Chris Kidd, Financial Coach and Contributor on the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) recently interviewed Ruben Gonzalez, aka “The Olympic Speaker,” who is a four-time Olympian, award-winning speaker, and business author.
Only a small minority of people ever become Olympic athletes, but you did it four times, and in four different decades! What was the secret to your success?
The books I read and the people I associated with helped me think big and helped me believe in myself. Ninety percent of success is a result of who you hang out with. No matter how talented and gifted you are, if you hang around a bunch of small thinkers, they will take you down. But if you hang around people you respect, people who have already done what you want to do, those people will encourage you and keep you in the game long enough for you to learn the skills you need to succeed.
As I explain in my book, “The Courage to Succeed,” you need the courage to get started and the courage to not quit — to endure when the going is tough. The courage to get started comes from your belief. The courage to endure comes from your desire.
Finally you have to have the attitude that you are willing to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get the job done. Success is simple but not easy. It takes mental toughness.
Find a mentor that has already done what you want to do. Then do everything they say.
Your sport was the luge. What kind of speeds do you see in luge at the Olympic level?
On most luge tracks you reach speeds of 75 – 80 MPH. The Whistler track that was used in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is the fastest in the world — 95 MPH. When you are sliding at those speeds and you go on a tight turn you experience up to 6 G’s of gravitational force. I weigh 200 pounds. At 6 G’s it feels like I weigh 1200 pounds. It feels like there’s a polar bear sitting on your chest.
When we see an Olympic athlete on TV we know they had to work hard at their sport to get to the Olympics, but most people don’t consider the financial struggles many athletes face just getting to the Olympics. What are some of the challenges many Olympians face financially?
Only a tiny percentage of Olympic athletes have sponsors. When people asked me who my sponsors were I replied, “VISA and MasterCard — my own!” After the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics I was $50,000 in credit card debt. Even if you had a sponsor who paid for your training expenses, I was gone training 3-4 months a year so when I came back home I was always behind in my payments.
A few years ago I got to meet Dave Ramsey. Dave challenged me to cut my credit cards and follow his plan to get myself out of debt. Dave sent me all his books — even the children’s books. He must have figured I needed a lot of help. We got busy and in two years we paid off all the cards and paid off our house. I drive cars till they die. I’m not about to try to impress people with what I drive. I’d rather live within my means and have peace of mind.
What were some of the challenges you faced after the Olympics as you transitioned into motivational speaking and becoming a best selling author?
I used to sell copiers in downtown Houston. After the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics I was asked to speak at a school. Afterwards the principal said, “Ruben, you have a gift. You need to speak professionally.” Three days later I quit my job. I figured that if I could sell a copier I could sell myself as a speaker.
The Olympics were in February. March, April and May I was speaking at schools all over Houston. I was on the phone all day calling schools to get myself booked and life was good. But June, July and August were dead. By August I was three months behind on my house payments and was on food stamps. Top of the world in February and humbled big time in August.
I realized I was not taking my own advice. I could tell good stories from stage but I did not know anything about running a successful speaking business. I found a mentor who had been in the speaking business for 12 years and was very successful. He agreed to teach me the business.
The first thing he told me was that unless I wrote a book no one would take me seriously. He said a book sets you up as an expert and opens up doors. I told him, “I can’t write a book. I made Cs in English.” He said, “Ruben, you have a great story. Write your book and we’ll give it to a bunch of A students and they can clean it up for you. It’s called editing.”
See, what seems like a huge challenge to you may be a piece-of-cake to a mentor who has been on the road you are about to travel.
What is your favorite thing about sharing your story with groups you talk to?
I enjoy sharing my off-the-wall story with audiences. I just have fun on stage. But everything I do on stage is for a reason. When you are introduced as an Olympic athlete people have a tendency to put you up on a pedestal. I’m no good to them up there. So the whole time I’m presenting, I use self deprecating humor so that by the end of my talk the audience realizes I’m just like them. I’m just an ordinary person who was willing to go for it. I want them walking out of my talk thinking, “If that guy could make it to the Olympics even once, then I can do anything.”
My goal is to fuel their belief and inspire them to really go for it in life. It’s not about me. It’s all about them.
OlympicMotivation.com is filled with videos and free resources to help people create incredible lives. You can sign up for a free newsletter that comes out every 10 days. Every 10 days they will receive inspirational stories from me. If they prefer to watch videos they can go to RubenTV.com and watch dozens of great personal development videos I’ve created. Finally OlympicMotivationBlog.com is a huge resource anyone can use for free.
I figure that the more people learn and use this stuff the better this world will be.
“The Olympic Speaker”