DH: Hey guys. Welcome to keep on pushing radio. I am your host Devon Harris and you know what we do here, man. We like to share ideas and insights with you that are going to inspire you and challenge you to keep on pushing and live your absolute best life. So, look, if that’s something you’re interested in, then you know you’re in the right place so welcome. Our guest today is a winner in every sense of the word, man.
The guy is a freestyle skier who specializes in the halfpipe and by my count, he has found the podium almost 30 times to include 9 US Championship titles, a bunch of Grand Prix wins, World Cup wins, Dew Tours and X Game wins, a World Championship, and of course, a couple of Olympic Gold Medals thrown in there just for good measure. He is truly an iconic athlete. He is an author these days, he is a motivational speaker, but in my mind, the reason why I’m such a big fan and the reason why I think he is such a great winner, is because he is one of the humblest persons you’ll ever meet.
A really cool down to earth guy, a family man, a man of faith who strives to help others to become the best versions of themselves every single day. Now, if that isn’t a winner, I don’t know what is. So, I am really pleased to be able to introduce to you Mr. David Wise. David, welcome to keep on pushing my man.
DW: Yeah man. Thanks for having me on.
DH: Yes, it’s great. The last time I saw you was right after your Sochi win and we were swapping trophies. You were wearing my jacket from Nagano and I got to wear your medal.
DW: Yes, that was cool man. It’s funny because everybody’s favorite thing to ask you is, “What was one of your favorite moments from Sochi or what was one of your favorite moments after your Olympic win? It was high up there. I was like, man, I’ve been a fan of this guy for a long time and I got to meet him in person, I got to wear his jacket, I was stoked for sure.
DH: No dude, now you’re making me feel old, man what’s going on? But it was great. By the way, I still have that jacket so I’m open to the idea of a longer-term swap if you’re open to it.
DW: Yes, I’ll let you hold on to my fancy gold necklace for a while and you let me wear the jacket.
DH: Yeah, I thought I’d just throw it out there just in case. You know how that is. So, I know you grew up in Reno. What was life like for a young David Wise?
DW: It’s fun to look back on my life and wonder how many things were just kind of fate because I grew up in Reno. I’m 35 minutes from Lake Tahoe, which in my opinion, after having traveled the world, I still come home and I feel fortunate. I look at that lake and I’m like, man, this is still one of the coolest places in the world. And sort of by no design on my part I just grew up in a skiing family.
My Dad was a ski racer, he went to college for racing on a scholarship. My older sisters were into ski racing and my mom skied as well. So, the Wise family, every weekend – I was four years younger than my sisters, they’re twins and we just went skiing. It was just what we did and so as a kid, I never thought, oh, I’m going to grow up to be an Olympic skier someday. I just grew up as a skier. I also played baseball, I played football, I ran track in middle school and early in high school and I was just an outdoor person.
I like to be outside spending my time, I was always more comfortable outside than inside. And now I feel like the luckiest guy in the world because I was able to take that love for the outdoors and turned it into a long-term career. And here we are, like you said, quite a few wins later.
DH: I’ve never heard the term “outdoor addict” before, which is how you describe yourself. Who is an outdoor addict?
DW: I think it’s just like what I said, somebody who likes to be outside just as much as they like to be inside. I mean, like you said, my family to me they’re the crowning glory. They’re the most important thing that I do so I love to spend time inside with my family too, but getting outdoor out into those spaces where you don’t have a roof over your head. And for me, going camping with my family and seeing the stars at night, those are some of the most important moments of my life to me.
And that’s why skiing is such a big deal to me is because it’s one of those things that enable you to get far away from society. It enables you to get far away from the cities and the urban lifestyle and you’re just out there in the mountains. I always like to say, the higher up in the mountains I am, the closer I am to God’s voice. There is no other distraction around.
DH: Do you feel a sense of freedom when you’re outdoors whether you’re fly fishing or mountain biking or skiing – Is it the solitude of those activities and just the freedom that draws you to it?
DW: To me, when I’m going out into the wilderness, it feels like coming home. Other people, they go out into the wilderness and they’re like, I can’t wait to get back to the city but for me, it’s the opposite. I spend a lot of time in cities, I spent a lot of time traveling and competing and stuff like that and when I’m going back out into the wilderness, either by myself or with a small group of people; that feels like coming home. It’s like I have enough space to think, I have enough space to breathe and I’m naturally kind of an introvert.
I like to think deep and I don’t mind silence at all, I can sit there and be silent for long periods of time and so those outdoor spaces just speak to me as a person.
DH: That’s really funny you said that because I was just speaking this morning about mindfulness and spending 10, 15, 20 minutes just in silence and there was a study that was done by The University of Virginia and they discovered that more people would rather endure a mild electric shock than sit silently for 20 minutes so the world is upside down in that sense. So, you grew up, as you said, in a skiing family, so it wasn’t as if your family made a special effort to get you to ski.
You just kind of fell into it is that something that you just loved from the beginning as well?
DW: Yes. I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t a skier. Nobody remembers learning how to walk, right? Like you were too young, your memory doesn’t go back that far. I feel the same way about skiing, I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t a skier. I don’t remember learning how to ski. Skiing’s always been a part of my life. On the same note though, certainly, my career path and getting into freestyle skiing and into halfpipe was completely outside of what my parents and dad wanted for me.
My Dad was a ski racer, he wanted me to follow in his footsteps and go to college for racing and potentially make the US ski team and do slalom and G. S and super G and I just like to be off the ground. I was always kind of an adrenaline junkie; I like to jump off things. I was a little bit of a daredevil and so as a kid, I fell in love with the idea of taking skiing, which I already loved and enjoyed and one of the things I liked the most about it was how fast you could go.
Skiing is one of the fastest activities that you can do without a motor and so I love that aspect, but I also liked being off the ground. I loved jumping on the trampoline and as a kid, I would spend a lot of time in gymnastics facilities. I just love jumping around and rolling off things and running up walls and all that kind of stuff and so with freestyle skiing, I’ve found this combination of two loves. I liked going fast and I liked being off the ground.
DH: So, I know you did moguls and aerials and big air, but you settled into halfpipe. What was it about halfpipe that drew you to it over those other disciplines?
DW: I competed in everything along the way. I competed in moguls and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t love it. Same thing, competed in slopestyle and big air and aerials but there’s fewer guys that do halfpipe for a couple of reasons. One, because it’s scary; When you’re on a vertical wall and basically if you land up here on the flat part, it’s costly or if you pop too hard and land down in the flats it’s also costly. So, the margin for error is pretty slim and so halfpipe is certainly the most dangerous version of free skiing.
And it’s also the hardest to get into, there’s not too many halfpipes around the world and in the same way, there’s not too many sled tracks around the world. It’s a specialized thing to get into, but I loved the intensity of it. I just did a Ted talk last week and it all starts out with me saying four years of work comes down to 31 seconds. That’s how long my Olympic run lasted, 31 seconds and there’s something about that that appeals to me as a competitor. I love strategy games and I love this idea of all this work goes into these five tricks, it’s 31 seconds long.
You either nail it or you don’t and some guys don’t like that, some guys like greater opportunity or are they like a longer run or whatever but there’s something about the intensity of it that just always appealed to me.
Certainly, I had more early success with halfpipe than I did in slopestyle and big air, even though I was competing in all three when I was in my teens and I was always most successful in halfpipe partly probably because that was what I liked the most.
DH: That was your thing. It’s really interesting; four years of work comes down to 31 seconds. For bobsledding, I got twice as many seconds as you probably 50 to 60 seconds. But more importantly in life though, a lifetime of work comes down often to just a very small window of opportunity and you have to be ready to go through that window in order to succeed.
DW: Yes, it comes down to preparation and part of what I talked about in my Ted Talk as well is that part of the reason I was able to succeed- So, there’s two philosophies on that, right? It’s like a lifetime of work comes down to 31 seconds and if you don’t land it in those 31 seconds, then you’re a failure. And to me, that isn’t true either so part of the reason I was able to land that run in PyeongChang for my second Olympics is because I took the pressure off myself.
I realized, yes, this is a 31-second opportunity, but it’s not a 31-second necessity. Like, I don’t need to land this run to be happy, I’m already happy, man. I like to say I’m rich beyond measure. I have my family, I have a wife who loves me and cares about who I am as a person, not about my success on a pair of skis. So, dropping in for that third run I was like, look, man, I got one more shot at this and let’s go.
DH: Awesome. We’re going to touch on that in a minute, but what I’m hearing you speak about now, David is really your definition of success and I think the challenge with most of us, whether you’re an athlete or you’re a salesperson or an up and coming engineer, whatever it is….. is that your success is based on what or how other people will see you on what those final sales numbers are. And you are saying that there’s a lot more to success than those things that other people put on you and you should define success for yourself?
DW: Exactly. Figure out what success is to you and don’t let anybody else tell you what it should be. For me, success comes down to taking good care of my family and everything beyond that is a bonus. Of course, I am the guy who is working the hardest. I like to think so anyways. I’m the guy who is strategizing on the most long-term scal. I’m the guy who was working out the most, I’m going to do my best to win at what I do on skis.
There are some things that are outside your control. I could go out there, you know, if we’re talking about Beijing a couple of years from now…… I can go out there and land my best run ever and have somebody else come in and have the best day of their life and beat me. If I define success based around winning the competition then I basically laid my success, my need for contentment on something I have no control over.
DH: Completely outside of yourself, I agree. It’s really interesting that you’re talking about strategizing and working and one from a sports point of view, some people would probably see what you do, jumping into a halfpipe and doing all these flips and so on and just think it’s…… I’m sure it’s fun, but it’s like it’s easy work. You get up and you do it and people don’t, think about the tremendous effort that goes on behind the scenes and as you say the work, the strategy for that 31 seconds. Speak about that a little bit?
DW: It’s calculated. My sport is dangerous and any mistake on any given day could be very costly so, I feel like my responsibility is not only to myself but also to my wife and my kids and my sponsors who depend on me; All those things…… is to do it in the safest way possible. So, I’m not out there just dropping into the halfpipe, kind of living the dream like, oh, maybe I’ll try this today.
My strategy is very calculated I say, okay, I’m going to start this competition season as strong as I possibly can be so that if and when I make a mistake, my body can handle the repercussions. And I try to plan and I’m going to improve incrementally rather than trying to, okay, here’s the run that I want to do; It’s got all of these hard tricks on it so I guess I’ll just try this one now.
Instead, I kind of incrementally get there. It’s like one little baby step at a time and it enables me to do more than I could have even dreamed of as a kid.
You were reading off that list of accomplishments earlier and it still surprises me because I got to the point where I wasn’t defining myself by that need for success and I was really just enjoying the art of what I was doing. And once I got there, all of a sudden, they just kept stacking up and humility for me sometimes comes down to just an awareness of where the things that you have come from. I didn’t make me, I didn’t put myself in the family that I grew up in. My parents made immense sacrifices along the way and sort of enabled me to get as far as I have and like I said, I’m kind of surprised myself.
DH: So, I hear you’re talking about process, David, and achieving success a tiny step at a time. You mentioned you have a particular run in your mind with all of these very difficult tricks and you don’t go out and go, let me do all of them all at once. You work on them step by step, one trick at a time and I think it’s very instructive for all of us as we seek to pursue and achieve our respective goals that it’s not going to come all in one shot. We live in what I call this microwave society, everybody wants success right now.
They want that list of accomplishments that you have for themselves, they want it now and what you are saying is, no, you’re going to have to strategize. You’re going to have to work, you’re going to have to take it one baby step at a time. Sometimes you will fail and if you hinge your entire identity and your self-esteem on that trophy, whatever that trophy is or goal, then yes, you’re going to be a miserable person.
DW:Totally. And you brought up an interesting point there too. Sometimes accomplishing those lists of goals comes down to what you’re going to do in those moments of failure. I like that Michael Jordan quote where he talks about how he was successful in his career. He’s like, I was successful in my career because I miss more shots than anybody else and rather than beating myself up for having missed those shots, I learned those lessons and moved on.
DH: Yes, completely. So, I know you don’t, as we just spoke about, base your success and your contentment on the final result as it were, but certainly, as you go through the process, you experienced some failure, some setbacks. How do you reset your mind? How do you work through those times?
DW: I like to set massive lofty goals, things that are like, wow, if I pull that off, that’d be amazing. But I also like to set incremental goals along the way because I think that we all have a need for progress. It’s something that’s human about us is we need to know that we’ve moved somewhere, you can’t just have a long-term goal because it’s so far off you may never reach it and it may just seem to get further and further away.
So, for me with the failures and the minor setbacks, those incremental goals are super important because even if I didn’t have a successful competition season that particular year, maybe I learned a couple of new tricks. I didn’t land them as well as I wanted to or the judges didn’t give me the scores that I was feeling like I deserved or whatever but I still accomplished those small goals.
DH: So you’re still making progress?
DW: Yes, as long as I’m progressing and that’s one of the things that I say I get asked all the time by kids when I speak at schools and stuff I’ll get asked by kids, what is the recipe for success? How do I succeed in skiing? Just focus on one step at a time, one small goal at a time but don’t lose sight of those big goals. You still have to work towards them but the strategy comes down to setting those big goals and setting up – you almost do it in stages. There’s the huge goal out here and then there’s a couple of milestones along the way and then there’s the stairs that gets you there.
DH: I agree. So, the big goal points you in the general direction you want to go and then you have to take baby steps, these little rest stops along the way as well. So, I know that your signature move is a double cork 12-60, and you’re the first person to land that. Tell me about that and what does it feel like, describe it to us?
DW:That’s going to be hard to describe. It’s two flips and so just to like help people wrap their head around it; in skiing, we count by degrees. So, a 360 is one full rotation [21:50 inaudible] is one half rotation, a 1260 is three and a half rotations and that includes both the flipping and the spinning. So, in halfpipe, we do most of our tricks on what we would call an off axis. So, if you were to watch gymnastics on the trampoline or you were to watch aerials on skis, they’re almost always flipping straight up and down and they’re spinning while they’re flipping.
But on skis, if you were to take like a banana or something and you just spun it and put a little bit of rotation on it, eventually it will actually come back to its feet even if it doesn’t do a perfect end over end flip. Most of our rotations are actually what we would call off-axis so we’re not completely flipping and we’re not just spinning we’re kind of in the middle. So, it looks wobbly almost. So, a double 1260 means I have two wobbles and a total of three and a half spins.
And I essentially was at a point in my career – This was in 2009 when I first landed that trick, where I was watching kind of the progression of skiing and I had this idea in my mind that was like, well, we’re all doing single corks or we would do a cork 900 so one wobble and two and a half spins.
I was like, man, I feel like if you just set that really hard, you could actually do a double or a double cork and make it three and a half spins and it would essentially end in the same spot. So, I’ve visualized it, I did it on the trampoline and I was like, yes, I think this works in the halfpipe but at that time we didn’t have airbags or foam pits or anything like that. Pretty much it came down to like, okay, I’ve seen this in my head a thousand times over and I’ve done all the progressions to do it.
At some point, I just got to go for it. That was definitely for me, one of the greatest accomplishments in my life is saying I wanted to do something, seeing it in my head and then trying it and it pretty much, I mean it almost went perfect from the very first try and that was part of the calculated process, but that’s what happened. And then ironically, so I came up with this new trick and I thought I was going to basically rule the world of skiing for a while.
The first competition of the year, the next year I blew my knee and I got to sit the whole season out. Ironically, somebody else learned that trick.
DH: Of course, because they saw you doing it. Here’s what’s powerful about what you just said David, you spoke about the fact that you visualize this, you imagined it for a while and you know, our success and everything that we see in our lives and in the world actually started in someone’s mind. And you said by the time you’re ready to do it, you felt like it almost came up perfect because you had done it so many times in your mind. And it’s really important, I think for our viewers or listeners to really hear this.
I want to just pause here long enough to kind of drive this point home, man. Imagination, visualization, right? That’s the workshop of your mind and you accomplish more than half of what you need to accomplish in your mind and then you were willing to take the risk as well as you know, no airbags, no nothing. And a lot of times the thing that stops most of us from achieving is the fact that we want to stay in our comfort zone. As much as we have visualized or imagined or wished for a particular goal, we sit there and not take the risk and hence never get the rewards.
DW: Yes, a couple of really good points. The reality is people listening to this, there’s probably not any halfpipe skiers so I’m not trying to empower people to be better skiers in the halfpipe. I’m trying to take my story of me skiing in the halfpipe and empower other people to, like you said, accomplish their own goals, achieve their own gold medal, whatever that gold medal is.
And visualization is one of the most powerful tools I’ve stumbled upon in my career as a skier because I use it for everything. I compete in Archery in the summers as well and I’ve learned that visualizing making a really good shot or you know, if I’m shooting a certain distance with a certain target, I’ll visualize making that shot over and over and over again. And then the next time I go to shoot, I actually have improved even though I literally have not practiced physically. Because the last time I shot to this time I shoot, I haven’t actually practiced but because I practice it in my mind I’ve actually improved.
And earlier you mentioned mindfulness and I think that that’s something in this microwave society we have, mindfulness is something that isn’t valued as much as it should be. And so, taking time to be silent and asking yourself, what do I want to accomplish and what does that look like? And setting these incremental goals and visualizing that process is massive. It’s helped me be as successful in my career as I have because for me it didn’t stop with inventing that new double cork because as I was about to tell you, I pretty much landed the trick, put it on video and somebody else saw that said, hey, that actually looks really good, I might learn that too.
And then I blew my knee so I didn’t get to be the guy who came in with a new trick and won everything. So, as soon as I had this new weapon in my arsenal, somebody else had it too. So, I was like, okay, well he got that, now I have to look to the next thing. So, I took that trick and I said, okay, I can do this to the left. Everybody has one natural spinning direction; most right-handed people like to spend to the left because it means you can kind of throw yourself across your body with your dominant hand. And so, I said, okay, what’s next? And I decided, okay, I’m going to do the same trick, but I’m going to do it to my unnatural direction, what we would call hard way, the awkward way.
So, that was the next progression in my career and then it came down to combinations and part of my success and PyeongChang this last season was the fact that I was able to do that double cork or the double wobble off-axis in all four directions. So, I did the double corks to the left, the double court to the right and then I also took off backwards and did it to the left and took off backwards and did it to the right. I was the only guy doing that because I had visualized that.
Going back to those moments of failure, the season before PyeongChang, I had two competitions in a row where I didn’t even make finals. I felt like they were judging mistakes, but for whatever reason, one reason or another, I felt like I deserved to be in the finals, but I didn’t make finals. For the first time in a very long time, I got to watch the competition as a spectator because I’m usually in the game and when you’re competing, you’re just in a totally different mind space. And so, I failed essentially, but I got this opportunity to watch the sport from an outside perspective. While I was watching that was when I started thinking, you know what, I’m not seeing anybody do double corks in all four directions.
There’s a lot of guys who were doing them in three, most guys were doing them in too, but nobody was doing them in all four and that’s when I started visualizing, okay, can I do it? First of all, do I think I can do it? Is that a realistic goal? And I said it’s a long shot, but I think I can. And then I started visualizing it and because I was able to pull that off was why I was able to win my second gold medal in PyeongChang.
So, it’s interesting when you think about failure, a lot of people get caught up in failure. They’re like, oh I failed it’s over! And for me the failure was….
DH: It was a blessing in disguise because for the first time, you got to be a spectator and you got to see what the competition was doing from a spectator’s point of view and hence able to come up with being able to do this trick in four directions. Additionally, David, because I speak about keep on pushing, right? And the philosophy has a bunch of different facets to it, one of them is pushing out of your comfort zone, understanding where you are right now and the level of proficiency you have and then trying to figure out how you can grow because all of us are meant to grow in whatever field that we’re in.
We are always growing physically, now, how do you grow mentally, emotionally, professionally? And so, you’re looking at your sport, your profession and you’re going, what else can I do to grow, what else can I do to stretch outside of my comfort zone. And so, you come up with a double cork, somebody else got that and you figured out a way to come up with doing that trick in four different directions so that’s amazing, man. Congrats on that. You won the US Championships when you were 15, was that the junior championship or the senior championship?
DW: That was the real deal.
DH: That was a real deal. So, you got in there and took on the big boys at 15?
DW: Yes. It’s funny now because now I have 9 US Championship titles, but when I first won it, it was the very first one. That was the very first time that they had had a US Nationals for my sport. If I’m being completely honest with you, at 15 years old, I didn’t beat all the pros to get that first title. Now the title is a big deal, I actually got second place this year and I didn’t get the title but that’s how it goes.
DH: You’re going backwards, man.
DW: I know. But the first one I won; it was almost a fluke because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Now it’s this prestigious thing, and people care about it but when I first won it people were like, what is a US National title?
DH: Dude, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than great, right?
DH: So, when did they decide that the halfpipe was going to be an Olympic sport and is that when you got the Olympic bug?
DW: Yes. The Olympic story for me is really interesting because I liked watching the Olympics. I actually watched the Summer Olympics more than the Winter Olympics probably because I was always skiing during the winter and I didn’t take the time out of my day to sit there and watch the Olympics. But I loved it from the time I was a really young kid and having grown up as a ski racer although there was always this idea like maybe I’ll go and compete for the US or maybe I’ll be a ski racer for the US Olympic team……
But when I really fell in love with halfpipe skiing, I was in essence when I switched to competing exclusively in the halfpipe and slopestyle, I was giving up this Olympic dream because at that time of my life I was competing and moguls and aerials and halfpipe and slopestyle. And moguls and aerials were Olympic sports and halfpipe and slopestyle weren’t. But I liked those sports so much that I was willing to give up this need to go to the Olympics. I always wanted to go to the Olympics, but I liked halfpipe skiing that much that I was like, you know what, this is going to be my path no matter what.
And then, through going to things like US Nationals and attending the World Cups and the World Championships and things like that, we were able to get this sort of edgy action sport that, to be honest, the traditional Olympic guys didn’t want to have anything to do with originally. But by guys like me and some of my peers going to those competitions and showing them how polished the sport was becoming and that it was actually a legitimate competitive event we were able to get their attention and that was in the long term what got us into the Olympics. It was those events.
So, I gave up this Olympic dream and then I realized somebody along the way said, hey if you guys do a good job of this, we might be able to get enough attention to get the sport in the Olympics. So, I made that a priority in my career and then I got to be part of the first Olympic team.
DH: Nice. It’s really interesting because when I look at skiing, it is of all the Olympic sports I can think of, it’s the one that has grown the most. It’s the one that has the most disciplines to include moguls and aerials and on halfpipe and so on. Do you know Nelson Carmichael?
DH: He some moguls. Before your time. He competed in 88 and 92 but he was part of that second wave of mogul’s guys that got the sport into the Olympics. And now I’m getting to speak to you part of the wave that got halfpipe into the Olympics. So, it seems that you’re, I would describe it as your always riding a high leading into the Olympic Games. So, before Sochi you won the X Games in Aspen and then you go off and you nail it, you won the first gold, right?
DH: What was the most challenging part of that journey for you heading into Sochi and winning?
DW: I always say remaining at the top is the hardest part about what I do. When you’re the guy who’s in second, third or fourth place and you’re chasing the guy at the top, you always have something to look up to. You always have something to chase and it almost gives you a little bit of an advantage over that person because they’re the ones at the top and they don’t know what to do next so it’s hard.
So, in terms of strategy, the hardest thing is certainly being competitive and making the Olympic team, but not giving all your secrets away too soon. We talked about the double Cork and because I put it out on video, somebody else was able to do it. That’s the reality.
DH: Exactly. So, I guess you learned your lesson after that, huh?
DW: Yes, a little bit. I definitely kept things a little closer, I kept things a little bit more under the table after that because I wanted to hold on to those advantages that I have worked hard to get. But that was certainly the hardest part. I think staying focused on competing while being an Olympic athlete is super challenging. That’s one of the things that I’ve seen people struggle with the most is there is this idea of lifetime accomplishment. I mean, making the Olympic team is a lifetime accomplishment no matter who you are.
So, it’s awesome, it’s amazing you get to go to the opening ceremonies; you got to experience that it’s like, oh, it’s so cool but then you have to compete.
DH: Yes, there’s still a job to be done and in fact, that’s the real reason why you’re there any way it’s not to march in the Opening Ceremonies.
DW: So, that was the hardest part for me was enjoying the ride, but also staying focused on what I was there to do. In Sochi, we were there for three weeks ahead of our event and we actually couldn’t even train the halfpipe until a week prior to our event. We had two weeks of seemingly almost inactivity because I mean, there was a gym, but we could barely even get out on the slopes to ski or anything like that.
So, I had to do some unique things like I was trying to go to the gym every day and I would take time off and be by myself and just visualize my runs, trying to remind myself, hey, this Olympic experience is awesome, but I still haven’t done the job I came here to do.
DH: Exactly. That’s the challenge I think David, again, achieving success, whether it’s in halfpipe or whatever it is, you’re a pipe fitter. Finding the balance between enjoying the experience and knowing that there is work to be done, right? There comes a time when you have to perform and you have to keep that in the back of your mind for sure. So, you won the gold and then it seems as if you experience a kind of a fall off in your form in the years after Sochi, did you lose some sponsors along the way as well? Can you talk to us about that?
DW: Man, I went from the apex of my career, the highlight of my career into some of the hardest years of my life, both competitively and personally. The fall after Sochi, our second child was born, which was an amazing blessing. We went from having this travel circus style….. I mean; my wife and daughter would go everywhere with me. We as family, it was part of what we did and so we just assumed that if we pull it off with one kid, we can definitely pull it off with two kids.
That wasn’t necessarily the case, my son Malakai was always getting sick he just didn’t travel. My daughter, she was a travel warrior she could sleep anywhere, she could go anywhere. My son, not quite so much, he would always get sick and then he would be keeping me and my wife up at nights and then both me and my wife would be both under slept and adding to it, you know, fighting with each other and so that was challenging.
And then, the following summer my sister lost her leg, she was hit by a boat and lost her right leg above the knee and obviously a super challenging time for our family. My wife’s Dad died, so many things going on personally, family deaths, my grandmother, her grandmother, kind of simultaneously. I didn’t have bad injuries, but I had a lot of injuries in a row. So, I was struggling to put down runs on skis and because I had so much stuff going on personally, I was definitely a little bit distracted. I wasn’t as invested in the skiing aspect of my career as I had been going into the Olympics. But sort of what came from that was that I had the three worst competitive years of my career certainly two worst competitive years of my career.
One season I didn’t have a single podium and for the guy who came off of, like you said, a hot streak going into Sochi riding the high point into the low point was really interesting to me because I dealt with a little bit of fame and the worldly success that comes along with it. Everybody wanted to sponsor me, people wanted to hang out with me. I didn’t pay for a drink for a year, man. As soon as I would get my wallet out, somebody would be like, oh no, let me buy that for you. So, I got to experience the high point and then I got to experience the low point as well and I came out of that with so much appreciation for what I did have and that really empowered me going into the rest of my life.
I got to learn a little bit about human nature, I realized that some people are only there for what you can do for them and others are really there for you. So, through three years of losing, I got to learn who really had my back. I got to learn who really cared about me and who I am as a person versus who cared about what I could do on a pair of skis. And I lost some of my biggest sponsors. Some of the sponsors that I would have said would never drop me, did and I was like, okay, this is business all right, I understand it now. I was maybe a little naive before.
DH: Very cutthroat isn’t it?
DW: It’s cutthroat, man. So, I lost some things, but I also gained some things. Through those hard times, I realized that my wife was there for me no matter what and we came out of those times stronger than we ever could have been. So, people would look at those times on paper and say, man, those must have been the worst times of your life but I look back and I’m like, man, those were some of the best times because I was able to learn what I really had through those years of loss.
That was part of the power that I had going into PyeongChang was like, I’ve been through the low times, I’ve been through the hardest times so now everything beyond this is just going to be gravy.
DH: It’s important I think for people to recognize and you’re just saying it, it’s not what happens to you it’s how you choose to come through it. There are always lessons to be learned, whether from the high points and certainly from the low points. And if you don’t learn those lessons, especially from the low points, you’re bound to repeat them. So, you got out and as you say, you started riding that high wave back into PyeongChang, you won the X Games again, and so your mojo is back.
DH: And then you get there and you’re competing and I think you got relegated to the fifth position in the drop in for the last run. Your binders were breaking, it just wasn’t going right was it?
DW: No. It actually started with qualifiers. So, in my sport, we qualify before and then that establishes your ranking. They take the top 12 and then they reversed the order so the guy who got 12th place goes first, and then the guy who got first place goes last. And then obviously if you score the highest in qualifications, you get to drop in last. For me as the strategist, I’m always trying to do my best to win the qualifier, meaning I get to drop in last because that means I get to watch what everyone else is doing. I get to be the last thing that judges see before I drop in.
Certainly, in going into the Olympics, which is every four years that’s the biggest thing we have for those four years. So, I wanted to win the qualifiers and then I had just an absolutely awful day at qualifiers. I had one trick that I was a little rusty on, I needed some work on it and that trick just so happened to fall at a place in the halfpipe that kind of got overlooked or for whatever reason, there was one weird spot in the halfpipe where it wasn’t consistent with the rest. So, the halfpipe is a certain way and when you’re riding it, you kind of learn pretty quickly how hard you have to jump off the top – We call it pop.
You learn how hard you have to pop off the top to land right in the sweet spot or right at the top of the transition. There’s one spot in the halfpipe that was different from everywhere else and that happened to be where my hardest trick was. So, as a competitor, I assess that right away I said, oh, that spots over vert, I’m going to have to work on that and practice. Four runs in a row, I didn’t manage to even make it to that spot in the halfpipe. So, I had one goal I was like, okay, my goal for practice today is to get this trick dial and then for the subsequent four runs, I didn’t make it to that spot.
Two times somebody crashed in front of me, another time I made a mistake on another trick and then all of a sudden, practice is over and I haven’t done it once. Oh, my goodness! So, I went for it on my first run and crashed on that trick and so here I am staring at four years of hard work and I might not even make finals. And so, I watched the rest of the first round with my coaches and we kind of started talking about it. I was like, I think today might be the kind of day where I have to make my run easier in order to just land it.
Today we’re not looking to win the qualifier, today we’re looking to get through the qualifier. So, I landed my run and I have never been happier for eighth place in my life, man. Normally I would have been like, man, eight places I don’t get to blah, blah blah. But at that moment I was excited for eighth place and then we went into the finals and man I was having one of the best days of skiing I’ve ever had.
I was landing, I got all of the tricks in my run dialed and the halfpipe was fast and the sun was out, there was no wind and I was like, man, today is my day. But then my ski came off on its own accord. We call it a prerelease. Every once in a while, your bindings just don’t do what they’re supposed to and it doesn’t happen that often……it happens probably two or three times a season to me. We’re landing sometimes from 18 to 20 feet out on a vertical wall and it’s usually icy.
So, if you think about the forces we’re putting on these skis, I mean, the forces are immense and so the fact that those skis can stay on at all sometimes surprises me. So, it’s not that abnormal to have it happen once in a while. So, it happened on my first run and I was bummed because my first run, it was shaping up to be the best run of my life. But it happened, you just wash it off, shrug your shoulders and move on. Going into my second run I was like, okay, you got this, you got this and then it happens again on my second run.
My sport’s the best of three formats so your best run counts of three tries. And here I am, I was expecting to land my first run so that I could improve on my second run so that I could really lay down a banger run on my third run and I have two throws away. So, it was certainly the most stressful day of competition of my entire life.
DH: Exactly. The drama heightens.
DW: I still can’t believe how it went down. Like I said, a prerelease happens to me once or twice a season and it happened twice in one day and that day just so happened to be the Olympic Games. It was madness, but because I had been through so much in those three years and to me landing that run or not landing, it wasn’t going to define my success I was ready for it. I was prepared, I had done all the work, but if I didn’t land it, I wasn’t going to be any less content than if I did. I felt like I’d done all the work to get there and that’s part of the competition, sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t.
So, I kind of had this whimsical approach into it going into my third run so I was like, all right, I’m going to go out there and do it.
DH: If I could just jump in, I remember watching videos of it. So, I’m thinking about this and when I compete, I’m an intense kind of guy. And I’m thinking this last run is for all the marbles and I remember watching a video of you and you just seem so freaking cool. It’s like, I’m in my backyard and I’m going to jump in this halfpipe. That was amazing.
DW: That’s honestly how I was able to stay calm. I was just like; this is just another round through the halfpipe. This is the best halfpipe in the world and this is the biggest crowd I ever get so why not do it now? I’ll be honest with you, man I was just as surprised as everybody else when I landed that third run. I was like, wow! That worked out; it worked out good. So, yes, landed that run and got the highest score of my career and won the second Olympic gold medal. It was crazy.
DH: So as we speak, I’m speaking to the only man who has ever won Olympic gold in the halfpipe, right? Two in a row that’s awesome man, congratulations. So, a couple of things. One, given your – I want to say dominance in the sport. Certainly, as I said, the halfpipe has been in the Olympics only twice; you have gold. You have won so many other titles. Do you see yourself kind of as a torchbearer for the sport and if so, do you feel a special responsibility……extra pressure on you to perform?
DW: Yes. I do see myself as a torchbearer and when I think about what I want to do next, I try to be mindful of the fact that the sport is looking to me. So, wherever myself and my competitors, the guys who are giving me a run for my money, wherever we take the sport is where the sport’s going for the long term. So, it’s important not to just do things that are good for me, but also do things that are good for the sport.
So, I certainly weigh that into when I’m strategizing and planning runs for the future, I’m always like, is this good for the sport or is it just good for me? And I feel some pressure like I said, after Sochi, some of my sponsors watched, you know, they’re like, oh, he stopped competing well, he’s out – he’s off the team. At the end of the day, this is how I make my living if I don’t do well out there then I don’t make as much money and it costs for my family financially.
So, there’s certainly pressure there but one of the things that I’ve discovered over the years is that pressure really only exists for you if you put it on yourself. People around you, whether they intend to do it or not are going to put pressure on. I mean, even your family and friends, they love you more than anybody else, but they have a tendency to put pressure on you too. They want to be a part of the journey and they’re so excited to be part of the journey but what they don’t realize is that that excitement adds pressure too, they’re like, oh, I’m so excited I hope you win it! I trust that you’re just going to show up and you’re going to win and you’re like, oh, man! You don’t realize is that you just added more pressure to the stack.
So, you have to do a really good job of not letting people put that on your shoulders. I like to envision the fact that I have this big table and it’s a really strong table, it’s got big cinder or it’s got a big lumber as top and so, when people put pressure on me, I’m like, okay, thanks for that I’m going to add it to the table and the table is going to hold it up for me and I’m just going to leave that off me and I’m going to go out there and I’m going to enjoy the ride.
So, yes, you definitely have to do things and only really worry about the pressure that you’re going to put on yourself. What is it you want to accomplish today because those people are there supporting you, but they’re not there doing the run for you. So, as much as they want you to succeed and they like we said, unintentionally add pressure to you for succeeding they’re not the ones doing it. So, you just take what you can get from there, you take people’s stories, you take what they give you and you add it to what you have, you add it to your strengths going in but you have to just let go of the pressures and do it for what you want to do it for.
For me, on skis, I’m always looking for what I want to do next, what do I want to accomplish? Not in terms of results, but in terms of tricks. I see it as an art. I’m like, okay, this is where I want to get and sometimes there are lofty goals and sometimes, they are really difficult, but because I’m focusing on the tricks instead of the results it’s actually enabled me to be a lot more successful in the long term. Because at the end of the day, if I land that run and I don’t win, I’ve still accomplished my goal because my goal wasn’t the win.
DH: You learned a new trick and you have progressed. So, obviously what you do is important to you. It’s your passion, it’s your profession, your livelihood, it helps you to provide for your family. It helps you to move the sport that you love so much forward as a torch bearer, but I also know how important your family is to you. How special was that to have your family in PyeongChang watching you win the gold?
DW: Yeah, man. You talk about moments and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to match that moment. My family has always been a big part of what I do, I feel like all of my greatest successes in terms of skiing success have actually come after I got married and had my little girl. Before that, I was so intense. People have often described me as militant or like this dude is militant….. like he wants it so bad he’ll sacrifice anything for it. That was my personality before I got married and before my daughter, Nayeli was born. I was going to succeed at all costs and because I was so intense about it, it actually was detrimental to me.
I wanted to win so bad that I couldn’t land a run because I was over pressuring myself. Once I had a daughter and I realized, wow, like she doesn’t care if I win or lose because success to my daughter isn’t daddy winning gold medals, it’s daddy being here for me. It’s just being a good husband, being a good father. So, my family has contributed to my success for so long because of that mentality. I started just enjoying skiing aspect but they’re often not there for these big moments in my career. So, I feel like they’re a part of the journey, but most of the time they’re not there because it’s not easy to travel with two kids.
Before I even made the Olympic team, I booked my family’s tickets over to PyeongChang because I was like, for one thing, I’m not going to compete forever and it’s going to be a cool experience for them to have seen Korea for them to travel the world. So, I just booked their tickets and I was excited that they were there. I got to see them before I competed, it was awesome, but I never could have anticipated being able to…….. I mean, I was able to stand on the podium at the Olympic Games with one kid in each arm and with my wife there holding the flag behind me.
For me, I’ll never be able to match that in terms of moments, it was the greatest moments probably of my life, certainly of my competitive career …….was winning the greatest competition in skiing and having my family there supporting me and being able to share it with them. It was amazing.
DH: Yes, that definitely is amazing it’s special for sure. What legacy do you hope to leave for your kids, what lessons do you hope to impress upon them?
DW: I think that relentlessness or that perseverance to me is the most important thing to instill in my kids. If anything, I almost want them to not pursue what I’ve pursued in my life. Naturally, you pass the things that you’re passionate about on to your kids, my daughter wants to be in the halfpipe already. She said, Daddy, when can I get into the half pipe? I want them to find their own path, but if I can teach them anything, it’s that I didn’t succeed because I was lucky or talented, I succeeded because I just didn’t give up. I didn’t take no for an answer, I certainly heard no a lot, but I just decided, you know what, I’m not going to let you tell me what I can and can’t do I’m just going to keep moving.
And so, that’s what I want my kids to walk away with is they can do anything, I don’t care if they want to be ballerinas or like you said, pipe fitters. If they want to be the best pipe fitter that’s ever existed then I support them, just go out there and don’t take no for an answer.
DH: Yes. That keep on pushing mentality and obviously you epitomize that, you know you are a kid from Reno and I think I remember hearing or reading that the guys in Tahoe are like,” oh, you’ll never be good enough because you’re from Reno, you don’t get to ski as much as we do”.
DW: You’re from the city, man you’re never going to make it.
DH: Yes. And you have to wonder to yourself how many successful persons have heard that in their lives at different stages and go, “ah, whatever. You know what, that that’s what you think. I’m going to make it and I’m going to show you.”
DW: Yes. Like I said, don’t let people put things on your shoulders because they’re going to try. Everybody should just envision their little table here and all the negative feedback, even some of the positive feedback and all the pressure it goes on the table. It doesn’t go on your shoulders because as soon as you let it put it on your shoulders, it’s going to crush you. So, you take the negatives and positives and I like to try to benefit from every interaction that I have with people along the way and if they have something good to add then I say, oh, thank you for that.
And if they have something negative, then I say, okay, why are they saying this negative thing, is there something I can learn from it? Okay, I learned it and then I move on and some people are just selfish. Some will just try to take away from your dream because they’re insecure about not having achieved their’s.
DH: That is very true, absolutely. So, you mentioned your sister, Christie, earlier. So, 2015 you get that phone call, right, that she was in a bad boat accident, almost died, lost her leg. What was that moment like for you, David?
DW: That will forever go down for me as definitely the most difficult conversation in my life and one of the most difficult moments of my whole life. Because Christy was one of the people I can attribute to my success because she always celebrated the fact that I wanted to do things differently. And she was the one who would jump out of the tree on to the trampoline with me and we would go on all these adventures and she always supported the fact that I like to do things differently. She said, “I think that’s great that you want to do things differently.”
So, she was massively supportive in my skiing career and in my life, and I always kind of think of her as my adventure buddy. And like you said, early on it was more she’s been hit by a boat, she’s been in a bad accident, we hope she doesn’t die. And so, when I got the news that she had just lost her leg and that she was going to survive, it was almost like a sigh of relief and it was like, “oh wow, I’m thankful that my sister is still here.” But then you go from, and I think that’s how she felt too.
That’s part of how she was able to stay positive in those early moments that she’s like, hey, I’m just thankful to be alive. But then you had to go from, wow, I’m thankful to be alive to, oh my goodness, my life has changed forever and there’s nothing I can do about it. Once that leg is gone, you can’t get it back. There are all kinds of great prosthetics out there and the standard of living for amputees is better now than it ever has been in history but she still lost her leg.
She’s still going to be able to do the things that she could do before and so it was a difficult time in the short term, but it’s also been a difficult time in the long term because she’s had to relearn how to do things and it sort of changed the trajectory of her life and as her brother, most of the things that she went through are things that I couldn’t really help with. I try to support but at the end of the day, she’s just got to get through it.
So, seeing her determination and her perseverance through that injury certainly is one of those things that I can say added to my strengths as a person. I realized my sister had what I would almost consider the worst thing that could possibly happen to me as an athlete and a guy who loves to be outside. Anything that takes away from my ability to go out there and be athletic and be outside is negative. So, losing a leg would be one of the most negative things that could ever happen to me and seeing her attitude and her positivity and her determination through that was like, wow, truly my sister has shown me you can do anything.
So, I got to be there when she skied again for the first time. The first day of her skiing was miserable, she couldn’t do it, she struggled, we didn’t have the settings right on her new prosthetic leg and it was miserable. And then the next time she had made some adjustments and she actually got some feedback from Mike Schultz who was the one who invented the ski leg in the first place and all of a sudden, she was able to ski and lay down turns. I mean, I got to see her eyes light up.
So, rather than focusing on the negatives, focusing on what she had lost, we started focusing on what she had gained, what could she still do instead of being like, “oh, you’ll never be able to do this.” It was more like, well, you can do this, you can ski, you can ride bikes, you can compete in swimming.
And so, it’s been a really unfortunate situation and I’m not going to pretend that if I could go back and wave a wand and have that moment not happen for her, I absolutely would. But I can’t so we’re just moving forward and it’s been really cool. My sister is actually deployed right now, she’s a pilot in the air force.
DH: Right, I was about to ask you about that. So, she’s so serving?
DW: She’s still serving and she’s the only female above-knee amputee pilot that’s still active duty.
DH: Well, we appreciate her service. Tell us about the One Leg Up Foundation, David?
DW: So, I have twin sisters and Christy is the one the air force pilot who lost her leg and Jessica, her twin sister is a surgeon. Basically, through her undergrad, Jess had gone down and been part of just donating her time and also learning by serving in the Dominican Republic. And when the earthquake in Haiti happened, she spent a lot of time down there just helping out in any way that she could. And a lot of the need that she saw was these people who had been in this earthquake and lost their limbs, but then didn’t have the infrastructure to get better prosthetics.
So, we have kind of this interesting dynamic where my one sister who was a surgeon sees this immense need and then on the other side, Christy loses her leg and we get to experience the need for prosthetics and how much that improved Christy’s life by having access to these things and all of a sudden it was like a light bulb went on and both my sisters decided, hey, this is something that we need to use our platform and we need to make a difference in the world. So, they started this foundation called one leg up on life, which their whole goal is based around providing better prosthetics to the third world.
So, starting with the Dominican Republic and Haiti and wherever else we can take this thing in the world that’s the goal. And I saw that I thought it was amazing. I obviously want to be a part of it, but I was also in the middle of competing and trying to qualify for the Olympic team. So, I was like, I’d love to be a part of this, but how can I, so I decided, all right, I’m going to take my platform as a skier and draw attention to this cause. So, throughout the entire Olympic season and actually this season as well I gave 10% of all my competition winnings directly to them as a kind of a way of me participating with them.
DH: Awesome. So, it’s a family fair again?
DH: That’s pretty cool. So, now you’re also an author ‘Very Bear and the Butterfly’ Tell us about that?
DW: I think part of who I am as a person is, I’m a reader. I fell in love with stories as a kid and man, I love reading. I read every single day and then when I had a daughter, we would travel a lot and we would do bedtime stories and so we would read books and she loved that. That was part of the daily ritual, she would never fall asleep unless we had read to her. But we would at some point run out of books to read or we didn’t bring enough with us or we forgot them or whatever and so I just started making up stories. I call them daddy stories; I would just make up stories out of the top of my head and tell her.
There was this one particular one about this bear and this butterfly, this bear who meets the butterfly and she liked that story more than any other. And I realized she liked that story more than any other because it was about me. I didn’t maybe intentionally do it at first, but the bear represented me and the butterfly represented my wife and its sort of a retelling of my story where in the story the bear is focused on eating a lot of food and being a bear and he’s so focused on food that he’s not noticing the beauty that is around. And that’s kind of where I was at with skiing, I was so focused on success and skiing that I wasn’t noticing how many amazing things I already had and I wasn’t content.
But once I met my wife and had my daughter, I realized, wow, I’ve been missing out on all this beautiful stuff. So, the bear and the butterfly is sort of this retelling of my story. My daughter, she both gets credit for me making up the story in the first place and she also gets credit for it being a book at all because one day we were reading bedtime stories and she said Daddy, why is your story not in a book? And I was like, hmm, why not.
I laugh about the fact that I pretty much……. because I’ve been successful in so many of the things that I’ve set out to do, I don’t really have a fear of failure anymore. So, I just said, “all right, yes, I’ll write it down, I’ll see if I can get somebody to illustrate it and I’ll see if I can get somebody to publish it.” And now I pulled it off, and so like I just keep trying things and some things work and some things don’t. Now it’s an honor to be able to have a book for other people.
DH: There you go, awesome. And you also work as a motivational keynote speaker?
DW: Like I was saying earlier, I don’t feel like I could take credit for all of the successes that I’ve had. Part of my mentality and how I’ve been able to learn to stay cool and calm under pressure is because other people just gave me some amazing insights over the years. Meeting people like you and seeing their story and learning from it has been really, really influential in my career. So, I almost feel a responsibility and I also feel a desire to go out there and share the things that I’ve learned with other people.
So, yes, I do a lot of motivational speaking at high schools and just kind of encouraging kids to follow their dreams. But I also keynote speaking at corporate engagements or conferences or wherever people want me to speak, I’ll show up and tell my story because there’s aspects of everybody’s story – Sure mine’s about halfpipe skiing, but there’s a human element to it. Your story is about bobsled, but there’s a human element to relate to it and that’s what people relate to.
DH: You’re absolutely right, man. I know you’re a strategist, so what’s next, what’s on the plate without giving away state secrets?
DW: I’m looking forward to Beijing. Going into on PyeongChang during those really dark and stormy times after Sochi, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go for two more Olympics. I was like, for sure I’m in for one more but I’m not sure if I’m in for two. I kind of rediscovered my love for skiing, I started really enjoying it again and I’m having the time of my life right now, man. I’m really excited about competing for the next couple of years.
So certainly, Beijing in 2022 is high on my priority list but I’m also kind of embracing all these other cool opportunities that I have. My wife and I were working on our second children’s book, I’m writing a sports psychology book, sort of talking about the mental strengths that I’ve learned through just being a competitor and kind of put them in word form so that other athletes can read them and see if it applies to their life or their career or their approach to the sport and to life.
So, that’s something that I’m working on. I’m embracing kind of the writing aspect of who I am and then I’m also, again, going to start competing in Archery. And my super long-term goal is to compete in the Summer Olympics as well.
DH: It’s kind of funny, this is years ago now, I was watching the Summer Olympics and for many years I wondered myself, “what could I do if I went back to the Olympics?” And I saw a guy doing archery, I’m like, “aha, well I don’t have to run anywhere.” That would be awesome man.
David, where can folks find you if they want to hire you to come and deliver a motivational keynote at their conference or buy one of your books or whatever, where can they find you?
DW: The best place to start is my website, mrdavidwise.com. That’s the easiest place to find all my stuff if you just Google search, Mr. David Wise. Instagram is Mr. David Wise; Facebook is Mr. David Wise and I also have a YouTube channel. That’s the most dynamic way to follow my journey is through what I’m putting out on my vlog, on my YouTube channel and that’s under Mr. David Wise as well. But yes, if you’re looking for a speaker or you want me to come hang out and share some of my insight then yes, you can contact me through my website and that’s where you can buy the book as well. mrdavidwise.com.
DH: So, Mr. David, you have been wise. I so appreciate you hanging out with us on keep on pushing and sharing the pearls of wisdom…… just incredibly successful, but helping us to see how you traveled that journey towards success and the lessons that we can take from it, whether you want to do a halfpipe or you want to be a pipe fitter or anywhere in between the principles are universal. And you’re right, it’s really about the human element. We all get a chance to learn from each other and take what we need from the other person so that we can be successful.
So, thank you for hanging out on keep on pushing you really embody the keep on pushing philosophy I want to encourage you to keep on pushing to Beijing and beyond.
DW: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
DH: Thank you.