Today, I spoke to Nikki Stone, who became America’s first-ever Olympic champion in the sport of aerial skiing at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. She just released her latest book called When Turtles Fly. In this interview, Nikki talks about her background, how to gain confidence, her inspirations, how to take calculated risks, and more.

Can you tell us more about your professional background?

At the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, I became America’s first-ever Olympic Champion in the sport of inverted aerial skiing. What made this performance so challenging, was the fact that less than two years earlier, a chronic injury prevented me from standing, much less walking or skiing down a slope at almost 40 miles per hour. This taught me my first big lesson on overcoming adversities.

There were so many skills I learned through my aerial and academic career, and I knew I wanted to help others find whatever their “gold medal” may be. I still remain involved with the Olympic movement having the honor of mentoring all of the current Olympians through several Games Prep Olympic programs, but the majority of my time is spent traveling around North America speaking to corporate businessmen and women—from Fortune 500 CEOs to individuals just starting out—sharing valuable secrets to success.

What are three things a reader could do today to bring out their inner Olympian?

  1. Take the stress and pressure straight-on by building your confidence. Start journaling to recognize what you do well and what you can improve. Each day, write down one thing you did well that day and one thing you could improve on. It’s often easy to see the achievements and improvements others make, but we have to take the time to recognize that regardless of what we are going through, we can change, too. Build your confidence by getting to know and appreciate yourself.
  2. Focus on the process, not results. We need to learn to live in the moment and concentrate on what we have control over. And that’s the process, not the end results. For example, we can’t control someone else’s impression of our work; we can only control what we produce.
  3. Be ready to bounce back when you fall down. Whenever I felt “defeated”, I’d remember a quote from General George S. Patton: “Success is how high you bounce when you hit rock bottom.” Bounce a Superball (or some other bouncy object) to remind yourself to have a hard outer shell when challenges present themselves.

What inspired you to write your newest book, When Turtles Fly?

Growing up, my mother taught me that I could achieve anything I wanted as long as I followed the Turtle Effect philosophy. She told me that in order to reach my dreams I had to remember to have a soft inside, a hard shell, and be sure to stick my neck out. I always held that belief system close and adapted it to every situation I encountered. The philosophy has been such an effective motivator for me that I wanted to help people develop this same confidence and share the tools that are common to those at the top of their given field. The philosophy holds true for any career or endeavor and I wanted to demonstrate these parallels through the stories of contributors who are at the top of their fields—including Olympic and X-Games gold medalist Shaun White, icon fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, bestselling author and leadership expert Dr. Stephen Covey, skiing champion Lindsey Vonn, Prince Albert of Monaco, celebrity chef Todd English, NFL quarterback legend Steve Young, Fortune 500 CEOs, Nobel prize-winners, and many more.

We all receive the emails that start, “I am not typically someone who forwards these stories/quotes/anecdotes along, but this one was so powerful/moving that I had to make an exception.” I wanted to write a book full of the type of stories that move you to action and you can’t help but forward them along.

We all have the choice to be the victim or the victor. When Turtles Fly will help people on that path to surpass their career plateaus, find the exciting new jobs they’ve been looking for or raise they have been hoping for, stick to their diets, take more risks, build their confidence, develop powerful relationships, take on new leadership roles and work to find their full potential. The stories in When Turtles Fly will help put everything in perspective for readers and help them see that there is always more to be gained.

Your new book When Turtles Fly highlights how taking calculated risks can help you achieve success. Give us a glimpse inside.

I am terrified of heights, something few people would imagine of an aerial skier who launches herself high in the air at every competition. I would literally go in the woods and lose my lunch every time I had to do triple back flips. So why would I put myself through such agony? For an Olympic gold medal. I would never fling myself into space just for the fun of it; I needed an incentive. I knew that I’d have to risk doing one of the most difficult maneuvers in order to impress the Olympic judges and win gold. When I weighed the positives and negatives, I realized that the nausea, shaky legs and risk of injury were worth it.

Looking back, I believe I still would have made the same decision if my outcome had been a fourth place or even last place finish. I would have been more disappointed in myself for not trying.

How do you encourage others to take life-enhancing risks?

Fear of failing actually holds people back more than most other fears. Ask yourself, “If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I try?” After you answer this question, ask yourself why it would be so awful to fail at the task or activity. We learn much more from our failures than we learn from our accomplishments.

Besides, if you don’t try, you have already failed. Why not give yourself the chance to succeed? Pick something that scares you a bit, and decide you are going to take the risk to follow through with it today. The world’s most successful individuals didn’t allow these setbacks to impede their efforts. You can’t sit around and wait for your success. Nothing worthwhile comes without effort. You have to take action in order to make things happen

Where should readers look for you next?

Both of my parents are cancer survivors. I know that they are here today because of the advances in modern medicine. I want to help more families keep their loved ones around, and this is why I’ve decided to donate 25% of my proceeds of When Turtles Fly to the American Cancer Society. Over the next 2 years I will be attending various ACS events to help raise more funds and awareness for the cause.

I will also be continuing to deliver motivational speeches for corporate groups and educational organizations. It is an incredibly rewarding job when people share that they have made (or will make) positive changes in their lives because of something I’ve said. I will also continue to train Olympic athletes and business professionals in speaking/media skills and continue to write articles and columns for a number of magazines, newspapers, and websites—and soon start on my next book.

And lastly, but most importantly, I will spend every spare moment with my toddler Zali.

Nikki Stone became America’s first-ever Olympic champion in the sport of aerial skiing at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. What made this performance so unbelievable was the fact that, less than two years earlier, a chronic spinal injury prevented her from standing, much less walking or skiing off a twelve-foot-tall snow jump that launches aerialists fifty feet into the air. She overcame the injury and went on to earn 35 World Cup medals, 11 World Cup titles, 4 national titles, 3 World Cup titles, a World Championship title, and membership in the Ski Hall of Fame. Nikki is also a magna cum laude graduate of Union College and a summa cum laude masters graduate of the University of Utah. Her aerial retirement is less than restful as she trains Olympic athletes and business professionals in speaking/media skills, coaches personal and professional development courses, hosts group skiing adventures, sits on five different charitable committees, and writes articles and columns for many magazines, newspapers, and websites. Nikki’s career focus is now on traveling around the world working as a sought-after motivational speaker, sharing her secrets to success by inspiring her business audiences to “Stick their necks out.” He book is called When Turtles Fly.