Even after having to be fully resuscitated at a waterpark after nearly drowning on a massive waterslide, Cullen Jones still could not resist being in the water.
Jones is a decorated Olympic swimmer, and along with track and field world record holder and Paraolympic gold medalist Marlon Shirley, he spoke to a crowd of Virginia Tech students last week as part of a ten-campus tour.
At the age of 8, Jones was already in the pool for his first swim meet.
“My dad was a competitive basketball player, so I was born with an extremely competitive nature... I actually had to work hard to be a good swimmer since it didn't come naturally to me,” Jones said.
Shirley, who lost one of his feet at the age of five in a lawn-mower accident, also cited the importance of hard work, and how adversity can be turned into a fuel for success.
“My adversities in my life have brought me the greatest opportunities, and facing them made me who I am today. Anything that you face that might deter you or distract you from what you want to accomplish is going to be the reason that you are successful,” Shirley said.
For Shirley, overcoming that challenge and working extremely hard made him successful.
“I believe everyone is born to be successful. The only difference is that some people have to work harder to obtain that success. Even though Cullen and I have the title of ‘Olympian,’ we still have struggles today,” Shirley said.
One of Cullen's main struggles is not competing against other swimmers, but the early age of retirement that is the norm in the industry.
When the time came to begin training for the recent London Olympics, his coach told him that he didn’t think he would be able to medal or even make the U.S. team. The possibility of retiring was in the air, but Jones did not let that stop him.
“My dream started to get a little blurry. Don’t tell me I can’t do something. That night, I was so fired up that I went home, sat in front of the mirror and told myself, ‘I can do this. I am going to do this,’” Jones said.
From that point on, Jones went through one of the most intense training regiments he has ever gone through, taking his ability and strength to new heights.
“We practice, race, eat, sleep and that’s about it. It becomes very systematic. Once you get on that grind, it’s like any other meet, but there’s just more on the line,” Jones said.
For both athletes, the support of friends and families was a consistent and important theme in their lives. Jones cited his mother's early advice on how to map out and accomplish goals.
“At the time, I did not realize that she was instilling one of the most important rules that I use to this day. She taught me how to set goals, plan out and map those goals. The reason I was so successful in college and was able to develop into an Olympian was because of that advice from my mother,” Jones said.
During Jones’ senior year of college, a friend mentioned the possibility of the Olympics. From that point on a seed was planted, and he knew he wanted to be a part of team USA. For the 2008 Olympics, Jones was on the relay team that shocked the world.