Posted: 10 Aug. 2021 3 min. read

4 things I learnt from an Olympic champion

Lizzie Elston, leader of our South East Clients & Industries team, also moonlights as co-presenter of The Green Room podcast. Our latest episode “What’s the secret to performing at your best?” sprinted through the finishing line just before the Olympics in Tokyo began, featuring Team GB’s pro track cyclist Laura Kenny.

With 4 Olympic gold medals to her name, Laura headed into the Olympics as the most successful female track cyclist in Olympic history and Britain’s most successful female Olympian in any sport. Her dedication, drive and professionalism left a lasting impression on Lizzie.

With the Tokyo Games now behind us and Laura adding another gold and silver to her tally, we decided to hand over this blog to Lizzie to write about her reflections on meeting Laura. So, over to you Lizzie.

Well, I’ve just been out on my bike to get myself pumped for this and I feel almost as energised now as I did when I first met Team GB’s Laura Kenny.

You know when you meet someone and you immediately feel a mixture of awe and inspiration, yet also a strange calm comfort, that’s how I felt. Laura has a reputation for being down to earth and this was immediately obvious through her demeanour, body language and style – I liked her instantly.

Here are the four main things about Laura that deeply resonated with me, however the first hit me before we even went on air.

1.  Laura was early.

While recent lockdowns forced us to slow down in many ways, the pandemic has really accelerated working life. We’ve been conditioned to work from home, pinging from one virtual meeting to the next. Everything is right up to the last minute. Just in time has now become the new norm. If the last Zoom over-runs by five minutes, which it invariably does, you’re constantly trying to catch up. Throw in celebrity status and you expect to be left waiting.

Laura is different. For our podcast recording sessions, the Deloitte crew are usually there at least ten minutes before the guests join. Laura joined well in advance of the time we had given her, while we as hosts were still working through sound checks.

Now this might sound like something relatively small, but I think it showed that she was well-prepared and demonstrated a level of respect, readiness and professionalism that we can all learn from. If someone like Laura, who was busy at a training camp for the Olympics when we did the recording, can join us early, then there’s no excuse for the rest of us, is there?

2. Why am I doing this?

Laura is tough, ridiculously tough. To be the best in the world, you need incredible resilience. Don’t take my word for it, here’s Laura...

“In Olympic year, it was going well for getting selected for three events. Then I crashed and broke my shoulder. The worst injury I’ve ever had. In an Olympic year, this is a nightmare, But I thought I’m not going to let this stop me. I left hospital and flew off with a broken shoulder trying to take two bikes on a plane. I went to see my surgeon who wanted to pin the shoulder. There’d be too much recovery time, so I got back to the Worlds then rode with a broken shoulder – to be honest childbirth was worse. Then I crashed and broke my arm in the last race before the Olympics. That’s when I asked myself “Why am I even doing this?” My little boy doesn’t even know me with my black eye, broken shoulder and arm. Why am I putting myself through this?”

You know, I’ve had difficult times in my life when I’ve felt the same way. I previously worked for another of the Big Four consulting firms and I’d moved out of business development, which was my bread and butter, and into a transformation role. I wasn’t an experienced transformation leader, so I was kind of overwhelmed and felt completely out of my comfort zone.

Meanwhile, there’s my son, who’s nine now, but was born with a number of medical complications, and required major surgery on the day he was born and ongoing hospital care. Well, Great Ormond Street hospital picked up on another problem that would require further major surgery. At the same time, I’d been having medical tests for an unknown issue which took five or six years for it to be finally diagnosed.

It was all a bit much. At this particular point in my life, I felt completely overwhelmed and had panic attacks (no laughing matter). It’s all fine now but it was a really difficult time and I realised something had to give. So work gave and with the fantastic support of my employer at the time, I took a sabbatical which gave me the time and space I needed to focus on my family’s health.

Laura was able to get through her tough period because the 2020 Olympic Games were postponed until 2021. This gave her the break she needed to recover and spend time with her family. A very different set of challenges, but a similar feeling of “Why am I doing this?” that I can totally relate to.

Most people will have a crisis of some sort in life which you invariably learn from and hopefully come through – and which makes you stronger in the long run.

3. Getting the balance right

I found Laura to be very measured. Yes, she’s highly determined and incredibly driven, but she has an admirably holistic view on life and a softer side. But how does she balance the pressure of winning gold medals with the demands of family life? She explains it better than me.

“The most successful athletes know how to balance their life. I’ve learnt how to balance mine for the better. It’s not about focusing on one thing. It’s about everything. Getting a dog kept my feet on the ground – life’s so much better now and it’s the best thing we did for Albie. It’s taken away the worry as I’m just mum when I go home. I think I’ve got the right balance outside of cycling. I’ve seen it with team mates – if you’d just relax you’d be so much happier you’d have a longer career. You can be too intense for too long – that can be too draining.”

Work life balance is something that’s incredibly important. For me there was a time when I just had to take time out and focus on family. Same for Laura. But I believe that balance really is different for everybody – people have different complex situations and relative scales.

There have been times when I’ve felt under huge amounts of pressure, we all have to a degree. I really liked Laura’s advice about stepping back and realising you can only control you. You can’t control all the decisions of people around you and what they do. You can only control your own response.

For me, personally, I went through a particularly difficult time following a break-up a number of years ago and, to be honest, work was my salvation. I threw myself into it. Deloitte is a very supportive firm that understands the value of balance. And like Laura, my dog, my loyal Australian Labradoodle “Bronte” (named after my favourite beach in Sydney), is an immense help, too.

4. Just be you!

The big question of the podcast was “What’s the secret to performing at your best?” I always love the final crunch question and Laura’s answer really hit home.

“The biggest thing that brought my success is just being me. I walked into a changing room the other day – it was media day for the Olympics – and one of the young girls who’d just been selected for her first games asked if I had any advice for this day? I said, just be you. That’s what I’ve done my whole career, it doesn’t matter how successful or not I’ve been, I’ve just been me the whole time.”

What better advice could there be? We start our careers with massively high aspirations and try hard in all areas yet aren’t necessarily authentic to ourselves. Why? Because we’re trying to be something we’re not. I’m at the age now where I realise that being yourself is all you can be – being true to yourself. Out of everything, that’s what really resonated with me.

Liked this post? There’s more where that came from. Visit our website to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Soundcloud. We also share what it’s like behind the scenes in our blog, Inside The Green Room. And if you've got any feedback or a great suggestion for an episode then we'd love to hear it. See you in The Green Room.​

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Lizzie Elston

Lizzie Elston

Senior Manager

Lizzie leads our South East Clients & Industries team. As well as developing marketing strategies which enable the development of client relationships and enhancement of the Deloitte brand, her team supports a portfolio of key clients and targets in the region with a view to building and deepening relationships, understanding issues and needs and bringing value through the vast array of talent, services and solutions at Deloitte. Alongside her day job Lizzie is also one of the hosts on our award-winning podcast The Green Room.