SE: 'Being Fearless' K-State Olympic Panel Set for Thursday on Campus

There are plenty of obstacles on the road to becoming an Olympian — getting on that path is difficult to begin with. One of those hurdles is fear: of failure, of injury, of chasing a dream that seems impossible. 

One current and four former K-State track and field athletes will give insight on overcoming fear on their journey to reaching the Olympics on Thursday from 5:30-6:45 p.m., at the Town Hall room in the Leadership Studies Building on campus. 

Kansas State University’s Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality is sponsoring the panel discussion. It is one of two lead-up events for the GWSS Annual Lecture with keynote speaker Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who was named the “Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century” by Sports Illustrated. She will deliver a lecture entitled “Dare to Dream” at K-State on March 16, 2017. 

Thursday’s panel discussion, entitled “Being Fearless,” is open to students and the public. It will be moderated by Gwen Wentland-Mikinski, a K-State Athletics Hall of Fame member, and Jill Montgomery, a former K-State track and field athlete and current ESPN analyst.

"The talk will touch on not just being fearless in athletics but being fearless in life, what measured risks and perseverance can reap, and what it means to be the best in the world,” Wentland-Mikinski said. “We will also address gender issues and explore what it is like to be a female in athletics, the obstacles that women face in sports, even in this day and age, and how to overcome them.”

The panelists will be Shadae Lawrence, a sophomore discus thrower for the Wildcats who represented Jamaica at the Rio Games in August, Erik Kynard, a silver medalist and two-time Olympian, Thane Baker, a four-time Olympic medalist from the 1952 and 1956 Games, Ed Broxterman, who high jumped for the U.S. in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and Akela Jones, a heptathlete who also competed in Rio. 

“This is a unique opportunity to tap into the secrets to success of K-State’s world class student-athletes,” Wentland-Mikinski said. “There will be a wide perspective from across the generations, from Thane Baker to Erik Kynard. These are some of our most decorated athletes assembled in one room."

One former Wildcat who won’t be in the panel but can give plenty of insight on the topic is Austra Skujyte, a four-time Olympian who picked up a silver medal in heptathlon at the 2004 Games.  

While visiting Manhattan in early October, Skujyte, who lives and coaches track and field in her home country of Lithuania, shared with K-State Sports Extra how she fought through her fears to become the most decorated heptathlete to ever come out of K-State. 

Below is an excerpt from the interview with Skujyte, some of which will be played at Thursday’s event.   

SE: As an international athlete, what was it like coming to Kansas State? 

AS: It was pretty much going into an unknown, a total unknown. I was really happy and lucky that Coach (Cliff) Rovelto came to see me in Lithuania. That was something that I could hold on to because I knew him a little bit before I went to the U.S., which was really helpful because otherwise it would have been really hard. You do everything online, you talk on the phone and then you show up and you just don’t know. At least I met the person who would coach me and my parents met him, so it was really helpful, but it was still going into a total unknown. I’m really happy I took this step because it took courage, because you have something that you’re used to, it’s in your pocket, you know everything that’s going on in your life, it’s in your country and you know what to expect. Here you come so far away, hoping for the best and experiencing this country, university, and everything made me a little different because I can compare it to something different. It’s actually very helpful now as well because you can add some new wind into Lithuania with coaching because I had this experience.

SE: Did you face any difficult times or issues get accustomed to the American way of life? 

AS: It was tough. It took me a while to actually speak English fluently, but the people that surrounded me were really great. I was receiving all the help I needed. There were other international athletes on the team, so when you were really tired of Americans you can actually hang out with some Europeans (laughs). It was really good. I really loved how people in the U.S., accepted everyone who was coming here. Even when I wasn’t going home for Christmas, I had invitations to go to other families here in town and that amazed me a lot.

SE: The title of the upcoming Olympic panel on Thursday, November 3, is “Being Fearless.” At what times did you have to put aside your fears to achieve something? 

AS: Before running the 800 (laughs). You can go really slow and really safe and you can finish with a smile, even if the result isn’t going to be very good, but then there are times when you know you have to try and run and give it a shot and see what happens, because you never know what might happen if you don’t run. You never know if you’re going to crawl to the finish line, which happened to me once, or you can finish it strong, but I think that’s for all heptathlon athletes. They all experience that.

SE: You broke a lot of records in your career, including the women’s world decathlon record, which you still hold in an event that is unchartered water for most women. Is there any advice you would give to others who are trying to achieve something that’s never done before? 

AS: I think when you look into everything that you’re trying to achieve, the first thing everybody thinks is, ‘It’s impossible.’ There’s something that gets into your mind that, ‘There’s no way.’ My advice would be is if you’re not going to try it, you’re never going to know. Don’t get discouraged by how everything looks from the outside, because when you get inside it’s a little different and it’s doable.

SE: On March 16, Jackie Joyner-Kercee is coming to K-State to give a lecture, entitled “Dare to Dream.” Did you have a point in your life that you were dreaming, that you knew you were destined for bigger things?

AS: I remember at the beginning of my track career, my first coach was saying that I can do some big things and I was totally, ‘No, no way. It’s impossible.’ I didn’t take him seriously, but then later on it started coming together step by step. I guess it’s OK to dream but when you have some proof that it’s happening then it’s a little different, but still you have put your heart into what you dream so that could happen. 

SE: What else would you tell people looking for motivational factors for success?  

AS: I just want to say those little things that you do every day, they really matter and they accumulate. If you cheat one little thing and then another little thing, at the end you will have a big basket of things that you cheated on. It’s something you have to put your heart into every day and do your best as much as you can. That’s what you have to do and eventually later on you will see what that turns into. Dream big, but also you have to work on it. Don’t just dream and not try anything. Dream big but also go for it.