Renzo Tjon-A-Joe is both an Olympic swimmer and an Economics student at Harvard. Renzo has come a long way from his home country of Suriname, the smallest in South America and one that does not possess an Olympic-size swimming pool.
Renzo started swimming because he felt slow on land. He excelled in the water and quickly became the best in his country. Competing on a international stage posed many challenges for an athlete from a third world country. For example, the pool he trained in was often so warm that his body would overheat requiring him to cool down by soaking in ice water.
When it was simply unbearable in the hot pool, Renzo swam in the local river where alligator sightings were common. He jokes that the alligators helped him swim faster. He and his coach were breaking new territory with limited resources.
Working in these imperfect conditions, Renzo developed a psychological advantage over other athletes. He told me that for him competition is 90% mental, and he shared his specific strategy for swimming and winning, outlined here.
- Put Yourself in a Bubble. “When I’m at a race preparing for my heat, everything else is unimportant. It’s similar to the sensation of being on the bottom of the pool and holding your breath for one or two minutes. Everything fades into the background and slows down as you hear your heartbeat in your ears.”
- Hard Work Mindset. “I told my coach, ‘I will do everything you tell me. If you tell me to jump, I will ask you how high, but I will never ask you why.’”
- Don’t Beat Yourself Up. “I’ve seen other athletes say nasty things about themselves after a bad performance. I never do that. It never helps.”
- Find Inspiration. “I keep a book with thoughts, words, mantras. I repeat a mantra before I go to bed the night before a big race.”
- Break Down Walls. “When I hit a wall, I have no choice but to push through it. I grew up on the outside looking into the U.S. at all the chances kids have here. It was frustrating and it drove me to intensive training. Failure is not an option for me.”
For more inspiration, click to watch CCTV’s video on Renzo.
Joanna Grover Watson is a Board Certified Coach
who specializes in getting her clients out of their heads and into their potential.