The Journey

“It’s all about the journey, not the outcome.” – Carl Lewis

Over the past four years I have given my very best to become an Olympic Athlete. Along with training to become an Olympian I was also committed to be a ‘gold medalist’ in school and in the workplace.  This journey was challenging and pushed me far outside of my comfort zone. However as a result, I have seen much success along the way. I was able to complete my master’s degree with honors, traveled to over 20 countries, and had the most amazing internship experience with The Adecco Group’s global team, supporting the IOC and IPC Athlete Career Programmes.

As I bring this four-year Olympic cycle to a close, I am reflecting upon and converting all I have learned as an elite athlete, student, and employee into how I move forward with my life. On the track, I remember my first professional race in Beijing, China. I lined up against some well-known veterans including Justin Gatlin, Doc Patton, Mike Rogers and a few others for the 100 meter dash. I was terribly nervous being a rookie in my first race. I gave that race everything I had and ended up running my fastest race ever. I finished 6th overall with a time of 10.13. Even though that was my best time ever, it only got me to 6th place. That one race made me realize that whenever a new cycle comes you may have to be a rookie again but with being a rookie comes a large opportunity to learn and grow. Over the years I learned more from my coach and from my competitors and improved each year I raced since then.

While I was competing I was also completing my master’s degree online and working. Many times I would have to email my work in early since I would be travelling for competition. I would come back to the hotel from running in a meet and complete my studies that night before travelling again the next morning to another country for a meet. For some track meets I would get less than a 24-hours’ notice to travel from the USA to as far as Africa! It was essential that I became a master of time management and needed to be disciplined to complete my work. One thing that helped me was when I focused on the overall goal which was to complete my degree and build my career while driving for excellence in sports.

Interning with The Adecco Group over the past two years has been one of the most rewarding yet challenging opportunities I have experienced in the workplace. I have grown exponentially in professional development from being challenged to produce the greatest work I can deliver. My experience in Lima, Peru while working on the IOC ACP Forum was one of my greatest gains. I was a part of a team that worked tirelessly to pull together an amazing event. The harder they worked around me, the more motivated I became to commit all that I had for the team to be successful. I accepted any open responsibilities to be completed; no matter how challenging it was, since I knew that it would contribute to the team’s success. This pushed me far outside of my comfort zone but from that experience I progressed in abundance. Now whenever faced with a new workplace challenge, I think about my success in Peru and confidently accept that challenge knowing the results will be development and success!

It’s been a great four years where I learned so much from my experiences and also about myself personally. It has taken me to both very high and low points but it’s about the journey not the outcome. I am currently in transition to start a new professional journey with Aston Carter as a Recruiter as my current internship comes to an end. I will once again be a rookie but I will remember the challenges I overcame in the past and give it my all as I have always done in everything I do. I want to thank the teams at The Adecco Group, the IOC and the IPC for allowing me to have this amazing opportunity. The experience I have gained is invaluable and I will cherish the memories for a lifetime. Also thank you to everyone who has supported me both on and off the track including my family, friends, sponsors, and everyone else.  During my lowest points you all kept me motivated to give the very best that I have. As I move through this next phase I plan to continue to share my story and be an inspiration to those around me. I also reflect on the past years and have asked myself if I tried to do too much which impacted my performance on the track; and the answer is always no. I know I achieved my physical best performance, the balance allowed me to maintain balance overall, and collectively all of the activities positioned me to pursue my next step in life.

Thank you to all who have been part of these early steps in my life’s journey.

 

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Olympic Dreams Deferred

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
-Langston Hughes

With less than a month until the opening ceremony at the Rio Olympic Games, most of the Olympic Trials around the world have concluded and the teams have been selected. My Olympic dreams were cut short unfortunately due to an injury. After my coach and I decided not to compete at the Trials, I was not even sure if I was emotionally able to watch the event on television. Not being able to compete is a tough pill to swallow knowing that one of those eight lanes could have been mine. And now, due to my injury I did not even have the opportunity to race. However, being a true fan of the sport and a supporter of my friends that were racing, I chose to watch the event.

34 men lined up for the start of the Men’s 100 meter dash and only three competitors would make it to the Olympic Games.  These athletes spent four years and thousands of hours of training for an event that lasted less than 10 seconds. Most people’s eyes of course were on the top three finishers that qualified for the Olympic team; my eyes however were on those who didn’t qualify for Rio.

I thought about the many more athletes that were at home watching the event because of unfortunate circumstances such as injury, non-qualification, lack of finances to pay for travel, or any other reason that shattered a dream.  I know first-hand the sacrifices and hardships many of those athletes had to endure over the past four years. I have heard stories of athletes sleeping in airports for several days because they couldn’t afford to get home, some leaving their family for years to train, relationships lost, years of sleeping on a friend’s sofa, and many of more humbling stories. Many Olympic Hopefuls often aren’t paid a lot of money and need part-time jobs to survive and pay their bills.

However, sport is an area that allows the best to defy all odds, dream unbelievable dreams, and continuously reach their highest potential. Along with that, we elite athletes will do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals. The tenacity and ambition that a top athlete inherently has, is very unique and can make the biggest dreams come true. For those top three finishers, an amazing dream did come true; however the rest of the athletes have to live their life knowing they took their best shot but fell short. And consequently following that, they also need to make a decision on what’s next.

Many of us athletes have been focusing on this one single goal for the past four years. So now, do we fight another four years to go through qualification for the next Games? How can we be better prepared for the next Olympic cycle?  There will be some athletes who retire and others will continue to give it their all to reach their dream.  It’s a tough decision of course, but it’s one that every athlete from college to Olympic gold medalist will face at one point in their career.

My advice to everyone is to give any dream you have your absolute best! No matter how impossible the dream may seem. Although I wasn’t able to compete for the Rio team I still was able to live my dream as an Olympic Hopeful who traveled the world racing in front of thousands of fans. I am from a very small town called Surry in Virginia but always dreamed big. I am sure my late parents are still very much proud of all that I have accomplished. I hope to continue to inspire others to reach their lifetime dream in the future and also live mine!

If you wish, follow me on: http://www.keithricks.com/ or Instagram: @keith_ricks

Learn more about the ACP and other athletes like myself: http://athlete.adecco.com/

3 Quick Tips for Recent College Graduates

Wow! It’s hard to believe it has been four years since I graduated from Virginia Tech with my undergrad degree! I used to believe that my four years in college went by very fast but these four years after graduating have gone by even faster! Over the past four years I have been training for the Olympic Trials upcoming in July and also have gained work experience to plan for my career after sports. Many of my friends and I went through a number of different career paths.  I want to provide you all with three quick tips to get the ball rolling on your future career endeavors. This can be useful for not only college grads but also for anyone in a career transition (retiring athlete, career changers, current student).

1. Network: It is very important to network not only for job opportunities but to find a mentor as well. I look at networking as meeting new friends and building a relationship. Having a strong network with people who can point you in the right direction is essential. In a previous blog I wrote about the benefits of mentors. For our generation, there are so many opportunities to build a network without even leaving home such as through social media, Linked-In, and sites like Instaviser. A lot of these people are willing and want to help someone who simply asks for guidance.

2. Follow Your Passion: I have seen a lot of my friends end up in jobs they really didn’t enjoy straight out of college. I believe it is important to follow your passion first. Being young provides the opportunity to try new things and have enough time to recover if things go badly. In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ Steven Covey said “begin with the end in mind” meaning that you should visualize your long term future first and then give everything you’ve got towards accomplishing that goal. The goal should be aligned with something you love doing. My older brother always told me to choose a job that I would enjoy doing even if I didn’t get paid.

3. Get More Involved: It’s not only important to visualize the future but also important to make steps towards the future today. You can accomplish that by getting more involved in the topics which interest you most in your preferred industry or your dream job. Adecco provides young professionals with great career building opportunities such as the Athlete Career Programme, Way to Work, and CEO for one Month. You can also get involved by attending conferences and events in your preferred industry. By doing this you will build your network quickly and gain skills by attending workshops provided.

Any transition, whether it is from college to full-time career, retiring athlete to workplace, or even switching career paths can be very challenging and sometimes daunting. There is much ambiguity about what the next step should look like. View this challenge as an opportunity to be in a better position than before. Seek guidance from those who have done what you want to accomplish already. It helps both mentally and practically to have someone to guide you through this transition. These are just a few tips to get the ball rolling but it’s up to you to make it happen in the end!

If you wish, follow me on: http://www.keithricks.com/ or Instagram: @keith_ricks

Learn more about the ACP and other athletes like myself: http://athlete.adecco.com/

Learn From Your Mentor’s Journey

‘There is nothing I like better than conversing with experienced people. For I regard them as travelers who have lived a journey which I too may experience, and of whom I might want to inquire whether the way is smooth and easy, rugged and difficult, or how to learn where the pot holes are to find my better path?’

-Plato

Plato said it best when he referred to mentors as travelers who have gone through a journey in which he wants to travel. Mentors can be a great resource to gain guidance and advice for the future. In my experience I have had nothing but positive influence and great mentorship around me to help me plan my future taking into consideration their past experience. I was fortunate enough to have mentors who truly wanted to see me succeed and offered great in-depth advice on how I can improve. At the same time, a mentor provides, their experience and I recognize that it is my journey in life and my responsibility to learn from a mentor and interpret it into who I want to be.

Choosing the right mentors is therefore very important. Jermaine Homes, Director of Student Athlete Academics Support and my academic advisor, was one mentor that I had during my time at Virginia Tech. He was also a former student athlete at Virginia Tech and first sparked my interest about working in sports by observing his career. He had played in the NFL for a while before returning back to work in sports. Jermaine was able to provide great advice in academics and career matters based on his experience as a former student athlete. I was able to improve my study habits, time management, and while he also offered guidance to my future career goals.

It is also important to have mentors that believe in your abilities and potential and will push you to reach your goal. My current boss, Patrick Glennon, is a mentor who does exactly that. He definitely pushes me to see how great I can truly be. Accordingly, I see myself developing professionally and learning from those experiences. He offers me the opportunity to be very much involved and he asks the right questions to get me to think more strategically and creatively not just about what he wants, but also what I need to grow. It’s been a great mentor relationship thus far, since I have not only been able to listen but experience and actually do the things we talk about.

I believe it’s also good to have a mentor for very personal matters. For me that is my older brother and coach, Marvin Ricks. He is someone who has seen my entire journey from day one. He provides great unbiased advice since he wants to see me successful in everything I do. That includes the athletic, career, and personal ambit. It’s invaluable to have someone like that at your side that provides you with guidance on all issues.

I am thankful to have these mentors on the path to my destination. To truly benefit from any mentor relationship it is most important to ask questions and to be open to advice, which may place you out of your comfort zone.  At the same time, developing a relationship with a mentor must be built on mutual trust and respect and one will not come to your door if you do not look for it.  As an aspiring athlete and professional, I sought out whom I thought would help me.  I recognized the value in the relationship and I ensured that I was as committed to the support offered as I could; because ultimately I am 100% responsible for my life, and solid mentor relationships have helped me achieve my personal best potential.

 

Find Success Outside Your Comfort Zone

What is the most challenging thing you can remember doing? Imagine the intense feeling of anxiety, exhaustion, and uncertainty, hoping that it’s going to go as planned. How rewarding was it when it was accomplished successfully? In the past I found some of my greatest accomplishments occurred during the times when I was least comfortable.  I believe it takes a willingness to step outside your comfort zone to see the biggest success and positive change. This can be applied not only in sport but in life.

I will admit it: I very much dislike 06:00 A.M. practices. The weather is very cold and the grass is still wet from the morning dew. My body is still half asleep and my legs can barely move. Later that same day I have to do it all over again for practice number two. It’s very tough to have 2-3 extremely hard practices in one day. To get the most benefit out of each workout every day, I must push your body to the limit on each and every rep or set of runs in training.

To be an Olympic hopeful, one of the fastest runners in the world, I must push myself beyond my comfort zone. I train thousands of hours for a race that lasts less than 10 seconds. However I know that when I push my body, I get positive results. It’s easy to decide to do less and stay inside my comfort zone but I know that will not allow me to achieve my goal, my plan. Track and field, like most sports, is a sport where the hard work that you put into training, can eventually pay back its dividends in the form of winning. But you also need to think “why me” if everyone trains hard, “why me”, and it is pushing yourself to achieve new limits that can make the difference.

One of the most challenging yet rewarding things I did outside of sport and outside of my comfort zone was when I taught Physics and coached basketball for a summer in Vietnam. Before that trip I had never been to Asia before. We were based in the rural area of Southern Vietnam in Hoa An.  For me, there were many things that were different and I had to become familiar with very fast.

The climate was extremely hot. We spent most of the time outside coaching or teaching in classrooms with no air conditioning for 10 hour work days. Being in a rural area of Vietnam close to a river the mosquitos and bugs were in every direction and we had to sleep with mosquito nets on our beds. The food was quite different and it didn’t always agree with my stomach. The language barrier was always a challenge. Ever tried teaching Physics in a different language that you never spoke? Physics has already a language of its own!

Being in Vietnam gave me a rewarding experience that I will remember for a lifetime. Although I was far outside of being comfortable, the personal and professional development that I gained was more than worth it. I have a deep appreciation for all other cultures and a great interest in learning about the different backgrounds. Being in Vietnam also gave me the opportunity to be a leader internationally and to promote education cross-culturally.  Despite the fact that things got challenging while I was over there I kept my main goal in mind which was to inspire the children around me through an avenue that I love: Sports.

My advice to anyone reading is to not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.  It’s never easy to choose the more challenging route but if you keep your mind on your main goal you can harvest the benefits along the way. I have seen the rewards for going the extra mile in the past despite all of the challenges faced during the journey.  To close, I leave you with a quote by Dr. Denis Waitley, Author of ‘The Psychology of Winning’ and ‘Seeds of Greatness’:

“A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown.”

-Dr. Denis Waitley

So get comfortable to be uncomfortable!

If you wish, follow me on: http://www.keithricks.com/ or Instagram: @keith_ricks

Learn more about the ACP and other athletes like myself:http://athlete.adecco.com/

 

Two Brothers One Goal

When I was little, I remember seeing dozens of ‘All American Track and Field’ plaques and trophies around the house that belonged to my older brother and now my coach, Marvin Ricks. I would say a couple of those trophies may have been mistaken for toys at the time and gotten their share of play by myself at the age of 3. But as I got older I realised the significance of those trophies and I wanted to have some of my own.

My brother has always had a positive influence on me. With him being the eldest – 20 years older than myself – following his lead was natural.  Coach Marvin Ricks began his coaching career in 1996 with his wife Ruchelle Ricks for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He continued his coaching career over the following 20 years with international Olympians/Hopefuls, at the college level at his Alma Mater Norfolk State University, and at the high school level where he coached his daughter at my Alma Mater Kings Fork High School.

Currently, he is coaching me towards the 2016 Olympic Trials. Although we have only had the coach-athlete relationship for four years, he has been coaching me throughout my entire life guiding me to success in all of my endeavors. When I asked him what it feels like to coach his younger brother, he comments: “There is a secondary motivation since I’ve seen your whole journey and I enjoy the process of what we are doing achieving together day by day and not just the final destination. I’m enjoying it for myself, I see that you are enjoying it, and we both are enjoying it in memory of our parents who passed away”.

My brother is someone who has always influenced me to be successful not only in sport but in life. It was – without question – because of his influence that I would attend a university somewhere regardless of my track career. He was a student athlete at Norfolk State University where he studied Construction Engineering and after graduating, he started his construction company ‘Innovative Finishes’ in parallel to his coaching career.

“The motivation I have for my brother Keith to make this Olympic Team is the same motivation I have for him to be successful in anything he undertakes,” says Coach Marvin. “Eventually, being an athlete stops for everybody. You have to have the next goal in mind and if you haven’t done the due diligence and the work building up to be successful in education and a workplace you will be caught off-balance”.

As Coach Marvin is both – a brother and coach to me – one might wonder if these two roles could conflict at times. He mentions that sometimes when he’s coaching, the big brother role comes out and he is harder on me than on previous athletes he had coached.  “I’m not afraid to push Keith beyond his limits” says Coach Marvin. “As brothers, we may even want to throw punches at each other at times, but at the end of the day I always have his best interest at heart without question and want to see Keith thrive”.

When I asked him what it was like when he first retired from being an athlete, he responded “It was a smooth transition into both my business and coaching. At first, I never thought I would become a coach since I was so focused on engineering and business.  However, coaching became addictive because the same crave that I have for problem solving and analyzing results in engineering, I could apply in coaching.” “Instead of building houses and buildings I am building world-class athletes”. With me being his latest engineering project on the track, I am thankful to have him as both my coach and brother to guide me to the Olympic Trials and expectantly on to Rio for the Olympic Games!

My New Year’s Resolution

This New Year – 2016 – marks the year of the Rio Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games! The fact that we are only 8 months away from the Olympics sinks in so much more. With that being said, I made a New Year’s Resolution (and plan on sticking with it!) around being more effective both on the track training as well as in the workplace.

A few years ago, I read the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” written by Steven Covey. I revisit the book every now and then picking up pointers on how to be more effective. One habit that stood out to me was habit three where he discusses prioritizing and time management. Covey breaks down all of our activities into a 4 category quadrant (see quadrant format below) including things that are important and urgent (crisis, emergencies, deadline projects), not important and urgent (some calls, popular events, some mail), not urgent and not important (time wasters, TV shows, etc.), and things that are important and not urgent (relationship building, new skill, planning).

Basically, most of us spend too much time on things that are not important and not urgent, so called time wasters. We should be spending more time on things that are important and not urgent, like developing a skill or relationship building to enlarge your network, and also on things that are important and urgent including deadline projects and emergencies.

For 2016, my resolution is to spend more time on those things that are important and not urgent. I admit I am guilty like many other athletes who overlook some of the small things to be the very best. I could be spending more time stretching at home, doing more recovery activities, or doing more abdominal strength work during my free time. Ice baths are no athlete’s favorite thing to do but it makes a difference! I believe if I spend more time doing the small things it could have a huge positive impact on my performance.

On the work side, I could spend more time learning from my mentors and developing new ideas to implement during the year. Mentors can have a vast wealth of knowledge since they have already experienced what I am trying to accomplish. I want to learn from them to see how I can benefit from their information to apply towards my future.

My direct managers with the Athlete Career Programme, Patrick Glennon and Lilian Furrer, have been great mentors through my experience working with them. They have really pushed me to develop professionally and understand business on a completely new level than before.  Also, I want to be more proactive in 2016. I want to develop great new ideas and actually put them into action. New ideas are not always urgent but can be very important to keep improving and raising the bar.

My goals for this year are very ambitious, including qualifying for the Olympic team and developing my skills for a future career in sports management.  I know that being more effective at managing myself and making the right decisions with my time is the key to my success. I have implemented this strategy in the past and it works! It becomes a habit and after a while, you never want to waste time because you see the benefits and see yourself getting closer to your goal. I will hold myself accountable for sticking with this New Year’s Resolution! This is the Olympic year and it’s going to be one of the best ever!

If you wish, follow me on: http://www.keithricks.com/ or Instagram: @keith_ricks

Learn more about the ACP and other athletes like myself: http://athlete.adecco.com/

stephen-Coveys-Quadrant