Most ideas never get out of the blocks, says Nelson Christian Stokes, a four-time Winter Olympian on the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team.
But you must start in order to chase down your dreams, says Stokes, using his background as a track runner to deliver a metaphor.
“You have something only you can give to the universe, to give to the world. If you don’t do it, it won’t happen,” he tells attendees of the 2017 CSCU Solutions Conference in Orlando.
Stokes shepherded the fledgling Jamaica Bobsleigh Team from their humorous debut in 1988 to being ranked 8th in the world at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games. In 2002, the team set track start records.
He authored the book “Cool Runnings and Beyond: The Story of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team,” which inspired the Walt Disney film “Cool Runnings.” Stokes played clips from the movie to illustrate some of his main points during his speech.
Some advice Stokes received from family that served him well through the years:
• Follow your calling wherever it takes you. This advice came from his father. For Stokes, this meant doing something no one thought was a good idea: bobsled.
“The first ride felt like the tumble cycle of the dryer,” Stokes jokes. But he persisted because the sport called to him.
• Be careful how you curse your misfortune. This came from his mother. In his first Olympics, his team crashed with the entire world watching.
“That was embarrassing,” he says. “But we did not let self doubt take root. We decided to go on.”
• No dream is dead until it is dead. This advice came from his grandfather. The team proved all the naysayers right in that first Olympics.
It was a “massive failure,” he says. “But if we had not crashed, we would not have risen with determination and become a competitive team.”
Stokes, who is now an entrepreneur in financial services, offers some advice of his own:
• Don’t quit. “I was part of a team that crashed in front of billions and people told us to quit. But we didn’t. And the journey paid off,” Stokes says.
• The most important skill is grit. “It’s ultimately the only skill you need,” he says. “Success, at the end of the day, is attrition. Be the last person on your feet.”
• Have faith that things will work out. “Sometimes the road goes up. Sometimes the road goes down. Just make sure you are on the right road.”
• Don’t make excuses. The Jamaica Bobsleigh Team didn’t have the same budget as its competitors, but that didn’t stop them. “It is more important to be resourceful than to have resources.”
• Don’t emulate too much. At the outset, the Jamaica team emulated the best bobsleigh team in the world, the Swiss.
“But we could only be the second best Swiss team. We ended up wanting to be the best Jamaican Bobsleigh Team,” he says.
• Bring yourself to the table. “Your source and path to real success is to do you,” Stokes says. Embrace what makes you, you.
“In your imperfection is your opportunity to be outstanding.”