Welcome to the seventh episode of the Real Life, Real Passion podcast. Today our guest is Olympic Swimmer Crissy Perham. In our conversation we talk about how sports have been the foundation to her entire life and how they can help us find understanding in many situations. Crissy explains why sports are one of her love languages and the importance of being a good teammate.
Crissy also talks about being intentional with the people that you surround your self with, how no one achieves success alone, and the importance of finding your team.
Click the link above to listen to the podcast.
Crissy is a Midwest girl, she was born and raised in Iowa. She grew up in a family that loves sports and sports have been the foundation for Crissy’s life. Both of her parents were college athletes and Crissy also became a college athlete.
Growing up with a love and passion for sports and following sports and other athletes, Crissy was motivated to develop her talent and was able to represent the United States in the Olympics!
There were steps she had to take, and challenges she faced along the way, but she did it. She achieved her goal.
Sports have been the constant in her life. “Sports really taught me about setting goals, about working with others”… and “always coming together. I love being with people that are part of my team.”
“Sports Are My Love Language”
Crissy isn’t sure why it took her so long to realize that sports are her love language, but they are.
She and her husband Charlie sat down to watch TV, and swimming was on, she was so excited. Charlie watched with her, and then the next morning she went to Cross Fit, and she got to be with all of her “babes” for the “Super-Mom Power Hour,” then she got on a work call and a bunch of great things were happening and as they were messaging each other back and forth, she sent out the message #teamcharish. She realized that she relates life experiences to sports all the time.
Then it hit her, “that’s my love language.”
She relates everything to working hard, and being part of a team. Crissy looks for what her role is, and who her teammates are.
Sports truly are her love language. She loves to play sports, she loves to watch sports, and she relates everything to how it feels to participate in them.
Sports Are Visual
She has two boys, and when they get frustrated she says, “not everybody can be the quarterback… If we all were quarterbacks, then who are we passing it to?” Somebody has to catch the ball. Somebody needs to run it, and somebody needs to block while everyone is doing these things. Everyone has a role.
Crissy is a visual learner, and by relating experiences to sports, it creates a visual picture in her mind. It also helps those she is coaching to understand.
For example, her boys can see and understand that sometimes they don’t need to be the quarterback, or that they don’t always have to be the person running the ball. Sometimes they need to be a really good blocker and helper and teammate, and not the star.
The sports references help Crissy explain her feelings, and people understand because she speaks what she knows.
Crissy doesn’t remember not swimming. Her parents were teachers, and because her Dad didn’t work in the summer, he was the manager of their local pool. He would hire all of his high school students, and basketball players to be the lifeguards, and she practically grew up there.
One of Crissy’s first memories was at the pool. She wasn’t even in school yet, and she remembers standing on the three meter diving board, and looking down where they had wrapped burlap around the edge so it wouldn’t be slippery. She remembers the burlap being itchy on her feet, and feeling so high up in the air with all of the teenagers cheering her on, “jump, jump, jump.”
Swimming has always been a part of her life. She even lost her first tooth at a pool.
An Avenue to Something Better
When Crissy was in High School, she realized that swimming was an avenue to something better. Her parents talked to her about being a college athlete and shared their positive experiences with her. Crissy’s Dad was a pitcher, and her Godfather was her Dad’s catcher. They developed a lifelong friendship from their time together playing college sports.
Her parents talked about how she could get her school paid for and being able to leave college without debt, the wonderful people she would meet, the friendships she would develop, and the blessing to be able to do her sport for four more years.
The wheels started turning in High School, she started to see the potential of swimming, but she didn’t truly invest herself until she got to college.
When she was about 20 everything started to click. She realized she had a great opportunity and she didn’t want to loose it. She realized that she would get a college education and great life experience. She decided to commit herself.
In High School she saw the potential impact, but in college, her life changed.
University of Arizona Wildcats
In our interview, Crissy didn’t talk about what an amazing swimmer she is. But I want to share it with you because she worked incredibly hard to get there. Her full name is Christine M. (Ahmann-Leighton) Perham.
Crissy is an Olympic champion and a former world record holder.
She is a thirteen time All-American swimmer. Crissy was also the first wildcat woman to win two NCAA individual titles in swimming in the 100m fly in 1991 and 1992. She set and re-set the American and NCAA record for the 100m fly. She was on the 1991 World championship team and was co-captain of the USA Olympic Team in 1992.
Crissy won two gold medals and one silver medal in the Barcelona, Spain Olympic Games in 1992.
- 400 x 100 meter medley relay. Lea Loveless (backstroke), Anita Nall (breaststroke), Jenny Thompson (freestyle), and Crissy swam butterfly. They set a world record of 4:02.52 in the event final.
- Preliminary heats of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay.
- 100 butterfly. Her time was 58.74, only 0.12 of a second behind China’s Hong Qian.
Favorite Experience as a Coach
Crissy has coached thousands of people at every level of swimming, from beginner basics to college kids wanting to make national teams. Her favorite has been coaching high school kids.
“I got to race every race. I was invested in those kids for every race that they did.”
She never missed practice as a coach, and she didn’t allow her kids to miss practice. Her philosophy is: “I will give you everything, and I expect everything. I will never ask for more than I am prepared to give you.”
She’s had kids get out of the water and come to her crying because they are so appreciative and thankful for her and she is appreciative and thankful for them too. She invests a lot in them, and they work hard for her.
She loves this age group because High Schoolers are just starting to understand how the world and are starting to realize that if they work hard that they will get something great back. They can see their coach as a person that really cares about them, someone who’s not their Mom or Dad and someone who doesn’t have to care about them but does. That is what Crissy loves the most about coaching, the relationships and how investments from everyone combine to make something great.
Favorite Experience as a Swimmer
As an athlete, her favorite experience was her last race as a University of Arizona Wildcat. She still had the Olympics to go, she had made the Olympic team about two weeks before this last meet, so she knew still had six months of swimming left. But she stood on the podium knowing that she was done with collegiate swimming and she couldn’t stop crying. She was so completely overwhelmed with emotion.
The winning and the good times are awesome, and amazing, but the understanding and emotion that came from 15 years of training for a race that lasted less than a minute and realizing that it was worth it, is what sticks with her.
It’s the Journey.
Cards of Advice
When Crissy would coach summer league, she would give her kids a card with a quote on it to use as motivation, something to work towards for the summer. For little kids they would be simple quotes, or lyrics from songs that they knew so they could remember them. But for the older kids she loved:
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
She loved this quote because it helped them realize that although their goals for the summer may be small, the process of working towards them is important.
Crissy also recognizes that nobody successful gets there alone. “Nobody does it alone.” You aren’t going to find good teammates or coaches and mentors who want to love you and support you and grow you up if you have a bad attitude.
You can be a talented person, but if you aren’t willing to listen to your coach and follow their advice, then you have a lot of talent that you aren’t doing anything with.
Inspiration from the Village
There is no one person who has been the source of inspiration for Crissy, it is the collection of people (the village) she’s surrounded herself with.
She is still very close to many people in the small town in Iowa that she grew up in. She is still tight with her college teammates, and her college coach still has a tremendous impact in her life.
Crissy has deliberately surrounded herself with funny, caring, smart, loving, and patient people. They didn’t have to love her, but they did, and they kept pushing for her to grow and be better. She is so grateful for the people who never quit on her.
She gives the example of her college counselor. She was not friendly with her counselor the first two years of college. The counselor’s nickname for Crissy was, “snappy turtle.” Crissy had an attitude and wasn’t kind to her, but Crissy was able to go back and apologize.
She spent two years being “a jerk” and 20 years trying to make up for it.
Crissy is now good friends with her counselor and they see each other every University of Arizona homecoming. Crissy is so thankful that she stuck it out and helped her. At anytime she could have dropped Crissy, but she didn’t.
“Helping people, loving people, being a guide and a mentor because it feels good and you know it’s the right thing is way better than people who are trying to be nice to me to get something.”
Grateful people live a happier life.
Crissy goes to Cross Fit with her son Ryan every day. When they leave they always thank their coach.
Crissy is truly thankful. She works hard there and her coach helps her and loves her teenager. She is thankful that they run the business and offer their services to her family. She is grateful that they are good coaches and that they continue to educate themselves. She is thankful that they are patient with her when she struggles. She is thankful that they are helping to raise up her son.
When you live a thankful life, it can change your mindset. It gives you a new perspective.
Try to live a life of gratitude.
The Best Advice
Crissy was really struggling her first year of coaching. She talked with her mentor, Frank, and explained the problems that she was having and the inadequacies that she felt. He asked her, “are you doing the very best you can?” The very best?
She answered yes. She wasn’t raising her voice, she didn’t call people out, she tried to help them understand why they were doing what they were doing, and she was actively trying to grow the sport.
He said, “OK. Then you’re doing the right thing.” Don’t let the other stuff bother you.
“You can be the sweetest, juiciest, ripest peach, and some people don’t like peaches.”
It was liberating to get that advice. Crissy knew that she had good intentions, she knew that she was passionate and worked hard, and she knew that she would never ask anyone to do anything that she wasn’t willing to 100% give back. This advice helped her build confidence. It also opened up new paths:
- Don’t be afraid to try new things.
- Don’t be afraid to meet new people.
- Don’t be afraid, because if you are doing your best things will always work out. Maybe not when you want or how you want, but it will work out.
- Don’t worry about trying to please everyone. If you feel like you can do something better, then it’s on you. If you are doing everything you can, then it’s on them.
Crissy feels like a 50/50 mix of self-confidence and self-doubt. One side is full of confidence, she is funny, and smart, and a “do-er.” And then there’s the negative self-talk… “I’m not very pretty, I don’t have a master’s degree…”
However, Crissy is really good about not letting one dominate the other. You have to critique yourself sometimes, but you have to “be careful that the critique is really a critique and not a criticism.”
She isn’t afraid to try new things, she’s good at believing in herself, and she’s a quick learner. But she still has doubts when she steps outside of her comfort zone.
For example, in her new job, she doesn’t have a degree in her line of work and sometimes feels uncomfortable. She has been very successful the last two years, but when they do meetings online, it’s hard for her to do presentations. She prefers meetings in person where she can get immediate feedback, and see faces, and laugh and nod together. The different format makes her feel unsure and question herself.
To overcome the obstacle of not feeling sure of herself, or when she feels like she is done learning, is to make sure that she is critiquing herself and not criticizing herself.
“Nobody is harder on me than me.”
Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. When we hear our negative self-talk, we need to just tell the voice to stop.
“If I were to talk to myself outloud, I would never say those things. And I would never say it to another person.”
We need to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others.
People who are unsuccessful are people that are afraid to be out of their comfort zone. Sometimes people are happy to be miserable because that’s what they know.
People who are not willing to get out of their box, whatever that box is, cannot be successful. That attitude permeates through every aspect of their life.
To be a successful person, you have to understand that “life is not static, and you can’t be static.” Being stuck in the same place might make you feel comfortable, but you will never grow.
“Our comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” – John Assaraf
For Crissy, a successful person thinks outside of the box. They also seek out good mentors. It’s important to have a good team of people around you that are “cheerleaders, coaches, or mentors,” they help you strive to be better.
Successful people are also able to look at a situation, see the effort that they put in, review the results, and be OK with whatever happens because they did what they could do; they are satisfied with who they are. They are always willing to learn and grow, but they don’t criticize themselves.
“You can have all the money in the world and be really unhappy.”
Success encompasses more than money. It involves friends, and relationships, and being happy with what you have and who you are.
Learn to Ask
One thing that has helped Crissy progress and be successful is to directly contact people and ask questions.
Crissy has always loved vintage things and furniture. One of the bloggers she followed invited her readers to call her if they had any questions. So Crissy did.
This was stepping outside her comfort zone. Crissy doesn’t like talking to people she doesn’t know. Once she’s met a person then she’s fine, but it was really hard to cold call someone. It took a lot of self-talk, but she did it. She got a hold of the blogger and they talked for a long time. Three years later, they are still in touch. That cold call conversation prompted Crissy to pursue her current position at Chairish.
Crissy’s advice is to find people who know what you want to know or who are where you want to be. “I’m so happy to help other people, all they need to do is ask… I don’t know that you need help, just ask me.”
If someone is asking, most people are willing to help. But if we never ask, they may not even know that we need help. There is always someone in your field of interest or in an area where you need help who is willing to help or offer guidance. Always. You just need to reach out and ask.
Sometimes We Need Help
Sometimes it takes a lot of self-talk to ask for help, but it’s worth it.
When Crissy moved to Las Vegas, she struggled with the move, and it was a really hard time for her. She decided she wasn’t going to work which was not the norm. One of her sons was struggling in school which was another stress. She was really outside of her comfort zone, and she finally got to the point where she had to ask someone for help.
“But I’m the girl who figures it out… I’m super tough. And I’m smart. I’m a “do-er,”and I’m type A…”
But life doesn’t always go the way it normally does. Sometimes our environments change and we are out of our element. Sometimes, we have to ask for help. And the great thing is, that when we ask for help, we can get the help we need and find a way to make life better.
Right now she’s reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Lately she’s been on a president kick. The first one she read was John Adams by David McCullough. She loves reading about the history of our country, she loves learning about the beginning of America.
Crissy also loves to read books by David Baldacci.
She went through a phase where she read every Danielle Steel book. Because she was reading so much in college, the stories were a great escape for her.
Reading has a calming effect. “I don’t know what to do with myself if I don’t have a book next to my bed.” She usually has two next to her bed, one to read and one for when she finishes the one she’s working on.
Crissy was a communications major with a minor in psychology. She loves reading about human behavior and why we do what we do. A book that she loves that she passes around a lot is the The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. It’s sports oriented (remember Crissy’s love language is sports), and it talks about how and why we improve and “get better at stuff.”
One of Crissy’s favorite authors is Brene Brown. She loves listening to her podcast, and clips from her Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. Crissy wants to learn why we do what we do and why we have the feelings we do, why people act the way they do, and why we wear masks.
For a while, any movie that was based on a book, Crissy wanted to read the book so she could see the movie.
It’s good to read a little bit of everything.
Crissy and her family have moved a lot. On long car rides, her boys brought a long funny books: The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and funny books like that helped car rides go much faster. The books were read over and over and over again until they finally fell apart.
Jim Gaffigan is a comedian who is clean, and perfect for family entertainment. He has a few book that are hilarious. Crissy’s family also likes to listen to his comedy sketches in the car.
Humor helps us keep a positive and optimistic outlook when we face difficult situations and helps make life fun.
Crissy is working to be happy in her new home in Texas. In all their previous moves they had always known someone. Either they had an Air Force connection, or they knew a person there regardless of whether they were in the Air Force or not. This time, they didn’t.
When her husband Charlie retired, they moved to Los Angeles for nine months. It was a hard move. Nobody cared that they were the new family. They weren’t mean, and it was alright, but she didn’t feel like she got to know anyone because they just didn’t care. She started trying to reach out and finally came to the conclusion that if no one else was going to try then she wasn’t going to try either. But she realized she wasn’t happy living like that.
She changed her mindset, and when they moved to Texas she decided that she was not going to be like that anymore. She decided to go back to the things that she is excels at, the things she enjoys, where she can help people, and in that she could become a part of the community.
By doing photography for her son’s water polo team, she has got to meet all the kids and their families. Sometimes she’ll get an email from someone thanking her for the pictures and it provides an opportunity for her to interact with people she may not have met otherwise.
She has great friends at her box (cross fit), she is getting to know her neighbors, and she just had a girl’s night with some other Mom’s. She is reaching out and loving it.
It’s really easy to put the blame on others. It is an entirely other thing to be proactive and to work to change your environment and your situation.
Jump In and Find Your Team
Crissy is looking forward to “jumping in.” She is not going to worry about what others think and do. She can only control what she puts in.
Crissy has realized that she isn’t happy by herself. She didn’t always need to have a boyfriend, or to have a whole bunch of friends around her all the time, but she’s has learned that she needs a team. Whether that team is other Mom’s, or people in her neighborhood, or doing volunteer work, or her cross-fit ladies—she is better with a team.
She is so much happier with her new mindest. When you are friendly to people and they are friendly back it creates happiness. Sometimes we miss the simplicity of that truth. “I should have been doing that the whole time.”
Go find your team! Do your part to be a good teammate and be intentional with the people that you surround yourself with.
Follow Crissy on Instagram
- Arizona Wildcats. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.arizonawildcats.com/sports/2014/2/3/209393201.aspx
- BreneBrown.com. (2017). Retrieved from http://brenebrown.com/about/
- Brown, B. (2012, March). Listening to Shame [Video file]. Retrieved from www.Ted.com website: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame
- Brown, Brene. (2010, June). The Power of Vulnerability [Video file]. Retrieved from www.Ted.com website: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability
- Chairish. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.chairish.com/
- Charlie Hoehn. (2015). Retrieved from http://charliehoehn.com/2015/12/20/how-crissy-perham-olympic-gold-medalist-renewed-her-career-with-free-work/
- Lindsay, Drew. (2008). Washingtonian. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonian.com/2008/04/01/crissy-perhams-four-minutes-of-fame/
- McCullough, D. (2016). Tucson.com. Retrieved from http://tucson.com/women-s-swimming-and-diving-crissy-ahmann/article_873eceda-1183-11e6-b912-47d10021569c.html
- Sports-Reference.com. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/ah/crissy-ahmann-leighton-1.html
- Swimming World. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/issues/1992/swimming-world-magazine-march-1992-issue
Brene Brown Ted Talks:
The Power of Vulnerability
Listening to Shame