Former Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson returned to DeSales University on Wednesday to speak to an overflow crowd of students. This is the fourth time the gold medalist has visited DeSales to share her inspiring story.
Patterson delivered the Character U program’s first keynote address of the year. Organizers say it was one of the top three attended keynotes ever. “It’s so important for students, especially now, to hear positive, uplifting messages from people who have gone through it first-hand,” said Chad Serfass, director of DeSales Experience in Character and Leadership.
Patterson won the all-around gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She was the first American woman to do so since Mary Lou Retton in 1984. Patterson also took home two silver medals that year.
She started her speech by showing a video of that big 2004 victory, which she described as her "ultimate dream and goal" and her "Simone Biles moment." Patterson was just 16 when she took home the gold and along her journey, she learned to redefine success. "Success does not just fit into one little box," she said. "It doesn't just look like one little thing. It can look like a medal or a job promotion. It looks like so many different things."
One of Patterson's keys to success: hard work never disappears. She encouraged students to push through those difficult moments, and told them how, for a time, she wanted to quit gymnastics after moving when she was young. "I'm so glad that I didn't give up there in Houston. I would have never known that I would have become a world Olympic champion one day."
Patterson learned at an early age to see the good in her mistakes, and urged students to do the same. "Our lives are probably more shaped by the mistakes we make than by the things we do perfectly." She also stressed the importance of turning setbacks into strengths. "When we have a setback, we shouldn't just sit back." She learned that lesson early on in the 2003 world championship. During training, Patterson found out she fractured her elbow. She took just two weeks off to let it heal. She almost gave up her spot on the team but in the end, decided to compete. Her team went on to make history, becoming the first women's team to win gold. Afterward, Patterson needed surgery on her elbow. But just eight months later, she made the Olympic team and secured her spot in Olympic history.
Students will have the chance to hear from several other speakers in Character U’s keynote series. Speakers include Mike Smith on September 28, Terry Caffey on October 12, Kevin Laue on February 1, and Marcus Engel on March 22.
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