‘I want to help people awaken the champion within them.’ Mikel Thomas – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 52
Mikel Thomas, Triple Olympian outlines how he believes his superpower is being able to believe. d as a young kid, that he can become the athlete he is now. He shares the story, that he started to specialize in his discipline quite late in his career, and how he wants to use his career to ensure the pathway for future athletes will be better, than the pathway he had.
Mikel outlines the process of how he gets the best performance out of him. Why a strong set of values is important, and his approach of how to use setbacks to your own advantage.
Furthermore, we discuss
- His darkest moment
- His motivation to contribute and give back to the world through sport
- His best moment
- His advice to a younger Mikel Thomas
- How he started his discipline of 110-meter hurdles quite late in his career
- His success habits
- His morning routine
- How to prepare for important moments
- How to overcome setbacks
- His role model
- The best advice he has received
- A typical training day in the life of a 110-meter hurdler
- His interview nomination
- Where can you find Mikel Thomas
Part 2 of the interview with Mikel Thomas
Christian: Today I’m joined by Mikel Thomas. Mikel is a Triple Olympian who competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, representing Trinidad and Tobago in track and field. His biggest achievements next to three Olympic participations, is being a silver medalist at the Pan Am Games in 2015.
Mikel: Good day. I’m glad to be here.
Christian: Are you chasing your countryman Ato Boldon in number of participation at Olympic Games. I think he has four, right?
Mikel: Yes, he does. I think Cleopatra Borel might be approaching five or six. She might have the most in athletics from Trinidad and Tobago, for the shotput, on a women’s side. We’ve had a great amount of representations.
Right now, I’m actually in the city of Atlanta, where my Olympic hopes started. That’s where Ato Boldon first put on a show and showed what people from Trinidad and Tobago can do. Before him was Hasely Crawford, who won the gold medal in the 100 meters at the Omlympic Games in Montreal in 1976.
We have a rich history as a small island of 1.5 million people. So hopefully, I could just do my part to lead the next generation to do greater things.
Christian: That’s cool. So you’re preparing towards Tokyo now?
Mikel: Absolutely! This will, hopefully, be my last Olympic Games. I just would love to be able to do more for the sport. It’s a lot of sacrifice and hard work, being an athlete and I feel like there’s a lot of life that I would love to experience, not necessarily like Usain Bolt, where he just wanted to live the rest of his life.
It’s a lot of sacrifice and hard work, being an athlete, and I just would love to be able to do more for the sport.
I do feel like my greatest contribution to the sport is what I can do behind the scenes and not just as an athlete.
His darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?
Mikel: That would have to be 2014. Coming off of 2013, which was a really great year for me, I made the World Championship team, missed the World’s finals by two one hundredth of a second to Aries Merritt in the semi-finals and broke the national record by running 13:19 seconds.
The following year we were having issues with funding. We’re one of the few countries that has an established funding program, but we are a small nation. We have the resources, both human and financial, but there were some mistakes that were made and I was an athlete that suffered for it.
We were having issues with funding, and I was an athlete that suffered for it.
But it was a learning experience. It was one to galvanize the athletes to have more understanding of what actually happens within organizations.
It also brought attention to some of the lapses that some of these governmental agencies that are supposed to be representing and taking care of the athletes make. They sometimes miss the ball and then the athletes have to suffer.
I was not the only athlete that never received funding at a period of time. I literally was on my way to the Commonwealth Games and I received an eviction notice at the same time. So it hurts your heart when you’re giving, literally everything for your country and in return, you’re suffering great deal.
We sacrifice so much, personally, financially, our time, our body, our mind, our spirit, so at that point it was really difficult. But we were able to implement some really good changes. I think it was an opportunity for the organization to better assess.
They’ve renewed and revitalized a lot of their policy and so hopefully, we can prevent something like this from ever happening. That’s also a part of my ambition. I took my darkest moments to now inspire me to do something greater.
I took my darkest moments to now inspire me to do something greater.
That’s why I’m pursuing my Masters in Sports Management, to ensure again, the pathway for the future will be better than what I’ve had. When you leave something you have to make sure it was better than when you met it. So hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute.
His motivation to contribute and give back to the world through sport
Christian: I saw that in an interview of you, you said you wanted to contribute and give back, and sport is just a channel for you to do that. Can you elaborate on that what do you want to contribute and what do you want to give back?
Mikel: If you were to make one theme or motto for my life, it would be to help people awaken the champion within them. I don’t care about the arena. It doesn’t matter if you’re an educator or sportsman or woman.
If you were to make one theme for my life, it would be to help people awaken the champion within them.
I believe that there’s more that’s within us than we can ever imagine. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true, that through these dark times, we are able to see how strong we are. It’s the same way that the body works.
You only see strength through strain. Only when the body is under pressure you can see how strong it is and those same sporting principles are key in life. So if I can help other people to realize all the power that’s within their minds and their heart, their body and their spirit, I feel like if I do my small portion, I can change the world around me and together we can do great good for people.
It’s not just about sports, it’s about life. I want people to perform and perform at levels that they never even imagined themselves and it all starts with a thought.
I want people to perform and perform at levels that they never even imagined themselves and it all starts with a thought.
I didn’t think that I can be an Olympian until I saw someone do it, then thought that maybe that could be me. But I want people to take that maybe idea of maybe I should go to school, maybe I should start this company, maybe I should do this and turn that maybe into a reality.
Christian: It’s like Nelson Mandela says, “It’s impossible until it’s done”. So you saw someone and then you yourself believed you can do it.
- Also check out the interview ‘It’s impossible until it’s done.’ With Olympic Silver Medalist Jelle van Gorkom
Mikel: Exactly! I think that’s where we need representation. We need other people even to share the struggle. Sometimes we just show them point A to B and we don’t really explain the in-between and so when people are faced with adversity they quit.
Because then they say they didn’t sign up for this. They just saw you on the podium, but didn’t know you had to put 10,000 hours into your craft. But with social media now with how we’re able to engage, I always try to make sure I put out content that’s more realistic.
People just saw you on the podium, but didn’t know you had to put 10,000 hours into your craft.
It is not just a highlight reel that you can get on a sports channel. People have to understand that it is hard work, it’s long hours, it’s money that you have to invest in your future and it is people business.
It always is a people business. It’s how you treat people. It’s how people interact with you and it’s what not just you receive, but what you’re willing to give.
His best moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your best moment?
Mikel: I have a few. Strangely enough, the first thing that comes to my mind is at that same Commonwealth Games in 2014, in Glasgow. Two athletes that I actually recruited to university, coached and work with, also made it to represent their own national team.
So again, it was a beautiful moment to see that I helped plant and water a seed for the next generation. Two young men from Jamaica and a young man from Nigeria were able to see themselves rise.
That’s very good when you can help another person achieve their dream. This was to represent their nation at an international event. Years down the line, you can see something like that become a reality. It’s really heartwarming.
It was a beautiful moment to see that I helped plant and water a seed for the next generation and when you can help another person achieve their dream. It’s really heartwarming.
Another one is, hopefully again, planting seeds, in 2015 at the Pan-American championships. That was the first time my family was actually able to see me compete at a major championship. My family emigrated to New York City when I was younger, so I spend a lot of time in the United States.
New York and Toronto is only a few hours away and most of the time International championships are very far from the Continental US. So this was the first opportunity to actually see me compete and strangely enough, that was the first time I ever had to re-run a final.
Somehow, in the original final, there was a timing issue and we ran the whole race and had to run it again 30 minutes later. I actually fell in the first final off the last hurdle, so I thought it was all over. But I literally thought that if I come back and I finished the race, maybe I might get a round of applause because I fell the first time.
But when I looked into the stands and I could see my mother and my nieces, it just brought me peace. It inspired me to, at least again, show them the principle of sport. That is that you have to get up and you have to finish.
It’s a nice metaphor, because we literally clear hurdles for living as a hurdler, but the same is true in life, no matter what your obstacles, you have the ability to overcome. So I raced and I just left it on the line. I left it on the track. There was a lot of emotion tied to that race as a lot of people could see.
We literally clear hurdles for living as a hurdler, but the same is true in life, no matter what your obstacles, you have the ability to overcome.
This stemmed from my family being present and then also from the trials and tribulations that I had to face the year before. But again, to receive the flag from my mother, that was all. That’s always a beautiful moment.
I’m getting a little emotional as I’m telling you about it. But your own mother is giving you your national flag and have the honor of representing your family and your nation in a foreign country. That is something beautiful too and the smiles on the people’s faces makes it all worthwhile.
Christian: Really cool, I can believe that.
His advice to a younger Mikel Thomas
Christian: If you could travel back in time 10 or 15 years, what advice would you give a younger Mikel?
Mikel: Patience is a key. With this generation of instant gratification and wanting a lot right now, we battle a lot with the amount of information and what we’re seeing. We get overwhelmed and we’re not seeing the process.
I graduated from University in 2009 and I would say it took me another three years to compete at the international level. The sport definitely needs some more things to help this grey area, the in-between. The United States is really good that they have the university system that allows some athletes to develop, but there still are individuals who just need a little bit more time.
Patience is a key. I graduated from University in 2009 and it took me another three years to compete at the international level.
The hurdles is a very technical event and I only took up the hurdles while in University. In fact, 2008 was my first year actually doing the 110-meter hurdles. I made the Olympic team.
There’s a steep learning curve, but with technical events you get better as you get faster, your technique changes and there’s constant evolution. So if you say 2008 was my really first year, it took me till 2012 to be internationally competitive. So that’s still another four years of development.
I will hope that there would definitely be more things and hopefully, I can be one to contribute to those things on the other side that would allow more nations and more athletes to have the opportunity to develop over time. Now, I was one who had to work full time, coaching, training and even firefighting while training.
It’s not impossible, nor is it the best way, but we can figure it out. That’s life. You got to be able to adjust, adapt and evolve. But there is patience and especially with yourself and understanding that with every craft, in order to be exceptional, it takes 10,000 hours. It takes time.
That’s the one currency that we could not take back and we cannot escape. There’s no give or take for time. So you have to put the time in, in order to be exceptional and even in order to be good at something.
Time is the one currency that we could not take back and we cannot escape, you have to put the time in, in order to be exceptional.
Understanding that principle, being a little bit more forgiving of myself, I think I would have been able to enjoy certain aspects of the journey a little bit better. Because as an athlete we get so focused when it comes to the Olympic year and the World Championships, we miss out on aspects of the journey.
One of my favorite books is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. There’s a portion of it where there’s this King who tells this young apprentice to visit his castle and tell him what he sees, while simultaneously holding an egg on a spoon. That’s kind of how we are.
We are always holding this spoon, so focused on trying to keep everything balanced that’s in the little cup that we miss the flowers or the animals and the birds and the breeze that’s all around us. I’ve been blessed to visit so many amazing countries, speak languages that I can’t even remember, taste amazing food and experience different cultures.
This is a lot from a small island to the world. That’s part of my journey now is for as much that I have been able to gain. As Bob Marley would say, “My richness is life”. It’s not necessarily monetary.
But I’ve had so many experiences that I now can give back to communities and to individuals and help them know that there is something else. I really believe the only difference between a poor man and a rich man is options. Sometimes within poverty, you don’t get to see your options.
I really believe the only difference between a poor man and a rich man is options. Sometimes within poverty, you don’t get to see your options.
I was able to see that there was another way. There’s something else that I can do. There’s more options available to me and so I took the better. We need to be able to help, at least, have the conversation with people, in knowing that this is not the only way to do something.
You can do something different. You can do something better and it’s a conversation I’ll have with myself and hopefully, one I continue with other generations to come.
How he started his discipline of 110-meter hurdles quite late in his career
Christian: I would like to dig into something you said. You said you took up the 110-meter hurdles quite late in your career. What did you do before? Mind, of course, you were track-and-field athlete, but did you do 100 meters? What was your discipline?
Mikel: Strangely enough, I wish I did more 100 meters. I started my track and field journey in New York City when my family emigrated and it was a colder climate. My coach at the time had more of the ‘long to short’ philosophy, so he started most of the sprinters in the 400 meters.
I was an all-American, my height is 5’8 , so around 175 centimeters, so I’m not the tallest when it comes to the 110 meter hurdles. The 110 meter hurdles is a 6 foot dominated event and it’s not really something that I was recruited for while in high school to go to the university.
So we picked up the 400 hurdles as an opportunity to just diversify my skill set in my senior year in high school. This has just allowed me the opportunity to start hurdling. We did pretty well, so at like 16 or 17 years old, I was running like 53.00 in the 400-meter hurdles.
Not bad, but it was an opportunity to just continue my development. I did maybe two 110-meter hurdle races in high school, more so just for points just to see what we can do. I think I ran 14:09 seconds in high school level.
In 2006, which was my first year in college, I did more sprinting. Again, it’s progress. I had more of a 200 to 400-meter background , but then I started doing a lot more sprinting. Now I was getting speed and I also had a more detailed strength and conditioning program.
I was actually addressing power and my body was still developing. I don’t think my skill set as a youth was truly identified, because what makes me an exceptional hurdler is my power and my speed.
I think my skill set as a youth wasn’t truly identified, because what makes me an exceptional hurdler is my power and my speed.
I feel like I’m one of the fastest in-between. Even at my stature, I have the ability to produce a level of force on the ground that allows me to clear the hurdles.
It wasn’t until I got to the University of Kentucky three years later that my coach agreed that we’ll try hurdles. During the indoor season, he took me out of the event because he thought I was going to kill myself or kill somebody.
I had power, I had speed, but I did not know what to do with it. But I did believe in my heart that I enjoyed it, plus the relentless part of me did not like the idea of someone writing my story and telling me I couldn’t do something.
So I put in the time. I would go after practice and I would study and I watched videos and I would do some drills and then one night it clicked. I cleared the international height and I felt good.
I went home to Trinidad and Tobago for the National Trials. I entered into the 110-meter hurdles. I ran 14:01, first time at the international height. I think at the time it was like a junior record or something like that.
It wasn’t significant enough so my college coach said that the following year, that time would qualify me for the Regional Championships for the opportunity to advance to the NCAA Championships. He told me that the following year I should do both.
We did both the following year. I broke the then-school record. I would say I probably was one of the first hurdlers who started at the University of Kentucky. Right now, we’ve had people like Sydney McLaughlin and Daniel Roberts who have been phenomenal in the event, so my alma mater has continued to evolve.
But I like to think that I did my little piece to help the hurdle movement. Literally, we’ve had a National Champion or USA Champion in the men’s and women’s long and short hurdles. So I did my piece.
I’m glad that the records have been broken as they should be. The school record is now 13:00 seconds flat for the 110 hurdles, which is amazing and 52:00 seconds for the women’s 400-meter hurdles. But again, my college coach at the time took a risk on me because someone was willing to invest in me, we were able to see great fruits of labor.
So it wasn’t something I expected. It was something that we worked for and something that was taken away. However, through relentless faith and belief, we pursued it and it has changed the course of my life.
Strangely enough, I wish I sprinted more. I think I probably would have been a really great long jumper. But again, that’s all in the options and when you’re developing athletes, I think they need an opportunity to be diverse.
Right now there’s a trend in overall specialization, where you just have this focus at a very early age. But if that was me, I would have been in the 200 or 400 and I probably would have never made a national team, let alone been a Triple Olympian and a National record holder.
So if we can, we should, at least, give people more experiences with different type of field, develop their overall skill set and then allow them time to specialize. But once their body is a little bit more settled, I think we can change the careers of a lot of people.
His success habits
Christian: So you talked about lack of patience and relentlessness. What are the habits that make you a successful athlete or person?
Mikel: Number one is belief. You got to believe. Whatever you think in your mind, your body can conceive. So whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re absolutely right. I don’t argue with anyone who says that they can’t do anything because if you say it, it becomes your reality.
Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re absolutely right. I don’t argue with anyone who says that they can’t do anything because if you say it, it becomes your reality.
The body likes simplicity. It doesn’t know the difference between a positive and a negative statement. It only knows statements. So if you say you’re unable to do something. your body’s going to be like, “Yes, that’s what we’re going with.”
But I have been able to achieve things I didn’t even believe. Like in the Olympic year 2008, I did not have the desire to run the 110-meter hurdles. I was trying and everybody has the hopes. You throw your dreams out there that you can make the Olympic team, not knowing how far off you really are.
I really wanted to do it in the 400-meter hurdles, because I was getting more comfortable with the event. I was getting a little bit stronger, so I thought my strongest chance was the 400-meter hurdles. It wasn’t until the Regional Championship and I ran a wind-aided 13:06 seconds, which was at the time like a B standard. I was realized that I was closer in this event than in the 400 hurdles.
So, I continued with that. This was in May of the Olympic year. I thought that maybe I might have a chance in another event, such as the 110-meter hurdles.
My story was probably written for me a long time ago. I just had the opportunity to live it out. So just that pursuit, that faith, that belief, whether it’s within your team, your coaches, your family or a higher power, whatever you choose to truly rest in.
I am definitely a spiritual man. I have to believe in things larger than myself to give me that strength that I need to succeed and it just keeps you going. I believe that in the pursuit of the things that God puts on your heart, you become the person that you’re meant to be.
I believe that in the pursuit of the things that God puts on your heart, you become the person that you’re meant to be.
I’ve been trying to break the world record a long time ago. It’s part of the reason I moved to Phoenix to train with Altis and for the opportunity to learn from Aries [Merrit] and Coach Andreas [Behm]. Every race I run, I’m trying to break the world record.
It hasn’t been in the cards for me yet. I’m not going to give up on that, but in that pursuit, I became an international medalist. I became the national record holder. I’ve broken the record three times already.
I’ve still been able to achieve so much, so it’s almost like when you shoot for the stars, you land on the moon. You have to be at least be able to pursue it. But I’ve had the rises, the falls and all these things, that have allowed me to become a man away from the sport.
I’m more than just the athlete. I can stand away from the sports and now I freely give from a good place in my heart. When I coach athletes, I have no desire to live through them. I’m not trying to live vicariously through them.
I don’t want them to do things that I never got a chance to do. I just focus on their development for where they are. There’s a lot of athletes that I work with, especially at the youth level. I’m okay if they’re not a youth star.
My job is to plant, water the seed, give them a foundation and then hand them off to a coach who is going to do the next job. But I understand my role, and that’s part of the reason why I did so well as a firefighter because you do a job, you do your role and you play a part of a bigger picture.
When I coach athletes, I have no desire to live through them. I don’t want them to do things that I never got a chance to do. I just focus on their development for where they are. My job is to plant, water the seed, give them a foundation and then hand them off to a coach who is going to do the next job.
I probably have like a little militaristic kind of mentality because my father was in the military. So I’m very task-oriented and I understand that you play your part for the team. That’s how I work within organizations and structure and that’s what I hope to do after the sport hopefully, in a way that can help the sport.
Christian: You’ll break the world record in the Olympic final 2020.
Mikel Thomas: Whoo! One thing I’m definitely going to try, that’s for a fact.
His morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Mikel: Yes. I like routines. I battle with my girlfriend with this all the time, but I guess opposite attracts. She’s like a free butterfly and I’m literally like a structured dog. I live by a bunch of quotes if you can’t tell.
Christian: Same here, same here.
Mikel: Thank you. I like routines because I believe there’s freedom in discipline. The idea that by being disciplined with your time and with your craft, it allows you the freedom to do what you want later. So when take care of things now, you have the freedom that you want later.
I believe there’s freedom in discipline. By being disciplined with your time and with your craft, it allows you the freedom to do what you want later.
So I try to be very disciplined, especially in the morning because it sets the course for your day. In the morning, I try to do some reading. Again, I spend some time meditating, praying and just getting my spirit and my head in the right space.
Then I address any urgent things that have to happen in the morning and then I like to get my blood flowing. I prefer my workouts in the morning as it just really sets the course of the day. Then I pretty much prioritize my day by what needs to be done and address those things throughout the day.
By the time, three or five o’clock hits, I should be done with my day. Then I have the ability to leisurely pick my tasks and address the things that either need more attention. But I definitely believe there’s freedom in discipline.
At least, I’m a little bit more flexible now and I’m sure things might change. By God willing, if I have some children in the future, because life happens with kids.
But at least, by laying down the foundation, you have something to build off of and you’re more prepared with contingency plans for being able to do what you need to do. So my routine is important. Set the pace for your day in the morning and then flow through it with purpose.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?
Mikel: Practice, practice, practice. I think that’s what makes you confident in a race. The training gives you the confidence, and you’re confident knowing that you have done a certain amount of work.
- Also check out the interview ‘If you can’t do it in training, you won’t be able to do it in competition.’ with Olympian Anjelika Reznik
In training, I mentally put myself in the stadium and in the stadium, I put myself in training. When I get to the final, I can’t be saying that I’m nervous and I’ve never been here before. I literally tell myself, “I’ve been here before, 10,000 times. It’s just another day. Do what you’ve been doing.”
Practice, practice, practice. The training gives you the confidence, and you know that you have done the work.
That gives you confidence and so does firefighting for one. The first time I ran into a burning building was exciting. It’s definitely a different breed to become a firefighter, but what gave me the confidence was the training.
I knew what my role was. I trusted my officers, my sergeant and my lieutenants. They did their job, I did mine and so I knew what I was to be aware of. I was prepared for my training.
I graduated top of my class, so I knew that I was prepared for the moment, plus the adrenaline, plus the excitement and then you go in there and you literally are dancing with fire. It’s something I can’t explain.
It’s very different from an international final, but your mental space is very stable, you’re clear, you’re concise and you can hear everything and nothing at the same time. But what gives you the confidence is putting in the work and going back to those 10,000 hours.
Even with interviews and speaking and things of that nature, I practice. I read your questions ahead of time and I sit in front of a mirror and I prepare a level of ideas that is not necessarily a script. You flow with your thoughts and allow yourself to be in a certain headspace where you want to be.
I’m not yet a President of an international organization, but I think about the problems on the ground level. I don’t know what it’s like to make certain decisions. I can’t judge certain men and women that have to do it.
It’s a lot of pressure when you’re the one who has to say yes or no, whether it’s Caster Semenya having an opportunity to run or how many events are going to be inside of the Diamond League finals. These are big issues that are happening within athletics. I don’t know what it’s like to make that decision. I cannot judge those men and women.
But if I had the opportunity to contribute, what are the things that you’re winning? What are the pros, what are the cons and what is the direction of the sport truly going into? What’s your time pressure?
At least, by starting the conversation, I allow the soil to be more supple for the right information to come in, so that if given the opportunity to contribute I can do those things as well. So it starts like at the early stage, almost like daydreaming. I think we kill it in kids and the fantasy and the imagination, but it’s those same thoughts that the prepare us.
As a kid, we wanted to be firefighters. Here I am! I became one because that dream was a scene that a thought was continuing to develop and like I said before, in my mind I probably told myself that I can become one. So I did and that now becomes not just a thought in my life, but now a principle that if I think it, I can also achieve it.
Christian: With regards to preparation, if we go back to that 110m final in 2015, you said in the first race, you fell?
Christian: And in the second race, you had probably one of your best performances ever. Did anything change in the preparation leading up to both races?
Mikel: That’s a really good question, because we only had 30 minutes to get ready. It’s not even like the full warm-up. They locked us away and they put us in the indoor final holding area. There was 200-meter track so there’s enough space, but I think it was relaxation.
Peace is my mental space to performance. It gives me the greatest amount of clarity. So I wasn’t distracting myself, but I was relaxed. I was trusting my level of work, but I was listening to my body. We didn’t have access to any electronic, so I couldn’t listen to music.
Peace is my mental space to performance. It gives me the greatest amount of clarity.
I had to be in the moment and so I’m really surprised, if you think about it because I didn’t do that at the Rio 2016 Olympics. We had a delay because of the rain. You saw how the hurdle prelims were. It was a disaster and the rain took a lot of people out.
There were re-runs and it was a debacle in Rio. I wasn’t mentally in the same place in 2016, as I was in 2015. These highs and lows allow you the opportunity to learn, and now I have more of a precedent to replicate.
So being calm, trusting the body of work and just allowing that to flow through, I think that would allow me the best opportunity to, again, perform at a level that I know I’m capable of. Thanks for bringing that up. I totally forgot about that.
Christian: Well, part of what I’m doing here is also to spark some thoughts in the people that I interview.
Mikel Thomas: Great! You’re doing an excellent job at that.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Mikel: You allow them to be opportunities to learn. I think that’s also when you’re young, you’re very hard on yourself in that regard. You view everything as the last chance and the only opportunity. So you pressure yourself really hard to live and to accomplish those things.
When you’re young, you’re very hard on yourself and you view everything as the last chance and the only opportunity.
In 2015, I was supposed to be one of the people to make the finals, and again, I fell in the prelims. I was right next to Omar McLeod and my mistake is I got in his rhythm. He was an eight-stepper and I’m a seven-stepper. I made that mistake and I took the fall and decided to get up.
I finished my race because I owed it to myself, my nation and my faith, to again, follow through on my personal principles. In 2016, the mental space wasn’t where it needed to be. The pressure of the moment took me out of where I needed to be.
But in these situations, you actually get better and so, not only am I now in a better position to go into things like this, I now can share that information with somebody else. So I can save another person the opportunity from certain failures by sharing the lessons that I have learned. That’s part of the journey, by being open and being more able to give some of the things that you have experienced, you can now help other people survive to higher levels.
In 2017, we had a lot of injuries and a lot of things that we had to deal with physically. But I think I made the most of that situation because I knew who I was away from the sport and I was able to see that all of this was learning lessons.
That’s the same thing that I’m going to apply moving forward. The patient aspect is definitely going to come in. It’s a long journey. If I was to end my career today, I still have a lot of life to live and so, I can live with regret or I can learn from those experience and help other people live even better.
If that’s the perspective, then it changes how you step throughout every day. So even with adversity, it’s all learning less and I’m sure it’s going to make sense later, but I’m getting ready to move to Europe to study at the Olympic capital.
There are still funding needs, there’s still pressure and things that I don’t have. I don’t even have a plane ticket or place to live and class starts in two weeks. There’s a lot that if I was 21 years old, that probably would have made me scream and blow up and be so upset.
But you got to trust that all things are going to work together for good. You have to learn how you got into this situation and what you need to do to move out of it. Again, through strain, you see how strong you can become.
You have to learn how you got into this situation and what you need to do to move out of it. Through strain, you see how strong you can become.
I’m going to trust that there will be plans and I pray that people come through and support what it is that we’re really trying to do, which is to help the thing that gave me so much. I don’t have all the answers, but I want to be able to contribute to the thing and move it forward.
I came from very hard circumstances, but my coaches have always been like father figures to me. My teammates have become family and I’ve made friends around the world. I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’ve learned a lot about other people and other cultures.
That’s a lot to experience and there’s a lot of people who are set in their ways and just don’t get the opportunity to know how beautiful this world truly is. Sport allowed me that. That’s just in my area. There are other areas, such as art and music that allow people to do that, but I’ve been blessed to be a part of sports.
Between food and music, sports is like the next thing. It doesn’t matter what language you speak and it doesn’t matter where you come from once our team wins, we are friends and we are family. I’ve seen it. I’ve been in like premiership football matches, where you can’t speak the language, but everybody’s celebrating together.
Sport unites us. It doesn’t matter what language you speak and it doesn’t matter where you come from once our team wins, we are friends and we are family.
That’s sport. It unites us and it allows us to be happy and joyful in the moment. It brings us together like nations gathered around Jumbo Tron TV screens to watch a final. They don’t know what’s going on today and they don’t care what’s going on tomorrow. In this moment, these 10 seconds can bring so much joy and that’s what I want to share with the world.
His role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Mikel: Good question. Athlete-wise, the biggest ones that I’ve always admired are Muhammad Ali and if I had to pick someone from the track, it would be Ato Boldon and Michael Johnson.
Muhammad Ali, because he was bigger than sport. He was a personality. He spoke for a lot of things that were affecting his community. He spoke for the people. He cared for the people. He wasn’t a perfect person, but you loved to love him and even if you hated him, you loved to hate him.
Muhammad Ali was bigger than sport. He was a personality, you loved to love him and even if you hated him, you loved to hate him.
He was one of the first athletes that became a personality and he made sport bigger than just a moment. That’s part of that joy that I want to tap into to share with other people. I think more of us should be like that. We’re kind of bland, especially in track and field.
We need more personalities, like Noah Lyles, right now. I’m loving him because he is winning, but he’s also expressing who he is as a person. We need more people to be free in that, so that people can want to know their name. If we have more personalities in the sport, the sport itself can grow in a whole different capacity.
And then, of course, Michael Johnson and Ato Boldon, in the 1996 Atlanta Games, which was my favorite, they lit the place up. I admire them not only what they have done medal-wise, but also what they’ve done post sport in terms of their contributions into media and athlete development. Ato Boldon even tried politics in Trinidad and Tobago. It didn’t necessarily work but I appreciated his heart and he wanted to make a difference. I love when athletes take the most out of their career and now transitioning back to try to help other people in a different capacity.
I love when athletes take the most out of their career and now transitioning back to try to help other people in a different capacity.
I’ve been to the MJP Performance Center in Dallas with Michael Johnson. I’ve been able to meet with him and we’ve had a partnership with the Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic Committee.
So I’ve been able to see and develop through that. I just love the fact that athletes are taking their experiences, their knowledge, their wealth and again, enriching other people. If you could make a profit out of it, “Amen, it’s America, it’s capitalism”, but it allows, at least, other people in proximity to start understanding, believing and seeing that it can be done.
Christian: I had to think about Muhammad Ali a few times because when you mentioned leaving something bigger than sports, that was him, right? That was him, definitely.
Mikel: He was definitely bigger than sport. I don’t know how many people would be willing to sacrifice their career for their beliefs. That’s one of the hardest things and I don’t think too many athletes now, by all means, I wouldn’t want to wish it on anybody, but, especially when you’re on the top and saying, “No! This is what I believe in.”
I don’t know how many people would be willing to sacrifice their career for their beliefs. That’s one of the hardest things, especially when you’re at the top.
Whatever your convictions, you owe it to yourself and to your family and your belief structure to ride out. I don’t know how many people who would be in that type of position to do something humanitarian like that, especially for the cause. But it’s inspiring to know that one it’s a redemptive story because he did rise back up from it.
We know that it can be done and we know that it can be possible, but like you said, all things are impossible until it’s done. He was global. So he definitely lived the impossible and so he gave a lot of people around the world something to believe in and hope in.
I think he’s the background image on my laptop. Yes, the one where he’s looking over the guy he knocked over. He was just such an iconic athlete at the time, an iconic figure and that belief he had in himself, he made you confident.
It’s like he believed in himself so much, you were confident that you could do it too. That’s what you want. You want to create an impact and hopefully, in the legacy that can last longer than your time as an athlete on this earth.
Christian: He definitely walked the walk when he gave away that World Championship title or they stripped it off for him standing up for his beliefs. That’s just unbelievable. He’s also my role model.
The best advice he has received
Christian: What’s the best advice you received and who gave it to you?
Mikel: First thing that comes to my mind, my strength and conditioning coach, back when I was training at the University of Florida always said, “There are only two things that you can control, your attitude and your effort.” That means a lot to me.
It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. It doesn’t matter how you feel, you can always control your attitude and your effort. You can’t control where it is or what’s going on and that’s life.
It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. It doesn’t matter how you feel, you can always control your attitude and your effort.
Sometimes things are unfair. Life is unfair. I’m not trying to minimize it, but you can always have an attitude that can change the atmosphere and you can always have an effort that shows that you want it and you want to be there. So, whether it’s your homework or a workout, it doesn’t matter what it is.
Your attitude should always be focused on the bigger picture and your effort should always be something that will make yourself proud. I’ve cleaned toilets and bathrooms, but I promise you, it was the cleanest toilet that you’ve ever seen because my attitude and my effort was that this was a representation of me.
I asked myself if this was what I wanted other people to see. I thought that if I had a son or a daughter, what was the example that I would want to give them. Was it situational or was it the principle? I think the principle is always important.
So you scrub them, you put on your gloves and you get to work. If I can clean a toilet with a hundred percent attitude and effort, I can train with a hundred attitude and effort and I can lead an organization with the same thing. That’s the goal. If you establish these principles in those dark moments, you’ll be able to shine in the light.
A typical training day in the life of a 110-meter hurdle sprinter
Christian: How does the typical training day look like?
Mikel: I do like to train in the morning. I just love it. It’s quiet and the world is beautiful early in the morning. It’s like a totally different place.
Christian: What is the early morning?
Mikel: Some mornings as early as 5:00 a.m, so I’ll probably have like a 4:00 a.m. wake up call. On some days, especially during the winter/fall training, I have this little saying where I have to beat the sun and so I rise before the sun and I rest after the sun, just so I know I did enough work.
I have this little saying where I have to beat the sun and so I rise before the sun and I rest after the sun, just so I know I did enough work.
Some sessions will start before the sun rises and when I do double days, some sessions will end when the sun goes down. It’s just a personal motivation. But early mornings will tend to be either a weight program; strength and conditioning or general fitness.
At this age, I have to train smarter. I’m not super old, but I’m more seasoned. I like to say I have a little bit more flavor on me and that some of the younger athletes have been cooking a little bit longer. This allows me to break up my body of work and allows me to be a lot more strategic with it.
I am more of a power athlete and super technical with a lot of my movements and so like acceleration, power principles, those things are in my program all throughout the year. I want to go short, so I go more short to long, master 10 meters, then master 20 meters, then master 30 meters and master 40 meters, put the pieces of the puzzle together and then while constantly addressing your weaknesses.
I believe programming is like cooking, so there’s no secret ingredient. Everything is made available, so there’s grocery stores everywhere, but it’s how you put those things together.
There are a lot of considerations, like are you a pusher, are you a puller, are you fast-twitch, are you slow-twitch? You prefer warm weather or cold weather? What’s your discrepancies? How are your left and your right mechanics? Are you single-legged? Can you do better force productions with two legs? Right-handed? Left-handed?
There are so many different variables that you need to know that you should potentiate here, less strength & conditioning here, need more general fitness here and more balance here. It’s like a beautiful concoction. Coaching itself is a constant experiment.
If you look at it that way, then you’re a little bit more able to adapt. For myself, I’m an experimenter and any athlete that I work with is constantly experimenting, that there should be changes. You’re trying to see what works as a communication. I’m big on communication.
I try to make the athletes as cognitive about what’s going on as possible because I’m not them. By understanding what’s going on, why are we doing this, how long, what’s the purpose? When I get feedback, I can now cater and control the program in a certain way that would address certain needs and then also at the end of the day, I’m not the person that’s on the line.
So I want the athlete to understand certain thoughts because the biggest voice that they will ever hear is their own. So if you can make an athlete feel like the idea was theirs, I’ve done my job as a coach.
I want the athlete to understand certain thoughts because the biggest voice that they will ever hear is their own. If I can make an athlete feel like the idea was theirs, I’ve done my job as a coach.
You should have that philosophy and that principle of telling them what’s going on. When I’m asking them and they’re starting to say things that I was saying and then saying it’s a great idea, I don’t even need credit for it. As long as you’re getting the process and you’re understanding it, it makes a big difference.
Right now I’ve been working with a few athletes while I’m still here. I trained them in the morning and I do my training now in the evening, but I would prefer in the morning time to really build that. It’s still early.
There’s some athletes that are still getting ready for the World Championships. I decided not to compete so heavily this year to more focus on just the Olympic year. Now, there’s a lot of life that was happening this year and it’s just a precursor towards getting ready for my fall training.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Mikel: Yes, Jehue Gordon, former World Champion from Trinidad Tobago who is an exceptional 400-meter hurdler. He was one of the youngest 400 hurdler finalist, he finished fourth behind an immaculate field, a mid-National Record holder and a Junior World Champion.
But he’s also faced and is going through certain trials. I would love for him to articulate how he’s persevering and how he’s continuing to remain resilient in that. He’s had some camp changes and life changes.
I think we need more people speaking on, not just the glitz and the glamour, but the real-life of life. So I definitely nominee Jehue Gordon from Trinidad and Tobago, plus he’s around. He’s training with Boogies Camp out in California, so he’s seeing Dalilah Muhammad’s success.
It’s also a good dynamic of when you’re seeing success within your camp, but you yourself are still struggling, that would be a great question. She just dropped the world record and she’s probably going to do it again at the World’s, but he’s more than capable. So it’ll be an interesting dynamic to see how he addresses that.
Where can you find Mikel Thomas
Mikel: You can definitely find me on all social media accounts Facebook, Instagram and yes, I actually message people back, I actually reply, I actually comment and I actually follow because I get it. It’s real-life and so I don’t ever want to feel like I’m that far removed from people.
Mikel Thomas social profiles
It’s so weird. I grocery shop just like you. I do regular things just like you. I have to go to the post office just like everybody else and again, the point is to help people realize that you too can. That whatever that blank is, that you too are capable of being that exceptional in your craft, in your calling, in your arena.
If the world was, again, controlling their attitude and their effort with certain things, I think we will be a totally different place.
Christian: Mikel, thanks a lot for your time. That was awesome.
Mikel: Yes, I thank you.