Gail Devers is well known as a three-time Olympic Gold Medal winner. She triumphed in the 100m at the 1992 Barcelona games and again in Atlanta four years later, together with a win in the 4 x 400m relay. Gail was also a World Champion in the 100m Hurdles.
However, her story is not a straightforward one of glittering success on the track. In 1988 she had made the US Olympic team, but during training that year became prone to pulled muscles and tired legs. She had a bad Olympics with her slowest time since college and did not make the finals.
Gail’s condition did not improve. She began to suffer from migraines, hearing problems, convulsions, hair loss, fatigue, and weight loss. A number of doctors could not find the source of her problems. In 1990 her performances were again poor, but a team physician noticed that Gail had a goiter on her throat. Tests showed that she was suffering from Graves’ Disease, which is an immune disorder because of an overactive thyroid gland.
Gail had radiation treatment to destroy the growth. With most of her other symptoms relieved she resumed running. Then a year later complications set in. The thyroid problem had affected her blood supply. She now had blood blisters on her feet. Walking became so painful that Gail required help, sometimes even needing to be carried. Athletics for her appeared to be all over. There was also a possibility that her feet might have to be amputated.
Although scared that her athletic career was over, she wasn’t going to give up. The word ‘quit’ had never been part of her vocabulary. She even refused drugs for fear of being randomly tested. Fortunately, it was found that the blisters were a side effect of her radiation. From the time that the radiation was stopped Gail began to recover. She started training again, at first using an exercise bike. From that time, and this was now barely twelve months from the 1992 Olympic Games, Gail began to emerge from the darkness of the previous three years. She became a stronger athlete. She qualified for Barcelona, and when she won the sprint title it was in a personal best time.
At the press conference after that victory, Gail said that sheer determination that was the key to her success. Sure, she needed to have world-class athleticism, but that was only the start. "Use me as an example", she told the media. "I am here today because of the drive within me. I was going to let nothing get in the way of my ambition of an Olympic medal".
At the heart of the achievements of Gail Devers is her mind. Through the most debilitating illness, indeed almost a collection of illnesses, she will have endured many days of pain. There must have been times when she worried about more than the loss of merely her career in athletics. Yet, the intense drive that governs everything that she does was never diminished.
What success is to Gail is simple. It means that you have to give your all. That is it, in a nutshell. And this is what we may learn from her. We do not need to be triple Olympic Champions in order to be successful. All we have to do is our best, every time. Life really is that simple; because if you do your best every time, then in your own field, you are the equal of an Olympic Champion.