Olympic gold medalist DeeDee Trotter has enough energy to warm up a room. Even a chilly gymnasium in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.
The lively American track great was on top of her game earlier this week, as she gave a vibrant presentation to students at Funabashi Kibou Junior High School.
Trotter, who is working with EF Education First as EF Tokyo 2020 Olympic Project Ambassador, spoke to over 200 seventh, eighth and ninth graders and recounted some of her own trials as a way to motivate them in their own lives.
Trotter allowed a few lucky students to wear her Olympic medals, dished out high fives and hugs and led the students in a few activities, such as creating handshakes and motivating each other through their words.
Her visit was part of the Go for Gold campaign, a program established in 2018 by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in collaboration with the Tokyo Board of Education. U.S. Olympians such as swimmer Katie Ledecky and ice dancers Alex and Maia Shibutani have participated in past events in Japan as part of the program.
The main element of Trotter’s visit was her motivational speech, “I can. I must. I will!”
Trotter is a two-time Olympic champion, helping the Americans to gold in the 2004 4×400-meter relay in Athens and to the Olympic crown in the same event in London in 2012. Trotter also owns a bronze medal from the 400-meter race in 2012 in addition to a pair of world titles (2003 and 2007) in the 4×400.
Her speech, however, wasn’t just about her highs. It was a tale of perseverance from a time when her career hung in the balance. She told the students about April of 2008, a few months before the U.S. Olympic trials, when a sudden knee injury threatened to derail her career.
Her results, she said, suffered after the injury. They were so far below her previous bests that at one event, while in a hotel putting her uniform on, she got a call from her agent saying she had been scratched from the race.
But, Trotter told the students, that was a beginning, not an end. She kept working and began her comeback almost from the bottom.
“He (her agent) got me a race in a town I had never heard of before and I ran against people I would normally never race against,” Trotter recalled as she began the long road back.
She kept running, kept working and eventually made it back to the U.S. Olympic trials, where she qualified for the Olympic team for the Beijing Games.
She didn’t win any medals in Beijing. Then, after having surgery on the troublesome knee, Trotter had to make her comeback all over again. Once more, she dug in her heels and put in the work and made another Olympic team in 2012.
Trotter’s message to the students was to stand tall in the face of pressure. She told them “pressure is power” and rather than let it move them up or down, they should stay positive use it to their own advantage.
“Negativity will push you down, keep you down and push you further away from your dream,” Trotter said. “Now, when you speak positivity into your pressure, ‘I can do it, I believe in myself, I don’t care what they say.’ You can lift yourself to great heights and move yourself fast in any direction that you choose.”