18 Of The Greatest Athletes On Earth Share Their Insights On The Sacrifices It Takes To Get To The Top

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
May 14, 2012

Snow Days, Driveways & Basketball

I remember the day like it was yesterday.

It was early morning before school started. My big brother Tom and I were both glued to the television screen watching the list of school cancellations scroll up.

“Please, let their be a snow day! PLEASE!” we both pleaded to God.

Then suddenly… all that could be heard were shouts of exultation as we both simultaneously leaped into the air… letting our victory cries ring free.

Hurray!!! No School!!!

Ahhhh… There is nothing like the feeling of having a day without restrictions, the berating of teachers, smart remarks from peers, and the heavy weight of assignments.

All is right with the world.


However, this is where our story was a bit different…

Most kids would have done one of two things:
(a) bunker down in their warm comforter for a few more hours of uninterrupted bliss or
(b) fill a big bowl with their favorite sugar bombs and park in front of the T.V. for a surprise visit with Zack, The Fresh Prince and… who could forget… Cory Matthews (hello?… that’s Boy Meets World for all you outside of the 23 to 31 year old age – eh em, I grew up with The Matthews’ family).

Tom and I looked out the window.

Yep, 2-3 feet of snow in the driveway and still coming down hard.

We geared up from head to toe. Pulled out the shovels, stepped into the snow and started clearing the driveway.


“What!?” You may be asking… “Two kids shoveling the driveway early in the morning on a snow day?”

Yep, it had to be done.

You see, Tom and I had a vision. We wanted to be the greatest basketball players that ever lived.

Practically every chance we got we were in the driveway shootin’ hoops. And yes, even on snow days.

I remember one time I was standing at the free throw line while the snow came hurdling down.

My winter gloves were on (which obviously made it difficult to shoot a free throw).

I kept repeating to myself…”I am Michael Jordan. I am Michael Jordan.” 


What does it take to become great?

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Joanne Kathleen Rowling

Every day we have choices… millions of choices.

The proverbial “fork in the road” is always before us.

We can not escape it.

However, we can make choices that will lead us to where we want to head.

There is a motto that many motivational speakers tout at practically everyone of their rallies. They say,

“There is a champion in all of us.”

Knee Health Score 1

I disagree.

This statement is too abstract… too fluffy.

Greatness is a choice.

Or rather, greatness is many, many choices that help fulfill a vision.

The 10,000 Hour Rule: Are you willing to make the sacrifice?

The path to becoming a champion is paved by great sacrifices.

They say it takes hours and hours of practice to become proficient. Many researchers suggest that it takes 10,000 hours. If you have never heard of the 10,000 Rule, check out the video below with Malcolm Gladwell.

Wow! 10,000 hours!

If you practiced your art for 2 hours every day it would take you 13.7 years to reach this mark.

Are you willing to sacrifice what it takes to get there?

Some people may quickly knee jerk the response, “Definitely!”

But are you really?

It is helpful to take a step back and realistically assess what sacrifices you’ll have to make in order to achieve your vision.

In order to accomplish this, I thought that there would be no better starting point than to ask the greatest athletes on the planet about their perspective on sacrifice.


I asked 18 of the greatest athletes on earth this question:

“What was one of the biggest sacrifices you had to make in order to get to the top?”

Their answers are very enlightening. Some of these athletes looked at the question directly and shared some deep and personal answers. Others looked beyond the question and expressed their unswerving commitment to their art.

Throughout my research 3 insights became clear in my mind that helped transform how I viewed sacrifice.


3 Things I Learned From My Conversations With The Athletes (exact quotes are below):

1. You Always Have A Choice.

Many of the below athletes don’t look at their situation in terms of sacrifice. They simply see it as choices. As I reflect on my days of shooting hoops in the snow, I can’t help but think of all the things I could have been doing instead: sleeping in, visiting my television friends, even playing pranks on my sleeping sister (I was known as “The Tease” growing up).

“Opportunity costs” exist with every one of our decisions and we have the power to choose our destiny. Sometimes we think that fate dictates our plans, our vision, our future. Though this simply is not true.

Knee health score 3

You always have a choice.


2. Greatness DOES Require Sacrifice.

Some of the individuals below reflected on one key value that is central to every one of our lives: TIME.

We can never get time back. Each moment as it passes by rushes off into history, never to be experienced again. Time with family, friends and even personal time is one of the greatest sacrifices that individuals chose to make.

Since it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become proficient, we must weigh each hour carefully.


3. Be Careful What You Wish For… Because You May Just Get It.

In the above story, I stated that I used to repeat the mantra, “I am Michael Jordan. I am Michael Jordan.”

I wanted to be the greatest basketball player that ever lived. However, how would things have changed if I did?

Newton’s Third Law tells us:

“For Every Action There Is An Equal And Opposite Reaction.”

Dietmar (the archery champ below) taught me this. “Be Careful What You Wish For..” he said. He told me that with success there are many things that change. Your circle of friends change. People come out of the woodwork asking for things.

When I was growing my first business, my partner and I used to meet with a business mentor that sold his company for $300 million. We used to be starry eyed when we thought about how we might some day achieve this as well.

Though one day he told us, “Money changes everything.” You have to scrutinize people more closely and assess their motives. You have to be more careful because people are always watching you. When you become wealthy or achieve fame, things change.

Are you willing to deal with the “reaction” that comes with achieving greatness?

Be careful what you wish for…


18 Of The Greatest Athletes On Earth Answer My Question About Sacrifice:


Bart Conner – USA Olympic Hall of Famer and World Champion on the Parallel Bars

“The key issue is for me is that I never saw any of it as a sacrifice, just choices.  So, I never felt that I was missing something, only that I chose something else.”

Bart is one of the greatest gymnasts to ever compete in the Olympics. He was a member of the gold medal-winning men’s gymnastics team at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games where he won an individual gold medal on the parallel bars.

Follow Bart on Twitter and learn more about him at BartandNadia.com.


Rich Franklin – Former UFC Middleweight Champion

“When you do something you love, you don’t consider many things sacrifices other people would. However, to be the best, you must be willing to go beyond what your competition is willing to sacrifice.”

On April 5th, 2005, Rich competed in the main event of The Ultimate Figher 1 where he faced legendary Ken Shamrock. He won the fight with a TKO. He went on to become one of the greatest fighters in the history of the UFC with his win over Evan Tanner to become the UFC Middleweight Champion.

Follow Rich on Facebook and learn more about him at RichFranklin.com.


Brandi Chastain – Professional American Soccer Defender (Best Known For Her Game-winning penalty kick against China in 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup)

“I have been asked this question many times and I honestly and humbly answer that I don’t feel I sacrificed anything. I made the choices I did to play soccer and become a member of the US Women’s National Team because I loved it. If there was anything I wish I could alter, it would have been to have had the courage to have given birth to my son during my playing career so he could have met my parents. They so desperately wanted to be grandparents. Otherwise, I know that everything I did lead me to today and I am very satisfied with the path.”

Brandi is one of the top professional soccer players in the sport. She was a member of the United States women’s national soccer team. She has also played for the San Jose CyberRays of the WUSA and FC Gold Pride of Women’s Professional Soccer.

Follow Brandi on Facebook and learn more about her at BrandisWorld.com.


Lenny Krayzelburg – American Backstroke Swimmer, 4X Olympic Gold Medalist & Former World Record Holder

“I really don’t believe I had to make any sacrifices to get to the top, or at least I don’t view it as sacrifices. I was fortunate to have a talent and was willing to work extremely hard to take advantage of the opportunities that my career presented me. Although the daily grind of a professional athlete might not be fun and exciting, but traveling around the world for competitions, meeting new people, learning about various cultures is incredible… However to answer your question direct, if I can even call this sacrifices, I could not play other sports that I really enjoyed, basketball, tennis, soccer to avoid getting serious injury.”

Lenny is one of the greatest swimmers of all time. He is a former world record holder and Olympic swimmer where he won a total of 4 Olympic gold medals. He was also voted USA Swimmer of the Year between 1997 – 2000.

Follow Lenny on Facebook and learn more about him at LennyKSwim.com.


Natalie Coughlin – 11-time Olympic Medalist for Swimming & 1st Female Athlete In Olympic History To Win Six Medals In One Olympics

“Can’t think of any ONE thing that I’ve given up to reach my goals… it’s been a lifetime of making choices that have ultimately affected my swimming career (which started when I was a child).”

Natalie is one of the greatest swimmers in the history of the sport. In 2008 Summer Olympics she became the first American female athlete to win six medals in one Olympics as well as the first woman to win a 100 m backstroke gold in two consecutive Olympics. She also earned the World Swimmer of the Year Award one time and the American Swimmer of the Year Award three times. Photo Credit: “courtesy of O’Neill 365.”

Follow Natalie on Twitter and learn more about her at NatalieCoughlin.com.


Jennie Finch – Pitcher for the USA National Softball Team & Gold Medal Winner in 2004 Summer Olympics

“My biggest sacrifice probably would have been time away from my family, especially after I became a mother and was still competing on the USA Olympic team. I was blessed to have a lot of family support that allowed me to do what I love and also experience the best miracle of all, motherhood!”

Jennie is an extraordinary athlete. She was the pitcher for the USA national softball team and the Chicago Bandits. She helped lead Team USA to a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics and a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. Time Magazine described her as the most famous softball player in history.

Follow Jennie on Twitter and learn more about her at JennieFinch.com.


Josh Davis –  5-Time Olympic Medalist Swimmer

“I never look at it as what did I have to give up.  That implies that I was willing to sacrifice something good for me and I’m not willing to do that.  I credit my success in the water to being compelled to develop myself outside the water. I got married, I started a family, I ran a business, and I became a traveling ambassador for the sport.  I did all these things while training to be the best in the world in the pool–many athletes do not because it’s demands your very best in all areas of your life not just one; however, what I learned it that’s it’s about managing the distractions along the way to your goal that sets people apart. I think this is true of any goal your trying to accomplish whether it’s becoming a gold medalist or reaching a fitness goal–manage the distractions well and you’ll get to your goal.

The only thing I gave up was mediocrity”

In 1996, Josh made history when he became the only man at the Atlanta Olympic Games to win 3 gold medals. Josh was Captain of the USA Men’s swim Team and went on to break the American record three times in the 200 meter free-style at the 2000 Sydney Games. Josh is an ambassador for the sport of swimming and teaching the next generation how to excel at the sport.

Follow Josh on Twitter and learn more about him by visiting JoshDavis.com. Also, check out his swimming websites USASwimmer.com and BreakoutSwimClinics.com.


Cheryl Bernard – Top Canadian Curling Champion

“Without a doubt the biggest sacrifice has been time. Time with my family and time with my friends.”

Cheryl is one of the top athletes in the sport of curling. In 2010, she represented Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics winning the silver medal after falling to Sweden in the finals. Throughout the 2000s, her team has been one of the top ranked teams in the sport.

Follow Cheryl on Twitter and learn more about her by visiting TeamBernard.com.


Diandra Asbaty – World Ranking Masters Champion in Bowling & Gold Medalist

“Since I was a high school bowler, I have had to make sacrifices. Because I was bowling tournaments on the weekends, I had to pass on high school football games, parties, and other events that high schoolers look forward to. The same goes into college and now, as a mother and a wife, I don’t have the luxury of going on vacation any time I want. Yes, I get to travel for bowling which is amazing, but I’m working. So, it’s not as relaxing as a vacation would be.  Because I am self employed, I feel that I never take a day off. I’m constantly working whether it be coaching, practicing, competing, writing, or running my newly founded youth scholarship tour. It’s a sacrifice I choose to make as an athlete to make sure that I am giving my all in all areas of my life.”

Diandra is currently in her 14th straight year on Team USA. She has over 60 international medals and most recently captured her first Major Professional Win at the USBC Queens. She is in the World Bowling Hall of Fame and is a multiple World Champion.

Follow Diandra on Twitter and learn more about her at DiandraAsbaty.com.


Rares Crisan – Winner of 2008 National Rowing Championships

“You sacrifice yourself to sport. If you’re not willing to let your mind go, your body fade, and your heart struggle, you’re not doing enough.”

Rares is one of the top rowing champions in the sport. In 2008 he won first place in the National Rowing Championships. In 2011, he placed 2nd is the World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland and in 2010, he placed 3rd in the World Rowing Championships at Lake Karapiro, New Zealand.

Follow Rares on Twitter and learn more about him at RaresRhythm.com.


Gene LeBell – The “Godfather of Grappling,” & “The Toughest Man Alive” (as quoted by Chuck Norris)

“Didn’t have to sacrifice a thing. Working out everyday gained me a lot of things – more energy and a winning attitude.”

LeBell won the AAU National Judo Championships (both heavyweight and overall) in 1954 and 1955. He is a 10th Degeree Black Belt Kodokan Judo, International Kyokushin Budokai, 9th Degree Black Belt, US Ju-Jitsu Federation National AAUU Heavyweight Judo Champion (1954-1955), National Wrestling Association (NWA) Pro Wrestling Champion, Actor & Stuntman with over 1,000 movie and television credits, MMA Judge, Coach, Instructor and Boxing Referee

Learn more about Gene by visiting GeneLebell.com.


Simon Whitfield – Canadian Olympic Triathlon Champion

“The biggest sacrifice I make now is diversity of thoughts and interests. I’m obsessed with being better, being fitter, being more prepared, I look forward to being more diverse and balanced.”

Simon was the silver medalist in the triathlon in the 2004 Summer Olympics. He finished with a time of 1:48:58 just five seconds behind the German gold medalist. He also has several astounding accomplishments to his name in the sport of triathlon racing including: 12 national championships and 14 world cup victories.

Love this quote of his that was featured in an interview with Simon:

“Be relentless, be obsessed. Get obsessed, stay obsessed. The Gold is in the details”

Follow Simon on Twitter and learn more about him at SimonWhitfield.com.


Todd Rogers – Reigning AVP Tour Champion, FIVB World Champion & Olympic Gold Medalist

“There is not really one single thing that I have had to sacrifice to get to the top. However, I feel as though I sacrifice every day I am gone and not home with my wife and kids.  I have been married for 15 years as of April 13th to an awesome women.  I have 2 kids who are 13 and 11 and every year they have been alive it has become more and more difficult to be away from them.  I hate missing their academic, athletic and life achievements.  They are getting more and more of them and I am missing more and more of them and frankly it sucks.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do.  I play a kids game and my office is the beach.  But playing all over the world, as glorious as it sounds, is hard on the body and even more difficult on the psyche while being away from the people who mean the most to you.”

Todd and his partner Phil Dalhausser were the AVP Tour champions in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. They are also the reigning FIVB world champions as well as Olympic gold medalists from the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

His team set new single season records for the most wins in a season on the FIVB, finishing as the world’s number one ranked team.

Follow Todd on Twitter and learn more about him at ToddJRogers.com.


Kristine Lilly – Professional American Soccer Player and Most Capped Men’s or Women’s Soccer Player In The History Of The Sport

“I’m not sure I would call it sacrifices that I made to be the best I could, or more so just choices to want to play for my country.

I always put my training first.  Whether it was cold outside and snowy, I still found a way to get a work out in.  I always wanted to make sure I was fit enough to be ready to go into training camp with the U.S. national team.  I did miss a lot of family functions and birthdays but my family was so supportive we made up for them in other ways.  Going after your dream take a commitment and lots of support and hard work.  I had all those pieces to be able to play for the U.S. for over 23 years.  I enjoyed my career and all I put into it and got out of it…”

Kristine was a member of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team for 24 years as well as played for the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). She is the most capped player in the history of the sport. She gained her 352nd and final cap against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier.

Follow Kristine on Facebook and learn more about her at KristineLilly13.com.


Dietmar Trillus – Professional Archer, 30 Meter World Record Holder & FITA Outdoor World Champion

“Becoming a world class archer takes a lot of willpower, determination, discipline and dedication. It is a very costly endeavor, to say the least, and takes a great deal of personal discipline to even get close to good enough to be able to compete against the best in the world. Basically I put my life on hold with other interests and hobbies to be able to invest the time and dedication it takes to become one of the best. It has come with many personal sacrifices to be able to do what I do. Everyone thinks it is all glory and a very elaborate lifestyle to travel the world and shoot for a living, this all comes at a very high price, mainly being family and friends as well as other personal interests. As they say, be careful of what you wish for! Everything comes at a price and everything is a double edged sword, so to speak. With all good, there is just as much bad.

However it has been a great ride and knowing what I know now, Yes, I would do it all over again. Not many people can make a living at something they truly love to do and I truly LOVE to shoot a bow! I have made some great friends around the world and seen some very interesting and beautiful places as well. Seen cultures and life styles I would have never seen, if it was not for archery and my ability to shoot as well as I do.
I might not be the BEST shot in the world, but just knowing that I am one of, is all that matters to me and being able to compete at the level I do, especially at the age I am, is for me the coolest thing in the world and makes it all worth it!
Another thing that makes this all worth while are the people that believe in me, my sponsors! They are a big part of how and why this has all happened for me. I have to thank Carbon Express, especially Lennie Rezmer, PSE, thank you David for believing in me, TruBall, Axcel, Flex Fletch, Americas Best Bowstrings, Doinker, BCY Bob and Chris, you are the best, Specialty Archery Products, Swarovski Optik, Ez Press, Lancaster Archery, The Bow Shop in Waterloo, without these people believing in me and helping me every step of the way, none of this would have ever been possible! I also have to thank Mathews Inc, for giving me the push to compete in target events and get out of shooting back yard 3D tournaments, they made me expand my horizons.”

Dietmar is one of the most accomplished archers in the history of the sport. He currently holds the 30 Meter World Record and has one first place in the 2007 FITA Outdoor World Championships. He also holds several other records in the sport of archery. To explore all of them, click here.

Learn more about Dietmar at DietmarTrillus.com.


Jim Montgomery – First Man to Break 50 Seconds In the 100-Meter Freestyle & 3X Olympic Gold Medal Winner in Swimming

“Biggest sacrifice was giving up  time spent with non swimming friends I grew up with and social activities we shared.  In summer time was training 5 hours a day 6 days a week, if I went out socially once every two weeks that was it. I didn’t have time for dating in High school. College training atmosphere much different, there was more free time even with swimming 10-11 practices per week and school work.”

Jim is one of the most accomplished swimmers in the sport of swimming. He was the first man to every break the 50 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle. This feat was the equivalent to Roger Bannister’s four minute mile in the sport of track. He won two golds and a bronze in the 1976 Olympics and a record five golds in the first World Championships at Belgrade in 1973.

Learn more about Jim at JimMontgomerySwim.com.


Todd Jarrett – National and World Practical Shooting Champion & Only USPSA Triple Crown Winner Ever

“As I sit here and think about that question. In the the beginning I don’t think that I was sacrificing anything at 20 years of age. But as time flew bye, I miss many things with my daughter, family and close non-shooting friends. But I look back now after almost 30 years of being in the Industry. My Family ( The Industry ) may not have been blood relative but now I have a global family. My Daughter turned out to be a wonderful women and my non-shooting friends are still here for me today. The biggest sacrifice of time will be the fault of airport delays.”

Todd is one of the greatest competitive shooters in the world. He is a National and World Practical Shooting Champion. He holds four World titles, nine National titles and has won over 50 Area championships. He is also the only USPSA Triple Crown Winner and holds four USPSA National titles.

Follow Todd on Facebook and learn more about him at ToddJarrett.com.


Bruce Baumgartner -The Most Decorated American Wrestler of All Time & 4X Olympic Wresting Champion

“I believe less in sacrifice and more in choices. Everyone has a choice. When I was training to become an Olympic wrestler, sure I had to sacrifice spending time with friends or certain gatherings but it was always my choice.

We all sacrifice potential paths for the one that we create through our decisions. In one sense, many people sacrifice becoming an Olympic athlete. They don’t make the necessary choices to become one.”

Bruce is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He has won an Olympic medal in 4 separate Olympics in the sport of wrestling along with 9 World Championship Medals and 4 Pan-American Medals. To see a full list of his titles click here. I had the great blessing of talking to Bruce on the phone and he is as genuine as he is insightful.

Follow Bruce on Facebook and learn more about him at BruceBaumgartner.com.



Final Thoughts & Thank You:

I have learned the lesson deeply that each of us always has a choice. We have the choice to choose greatness and accept that we can achieve far more than we have ever thought possible. Although we may have to give up more than we ever knew we had.

I would like to close with a huge thank you to all the above athletes that took the time to respond to my question. Your knowledge, insight and experience is eternally valuable.

I close with this thought from the french poet and playwright, Guillaume Apollinaire:

Come to the edge
We can’t. We’re afraid
We can’t. We will fall. Come to the edge
And they came. And he pushed them
And they flew.
– Guillaume Apollinaire


King Shot Administer

Show/Hide Comments (6 comments)
  1. Marshall Gonzaba

    a lot of the quotes I can relate to in my own life, “be careful what you wish for” I wished for somethings and it turned it to be to much for me to handle but in the end I still learned from it and everything in my life that has happened has made me who I am today and I’m still holding a smile and I’m proud.

  2. Tommy Sr.

    I’m loving it Todd! You have become a great writer and truly love your subject matter.

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Thanks Tommy! I appreciate you saying that. Definitely is a learning process. 🙂

  3. Phil Drolet

    Exactly what I needed tonight as I was debating between taking a night off or getting geared up for a solid 3-hour work session.

    It’s not a sacrifice, it’s a choice. And the rewards, whether it be success or simply personal satisfaction, is always worth it.

    Thanks for taking the time to gather all this great wisdom Todd- appreciate it!

  4. cecilia

    Super article – thanks very much for including it on your website! Great motivator

    • Todd Kuslikis

      You’re very welcome Cecilia! Glad you enjoyed it!

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