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Kristin Ihle Helledy on the Importance of Resilience in Sport and Business



Kristin Ihle Helledy suggests that competing at a high level in any realm – sport, performing arts, industry – is both incredibly challenging and rewarding. As a former 6 time collegiate All American in track and cross country and professional athlete for Nike she has a unique perspective on critical success factors. Her 3-part series examines the role self-discipline, integrity, dealing with change, and resilience in high achieving athletes. This is the article marks the final of the 3-part series with a focus on resilience. 


When asked about resilience, Ihle Helledy shares her favorite quote “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” (Nelson Mandela). “I believe that sums up the tenacity and persistence one needs embody on life’s journey to success,” Ihle Helledy tells us. 


She suggests that perseverance and resilience can thrust the above average athlete ahead of the naturally gifted one. Ihle Helledy tells us, “When people muse about going back in life to alter their life’s course, to navigate around some painful experience I challenge that premise. Removing one (or more) painful experience means that person may be different without it – better, worse, who knows. But definitely different.” 


Ihle Helledy has had a number of setbacks in her own life to include injuries, bad decisions in races, and personal misfortunes. Each one shaped her, offered her learning that might not have otherwise been knowable. Her first ever collegiate All American was in cross country. She was running in 3rd place and got tripped from behind on a downhill portion of the race just 900 meters from the finish. Her legs were trampled and bloodied by competitors in metal cleats, and yet she got up to finish the race. To her and her coaches surprise, she crossed the finish line in time to become an All American. She was the last finisher bestowed that honor; meaning the woman who finished just behind her did not earn All American. “I suppose that is a more literal example of ‘pick yourself up and keep marching forward as best you can’. But it was significant for me to know that the race is never really over so never give up.” 

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When an athlete is in the throes of difficulty – diagnosed fracture or other injury, losing season, loss of a scholarship or contract – it can be hard to see any benefits. During those times Ihle Helledy knows the best course of action is to navigate the choppy waters. However, as soon as you can, extract learning and insight. She tells us, “Do not squander the lessons that come from setbacks, it is how we learn. It is how we build up our resilience, a potential differentiator for high achieving athletes.”


As you face adversity, Ihle Helledy encourages us to consider:


  • How did you navigate through the difficult circumstance? Who may have helped and mentored you along the way – be sure to thank them and seek future guidance. 
  • What were your key take-aways from the experience? How have you grown? 


We can see how perseverance helped shape the athlete Ihle Helledy became. While there are many factors essential to becoming a high achieving athlete – such as athletic talent, sport IQ, etc. – these are “table stakes” to be in the game. She believes the differentiators for sustained success are self-discipline and integrity, dealing with ambiguity and change, and resilience.


Curious about Kristin Ihle Helledy’s USA teams? Here is a sampling of some of the USA teams she made as a Nike athlete:


  • 1997 World University Games held in Sicily (Track, 5k)
  • 1998 IAAF World Cross Country Championships held in Morocco (long course)
  • 1999 Pan American Games held in Canada (Track, 5k)
  • 2000 IAAF World Cross Country Championships held in Belgium (short course)
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