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Misty May-Treanor

“Do Unto Others”
They know character is defined by how they treat those who cannot help themselves.

You have two gold medals and you’re on the path to your third, having just defeated a competitor to qualify for the semi-finals in the Olympics. There is cheering, there are hugs, there are high-fives, and there are a lot of television cameras in your face. At this moment of celebration and excitement–the biggest so far of your time in London–who do you say hello to when a cameraman comes in for a post-match closeup?? In Misty May-Treanor’s case, she thanked her husband, her coach, American troops and…a teen-aged girl from Minnesota.

To the millions of people around the world watching the American beach volleyball team of May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh take on the Netherlands, they may have wondered who “Alissa” was and why she was someone important enough for the reigning Olympics champ to mention. But to May-Treanor, Alissa–and countless people like her–are the main motivations behind her amazing career.

treanor2You see, Alissa was diagnosed with a serious blood-clotting disorder during her sophomore her in high school–a diagnosis that put her own volleyball career on hold. Just weeks before she was set to have a large portion of her left lung removed, Alissa was given a dream-come-true moment from the Make-A-Wish Foundation that allowed her to travel to southern California to spend the day at Universal Studio Theme Park with May-Treanor. Yes, it was a challenge for Alissa to do all the rides, given the seriousness of her condition; but for her, the day was about not only meeting her hero but also absorbing the positivity that May-Treanor shines on everyone around her. It was that encouragement that helped Alissa face the difficult days of hospitalization and rehab ahead. Even now, the two stay in contact, as evidenced by the Olympic “shout-out” Alissa received after the qualifying match on August 4.

But the day together at Universal was also an encouragement to May-Treanor, who found herself energized and excited to meet someone who was impacted by May-Treanor’s career. That is the reason she does what she does.

treanor3I sat down to talk with May-Treanor before the Olympics and even at a crowded Southern California Starbucks, her zest for life and positive attitude filled the room. For her, the best part about being an Olympian is what it allows her to do for others. She takes her medals with her whenever she speaks, passing them around and letting people put them on. If the gold gets scratched or the ribbon gets dirty, that’s just fine with her–all the better, in fact. It means that her medals have been shared and enjoyed by others. It means that her Olympic glory was not her own, it was not confined to her team or to one moment, but it is something that goes on uplifting people, cheering them up, and making them feel special.

That’s an awesome outlook. That’s an amazing attitude. That’s an incredible motivation. That’s Greatness.

Tips from the Great Ones

May-Treanor loves to encourage the people around her because she believes it is a gift, a privilege that her career has brought her. Her interactions aren’t anything from which she hopes to profit. Her willingness to share her medals with people isn’t going to gain her anything. She simply does it because she understands that Great winners … share their Greatness.

treanor4What have you done this week for someone around you–someone who can’t really give you anything in return? It doesn’t have to be a dramatic gesture or an extravagant gift. Simply the act of letting someone know that they are remembered can make a difference. Send a card to someone who suffered a loss several months ago to let them know you are aware their pain is real even if it isn’t as fresh any more. Buy some school supplies for a single parent who might be feeling a little overwhelmed at the kids’ back-to-school shopping lists. Mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor. You don’t have to be an Olympic medalist to encourage someone else. Look around right where you are–chances are good, you’ll find an opportunity.

Remember, Greatness is both something we should pursue and something we should seek to live every single day. Awards, recognition, medals, applause, attention–they’re all nice to have. But as Misty May-Treanor shows us, the true measure of Greatness is what you do with it all!

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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