual in your case. But in general, I don’t know that most patients are getting up and doing laps around the hospital.

MICHELLE: [00:15:56] Well, once you have Strava. If you don’t have Strava, it didn’t happen. You know how that works. [crosstalk] It’s gotta be in there. But, yeah, it’s one of those things that, like the athlete, I mean, a lot of people ask me how did you come back. And I said I equate it to my Ironman training. Once you do it, any little positive impact that you have, it builds on itself. And it’s just like doing your Ironman training, or just like doing any of your longer distance runs or marathoning. That’s the one thing I think that people don’t understand what it takes to get to that elite level. Like when we watch the Olympians, they make it look so, so easy. But if you know what it takes to get there, and I don’t ever say oh — I don’t ever ding anybody for not running super fast because not everybody has the physical capability of an Olympian.

But at the same token, the amount of work that they put into getting to that level is so much different than what an average Joe athlete is going to encounter. And most of the average people, normal people of the world aren’t going to be able to even — their bodies won’t even be able to hold up to that kind of level of training. So, it’s just two different levels. I mean, you’ve got your five-hour marathoners and then you got your two-hour marathoners.

And both of them have their own different journeys to get to the finish, and they all finish. And for me, it’s just a different mindset to that two-hour marathoner has put in hours and hours and hours and hours more than a five-hour marathon. It doesn’t really say that the five-hour marathoner didn’t still have that same accomplishment because they definitely do. And it’s harder to be out there for five-hours, to be honest.

But at that elite level, they’ve put in so much effort, and everything from nutrition to just their training programs, and they live it. Most of them, that’s all they do. And I mean, I think people don’t really understand what all goes into. And it’s not just a few months of preparation or a year of preparation. Most of them have been preparing for three, four or five years in some instances, longer than that. So, that’s the biggest difference. I think that’s the biggest separation. And I mean you know, you’ve experienced — [crosstalk] higher levels.

JESSE: [00:18:51] Right. And I tried to become a pro and I didn’t. That’s where the crash happened was at the race where — I waffle on my mind whether I would have made it. I know I would have been — I was on pace to be right. I mean, you had to be top three. So, it depends on where people actually finish. But after seeing the results and knowing where I was always close. And I’m like, maybe I would have made it, maybe I wouldn’t have.

You never know. I was halfway through the bike. It was a, like I said, 70.3. But yeah, it takes an immense amount of preparation, not just physical, though, is like the mental emotional toll that that much training takes on you. And if you’re not careful, it can consume a part of you. And it’s not quick. It’s so slow because it goes on for so long. I mean, post-college up to the point of the crash, I was like six years post-college, six-seven years post college. I’d been doing triathlons for, I think, eight years at that point. I started in mid-college when I was still running collegially.

And that event for me, it broke me because of all the mental weight and mental strain that training had gone in to get me to that point. And just knowing how many years it took me to get there, if I wanted to get back, like how many more years of that level of effort it was going to take. And I just — I didn’t have it anymore. And that’s the part I think it’s hard to understand and it’s hard to make that call.

I mean, before we get going, we’re talking about Simone Biles in the Olympics and her, what I would refer to as a very mature decision to say, I’m not well enough to compete. Like, it was hard for me to say that I’m not well enough. And you’ve probably experienced this coming back knowing, okay, yeah, I did an Ironman. But right now, I’m just trying to walk down the hall with the walker. That’s where I’m at. And be realistic about it. That’s tough because you have aspirations and that hunger doesn’t go away, but you have to temper it.

MICHELLE: [00:21:15] Well, and on top of it, I think the biggest thing for me was staying positive, and not letting the dark thoughts sink in. Like not thinking, oh my gosh, I’m never going to be able to use my hands again. I’m going to have to rely on other people for the rest of my life to do simple, basic things. And I mean, I learned a lot, just from the standpoint of like, even simple things, like I realized that most hospital rooms are not set up well enough for people with any kind of spinal cord injury. Because they set the toilet paper roll is behind you. So, you have to turn and reach to try and grab behind you, which is impossible for somebody who’s in a neck collar and they can’t move.

And so there were little things that I learned that I tried to help the hospital with. And I’m like, no, if you want somebody to try and do something simple. And it’s that positive thinking. It’s like, okay, here’s how we’re going to do it the right way. And here’s how we can help others to be able to continue on the journey of whatever their goal is. And I was always goal driven. As soon as the doctor told me, well, you’re on pace, and you’re going to be here for a minimum of 10 weeks, I sat down and went, oh, I want to get out in eight. He said 10, I’m going to do it in eight. So, I started setting goals just based on what they told me. And then there were certain things that you had to be able to do in order to get released from rehab. You had to be able to walk up steps, you had to be able to step into, like a car.

So, they had like samples of things to have you do in order to qualify you to get out and get home. And I mean, I knew at the very beginning that I wasn’t ready to go home because there were so many things that I couldn’t do. I mean, simple things, like moving beads on a piece of wire. Basically, you worked within the context of having children’s toys that you had when you’re two. And that’s what you do in rehab to try and reconnect those nerves and reconnect those muscles and make them work again when you have a spinal cord injury, because there’s been an interruption in that communication. So, it was definitely a long journey. I mean, I still have some residual like, I describe it as, it kind of feels like my hands are always asleep.

And then it’s really weird when my arm actually does fall asleep because then it’s like a double tingle feel. But I have all my grip back. I have pretty much — My grip is stronger than any — for my age group, my grip is stronger than most women. And I’ve been still working out with weights and still doing biking. I got back on the bike within — I’m the founder of the Global Fat Bike ride Day. So, I have a Fat tire bike. So, my goal was after the accident to be able to at least ride a little section of the Global Fat Bike ride Day. So, I did that with my group and I had about 80 fat bike riders in December and I just did a real short part of the ride but it was really —

A lot of people asked me after it happened, they said, “Well, you’re never going to be on the bike again, are you?” And I’m like, it’s because of the bike that I was able to come back because I had the goal of getting back. My first couple of days once I got home, I got out on one of my boyfriend’s kids bikes. And I still had neck collar on, but I just sat on the little kids bike, and I just sat on it and pushed it down the driveway just to see if I still had the balance. And I did. Of course, they were all freaked out. They go, “What are you doing?”

JESSE: [00:25:32] I was like, somebody’s got to be yelling at you. Like, “Michelle, get down. What are you doing? Quit doing that.”

MICHELLE: [00:25:39] The neighbor, the little girl who lives two doors down from me, she’s about six at the time she came down, she says, “Miss Michelle, did the doctors know you’re doing this?” She says, “I don’t think this is a good idea.” So, she made me laugh, and I’m — [crosstalk] I said, “No, Emma. No one has told me.” I said, “But I am a grown up and I can do what I want to do.” But it gave me the inkling that I can still eventually, I knew at that point, I wasn’t ready to go for a full out mountain bike ride. But it was that positive reinforcement that I was able to still balance and I could still do some of those things. And that’s really what still ultimately drives me. And I still — I’m walking.

As a matter of fact, I hadn’t tried running for about a year because I think I tried to run too soon after the injury and it just wasn’t comfortable. I mean, I could do it. So, just this past weekend, I went out and ran some quarters just to see, like running and walking. And I got down to about a nine and a half minute pace, which I felt pretty good about. And I’m like, all right. And it wasn’t too horribly uncomfortable. But it’s still not — My marathon days are — I don’t envision myself doing another marathon anytime soon.

JESSE: [00:27:08] Right. Well getting back to running after taking time off for anybody is uncomfortable the first time, let alone coming back from such a big injury. So, you talking about the initial afterwards, you’re going through rehab, it made me think about — So, I’ve spoken to a number of athletes who’ve gone through a number of injuries over the years, but you’re talking about the doctor saying 10 months and you’re eight months. And it made me think about a conversation I had recently with a professional cricketer from South Africa, Lwandiswa Zuma. He had a back injury when he was 19, if I remember correctly, and so he’s a bowler, so basically like a pitcher in baseball.

And so he couldn’t throw you couldn’t do any of that. And he thought he had just become a professional at 19, he thought his career was basically over before he started. It took him 18 months, which is an eternity for a 19 year old to get back to doing, and he’s playing professionally now. We talked about how setting timelines, at least for him and for me, often if I get injured, or the number of injuries I’ve been through in college, setting that timeline sometimes almost sets us up for feeling like failures. It’s like if you’re like, oh, I’m going to make it by X date, and then you don’t, like you have a tendency to forget about the progress you made. Because you couldn’t do X by this certain date. Did you ever have that similar experience? Or were you just dead set on that timeline from the beginning?

MICHELLE: [00:29:05] I was pretty much dead set on my timeline. I mean, I accomplished everything that I wanted to in the time that I allocated. Some of the speed and things that I wish I could do things didn’t come as fast as I wanted to. But for me, just being able to get the ability to use my arms and hands back was so important. And I mean, I still have some limited mobility issues even today. But I always think back to when I first came out of surgery and I couldn’t do anything. And I literally had to rely on everybody else to do everything for me. And for me it was really all about getting those nerves to reconnect. And once I started to get a little bit of that feeling back I have just worked at relentlessly until I got pretty much full mobility back.

They’re using me as a case study for their program, because their program is, it’s a pretty rigorous program. It was two hours of OT in the morning and then quick lunch break, and then another two hours of PT in the afternoon. It’s one of the most comprehensive and rigorous OT and PT programs in the country. So, they use people like me to quantify and validate that their approach is correct. Unfortunately, not everybody can do all the things that I was able to do. A lot of it they equated because I was in such good shape pre injury, that that really helped enable me to do some of the things that I was able to do.

I mean, my core and my abs were so strong, even with being locked in position with my neck, I could actually sit up on the table. And the physical therapists were like we never have anybody that can do that. And I was able to walk up stairs without the use of my arms. And they said just the balances, they said we just don’t see people like you come through here. They’re either really completely in a quadriplegic type situation, or — So, I was really an unusual case for them. And I think a lot of it had to do with a combination of being fit, being a relentless pursuer of I’m very competitive.

So, whatever the occupational therapist would tell me to do, I’d always try and at least do one more, or two more over what she asked me for. And I kind of just viewed it as like, well, all right, if you’re going to tell me I’m going to do 10, I want to do at least 12. And I tried to maximize everything that I was getting out of what they were doing for me. And sometimes I didn’t even really know what some of the stuff, I didn’t even know really what it was doing. But then they took a lot of time and helped me to understand how connecting those nerves, how making those nerve connections. And they said sometimes it’s a matter of willing your mind to reconnect with your body.

So, there is a little bit of that. I would just sit, sometimes they’d have me standing up in the chair, and I would just squeeze a towel and just make my hands work and make my hands move on an ongoing basis. So, it’s stuff like that, things you just don’t even think about. I mean, I still do it now. It’s kind of like one of my tics when I get nervous. I still am like moving my hands around just to make sure that they still work.

JESSE: [00:33:02] Yeah. Yeah. If you don’t want to answer this, this is fine because I don’t want to make you live in a dark place when we’re having an enjoyable conversation. But so again, thinking about injuries, I was thinking about way back episode five of the podcast, so when I very first started, talking to former pro-cyclist Cecilia Davis Hayes. And she was in a crash where, don’t quote me on this. You have to go back and listen to the episode if you actually want to know what happened out of her mouth. But I think she said she broke her pelvis in this crash.

And we were talking about — I was dealing with at the time, this is not too long after me recovering and getting back on the bike and getting back into triathlons, and just feeling almost like PTSD. Like, getting nervous on fast downhills, and even if the — like the bike was fine and just feel unstable just because, for me, that situation was out of the blue. Like, everything was fine until it wasn’t. Like, do you have any of those moments where you have to deal with this momentary sense of panic, I guess I’ll say, brought on by things that you wouldn’t think would make that happen?

MICHELLE: [00:34:34] Most definitely. I mean, the first time I got back up on the road bike, I mean, I did — I got up on the road bike on my trainer in the family room, and it was really — I just didn’t feel like I had the balance. And that’s when I ultimately went out and tried the kids bike. ‘Cause I’m like, oh I don’t — It was just a moment of like, just fear of like, oh my God, I don’t know about this.

And the first time I went out on the mountain bike trail, I have a full suspension mountain bike and I thought I was ready. And the first time I saw one of the bridges, I’m like, stopped, got off, walke, you know. So, yeah, I mean, I still have some of that residual just — I’ve gotten much better, but I don’t have nearly the speed. I don’t try any of the hard stuff. I keep all four tires at all times on the ground. I don’t try to do any jumps. I don’t do any of the tricks, any of that kind of stuff anymore.

So, yeah, I still have some of that. I try not to let it paralyze me from doing stuff. And actually, I just had a new bike day this past weekend, because I just found that the upright position is a little bit more comfortable. So, I bought myself a Liv hybrid bike with front suspension. So, I can do some of the urban assault rides with people because I was killing myself to try and keep up with my fat bike and with my mountain bike, and everybody else has these like hybrids.

So, I’m like, all right. So, I mean, I’m still very social, and I like to go out with people, and I still have the need for speed. One of the other thing I just bought is a new — I have a new Piaggio scooter, 150 motorized. And I’m like, wow, I should have done this years ago because this motorized scooter is way faster than any of my pedal bikes.

So, when you asked, I’m like eh — When people asked me, oh, my gosh, you have a broken neck, you have pins in your neck, and you commute to work on a scooter. And I’m like, you got to live life. You only go around once. And I’m like, if I’m going to get taken out, I’m like, I’ve already broken my neck.

JESSE: [00:37:08] I’ve done it once. So, that’s the debate, right, where it’s like, where’s the balance between being active, but like, a little bit of Carpe Diem, I guess. Season the day doing the thing you want to do, but also, not like recklessly endangering yourself. And bringing it back to which, sorry, you as the listener weren’t privy to this part of our conversation, bring it back to snowmobiles. Like, being conscious of like, I’m okay to do this, and I’m not okay to do this. And like having the maturity to decide, it’s like that’s the tough part is not being afraid — [crosstalk]

MICHELLE: [00:37:55] She made the right call.

JESSE: [00:37:56] Right. No, she absolutely made the right call. [crosstalk] Absolutely.

MICHELLE: [00:37:57] And not, I would say not every athlete has the cognizant ability to be able to do that, and do it on a world stage like she did. So, I applaud her for her tenacity and being — I mean, it was a gutsy move. I mean, I know some people criticize her for that. But in my opinion, she did exactly what she needed to do and that was the smart thing to do. She could have — People don’t even understand what it takes to do some of the things that she can do. And if you’re not spot on, 100% she could have died, or been permanently paralyzed. And that’s not a risk that anyone should take just because of pressure from a coach or pressure from somebody else.

I mean, she did exactly what she needed to do. And I applaud her for her strength, and her focus, and she’s still — I mean, she’s the greatest of all time, in my opinion, as far as gymnastics goes. We won’t see another Simone in our lifetime, I don’t think. I mean, they just don’t come around that often. And so I was thrilled to see or be able to get back up on the beam and still bring home a medal and, you know.

JESSE: [00:39:21] So, back us up a little bit to, you know, spent time as a gymnast, so you have a little bit better, I’ll say internal understanding of gymnastics because most of us don’t have anybody in our family in gymnastics. We didn’t do gymnastics. For most of us, it comes around once every four years. We watch it, it’s amazing, they make it look relatively simple, unless something goes wrong. And it’s like awesome. But then like we were talking about, it’s just the comprehension of the difficulty of it. Not just physically, but having to be so mentally dialed in to hit everything. So, I’m leaving a lot of threads for you to answer here, but just [inaudible 00:40:13] up a little bit. So, it makes you wonder too because we don’t often see or not —

Generally speaking, there’s many younger girls and ladies that are competing in the Olympics in gymnastics, it’s just the nature of the sport. And since Simone is comparatively older, she’s not old by any means, I wonder if that plays a role in her ability to step back and say no. Like I think about, obviously, which I don’t know enough to get into this conversation. But there’s like the issues of abuse with [inaudible 00:40:54] gymnastics. But even that aside, I wonder about the power dynamic between adult coach and team athlete? Like, does the team have enough, I’ll say self-confidence, although maybe that’s not the right word, to know, hey, I’m not okay and I’m going to step back? Or is it like — [crosstalk]

MICHELLE: [00:41:19] Generally not. No. I can tell you based on my experiences with my coaches, I would have done anything my coach told me to do. I mean, and that was all the way up through, I competed all the way up to what, till I was 18. And anything that coach told me to do I would do it. And it really was a mentality of power through no matter what. And I still think today, I still have some of that same — I’m more self driven. I don’t need — But any coach that will walk you through, that’s where I think some of the coaching that she has is fantastic as well. Because it takes a lot more for a coach to tell you to back off and to not do something than it is to just say go ahead and power through.

And I mean, you can look at Kerri Strug and Béla Károlyi and that whole dynamic, she should have not powered through. I mean, she had a sprain or a break or a fracture. And yes, it made for drama and it made for great TV, but I don’t think it was necessarily a great precedence for the sport. And so I think we have gotten better, I think people from a coaching standpoint has gotten better, and at least more aware. And I think the pandemic definitely has impacted a lot of people as well. Mental health is more on the forefront, because I think the isolation that people have felt and not being able to see people. I know when I was in the hospital, being able to have visitors and having people come to see me was a big component once I got well enough to be able to see people.

I mean, right after surgery, I didn’t see anybody and I couldn’t function well enough to want to see people. But once I got better it was really helpful. And I think having a coach and having someone that is there looking out for you is really important. And when you start looking at the pandemic and the isolation of people who didn’t get to have visitors when they were really at their sickest or trying to recover, it helps in your recovery because it gives you something to look forward to. It gives you some positive, that, oh there’s stuff that’s going on in the outside world that you don’t really get to know about other than if someone comes and sees you.

So, I think from the Olympic standpoint, and the coaches and everything, I think it made a bigger impact with everything that’s been going on in the world. And because it had been delayed for a whole year. I mean that delay was helpful for some of the younger athletes, but for someone like Simone who’s been at it for much longer it would be like you’re getting ready for a full Ironman and then I’m telling you, nope, not going to do it. You gotta train a whole nother year. You know, and you’ve peaked for that one event and you’re ready to crush it and then they tell you, no, we’re not doing it.

JESSE: [00:44:41] Yeah. And I mean, that happened to a number of people, I mean, this past year. That’s exactly what they were doing and they had to reset. And I did the 70.3 I was never really interested in the full, but just thinking about the mentality of having to reset and redo an entire year, I mean, I’ve kind of went through that with crashing and having a reset. And just, it’s such a big barrier to throw at you. And there are definitely people that overcome it.

But there’s some people that won’t, because you have to be able to break it down like you did, where it’s not a year, it’s what I need to do today. And I don’t know that everybody has that skill, or is strong in that skill yet. And without it, it’s just like a marathon or anything that’s long and people go, how do you run a marathon? One mile at a time. You don’t try to take out the whole thing at once. One mile at a time. How’d this mile go, how the maximum go? It’s the same, like just this day, the next day, and that’s it.

MICHELLE: [00:45:59] It’s the small bit, sometimes it’s even hour by hour. You wake up and you go, oh. I mean, one of the things I will say that saved me in the hospital when I was not able to do anything is I watched the marathon of Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I guess I’m a little bit of a sci-fi geek as well. So, that was one of the few things that kept me going is having that on TV and having something to distract. Because you have to have some level of distraction as well, especially when your mind can go into dark places. And so having those things to do and a little bit of a fun distraction, at least something that you liked and enjoyed to watch, that was helpful as well.

JESSE: [00:46:46] Yeah. Maybe we can talk about sci-fi afterwards. We watched plenty of that. But we’re starting to wind down on time. I always feel like I don’t ever get to all the things that I want to talk to with my guests, and you’re no exception to that. But I’m going to ask you this question. So, I’m asking the same question to everybody for an entire season. This year’s question I’ll ask you, and it kind of pertains to your situation, kind of doesn’t, but I still think you’ll have a good insight on it. And the question I’m asking everybody is, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?

MICHELLE: [00:47:28] For me, it’s really all about, I am just so competitive. That fuels me. Not reaching a goal or being just short of a goal fuels my desire even more to accomplish whatever that task is. Whether it’s — I was riding with Emma the other day, and she’s now just turning 10. So, we were riding bikes, and she said something that just made me laugh because she has that same drive as a 10-year-old that she has — she had me as the inner 10-year-old.

We were writing, and a lady passed us with a hybrid bike and Emma took off like a crazy — crazy fast on her BMX bike. And then she caught up to her, got right in front of her, and then let her pass. And then she came back to me and she just looked at me, she says, “Was that a definitive pass?” And I said, “Yes, Emma, it was a definitive pass.” And she goes, “Good.” She said, “That’s all I needed to do today.”

So, I’m like, that kind of sums up how I approach life. It’s like, do we have a definitive pass? Yes. And if we do, then it’s like, okay, we’ve done what we needed to do today. And I do that in my business life. I do that in my personal life. And sometimes it’s just nonsensical, like there was real, no reason for it. But it was like, well, I’ll see somebody up ahead and I’m like, I gotta catch ‘em. You know, I don’t care if they’re 90 years old with a walker. I’m like, I gotta catch ‘em. I gotta catch ‘em.

JESSE: [00:49:12] Going to chase them down. It does not matter. I absolutely understand that. And that’s funny enough, that’s a tendency, like, I was pretty tired for my run today. But even just — I’m out on a run, there could be somebody ahead of me and I find myself picking up the pace like, I gotta get in front of them. It’s so engrained after doing it for so many years that you like — I at least have to consciously be like, slow down. You don’t have to pass this person as fast as you can. Like, it’s okay. Just relax. I have to coach myself through that. But no, that’s I — [crosstalk]

MICHELLE: [00:49:47] I’ve learned it’s not a bad thing to definitively pass no matter what. Definitively pass and you’ll be good.

JESSE: [00:49:57] Yeah. Michelle, where can people find you, get in touch with you, see what you’re up to, see how your journey is progressing, all that kind of stuff?

MICHELLE: [00:50:06] I am on all manners of social media. So, I’m on LinkedIn. It’s Michelle Lee Mead on LinkedIn. You can find me through LIG Solutions. And we’re located right here in Independence. We’re in Ohio. So, I will give you — Oh, my email is That’s my personal email. And then my work email is

JESSE: [00:50:37] Awesome. Thanks for hanging out with me today, Michelle.

MICHELLE: [00:50:40] Thank you so much for having me, Jesse. It’s been fantastic and I look forward to working more with you.

JESSE: [00:50:47] Awesome. Thank you.

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