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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Petty

026 Dashed Dreams, Living with Regret, and Mortality's Mentorship

A Conversation with Olympian Caroline Lalive


For a few promising years, 3-time Olympian Caroline Lalive was among the top female ski racers in the world.

Slowly but surely, though, plagued by injuries and struggling with her mental game, the gap between Caroline's raw potential and her real-world race results got wider and wider. In 2009, after a tumultuous13-year career characterized by grit, determination, courage, some notable accomplishments, and many disappointments, Caroline closed out the competitive skiing chapter of her life with a fall in her final race.

In this episode, Caroline shares candidly about the gnawing regret that has stuck with her since her retirement from skiing and what she sees more clearly today that could have helped her younger self.

And if we're willing to hear it, can help all of us. Surprisingly, though, it's not regret about her career that brings tears to the surface for Caroline in this conversation; Instead, it's regret about things left unsaid until it was too late.

And it turns out that there's a lot of wisdom for life to be gained from analyzing good skiing technique. Caroline and I unpack that metaphor together before turning the corner in her Story to the heartbreaking encounter with Mortality that she's in the middle of today.

This was a thoroughly fascinating and instructive conversation for me. I think it will be for you, too. On one level, it was simply fun and enlightening to get a glimpse into the world of elite athletics through Caroline's eyes. On another level, though, you'll see that Caroline's story as an elite athlete, wife, mom, daughter, and sister is still OUR story.

It's the human story of tragedy and triumph, fear and courage, regret and gratitude, life and death.

Introducing Caroline Lalive

Caroline Lalive is the oldest of three born to her Swiss father and American mother. She spent most of her childhood in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, with regular stints in Switzerland--where she first learned to ski. After a 3-year stint near Mt. Hood, OR, Caroline and her family moved to Steamboat Springs, CO, in 1995. Caroline, her husband, Olympic medalist Nelson Carmichael, and their two kids still call Steamboat home.

Here are some of the highlights from Caroline's skiing career:

  • At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, she place 7th overall in the Combined event at age 18--making her the top American finisher in that event to-date.

  • She was the overall Junior World champion in 1999--meaning that her performances in the 5 disciplines of slalom, GS, Super G, downhill, combined were the best in the world for 20 and under overall.

  • In 2000, she became the first American to score points in every alpine event.

  • In the 2001 season, she placed 3rd in the world in Downhill and Super G.

  • She went into the 2002 Salt Lake olympics ranked 2nd in the world in Combined, 5th in downhill, and 5th in super G.

  • She was 3-time nat’l champion and won silver in the world cup finals in downhill and placed 5th in Super G.

Chapter 1: The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

In “Chapter 1” of this episode, we dive into Caroline’s ski career--a heady mixture of raw potential, visions of Olympic glory, early noteworthy successes, grit, courage, and dashed dreams.

It’s a fascinating study in what it takes to reach, compete at, and ultimately succeed at the highest levels of a sport. And by extension--what it takes to succeed in Life.

Caroline unpacks how it’s clearer to her now that an incomplete understanding of “selfishness” and “unselfishness” got in the way of achieving her dreams. With the clarity that she now has on that era, she encourages anyone who has a compelling passion and natural gifting in a particular area to be willing to sacrifice what’s needed in order to pursue it wholeheartedly. Because, Caroline exhorts, it’s only a season of our lives; it won’t last forever. But for Caroline, the regret for not paying some of the price required to succeed in the way she hoped to has endured well beyond the pro skiing season of her life.

Some other key points from “Chapter 1” include:

  • Regret is a Robber: Caroline has struggled a lot with Regret (capital “R” intended) since her career ended. It’s as if Regret is an actual companion post-skiing--invisible but ever-present, coloring how she feels about herself today and holding her back significantly from her potential in life today. We talked about the importance of turning and facing our Story--every part of it, and especially the hardest parts--so that we can embrace it and integrate it moving forward rather than go to great lengths to distance ourselves from it.

In fact, the more we distance ourselves from our Story or fight it, the more we distance ourselves from our unique Path and Purpose in life.
  • Process vs. Results: Caroline shares that she got so focused on the medals that she often forgot to ski. How many of us get so focused on the future--especially future goals--that we neglect what it takes here and now to get there or simply forget to live? To succeed in skiing and in Life, pay most attention to the fundamentals day-in and day-out, glancing up only briefly every once in a while to verify that you’re still headed in the right direction. Process over results. Today over tomorrow!

  • The Shadow Side of our Strengths: Caroline is a highly-relational, people-oriented kind of person. This quality brings warmth and energy and goodwill to her relationships. Good, right? Yep. And...Caroline shares how her prevailing orientation toward people led her--in hindsight--to take her eye off the ball, so to speak, and be distracted enough to underperform as an athlete. This speaks to the immense value of continuing to grow in our self-knowledge; to continue compiling an “owner’s manual” for ourselves so that our strengths and weaknesses can increasingly take their proper places in our lives.

  • As in Skiing, So in Life: We noodled on how good skiing technique mirrors good “life technique:” leaning forward, attacking the hill, trusting your edges, continually pushing the frontiers of our ability--not recklessly, but right on the edge of our comfort zone. Paradoxically, to sit back on our skis and ski timidly is a recipe for under-performing, at best, or crashing, at worst. It's a recipe for regret. As in skiing, so in life.

  • And more...Tune in to the full episode for all of the nuggets available from Chapter 1 of Caroline’s Story.

Chapter 2: Lighting Strikes Twice

“Lightening struck twice.” This is what Caroline’s mom, Fran, says about the fact that both she and her daughter--Caroline’s sister, Isabelle--are in the midst of grim battles with end-stage cancer. In this chapter of the conversation, we unpacked the impact that Caroline’s very close experience of Mortality is having upon her.

The ink hasn’t dried in this chapter of Caroline’s Story, so this part of the episode is as real and raw as it gets.

Which makes it all the more amazing, on the one hand, that Caroline’s tears in this episode emerged not when talking about her mom and sister. Not when talking about regrets from her skiing career--and those are significant for Caroline! Instead, her tears emerged when sharing the story of a coach and mentor from the skiing chapter of her story--a coach and mentor who died of cancer before Caroline responded to her inner promptings to tell him how much of an impact he made in her life. She so deeply regrets that failure to act before it was too late. In the case of her mom and sister, she still has the chance now to reduce or eliminate those regrets.

This bell is rung loudly and clearly in one way or another by every guest on this show. Regrets for things unsaid or undone with people closest to us trump other kinds of regret by far. Let’s heed this lesson today with the people we love.

BTW, tune in to ep. 022, Tune Out to Tune In: Hearing & Heeding Your Inner Voice in a World Full of Noise to learn more about the importance of listening to our inner voice--a close relative of the “inner prompting” Caroline talks about in this episode.

Some other key points from “Chapter 2” include:

  • Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: My words, not Caroline’s--but that’s the essence of part of Caroline’s message to us through her story. That we get caught up so easily in things that matter very little in the grand scheme of things. And we forget the stuff that really matters. When I asked her what mattered most, she said...

  • A Legacy of Love: This is what matters most, in Caroline’s experience--and she comes with some serious credibility in light of her current experience with her mom and sister.

  • Love is Found in the Little Things: Lest you cringe, let me first clarify that this doesn’t contradict the earlier point about not sweating the small stuff. This instead means that love is shown in a phone call, a note, an invitation for coffee, a gift given out of the blue for no reason, the gift of a listening and attentive ear, the gift of our time. Things that demonstrate to people that they are our priority. And, Caroline says, those mean more to her sister today than any “heroic gesture.” So, show love in the little everyday things.

  • And more...Tune in to the full episode for all of the nuggets available from this chapter of Caroline’s Story.

Revelation Can Lead to Revolution

In the interview, Caroline paired revelation and revolution. What revelation did you have listening to Caroline’s story that could create some needed revolution in your own life?

Whatever the revelation was, heed Caroline’s example and encouragement: Do just one thing with that revelation TODAY to minimize deathbed regrets, become even more of the person you were made to be, and live the life you were made to live even more fully.

Want Help With This?

With Mortality as our motivator, this podcast exists to help you cultivate the Mindset and the Means to live the life you were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon. That’s my purpose as a coach, too.

My purpose as a coach is to help you turn revelation into revolution in your own life. Connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, visit my website, or email me. Go here to learn about Graveyard Group masterminds----where we make time each week to invest in your life's most important work.

Remember, you ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!

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Resources mentioned in this episode:

I haven’t read it, but 3 Million+ people have bought it--including Caroline!--so there’s bound to be plenty of good stuff for all of us in it. I have read his 3-2-1 email newsletter, and it’s good!

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