‘I got the gold medal, I got the world record, but I don’t go out for dinner with my gold medal.’ Mark Henderson – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 61
Mark Henderson, Olympic Champion and former world-record holder shares how he was ready to quit his sport, after he couldn’t qualify for the Olympic Games. How he learned to be prepared for sport and for business life. His experiences from working at Wall Street for 15 years and how he now follows his passion of giving back to the world of sports.
Furthermore, we discuss
- Why he considers himself as a Wall Street survivor
- His darkest moment
- His best moment
- His advice to a younger Mark Henderson
- His success habits
- Does the sport of swimming develop the necessary discipline to be a successful student
- His morning routine
- How to prepare for important moments
- How to overcome setbacks
- His role model
- The best advice he received
- How does a typical training day in the life of a professional swimmer look like
- His interview nomination
- His motivation to start his recent project The Athletes Village
- Where can you find Mark Henderson
Christian: In this interview I am joined by Mark Henderson. Mark is Olympic Champion 1996 in the 4 * 100 meter medley relay, triple World Champion, double Pan-American Champion, quadruple Pan-Pacific Champion and a five-time US National Champion.
Mark: Thank you for having me.
Why he considers himself a Wall Street survivor
Christian: Mark, I also saw on your LinkedIn profile, you are Wall Street survivor. What does that mean?
Mark: Yes. I was at a career on Wall Street for over 15 years. I worked for JPMorgan and Citigroup and then a smaller shop which was the oldest investment bank on Wall Street, Janny Montgomery Scott.
Christian: And what made you quit that career path?
Mark: I had just been itching to give back. I had had an idea ever since I was chair of the USOC’s Athlete Committee about the inability of athletes to easily give back. Right now the only thing truly out there is for us to give clinics and at local teams.
I had been itching to give back, I had had an idea ever since I was chair of the USOC’s Athlete Committee about the inability of athletes to easily give back.
At most, you can reach probably 300 to 400 kids, but it’s not individualized. It’s just a mass spray of what you think can help them. So I wanted to create a company or a platform that enabled athletes to give back.
Let’s take an example and say an athlete is at the post office and they’re trying to kill 15 minutes. They should be able to look and see that somebody’s asking them a question about a butterfly swimming. They know the answer and so they can respond.
So I could be anywhere in the world and it’s absolutely free and just wanted to see if we could help kids really easily and give back. So we built a platform.
Christian: That’s the Athletes’ Village Platform, right?
Christian: Yes, we’ll talk about that later. I think it’s a really interesting and inspiring project.
Mark: Yes, but Wall Street, I got to tell you, I would say 60% of the guys I ran across on Wall Street were ex-athletes.
It is very competitive.
Christian: I’ve heard that before because you need that drive to win or to succeed. In addition, you also need to have a high tolerance of frustration and perseverance, right?
Mark: Yes, I think the perseverance was the main part. I think it was not freaking out under pressure. In other words, several times we’re in trading you could be down quite a large amount. You could either run away from the desk and run out the front door or you can bear down and try to get it back. So there’s definitely that dealing with loss and dealing with wins in the proper way that you learn from sports.
His darkest moment
Christian: That leads perfectly into the first question. What was your darkest moment?
Mark: Yes. Probably not making the 1992 Olympic team. At the time, I was second in the world. I backed off in the prelims [preliminary rounds], I just missed the world record and I learned a valuable lesson in finals.
I had my two heroes on both sides of me, Matt Biondi and Pablo Morales. I knew how they raced the event. I was usually sixth or seventh at the halfway point, at the 50 meters, and would run people down.
For some reason getting up behind the blocks for that night, I figured if I could get out ahead of those two who are usually out first and second, that I could blow their race strategy and really bring it home hard and smash the world record. It was a combination of just inexperience and probably a little bit of overconfidence and not knowing that I shouldn’t race a race that my body’s not used to doing in practice.
I learned a valuable lesson in finals, it was a combination of inexperience and a little bit of overconfidence.
I took it out super-fast, hit the wall first and came off the wall. I heard the announcer underwater for the first time in my life yelling. The crowd was going crazy. I was way ahead of world-record pace.
I couldn’t even see the two guys next to me and about ten meters from the wall, that piano that lands on your back where you can barely get your arms out of the water, about three of those fell on top of me. The last stroke I had into the wall, literally I don’t think my arms came out of the water.
I fell from first, way ahead of world-record pace. By the time I hit the wall, I ended up seventh. I think that line that goes across the pool that they have on television was about at my knees and that shot so far ahead of me.
It was a hard lesson to learn. I didn’t make the Olympic team when I should have. I had to come back from that. I had to come back from a lot of people telling me that I should just retire and get a real job and not stick around for another four years.
I didn’t make the Olympic team when I should have. I had a lot of people telling me that I should just retire and get a real job and not stick around for another four years.
Christian: How did you recover from that moment? What were the lessons learned?
Mark: The biggest lesson I learned was not worrying about who’s next to you. I think it applies to every sport. It is not worrying about your competition. You can’t worry about things you can’t control, which I’m sure people hear a lot.
- Also check out the interview with double Olympian Twan van Gendt, who emphasizes not to worry about your competition, and to focus on yourself.
It’s hard to practice when you’re right next to somebody and touching the wall first depends on whether you make a team or not. But that was probably the biggest lesson I learned. You also learn who your true friends are. You learn how to train differently.
Honestly I had about a month or two where I felt sorry for myself. I just pushed away from the public and I was building a 1969 Camaro at the time. Working on cars and building cars was my hobby.
I just hung out with those friends that did that, pulled away and didn’t swim one lap. I didn’t get in a pool for two months. One of my friends that was working on the car with me was a big country guy who raced cars, worked in a gas station and he’s a mechanic.
He pulled me aside and told me something, that has changed the course of my life at the time, he said “Very rarely I come across someone who’s got a gift and who’s not using it. You need to finish it.” So of all the things that people said to me afterwards; some people say the completely wrong thing and they don’t mean to, some people say the perfect thing.
What he said was one of those things that just knocked me off my feet, so I said, “All right, I’ve got it! I’m going to be really upset if I just leave this chapter of my life like this.”
My friend told me something, that has changed the course of my life at the time, he said “Very rarely I come across someone who’s got a gift and who’s not using it. You need to finish it.”
That just knocked me off my feet and I said, “All right, I’ve got it! I’m going to be really upset if I just leave this chapter of my life like this.”
So I came back with a vengeance and just started writing down, every day from there, what I needed to do and change. If you fast forward to 1996 trials, I was last at the wall at the 50 meters. I was in Lane six, so I didn’t even qualify first.
In the morning session, from first to eighth was only four-tenths of a second difference. It was a very tight field. I hit the wall last at night and came back and ran everybody down and made the team.
Christian: I would like to dig into something that you said. Some people said you better quit and get a real job. I imagine when you’re in the process of coming back, these doubts are coming back into your head and maybe these people are right.
How do you fight these?
Mark: I use it as motivation. I wrote them down. I wrote a lot of quotes that people said to me that didn’t sit well with me. I wrote them down and put them on my wall.
So those mornings when it’s hard to get up when it’s freezing cold outside or the pools freezing or you’re just exhausted, that was the first thing I saw in the morning. So to me, it was just turning those things around. In your gut you just feel it. You feel like this is what you’re supposed to be doing.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Mark: I would say the funniest moment of the Olympics was when we first got there. They had these underwater cameras that were flying along the bottom pool for the first time and one that was flying above us as well. It was the first time they did it.
When I was there in Atlanta, the guys that were doing it were the guys that were doing the NFL. They had never covered swimming before and they had no idea how fast we were or how to keep up with us and where it should be to keep it out of our view.
So I walked over to one of the cameramen because he was approaching all these different younger athletes, asking them a question. I didn’t know what it was. So I walked over there, being one of the senior guys and asked him what was up.
He said he was just trying to get somebody to do some fast paces so that he could see where to be with the camera and how fast he needed to move it. So I jumped in and did a few sprints for him because my race wasn’t until the last day.
We just became good friends and we were talking a bunch of time. He’s this big Harley dude. He had to be about like 6″5′, wore like the leather chaps and a huge beard and was working for NBC.
So we just became good friends and I told him that this was the first time in the history of swimming that the US was not favored to win the 4 * 100 meter medley relay. I told him that Russia – at the time it was Russia – were going to be the ones that were favored.
It was the first time in the history of swimming that the US was not favored to win the 4 * 100 meter medley relay.
They had two guys on the anchors that were world record holders, so there was going to be a lot of publicity going into this race. He was like, “Dude, I’ve got you. If I can see you like if that guy’s coming after you, I’m going to put that camera right in front of you.”
When I got in, I had a lead and the competitor was three lanes over and so I couldn’t see him. He went the whole way underwater. Before you have to come up after 15 meters and so I couldn’t see him. I hit the wall and the crowd’s going crazy because again, the announcer was saying that we’re way ahead of world-record pace.
This guy’s coming after me. So I’m underwater, butterfly kick and underwater off the turn and literally the camera, all of a sudden, you can see me underwater in the video. I see the camera out of the corner of my eye and then I grit my teeth and I start chasing this camera down the pool.
So he’s speeding it up and I’m chasing it, speeding up, chasing it down the pool. I ended up out splitting the Russian butterflier and then our freestyler ended up splitting their anchor guy, Alexander Popov. We end up smashing the world record and winning.
But right when I’m bending over to congratulate Gary [Hall Jr.], someone picks me up from behind and it’s the cameraman. He’s got tears streaming down his face and he’s like, “We did it! We did it!” So he was totally in it and just felt a big part of it. So when you break the world record, you get four world-record certificates and I framed one and sent it to him.
Christian: Oh nice. Really cool.
Mark: So yes, it was a good thing.
His advice to a younger Mark Henderson
Christian: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger Mark?
Mark: That’s a good question. I would say do a lot more stretching. Yoga would be a huge thing that I totally would have done. Strength training-wise, I would have done much more event-specific strength training.
I would say do a lot more stretching. Yoga would be a huge thing that I totally would have done.
When I see guys now, they are just ripped. I lifted with the football players so I was big and looked like a football player, compared to a swimmer; they are normally very lean and cut. These guys are big nowadays, but they have trained their bodies specifically for their specific event.
So I think that’s what made what Michael Phelps did all that much more special. Almost, to me, being a swimmer and being in it, what he did was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen in sport.
He beat everybody who trained for one event and then he would get out of the water and beat everybody who trained for the next event. Then he would get out of the water, and it went on and on and on for eight events. So that was, to me, one of the most incredible feats in sports I’ve ever seen.
Christian: And then, what was the setup like when you were training? Who was designing the strength training, for example? I assumed you had a swimming coach. Was he also doing the strength training?
Mark: We had a swim coach and then I had like a plyometric coach. My strength coach was actually the strength coach for Cal Athletics. So I was training at Cal; California Berkeley. I was training there and they just had the strength coach who coached the football team, water polo teams, swim team, baseball, and basketball.
So he put together a plan for me. But these days they have specific guys who are much more educated in swimming and how you should strength train for that. There was much more explosive stuff with the weight.
Christian: So you were doing more heavy, slow resistance type of movements?
Mark: Exactly! Ten, eight, six, four; increased the right way, that type of thing.
Christian: No wonder you got buffed.
Mark: Pretty sad.
His success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful person or athlete?
Mark: I would say I’m coachable. I don’t argue with the coaches. I like to learn and I would think on top of that, just learning from my mistakes. From the prior story, I think the biggest thing is that athletes can have is learning from your mistakes.
I’m coachable, I don’t argue with the coaches. I like to learn and just learning from my mistakes.
The biggest mistake I see especially with younger kids, is that when they have a bad race or a bad game they pout, throw their helmet down or throw their goggles down. They go in the corner and don’t talk to anybody or don’t talk to the coaches.
The best time to talk to your coach or the best time to learn is right after it happened because it’s fresh in your mind and it’s fresh in their mind. They can tell you what they saw and ask you how you felt. They can get a feel for how your body felt.
So for me, it was just learning from my mistakes. Don’t get me wrong. I’d be mad when I swam bad. But I was very inquisitive and really pushed my coach to tell me what I did wrong right away so I could go back and warm down and work on a little bit for the next race.
The best time to talk to your coach is right after it happened because it’s fresh in your mind, so I was very inquisitive and really pushed my coach to tell me what I did wrong right after the race, so I could go back and warm down and work on a little bit for the next race.
Does the sport of swimming develop the necessary discipline to be a successful student
Christian: I have a question that interests me. I need to be careful how I phrase it, but it seems that professional swimmer tend to have on average a higher education than many other sports.
My question is, do you think that comes because the nature of swimming, as it involves early mornings, long days, multiple times a day you need to be in the water, you need to be able to swim fairly monotonously up and down.
Is it that once you have mastered that and this kind of discipline that is needed for that, then studying becomes easy?
Mark: That’s a good question. I’d say there are a couple parts to it. I would say part of it is probably the wealth of the family. I would say a lot of athletes come from a country club. Or to be able to afford to swim and be in a pool it’s a fairly expensive sport, and then you add on to that travel.
So it’s hard for an inner-city kid to get involved in sports. So with that being said, probably coming from a family who pushes education a little bit harder could be a part of it.
And yes, the discipline is definitely a big key to it. Swimming requires specialization at a somewhat early age and a lot of hours of training. And just being able to get up and no different because most swimmers do different events. You’re going to have that complication of really knowing how to do different splits and different types of training.
The discipline is definitely a big key to it. Swimming requires specialization at a somewhat early age and a lot of hours of training.
So it pushes you, especially in math where you’re doing intervals very quickly. You could be on a 28-second interval, so you’re having to add that up before you hit the wall in the next 28 seconds to push off again. So you’re doing 10 * 50 meters on twenty-eight seconds.
The coaches always gave us odd intervals like that just to get your math up. So I think that might have played a little role too.
His morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Mark: Yes, the hardest thing I had when I retired from sports was to get back on a morning routine that I liked. But now I wake up and meditate, which that’s another thing. I wished I had done that when I was competing.
So yes, I meditate and then I work out and have breakfast with the kids. I bring them to school and then go to work. When I come back, I pretty much just walk the dogs and hang out with the kids. We try to be a non-device family as soon as I get back, which is hard when you’re running a business, but that’s what we try to enforce a little bit, mostly for the kids.
We try to be a non-device family, which is hard when you’re running a business, but we try to enforce that mostly for the kids.
Christian: I know swimmers do have usually early mornings. Did you have a morning routine when you were an athlete?
Mark: Yes, and not by choice. It was getting up early, from about 4:15 and then going to practice from 5:00 to 7:00. When I was at the Olympic Training Center, I’d get up early practice for probably 2 hours, stretch, and then go eat.
We then come back and we would have some type of either aerobic exercise or we would do lifts. We would then eat, take a nap, go back to the pool, stretch afterwards again, probably review the tape, and then eat and go to bed.
So it wasn’t as glamorous as people thought it was. The glamorous part was probably the travel that we did such as the World Cup Series and going to big meets. It’s very cutthroat and people don’t realize.
I could be ranked number one in the world or the world record holder, but you still have to be top two at trials. We have trials every summer. So for World Championships or Pan Pacific or Pan-American Games or World University Games or whatever, you have to try out every year to make the national team.
It’s very cutthroat and people don’t realize it. I could be ranked number one in the world or be the world record holder, but you still have to be in the top two at trials.
Christian: And it’s decided on the trials, right, whether you make it or not?
Mark: Yes, you could be sick that day, hurt or you could have pulled something in the week before. They don’t take that into account. So it’s whoever touches the wall first and second.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare for important moments?
Mark: I prepare! I make sure I’m prepared. So it just depends on what I’m doing if I have a call with a possible partner company or trying to get some type of deal done, I spend the hours I need to get prepared for.
I prepare! I make sure I’m prepared.
That was the same thing with swimming. I made sure that I was on board and on the same page with what the coach wanted to do. I set goals and I still do. I set short and long-term goals; what I want for our company and that’s the only way I think you can really achieve your long-term goals.
I find a lot of kids have these goals in sports where they say that at the end of the year they want to be State Champion. Then that’s it. That’s all they do.
So for me, I’m like, “Okay, you want to be State Champion, what do you have to do to achieve that? How do you have to change what you did last year to this year? Is it not breathing off the wall? Is it only taking two breaths in the first lap or breathing every other stroke or what is it?”
So you have to have those daily goals and make practice or for me, make work very valuable on a daily basis.
I set goals and I still do. I set short and long-term goals; those daily goals make practice or for me, make work very valuable on a daily basis.
Christian: I’ve written down a note here and that’s an interesting question for me at least. You mentioned that moment before when you tried to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Games. You went out a little bit too fast and then didn’t finish it off.
Earlier you mentioned that you were inexperienced and that’s why it happened. I listened to a podcast recently and it happened to Cate Campbell, the Aussie swimmer, as well. She broke the world record in 2016 previously to the Olympics.
She broke the Olympic record in the qualifying and then in the Olympic final, she went out a little bit too fast and couldn’t finish it off.
From the outside, it’s a little bit difficult to understand how that could happen to a professional who’s so long in the game.
What would be your analysis?
Mark: You train your body a certain way, so it becomes very scientific and detailed when you get to a high level of competition. So I wanted to have a certain time. Say I wanted to go 52:05 in the 100 fly to break the world record.
I know exactly what I need to do for every lap, and that’s how I should breathe, how I should go off the wall, how I should do the walls and how my body should feel at that speed. So your body is prepped very precisely to run a race exactly like that.
If you go out super-fast in the first 50 meters and it’s not easy speed like your body is used to doing in practice over and over and over and over again, then you’re jamming your body into something it’s never done before. It’s going to react and it’s going to fail at some point. You’re hoping that it fails after you touch the wall, but the excitement and television takes over and there’s a lot of things.
I think even experienced athletes at the Olympics have big fails because they get so caught up in the moment. You have a TV camera that’s right next to your face and you’re walking in and you’re trying to not look at it. Do I look at it? Do I wave?
Even experienced athletes at the Olympics have big fails because they get so caught up in the moment.
It’s different from a lot of other competitions that you go to. The Olympics is very special, obviously, and just very different in how media is handled and how close they can get to you, compared to say, World Championships or World Cup.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Mark: I tend to overanalyze. So I just look at video or for work, I will just go over with my team, how we prepped for it. What went wrong, what we could have done differently and just try to learn from our mistakes.
To me, setbacks offer a ton of opportunity, so I think that’s what separates a lot of people in business from others. People take setbacks and take it personally and can’t really recover and don’t want to jump out and take a chance because they’d failed before. Setbacks really teach you what you can do to avoid them going forward.
Setbacks offer a ton of opportunity. People take setbacks personally and can’t really recover. Setbacks really teach you what you can do to avoid them going forward.
His role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Mark: It’s a good question. I would say my parents were my first role model and only because they weren’t the typical sports parents. My mom actually made Olympic Trials in downhill skiing, but she couldn’t afford to go and she didn’t tell me that until I made the Olympic team.
But I knew she was a good skier. She just didn’t want to put the pressure on me. So I didn’t have the typical parents. My mom was the one who was giving me advice in sports and teaching me how to tackle in football and how to throw a football and that type of thing because she grew up with all boys.
My dad was not really an athlete. He worked on a think tank for the government, so he was extremely smart and never ever put pressure on me. He didn’t know my times. He saw if I won or lost, but he was completely neutral.
If I had broken the American record or if I had lost and didn’t make the Olympic team, he pretty much treated me exactly the same. So he never made it about how I performed. He made it just that he loved me and that was the bottom line. He was proud that I put myself out there.
So it just gave me the confidence. I try to tell parents now that that type of parenting gave me the confidence to try new things when I raced and to just put it all on the line and not worry about the repercussions of not making it or making it.
It gave me the confidence to try new things and to just put it all on the line and not worry about the repercussions of not making it.
Christian: You said that they were the first role models?
Mark: Yes, that’s good, you were following it. I would say one of the guys that I mentioned earlier that beat me out for the 1992 Olympics, Pablo Morales, he did the same thing I did in 1988. He was the American record holder and the World Record holder and he just didn’t taper well going in and didn’t make the team, which was just like a huge shocker.
So he stuck around and I got to know him pretty well in those next four years. He was doing the Big Brother’s program. So he was a big brother and so I did Big Brother’s program because he talked me into it.
I saw him do it and he told me that it’s all about balance and that I don’t need to be thinking about swimming 24/7. So I did it and it was one of the best things I ever did. I started to see that swimming can open the door to other opportunities that actually affect me more.
So yes, he was the guy that showed me you could be excellent at sports, but you can also use sports to open other doors to help more people and to just get a better high from your accomplishments. That was what really pushed me to look at the philanthropic side and see a lot of balance.
He told me that it’s all about balance and that I don’t need to be thinking about swimming 24/7. He showed me that you could be excellent at sports, but you can also use sports to open other doors to help more people.
Christian: He was also Olympic Champion, right?
Mark: Yes, he won in 1992. If you ever want to believe in like God being a part of someone’s race or anything like that. His mom passed away right before Olympic Trials and he goes in and my time from the morning session would have medaled at the Olympics. The whole race, the whole event was much slower.
All the top guys didn’t do their best times and Pablo won it with a time that was just great, but it wasn’t amazing. He totally deserved it. If I could think of somebody who just had given back so much and was just the nicest guy, he completely deserved it. It was Karma that had just jumped in and intervened in that race. So yes, he was the champion.
Christian: Really cool.
The best advice he has received
Christian: What’s the best advice you received and who gave it to you?
Mark: Michael Jordan came and talked to our World Championship team, I think it was in 1994. That was where I got the idea where he said, “Learning from your mistakes is going to separate you from other people.”
Michael Jordan came and talked to our World Championship team, that was where I got the idea, that “Learning from your mistakes is going to separate you from other people.”
He said even in the NBA he would miss a game-winning shot and he would make the trainer stay with him for like an hour after a two-hour game. He would take that same shot like a hundred times and just get his confidence up that if he went back there and had that exact same situation again, that he would nail it.
He told us that he’d go in the locker room after they lost and he’d see guys banging lockers and not talking to reporters and just acting like they were 12 years old. He said that he would leave his Jersey on, he’d do his interviews and then go back out and train and make sure that he wasn’t going to miss that shot again.
That really stuck with me. He was the big gun athlete at the time and everybody looked up to him. To me, I totally just grabbed onto that and tried to emulate him in that way.
Christian: I think I saw an interview of you and also some of the biggest lessons can also be learned from the way people behave. I think you shared the story of a competitor who was supposed to qualify for the Olympics.
Mark: He was actually someone who trained with me, Byron Davis. Byron and I trained together at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and he came in not even ranked, I don’t think top 50 in the world at the time in the 100 butterfly.
But he had a ton of speed and a ton of talent and had done well at the college level and we had become good friends. We were in the same conference in college, so he swam at UCLA and I swam at Cal and we just became good friends. Then we ended up training together.
He just pushed me to be a better athlete and hopefully, I did the same for him. We were just great teammates and good friends. In the 1996 trials, he swam the fastest time in the morning in the prelims. So he was seated first at night, so he was in the exact same position that I was.
But his race strategy was to take it out fast and just hold on because he just had that natural speed. So he was first and I was last at the 50 and I ended up making the team and he ended up missing the team by 8/100’s or something to that effect. He would have been the first African-American to make the US National team, the Olympic team for swimming.
So there was a lot on the line for him. It was not only making the Olympic team, but everything that came with it. He was African-American and was coming from a pretty rough neighborhood, I think it was in Chicago. A lot of people were following him. He was just a great person.
The first thing he did when he got out of the water was walk up and give me a hug. He had so much to lose and the first thing he thought to do is the come up and congratulate me and that stuck with me. I talked to kids these days and I tell them that I reached the top, I got the world record and I got the gold medal, but I don’t go out to dinner with the gold medal.
- Check out the interview, where Mark Henderson outlines this moment Byron Davis
That is the most important thing. I go out with the friends that I made through the sport. I still have a ton of friends all over the world because the first thing I did when I finished a race, no matter what place I got, was to lean over the lane line, give the guy a hug next to me on both sides and just say thank you because that person pushed you to be a better athlete.
So there’s plenty of guys like Michael Klim in Australia. I had a picture of him on my wall and when I couldn’t do one more lift, I had my coach yelling, “Are you going to let him beat you. I’m sure he did ten. You’re not going to do twelve?” Like that type of stuff.
So he motivated me in ways he didn’t know and I’m sure that it was vice versa. With Byron, we pushed each other to get to a certain level and he showed what a true person he was; what a true man he was and that’s something I’ll never forget.
Christian: That’s a really amazing story.
A typical training day in the life of a an Olympic swimmer
Christian: You talked about it a little bit before. How did a typical training day look and then how was it different between in-season and off-season?
Mark: First of all, there’s not really an off-season for swimming, so year-round, unfortunately. I wish that I had taken more time off. I think I would have lasted a little bit longer in sport.
I wish that I had taken more time off. I think I would have lasted a little bit longer in sport.
But no, we typically got a week or two after a big meet. So like World Championships or Nationals or something like that, we’d get two weeks off and that was once or twice a year. So yes, if I go back, there’s another thing I’d probably do over. I’d probably take a little bit more time just to let my body repair.
But everybody just was just saying that they’re not going to let this person get ahead of them, so they’re going to get back to training when they get back. I started just getting less and less and less and less. So now that I’m older and a little bit wiser, I know that didn’t really make a difference.
It probably would have made a better difference to let my body heal a little bit more. Well yes, the typical training day was waking up, getting to the pool, doing some arm swings and that type of stuff, just to get the blood going.
Then it was typically like a two or two-and-a-half-hour practice. We then would go eat and come back. Then it was either weights or some type of running or aerobic exercise outside the pool just to mix things up a little bit or stadium stairs, that type of stuff.
Then we would probably stretch again and then go eat lunch and come back and do another two-and-a-half-hour practice. We’d then stretch again and then we would either be looking at videotape or working on something specific like dives or turns or something to that effect.
We had a lot of cameras. It was right when video was starting to get a little popular, so just watching a video of what we did in practice to see what we can change and then go to dinner and just chill. We all lived in the same house so we just kick it and watch a movie or something like that.
But there was a nap in there somewhere for like an hour, which I totally miss. That was like one of the biggest things. I think naps and massages are so underrated. I’d love to be able to still do that, but yes, those are the two things that were mixed in there.
We did massages probably twice a week for recovery. But these days I love what these guys are doing. They’ve taken it down as such a science as far as nutrition. We really didn’t worry about our nutrition or even look at it too much.
I knew what not to eat too much of, but we were burning off so much calories that we could even go to fast food and get some nutrition out of it. Nowadays, looking at what these guys do and all the prep meals that they have. They wake up in the morning they have a shake and it’s this, this and this in it. It’s amazing how far they’ve come even since I swam.
Naps and massages are so underrated.
Christian: One thing that interests me, you said you had a plyometric coach. What kind of work did you do with him?
Mark: I did a lot of medicine ball routines, fast and explosive stuff. It included a lot of stretching and flexibility on top of it, so kind of injury prevention type stuff.
So we were doing a lot of tubing at high rates, but it was working the smaller muscles in your shoulders that you don’t typically use when you’re swimming. It’s more the connector muscles and the connector tendon. Luckily, knock on wood, I had a coach that did that from when I was 10 years old all the way forward.
So I never had a shoulder injury and never had any real hard injuries. I think the only thing I’ve had since I’ve retired is just neck problems that come every once in a while. I think it’s just because I was cranking my head so high to get a breath when I was dying in butterfly, just trying to get my head above the water to get some air in my lungs. But yes that’s about it.
Christian: I used to study sports science and we had to do swimming as part of an assignment as well. We had to do butterfly. I remember it was torturous. We needed to complete 50 meters. That was so difficult.
Mark: I always ask myself, “Why the heck did I pick that? And it just happens to be a stroke that I was just good at. Yes, that’s not fun. Of all the strokes, it’s not fun.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Mark: I think Ryan Murphy is probably one of my favorite athletes on the US team currently. He’s probably favored to win the gold medal in 100 and 200 backstrokes. Pretty sure he’s also the team captain.
He’s a guy’s that just has a great personality. He’s always looking to give back and he’s looking to push the sport forward to enable the athletes to have a living and create revenue for themselves.
Because I’m alumni at CAL, I talked to a lot of CAL swimmers and I think he’s been a standout in terms of someone who’s really taking the sport and pushing it to another level. So he’d be a great interview.
Christian: Really cool.
His motivation to start his recent project The Athletes Village
Christian: I wanted to touch on your recent project, The Athletes Village. I think it’s really cool. Can you talk us through what it is and what’s your motivation to start it?
Mark: So my motivation began at a young age, actually. I grew up in an area that was not the high-end, rich area or anything like that. I didn’t have the means to have the speed coaches and the nutrition coaches and all that type of stuff.
The better I got at sports, the more incredibly, intelligent people they put in front of me, as far as nutritionists and psychologists and kinesiologists and that type of stuff. I learned a ton about how to get the most out of yourself.
I grew up in an area that was not the high-end, rich area or anything like that. I didn’t have the means to have the speed coaches and the nutrition coaches and all that type of stuff. The better I got at sports, the more incredibly, intelligent people they put in front of me.
After the Olympics, I found an obscure program through the IOC that enabled me to go to third world countries and to share what I’ve learned with them. I saw just incredible differences within a week. Just teaching them how to dive and how to train and how to breathe right and that type of stuff.
So I spent a lot of time; I started going back on a regular basis to Zimbabwe and Mozambique and South Africa and just fell in love with the people. I started bringing other athletes with me and sharing the experience. So I saw something there that just needed to be done and when I was on Wall Street it just kept bugging me.
I stayed involved with USA Swimming and US Olympic Committee on the political level just trying to represent the athletes’ interests. I ended up being the Chair of the Athletes Council for the US Olympic Committee, which that Council has one representative from every sport, including the Paralympics.
I got to know what the athletes were really concerned about and one of the top three always was just the inability to give back and no programs that were officially set up to help that endeavor. I talked to a few guys that I really trusted and had done well in business and told them that I just wanted to build a platform like Quora.
I don’t know if you know Quora, it is a website where anybody in the world can ask a few quick questions about sport, that they’re competing in and get an answer from a trusted source. So it could be from a professional athlete, an elite athlete or a college-level athlete.
As we started building it, we started seeing other needs. Parents started coming to me and saying, that they would love to talk to the parents of an athlete who’s been through this and reached a high level. So I saw this low-hanging fruit that no one had touched and I started approaching parents of elite athletes, as well as elite athletes to jump on the site.
We sent out a hundred invites. It was invite-only to begin with and within six months, we had 400 professional athletes on the site helping out. We started with three sports and jumped to ten and we included other categories as people started asking for them.
There’s psychology, parenting, coaching, body and mind, which included mindfulness, nutrition, meditation and injury prevention. All of a sudden, we started getting psychologists, nutritionists, jumping on the site. We started getting doctors. One of the doctors from New York Giants is on there and two Olympic doctors are on there.
Then I started getting coaches from Britain jumping on there and all of a sudden, we started seeing hotspots all over the world of people jumping on in India and China and Japan. The site is only in English and so we got overwhelmed. We started looking at engagement rates and we started looking at how can we make this better.
Because we just threw out this crappy platform that sometimes shut down because too many people jumped on and sometimes it takes forever to load if too many people are on it. Now we’re out raising money to build an App and to build a subscription model that’s a one-for-one.
So if you buy a subscription to say swimming, then we’re going to give one to an inner-city team or a team in a third world country that you can choose. We just feel like we want to create this circle of giving, like a flywheel where elite athletes have an opportunity to easily give back.
We just feel like we want to create this circle of giving, like a flywheel where elite athletes have an opportunity to easily give back.
There’s a question on there for them and they can just hit record and do a quick video themselves, like walking down the street like, “I think you should do this and this would work out really well. I went through that too”, and make you feel like you’re not in it alone. A lot of people do feel like they’re in this alone.
They’re getting bullied at practice or they can’t break through a certain barrier. What do they do to get through it or anything like that? So we’ve initiated another feature that enables people to ask questions anonymously. That’s helped people that have eating disorders or you name it, a lot of things that are out there, even physical or mental abuse by coaches.
It’s nailed a few of those guys because of this. We’ve been very careful to try to get the top minds and experienced people on there. We’ve just found we’re getting emails every day from parents asking us to build other sports or to thank us that we’ve really inspired their kids that an Olympian responded to them or a pro athlete responded to them.
They’re just freaking out and wondering if is for real. People are asking more that than anything else. So yes, we’re raising money. We want to get an App where it’s all video, almost like Tik-Tok where you’re flipping through and just you’re seeing one person after another that you have in your community.
When you go on, you can specialize what you want to see. If it’s just swimming, volleyball, nutrition and psychology, that’s the only videos you’re going to get. We’re trying to consolidate all of the elite athletes’ social media sites. So you can see Ryan Murphy’s latest blog, podcast, Facebook posts, Instagram posts and I think it would help you guys as well that your podcasts would be spread a lot quicker.
So for us, it’s like just creating this one-stop-shop for the sports community, where we can promote the brands of everybody who’s involved in the community as well as create subscription models where athletes and parents can get premium information directly from the athletes and help fund the athletes training.
Christian: Yes. I think it’s a really cool idea to also use the power of the Internet and digitalization to give back, but also to help the people who really are in need of information.
Mark: True, so true. I really believe if you have access to the Internet that you should have access to the best training and coaching and nutrition information that’s out there.
Christian: Really cool.
Where can you find Mark Henderson
Christian: Where can people find you apart from the athlete village?
Mark: The Athletes’ Village has Facebook page, Instagram page and we’re on LinkedIn, you name it. But I would love everybody to come on the Athletes’ Village and just join the community. It’s free, completely free at this point and you get in early.
You’re not going to be paying anything. It’s eventually going to be a freemium model. But right now I think the people who come on early get the most out of it because like I said, there are a ton of Olympic athletes and ton of current national team athletes out there that are on it and helping people out. So you can more than likely get your question answered by somebody that you know that you’ll be pretty shocked about and get some really cool information on training or anything.
Mark Henderson’s social profiles
Christian: Really cool. Mark, thanks for your time.
Mark: Awesome, thank you. I was honored to be here. So thank you.
Christian: Thanks a lot.
Mark: You have a great day.