Goal Setting Lessons from Olympic Gold Medalist Bob Richards

Bob Richards, former Olympic gold medalist, spoke about goals at a motivational symposium in 1980, during my college years. At this life-changing event, goal-setting and utilizing goals became a priority for me. Richards won the Olympic pole vault gold medal in 1952 and 1956. To this day, I smile reflecting on his commercials for Wheaties. He would do handstand push-ups while stating, “Wheaties is the breakfast of champions.” As the first athlete on the cover of the Wheaties cereal box, he was the General Mills spokesperson for all their cereals from 1956 till 1970. Bob Richards is a motivational speaker, an ordained minister, and currently lives in Waco, Texas, on a ranch with his wife of fifty-four years.

As is often with life-altering events, it was pure serendipity that my wife Barbara and I attended Bob Richards’ motivational talk. We eagerly accepted a last-minute invite from Barbara’s sister. Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner had won the 1976 modern decathlon and was also scheduled to speak. As an athlete at the University of Minnesota, I was excited to hear Bruce Jenner, the “greatest athlete,” as the decathlon world champion was commonly referred to. I knew about Bob Richards because of Wheaties cereal.

Bruce Jenner spoke first. He discussed his decathlon gold medal and the years of training required to win the gold medal. I don’t remember much of his talk, although I am sure it had many memorable moments.

Then Bob Richards took the podium and immediately captivated the audience. His jet-black hair complemented his chiseled face and bright eyes. With clearly defined muscles and a barrel chest from years of pole-vaulting, he reminded me what an Olympic athlete looked like. Mr. Richards has probably given hundreds if not thousands of inspirational and motivational speeches throughout his career. I never anticipated the life-changing speech he gave that day. The over-capacity crowd was in for a life-transforming speech. Although this day is embedded in my heart and mind, I have no way of knowing the impact his speech had on other attendees.

Some forty years later, I remember the four guideposts for motivation that defined his speech. I have passionately discussed these topics for many years with family, friends, my own children, and kids I have coached.

Here are the guideposts:

  1. Set goals and write them down.
  2. Be willing to pay the price for those goals.
  3. Believe you deserve great things to happen to you.
  4. Allow the possibility you may not achieve your goals.

Mr. Richards used many sports metaphors throughout his talk. He discussed what hard work and having goals meant to him and to numerous other athletes. Writing down goals and having a plan of action to achieve them was something he suggested. Everyone has goals we are striving for: winning the competition, losing weight and getting fit, working at a hobby regularly, graduating from college, finding a new career, getting a promotion, or raising a family. Indeed, everyone has his or her own “gold medals” to win in life.

However, to win our own gold medal requires paying the price. We need to put the sweatpants on and do the work: run the extra wind sprints at the end of a difficult football practice, make the additional sales call at the end of the day to reach quota, or as a student, put in more study time and participate in the extra credit, or be willing to make the many sacrifices necessary to raise a family. In other words, we need to do the work to win the prize and accomplish our goals.

The third guidepost is about our attitude. Believing we deserve great things reveals an interesting perspective about our attitude. Attitude is a specific way of living your life. Many of us live our life not believing we deserve the best life can offer. Sometimes it is finding the best in life’s tough and challenging times that presents the opportunity for us to grow rather than becoming bitter or not improving at all.

Often, when we accomplish all three of the above, we still do not attain our goal. If we have written goals, work hard for our goals, and have a great attitude, yet we don’t receive the promotion, win the game, receive a B grade versus the A, have we failed? Mr. Richards shared many stories of successful athletes who set goals, did the work with the right attitude, and yet did not reach their ultimate goals.

The one I fondly remember is the story of Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia, United States pair figure skaters. They were five-time U.S. champions and world champions entering the 1980 Olympics. About two weeks before the Olympics, Randy pulled a groin muscle. They kept it a secret and believed it had healed enough to compete. When they entered to skate for their first program in the Olympics, Randy fell performing a jump. The crowd gasped. The television audience and the stadium crowd wondered what had happened to the reigning world champions. He had taken a painkilling injection, which caused numbness, and he did not have the usual feeling in his injured leg. They could not compete, let alone accomplish their lifelong dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. Why did this occur? Was it chance, destiny, bad luck? Was it a bigger plan from God? Only one person or team gets the gold medal, while all others (including Randy and Tai) fall short. What is to be learned from this?

Reflecting back on Bob’s speech, his fundamental message is clear and simple. It is the process, the journey to aspire to our goals, which most vividly defines us. It is not the achievement of the goal, but the hard work and the progress made along the way. It is the person we become in the daring achievement to “go for the gold.” Harry Chapin said, “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there that is good.” As Bob Richards accepted the gold medal around his neck, it took about two minutes for the national anthem to play. That was the end. He achieved his ultimate goal of winning the Olympic Gold Medal. He challenged those of us listening to embrace the joy of that single moment of metaphorically winning our own gold medal. However, more importantly, he said, we need to understand the greater treasure and gratification, in all the work we perform, to try and stand on the podium and win our own gold medal.

Are you ready to get off the treadmill?

Welcome. Let’s start at the beginning and allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michael Lauesen, and I am happily married to my high school sweetheart, Barbara. We have four adult children. I have had several careers in my life. Starting out as a CPA with a large firm, I then became a sales professional and eventually a business founder/owner. Currently, I am a professional speaker and a coach for business owners and Chief Executives in a peer group. As a speaker, I educate, inform, and inspire people on how to find purpose and fulfillment in everyday life. I wrote Getting off the Treadmill because I wanted to change people’s lives for the better. My main message is, don’t live your life in a sleepwalking trance. Instead, be aware of all the joys life has to offer. As a result, my hope is you’ll find more personal insights, more life direction, more happiness, and use the tools included to improve the quality of your life. On a personal note, I am a life-long Chicago Cubs baseball fan, which obviously builds character and patience. My patience was finally rewarded with a World Series Championship in 2016.

Many people have coaches, mentors, and trusted advisors throughout their lives. They are from all phases of our lives. Parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, bosses at work, clergy, and even an encounter with a stranger can have a profound
impact. I have had countless mentors in my life. Dad and Mom, my sisters and brothers, my wife Barbara and our children, George Thomas my college baseball coach—all mentored me in countless ways. This list could go on.

Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Miserables, continues to be an impactful mentor to me. Valjean is an ordinary man attempting to live a normal life after nineteen years in prison for stealing bread to feed his sister’s starving children during an economic depression. Jean Valjean’s life is drastically altered by the kindness of a priest who forgives him for stealing and more importantly provides him another chance at life. He challenges him to live a life of love, compassion, and faith in God the rest of his living days. What if our life and faith journey displayed more forgiveness, love, and compassion to one another, like Jean Valjean? He was not racing to nowhere. His race was won by the life he led loving others with compassion and grace.

My goal for the book is to provide you a foundation or buttress to further your footing for a meaningful and fulfilling life allowing you a restful sleep each and every day.

We can actually live the life we want. When you are ready to get off the treadmill, a teacher will appear. You will become a student, always learning. I hope you will be my student through my book or blog. Every person we come in contact with influences us in some way. It is our choice.

It is never too late to get off the treadmill and the race to nowhere so you can realize an intentional, fulfilling, and purposeful life.


Are you ready to get off the treadmill?


Download a free sample chapter here.

If you want to make a change for the better, and enjoy a bit of humor along the way, Getting off the Treadmill is the book for you.

Don’t live your life in a sleepwalking trance. Instead, be aware of all the joys life has to offer. As a result of these pages, you’ll find more personal insights, more life direction, more happiness, and more tools to improve the quality of your life.