Recently, I was on an Olympian discussion panel, and someone asked, “What do you believe sets a champion apart from the rest of the competitors?”

Interestingly, I have often contemplated this exact question. Having moved away from the competitive ski world into the professional working world, I have found the similarities of success remain the same.

With the start of the Olympics this week, the world will be watching the best athletes competing for the ultimate prize of a gold medal. Despite the immense depth of talent and potential, only a few will walk away with the satisfaction of victory. So what is it that makes an athlete a champion? Or beyond athletics, what is it that makes someone successful?

In my experience, I believe what sets the best apart from the rest is simply their mindset. It is their mental strength and capacity to push through failure, struggles and the self-doubt that everyone deals with. At an Olympic level, the caliber of talent is quite equal. These athletes are all capable of greatness, and yet only a select few will capitalize on the moment. A champion is able to push aside the pressure, past failures, distractions and lingering doubts to focus on the brief moment in time where nothing else matters. This mental strength is universal and is evident in all walks of life.

Recently, this mental persistence was displayed so perfectly with Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles and his incredible performance in last weekend’s Super Bowl. After being cut from the Rams at the start of the 2016 season, Foles considered retirement but opted to give it one more shot. Signing with the Chiefs as a backup quarterback led him to the Eagles as another backup quarterback. Foles ability to believe in this dream despite being cut, traded and playing the less-than-gloried backup brought him to the unique moment of playing starting quarterback on the biggest stage in football. To say he handled himself with confidence, determination and grace would be an understatement. Foles went on to help the Eagles win the Super Bowl as well as his nomination as MVP.

I have found this mental acuity and strength to be true in my professional life as well as my even more challenging parenting life. Champions are not immune to injury, failures and set backs, the difference is how one handles those inevitable trials. Success is a culmination of handling all life throws your way with grace, determination and appreciation for the moment.

As we watch our athletes ski, board, skate, jump and perform toward their goal of greatness, I hope we can appreciate the moment and their journey to success.


Caroline Lalive Carmichael moved to Steamboat with her family in 1995 and joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. After one season, Caroline was named to the U.S. Ski Team and competed for 13 years, attending two Olympics. After retiring in 2009, she returned to Steamboat as a coach. She and fellow Olympian Nelson Carmichael were married in 2012 and welcomed their daughter, Freya, in 2015.