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Life After the Olympics: The Motivator

Wendy Boglioli, Swimming, 1976

July 31st, 2012

Life After the Olympics

Wendy Boglioli has seen many athletes struggle with the confusion that settles in once the torch goes out. The 57-year-old swimmer has spent the three decades since she double-medaled in the Olympics coaching people and companies on reaching their physical and financial potential.

“When you come out of the Olympics, you better have a plan,” says the professional motivational speaker. “Athletes today have it harder; they feel like it will drop at their feet. But it won’t. You have to make that path. How many Mark Spitzes do you need on a Wheaties box?”

Courtesy of Wendy Boglioli

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When Boglioli was training to make the Olympic team in the 1970s, things were a lot tougher for female athletes. She credits Title IX, the 1972 amendment prohibiting gender discrimination in sports and higher education, with giving her a chance at competing.

From the time she was young, it was her parents’ goal as much as her own that she swim in the Olympics. But with seven kids, her father couldn’t afford to send her to college. Because of Title IX, she was able to get a scholarship to swim at Monmouth University in New Jersey, where she majored in speech and drama.

For 17 years her parents had trained her, perfecting her stroke in the lake behind their Wisconsin home and at the hotel pool where her mother was a lifeguard. At Monmouth, she ramped up her regimen, swimming 70,000 or 80,000 meters a week. (That’s like swimming from New York to California and back—eight times.) “I could take the workload, I was a big strong six-foot woman,” Boglioli says. “My body did not seem to have a problem until about six weeks before the Olympic trials [in 1976].”

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Suddenly her shoulder gave out; she couldn’t lift her right arm above her waist. For three weeks she worked on a kickboard, maintaining enough lower body strength that she was still able to make the Olympic team. There were barely any drugs she could take that were allowed on the day of a race, so she recuperated on rest and Bayer aspirin.

It was an ironic challenge given what the U.S. team was about to face in Montreal. The obscure East German swim team, with few wins in its history, was suddenly sweeping the Games. They bagged an astounding 40 gold medals, fueled by what would later come to light as a massive state-sponsored doping program.

“Doping changed the Olympics,” Boglioli laments. “You prepare your whole life, and no longer was it about training and mental toughness. There was no way to train to stand up on the block with people who cheat.”

The East German women’s team won all but two events. Boglioli, who took bronze in the butterfly just days before, raced on the 4x100 freestyle relay team that would hand East Germany one of its only defeats. Their gold medal was a victory for America, and a victory for the true spirit of the Olympic Games.

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Courtesy of Wendy Boglioli

With the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, Boglioli turned her attention to her family and her career. “I didn’t know how to be anything but a swimmer,” she says. She spent a few years coaching at Yale, then walked away to pursue a speaking career. For five years she gave presentations for free. “I started by begging companies to just let me speak. They’d try to turn me down and I’d say, ‘You don’t have to pay me!’”

After a particularly rousing speech at the New York Stock Exchange, people started coming to her, and her speaking career took off.

These days, Boglioli is on the road five months out of the year. Her most requested talk is called “Physically Strong and Financially Sound,” in which she promotes the value of physical fitness and financial responsibility: “What can you control? You can control financial risks. You can control your body. You have to have a balance. It all has to work together.”

She lectures on planning for your financial future, eating real food, getting eight hours of sleep and never going two days without breaking a sweat. To be sure, she practices what she preaches. She exercises every day, challenges her husband in stand-up paddleboard races, and swims and lifts three times a week. The morning she spoke with YouBeauty she had done two sets on the leg press with 500-pound weights.

Boglioli’s message is as poignant for Olympians as it is for CEOs. “Olympic athletes have to hone in on what they want, find their passion and attack it like their sports," she asserts. "They have to find that avenue. My opportunities came after the Olympics—and continue to.”

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