"I think no matter what you do as a girl or woman, you want to positively impact other girls."
-Meryl Davis, Olympic Gold Medalist
Meryl Davis spent nearly two decades of her life working towards achieving the ultimate goal in her sport. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, she and her partner Charlie White won the gold medal in Ice Dancing. The pair also won a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics and two World Championships. You may also recognize Meryl from Season 18 of Dancing with the Stars (partnered with Maksim Chmerkovskiy). And yes, she won that too.
What Meryl does on the ice is breathtaking. She is an incredible display of strength, grace, power, and skill and yet she somehow makes it look effortless. And with such a display of emotion, it is easy to become so captivated by her performance that you forget you are also watching an athlete compete. There is no stopwatch, no finish line, and the skaters’ faces do not strain with the pain of their efforts, they express passion and feeling.
Meryl explains that because of the performance aspect of ice dancing, making it look effortless is part of her job – train tirelessly in order to make it look as if it comes easily. This is the sort of duality of the sport that has always appealed to her.
Meryl: I have always loved figure skating because of the balance of strength and femininity and athletics and beauty. The sport forces you to find your own voice because of the duality. I can be an athlete and be very physical, but also let my emotions be a part of it.
Making something so challenging look so effortless is a result of a lifetime of training and an endless passion for the sport. Meryl grew up near a lake in Michigan where she started skating in the winters when she was just five years old. She fell in love with skating right away and wanted to be on the ice all the time.
M: One of the things that I fell in love with on the ice was the freedom of movement and speed with witch you can move across the ice. I still love those things. Over time, I've fallen more in love with the artistic side of the sport. While I originally fell in love with the physicality and movement on the ice, I grew to appreciate the beauty of expressing one's self emotionally as well.
Meryl’s parents were supportive of her passion for skating, but insisted that school take priority until high school graduation. This meant that typically Meryl skated for two hours per day after school.
M: I think the fact that my parents always prioritized school allowed me to maintain skating as a passion rather than obligation. Too often, parents push their kids into extra curricular activities and place so much importance on “success”. Rather, I believe that giving kids the opportunity to pursue their own dreams is a healthier way them to get the most out of the experience.
Throughout high school Meryl continued to pursue skating as a passion, never thinking that it would be her career. Being an Olympic Champion was not on her mind. Instead, she and Charlie focused on smaller goals, which Meryl found to be a very satisfying way to make progress. It seems to have kept the pressure at bay and skating could continue to simply be the after school activity that Meryl loved more than anything.
M: Charlie and I had countless small goals set for ourselves over the years. When we began together in 1997, we were a long way from any Olympic podium. It never felt as though we had to struggle to find things to improve upon and so we continued to find areas to grow in from one year to the next. Seeing little improvements and taking steps in the right direction was an approach we began utilizing as children and continued to find value in all the way through two Olympics.
After graduating high school in 2005, Meryl made a coaching change and started approaching skating at a higher level which meant doubling her time on the ice and an additional workout regime. She began training at Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Michigan along side 2006 Silver Medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agoso. Having Olympians as close friends and training mates helped Meryl understand that the same level of success was a possibility for her as well. For the first time in her life, Meryl started to envision herself at the Olympics.
In 2014 Meryl and Charlie won the Gold Medal at the Sochi Olympics.
M: Winning Olympic Gold was so surreal. It took quite some time for us to be able to process what had happened and to believe that it wasn't all a dream. We'd been so focused on being the best we could be for so many years that to finally live that moment and come away with Olympic Gold was such a drastic change from our years of preparation.
As an Olympian, one is always focused on what one needs to do to be at one's best. What can I do to improve? How can I best recover? After winning, we really had to take a step back to be grateful for our journey and the moment we were in rather than looking forward.
Meryl went almost immediately from the Olympics to Dancing with the Stars. She and Charlie were simultaneously on a skating tour, which required their respective dancing partners to travel around the country with them in order to learn dancing routines between skating performances.
M: I have never been more exhausted in my life! But it was such an amazing experience because I had the opportunity to grow as a person. I had to step outside my comfort zone as a skater into such a different world.
As serious as the DWTS competition was, Meryl looked at it as a fun experience where she could perform without pressure. She was able to open up emotionally and focus on the beauty of dancing without the same amount of technical demand required by skating at the Olympic level.
M: In contrast to competing at the Olympics, Dancing With the Stars felt a little bit like summer camp. I didn't feel anywhere near the pressure Charlie and I had as we approached the Games. While Charlie and I had worked together for nearly 20 years to best represent our country at the Olympics, DWTS felt like an amazing opportunity to try something different, continue growing outside of the world I'd known for so many years and to have a blast doing it; winning was just fun!
So what happens when an athlete achieves the highest honor in her sport by the young age of 27? And then follows up with winning the famous mirrorball trophy? Meryl and Charlie have not decided if they are going to return to competition and take on the 2018 Olympics. They have spent the past two years traveling, performing, and exploring new opportunities on and off the ice.
M: I love it, but it’s been a bit of an adjustment. When you’re training for competition it’s very regimented and structured. It inspires you to be your best. Stepping away form that was a shock to my system, but I am really appreciating that it allows me to travel the world and perform.
Meryl’s life off the ice is every bit as inspiring. She is currently working on getting a non-profit started in Detroit with a preexisting youth development organization. She wants to shed light on the strength and discipline required to achieve one’s goals. As successful and poised as Meryl is now, she was once a shy young girl struggling with self-confidence.
M: I think no matter what you do as a girl or woman, you want to positively impact other girls. I was very self-conscious as a little girl. I struggled with dyslexia. People didn’t really talk about it and it was kind of embarrassing. I didn’t have a role model.
Last year Meryl did a TedX talk on dyslexia for the sole purpose of being the role model to others that she wished she had when she was growing up.
M: I just thought, if a parent had access to a single video and could sit their kid down and say: “Look, this person went through exactly what you went through and she’s fine.”
Meryl is the kind of person who pours her heart into everything she does. She is compassionate beyond measure. You can see this in her performances on the ice, and now Meryl is putting some of this loving energy towards helping other girls.
M: Goal setting is about perseverance, not about being perfect all the time. It’s about learning from your mistakes. I want these girls to know that people who are successful are not different from them. It’s all about the way you deal with each challenge that comes your way.
Meryl leaned on her mom’s positivity when she struggled with everything from body image issues to her dyslexia. She was taught to be proud of who she was and to embrace her uniqueness. Now she wants to help other girls do the same.
M: As women the most important thing we can do is to share those stories. There is too much pressure to be perfect. I really believe in having open conversations. If adults would do that more often, kids would be better off.
I think many of us feel the need to project an image of perfection. In real life or on social media, we often conceal things that may be perceived as less than perfect for fear of being judged or of rejection. As adults, I think it's our responsibility to speak honestly about obstacles we face. I believe that when kids grow-up with role models they can relate to, having faced similar challenges and issues, it gives them the ability to face their own challenges without being ashamed or overly discouraged by them.
Meryl found her passion at a young age, which I guess you could say is pretty lucky. This passion is what has always fueled her desire to work hard, to overcome obstacles, and to grow as an athlete and a woman. So I asked her what she would say to people who are struggling to find their passion or purpose in life.
M: Don’t limit yourself. We can fall in love with things we wouldn’t have expected. Stay open to different experiences.
Meryl believes in working hard to bring out the best in herself and in others. As our Fashlete of the Month she had the opportunity to choose a word or phrase to have engraved on a piece of jewelry. Meryl chose “Amazing Awaits".
This phrase comes from a Maya Angelou poem and it was the theme of the 2010 Olympics. Meryl says it represents the beauty of the Olympic spirit. It is the promise that you can attain your version of amazing, whatever that may be.
Meryl’s definition of amazing evolves as she continues to grow as an athlete and performer, both physically and emotionally. Soon she will bring a piece of that Olympic spirit to the city of Detroit by helping young girls build confidence and strength. With the right guidance, passion, and determination… amazing awaits us all.
You can follow Meryl's amazing journey on her Instagram or Facebook page.
I would also highly recommend taking a look at her TedX Talk for a deeper look into how Meryl's struggles helped her find her strength.