What Parents Can Learn: Shaun White’s Mettle


Shaun began snowboarding when his family took him to the mountain as a family fun activity.  He found his passion and became obsessed with riding.  He has had a supportive family and the right coaches along the way.  It’s resulted in him becoming a snowboarding legend.  He will forever be the grand-daddy of the sport who defined it for the next generation of riders.  He has earned the gold medals and the $15 million dollar corporate reward.  But the equation for being a champion isn’t just <P = Z x E = $.  It includes C5.  To be a genuine, real deal champion, it takes core character to handle the process, the successes, and falls of becoming an extraordinary athlete as well as an extraordinary human being.


A friend of mine, Lanny Donoho, said that when things are hard, it puts a megaphone up to your heart.  What’s there is magnified for all to see.  I’ve also heard that when you become successful, it makes who you are, bigger….think about that….  Shaun has had enormous success and also had a tough time lately.  He had a pretty rugged crash during training that now casts shadows of cautionary hesitation on his attempts to land his gold-medal trick.  His critics are loud and harsh.  Pressure is always on to put on the show everyone is expecting.  He pulled out of slopestyle for publicly stated reasons, but maybe moreso because of new unfamiliar inward demons.  He failed to even get on the podium in his half-pipe domain.  It’s got to be crushing.  He’s had wild success…so who he is has been magnified, and now he’s got the megaphone up to his heart as he struggles.  And what are we seeing?  What are we hearing?


The Washington Post article is only a slice of what we can know about Shaun but we saw a reflex reaction in an unplanned moment. Read the article below)  I saw the cameras on him at the end of the half-pipe competition where he embraced the gold medalist in congratulation.  Both are only small indications of who he is, but it’s his C5 showing.  The point?  Shaun is a champion.  A genuine champion.  I’m sure he has his moments, like we all do, but what we’re seeing is his mettle. 


“For me to be remembered in this sport, I don’t know if tonight makes or breaks my place in the sport. I would like to be remembered as more than a snowboarder. This is one big part of who I am, but it’s not all who I am. So yeah.”-Shaun White.


Parents:  Life happens before and after, in and through the pursuit of any dream.  It’s also a continuous series of highs and lows, celebrations and struggles. Your child’s pursuit is something they will do, not who they are.  Who they are is determined by the character built into them.  To build a superstar athlete, build a champion human being. 


< P = Z x C5 x E

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — COLUMN | What happens when the story you came to write doesn’t become the story anymore? What happens when that story does a 180-degree turn in mid-air, then a 540 and finally a dizzying 1260, spinning your perception completely around?

I had heard Shaun White had become too big for his snowboard bindings. He didn’t hang with other members of the close-knit Team USA community. His “people” shut down halfpipes at ski resorts so White could ride by himself. He wasn’t the cool kid we once called the Flying Tomato anymore, a thatch of reddish-orange hair rising 22 feet off a wall of ice.

No, he was now the Descending Diva — S.W.E., Shaun White Enterprises, the $15-mil-per-year action sports icon — the world’s richest, most famous and now most isolated extreme star.

He needed to be put back in place, I thought. He needed to remember the, well, dudeliness that got him here.

Then the story forked. Maybe I should explain.

About an hour before White competed, I met a freckle-faced, St. Louis kid with a stars-and-stripes beanie and a little miniature flag named Ben Hughes, his mother Liz, and their friend, Kaitlyn Lyles. Turns out Ben and Kaitlyn are here because of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Ben got a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia at 6 years old. He underwent 2 1 / years of radiation and chemotherapy. Before he finished his treatments at the end of 2012, he had found two new inspirations in life: snowboarding and Shaun White. He loved both.

Kaitlyn learned of White while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games on television from her hospital bed at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., where she underwent chemotherapy for osteosarcoma, a rare form of blood cancer.

“I was literally in that hospital room for all of February,” she said. “Shaun White is what really got me through. I loved that even after he clinched the gold medal, he still went for it, trying tricks and refusing to coast when he won.”

Kaitlyn playfully vowed not to leave Sochi before she was Mrs. Shaun White.  

I asked when the kids would get to meet White.

“They don’t,” Liz said. “That’s not part of the deal. We just get to watch. They go home Friday after we see a hockey game. This is our only day here. I know. What can you do?”

In journalism school, they tell you early on not to get involved in the story. Keep professional distance from subjects and sources to maintain objectivity or something like that. But these kids were thisclose to their Olympic dream. Shoot, Kaitlyn was the length of two snowboards away from her future husband. Two cancer survivors had traveled almost 6,000 miles to get within maybe seven feet of their athletic hero and some rule or protocol was going to forbid them from actually meeting?

Hell with Olympic rules.

I went over to Nick Alexakos, press officer for the U.S. snowboard team, told him about Ben, the kid behind me in the beanie. I held back on Kaitlyn, thinking her chances of having a restraining order put on her were greater than meeting him if I mentioned the Mrs. White stuff.

So now here comes White, finishing up with the TV reporters and about to meet up with the print media in the mixed zone, about 20 yards from Ben and Kaitlyn. “Hey, if I lift that 10-year-old kid over the barricade, will I get in trouble?” I ask my clear-headed colleague, Rick Maese, who gave me the nyet look. “I wouldn’t do it, dude.”

I was torn when White suddenly made the decision for me. Alexakos directed him to where Ben was, their eyes met and that was it.

I don’t know if White has caught more rarefied air in that moment, catapulting himself in one leap over the barricade. I do know one 10-year-old’s life will never be the same.

Photo courtesy of Ben Trimmer

 He high-fived them, they all kind of hugged as Ben shook his head in awe.

Said Kaitlyn: “I’m like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh, my God. I love him. He’s cuter in person.”

Liz Hughes finally covered her mouth as tears tumbled from her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said, grabbing my arm. “Thank you.”

“You’re . . . You’re . . .” I couldn’t speak. I just turned away, looked up at the mountains and wiped my eyes, finishing the “Welcome” part a minute later.

You think Ben was shocked? I came here ready to prick a legend’s balloon, resolute that the carefree kid I met eight years ago in Torino, who called his dad “The Rog,” was now an out-of-touch celebrity that didn’t connect with real people anymore.

And then that angle crumbled beneath a wall of emotion.

 The truth is, it was gone the moment I met his mother behind the stands hours earlier, before White had hurdled that barrier. I asked Cathy White what she thought of the backlash against her son, including competitors using social media to skewer him for either pulling out of the slopestyle event or not being one of the guys. She felt bad for him, saying, “It’s funny: They will tweet things, but up on the mountain they will be right next to him and not say anything.”

She reminded me Shaun is a survivor of two open-heart surgeries as a young child, that he belongs to the “Zipper Club,” with children whose chests have been surgically cut open. He gives 8 percent of his $15 million a year to the St. Jude’s children’s fund. Shaun’s sister, Cathy’s daughter, underwent 19 brain surgeries as a child.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone this, but when he was on that hospital bed during the second surgery and I didn’t know what would happen to my child, a family friend came up and said something to me,” Cathy said. “We’re not religious and he was a Mormon, an LDS elder in the church. He said, ‘Don’t worry. Your son is going to make it. He is going to be all right. He is going to grow up and become somebody special.’ ”  

Shaun White did. He grew up to become the greatest snowboarder in the world, so famous and admired that in an instant he could change a child’s life by clearing another barrier.

“I wish him the best of health,” White said of Ben, hours later at a news conference, saying he really enjoyed the encounter. “For me to be remembered in this sport, I don’t know if tonight makes or breaks my place in the sport. I would like to be remembered as more than a snowboarder. This is one big part of who I am, but it’s not all who I am. So yeah.”

Did I mention he wiped out in his first run of the finals and ended up finishing fourth without a medal, the first time in three Olympics he hasn’t won gold? No. That’s because, in the scheme of things, it’s not tragic.

“He’s a very good guy,” Liz Hughes said, her eyes welling again. “He does a lot of good things for many people.”

For every kid with a terminal disease, for every reporter convinced he has found the essence of who a person is, there is a moral to this story:

Never be too sure of where you’re going because you might just end up someplace else, crying on a mountaintop with a mother whose child’s cancer is thankfully in remission, with a rich and famous action sports star who delivered the Olympic moment of his life on the day he failed to win a medal.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.








Raising an Olympian: What parents can learn from JR Celski

<p = Z x C5 x E

Z = JR started skating as a family "group activity" when he was 3. He started competing at four years old. JR discovered his passion and natural talent in early childhood.

Parents: Get started doing fun doing all kinds of family "group activities" together. Expose your 3 and 4 year old to as wide a variety of interests as you can!

C5 = "We gotta make this work". To train, JR had to move across the country at 14 years old. It was difficult. 5 months before the Olympic Games, JR sliced his leg during a competition. It not only could have ended his career, but could have ended his life. The challenge made him realize who he was a human being. He fought his way back because he believes that the point of being an Olympian is jumping through obstacles. The key and the lock is "believing in myself enough, I can make it happen".

Parents: Accept that challenges are a normal part of life. Demonstrate to your children how to face adversity and work through whatever comes with a positive outlook. Find ways to "make it work" no matter what the situation. Build strong character and self-assured child.

E = His family believed in him. "He believed so much in himself, I believed in him too". "I never doubted myself. My mom is my backbone."

Parents: Adopt an attitude of, "I know you can…" with your children. Support effort and ethic within their control, not the prize or outcome that is not. Believe they can take one more step, go a little higher, do a little better. Expect them to be 1% better today than they were yesterday. Let them know you believe they can reach their potential.

Imagine a world where each of our children maximized their individual potentials and gave it as their gift to the rest of the world. Build your champion.

5 Things Parents Shouldn’t Miss about the Olympics

ImageAs we watched the Opening Ceremonies, the P & G Commercials that make me cry, watched the Slopestyle events, team skating, luge, and biathlon.  We saw Olympians.  

We saw a group of excited kids in funky patriotic sweaters excited to walk into the stadium.  We saw Sage throw down a trick that he hadn’t even practiced, but landed him one of the first medals of the Games.  We watched a just-turned-15 year old Russian girl skate as if she didn’t know she was supposed to make it at least looked like she trained, or worked hard since she made it look so incredibly easy and beautiful.  We watched Ashley Wagner gain redemption and a couple of ice dancers, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, move together as one as they’ve done since they were small children.  We saw sweat, spittle, pain, ecstacy, cheers and tears. But I’ve been picking up on a few other things that may have not been so obvious.  They are simple things, not rocket-science.  They are applicable, not magical.  But they’re threads that are common in the weave of an Olympian; of anyone who becomes extraordinary.  What can parents learn?

1.   FOUR.  4.  I heard this number over and over.  During interviews with athletes, it was the age they were introduced to their passion; their sport.  One was taken to a mountain to snowboard, another, to skating, another watched the Olympics and said, “that’s what I want to do”…  

Parents:  Allow your kids see and taste and try everything and anything when they’re 3, 4, 7 years old.  Don’t over-protect, don’t limit, don’t shelter, don’t ignore, don’t stow them away in a classroom.  Take them into the world and have fun exploring with them.  Be a tour guide and introduce them to everything you can see and do around you.  And yes, this requires parents to choose to invest in their children; to make them a priority not by being permissive and indulgent resulting in prima donna’s, but by focusing on doing what’s right and best for them.  Often this means our personal career, our satisfaction as adults, becomes raising the children we chose to bring into this world over pursuing other personal successes.

2.  PASSION.  Every Olympian loves, loves, loves what they do.  You hear it in their tone and when they describe their story.  They’ve latched onto what captured their imagination and couldn’t be stopped.  They still don’t have limits.  Their parents didn’t coerce or force or manipulate or orchestrate to turn their child into a phenom.  In fact, these Olympians needed to be reined in a bit by their parents to insist they come inside for a meal, sleep…warm up so they wouldn’t get frostbite…again.  Olympians have a deep passion within them.  They love what they do.  They love the process of excelling in what they love to do.  There’s a tenacity, a grit, a determination to go and go and go again.  They have a compulsion to set goals and see them become reality and a craving to see how much they can do and how far they can go.  

Parents:  You cannot manufacture passion.  Everyone has something that grabs their attention.  Explore as much as possible and fan the flames.  Pushing or pulling your child in a direction you dictate only puts your child on a fast-track to missing what they were meant to do.  Being externally motivated by your insistance will only cause a train wreck physically and emotionally later when they rebel and walk away.  It’s best to allow them to discover who they are, create the space and strength to center them on their own internal compass.   At best ask questions:  What do you want to try?  What do you enjoy most?  Do you think you can….?  Why don’t you try…?  Make it normal to pursue something they love, use their natural strengths to excel and push to their greatest potential.

3.  ME vs WE.  Olympians catch a unique fever.  Over and over, I hear that they are fueled to take their passion and natural talent beyond what they thought possible, to push the envelope of what they think they can do and redefine the sport, to represent their country well.  Bode Miller said he always races on the verge of out-of-control to the edge of himself.  Shawn White literally changed the height of the half-pipe because he kept forcing it to be built higher as he jumped to increasingly crazy heights.  As the athletes walked out into the stadium, the team instantly bonded in patriotism and pride.  These Olympians roll in the satisfaction of being a part of something bigger than themselves.  Their dreams go beyond themselves.

Parents:  Help your child know the difference of when it’s right to do what’s best for them as an individual, and applaud the efforts to participate in events bigger than one that require them to do what’s right for a team.  Celebrate taking appropriate risks to see how far they can go, helping them adjust and stretch further so they always know that excelling comes after taking a risk to go faster, higher stronger.  Point out how maximizing their potential isn’t just good for them, but adding to something bigger than them too.  

4.  PARENTS.  Every Olympian has a parent or two that surrounds them with support.  Their parents don’t limit, squash, or tell them they can’t…  They told them they believe in their potential.  It may not have even been said directly, but shown in providing freedom to try, the safety to risk, encouragement by standing quietly watching with a content smile, patching cuts, soothing sore muscles, providing never-ending meals, driving miles and miles.  They make sure they have what they need to move forward.

Parents:  In order for a child to move forward, to become all they can possibly become, they need to know their base, their parents, are solid and secure so they can risk what they do and know their parents will be there to love and accept them, encourage them, guide and assist them.  They need to know their parents will be there, behind them to catch a fall and ahead to smooth a way when there are obstacles ahead.  No matter what they do, your love and support needs to be the steady and secure thing.  It can’t be given when they succeed and you are proud and withdrawn in disgust if they fail.  It’s a very special and unique partnership.  Be proud of their efforts and pursuit, not the outcome.

5. PIVOTAL MOMENT:  Every Olympian has a story that includes struggle, pain, difficulties, and challenges.  In every case, there was at least one huge obstacle that threatened to stop them. JR Celski sliced his leg during competition so badly his life was in jeopardy.  He fought back and is in Sochi competing as an Olympian again.  Financial mountains, devestating injuries, problems that weren’t in their control, coaches that failed, teammates that caused havoc… There wasn’t one story where the road to the Olympics was a walk in the park.  In every case, Olympic families had monumental issues where it would have been legitimate to walk away.  But they didn’t.  They figured it out.  They adapted and overcame.  They made it happen.    

Parents:  Don’t lead your children to believe life is a microwave, 30 minute sitcom.  Life is a series of ups/downs, successes and failures, challenges and rewards.  It’s neither all good and easy, nor bad and difficult.  It’s a ride to navigate it all. Help them to take what’s before them head-on and deal in the best way they can.  They need to learn to respond realistically and well.  Don’t rescue your children.  Let them push through natural consequences, think, problem solve and take responsibility for their choices.  Don’t let them quit when it’s hard, but encourage them to persevere even in little things.  Encourage them, “You can do this…”.  And when you hit the biggest obstacle all, don’t stop.  Sometimes the hardest push is the last one.  

We’re all an Olympian at something.  There’s potential in all of us waiting to have it revealed.  Reveal your child’s greatness..  

<P = Z x C5 x E

  • Z = Explore and discover your child’s passion and natural strengths and fuel them.
  • C5 = Make the process more important than the result, developing the character more than the skill.
  • E = Invest in your children.  You are the only parents they will have.  Build them from the inside out.  Create the space they need to maximize their potential.