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03 July 2012
Katrina Webb is a former Australian Gold Medal winning Paralympian sprinter. She is the director and founder of Silver to Gold Innovative Training Solutions, a business she began when she was 28. Silver to Gold specialises in improving the performance and health of organisations, teams and individuals.
A member of the Premier’s Council for Women in South Australia, Katrina was born with a permanent disability that affects her movement on her right side – mild Cerebral Palsy (CP). Frightened about what people would think if they knew she had a disability and scared about being different, especially when defined as disabled, Katrina kept her CP hidden for years.
“I hated that part of myself,” says the successful business leader and 35-year-old mother of two boys.
Involved in the Paralympian movement in many ways, Katrina is a Classifier – ensuring athletes meet standard criteria for disability and compete against others at levels appropriate to their disability. She is also one of two Ambassadors for the International Paralympian Committee attending the Paralympic Games in London this year.
Chris Waddell, a 12 time Winter Paralympic medalist from the US, who recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair of his own design, is her cohort.
Ruby caught up with Katrina in Adelaide before she set off for London, a trip she’s itching to take.
“I’m looking forward to being ‘Kat’ again on my own,” explains Katrina, referring to herself by her nickname and the fact she is not taking her family with her.
Having children has had a profound effect on Katrina’s equilibrium. A firm believer in the process of renewal and reinvigoration to support you in being the best you can in any situation, Katrina says the upcoming weeks in London, amongst the excitement and anticipation of elite sports people with just herself to answer to, will return immeasurable benefits to her family.
“I’ve always been an athlete. I played State netball and won a netball scholarship with the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] when I was 17. I was playing as an able bodied athlete but it wasn’t going to last. When you reach that level you can’t afford to have a weak anything. My right side was underdeveloped because of my Cerebral Palsy. The AIS made me aware of my CP and it was there that I was approached to switch and train with the aim of making a Paralympic team,” explains Katrina, who found coming out to her disability confusing, destabilizing and “very scary”.
“As an elite athlete there are things you have to do. It’s a particular sort of ‘selfish’ place. It’s also a place where, because you are fit and on top of your game, it’s easy to do and take on any number of tasks. Children, on the other hand, require selflessness. I’ve had to reset all my goals. I can’t do what I want to do as quickly or take on as much and get it all done. I’ve learned to adjust, and put what I teach in my business about prioritizing, renewing and reinvigorating, into practice in my own life so that I can be the best mother I can,” explains Katrina.
It’s just after 1pm one recent Monday, and the lull that follows putting her youngest child down for his after-lunch nap affords Katrina the moment in her day to stop and talk, uninterrupted.
The first thing she points out is how different her interview will be: “There’s my story as an elite athlete and my story as a businesswoman.”
It seems the stories for Katrina stand alone, mutually exclusive.
The stories are neither either or, and much more parable-like if you consider Katrina’s life as one of ‘belated self-acknowledgment and the use of that to be the best she can be for herself and others’.
As a young athlete one of Katrina’s mentor inspired her to think carefully about the unique opportunity her sporting ability offered her to develop her capabilities and the opportunities that can accompany that, sponsorships and endorsements for example, as you might a business.
“You can be exceptionally good at sport, winning gold as I did, and finish with all these amazing stories of success and yet have nothing at all to show for it. If you think about the hours spent training and competing and preparing for competition and what that sort of time could get you in a career or study, you’d expect a PhD… or more.
“I’ve always been mindful that doing your best in the moment, effectively using what you have now, will make all the difference to your future. So, although I didn’t get it at first, what he was asking eventually made sense.”
Strange as it seemed at the time, Katrina’s mentor had introduced her to the concept of ‘self as business’. Through looking after her sponsors and sharing her story as a keynote speaker she was developing and cultivating the unique assets of her business for growth. Those first two streams quickly led her to the third: team building and improving organizational performance.
The scientific principles behind training sports people to achieve and perform at their best are well documented and in this country, anecdotally well understood. Yet, Katrina will tell you, there are very few organisations incorporating even the simplest of these principles into their operations. It surprises her every time how corporate Australia and ourselves as employees fail to see the benefits these principles can bring to performance but happily acknowledge their existence when it comes to the performance of a favourite sporting star.
“Science shows us that we function in 90-minute cycles,” explains Katrina. “We go from high energy into a real low at the end of that cycle. People think the answer is a cup of coffee and something to eat, usually sweet. It’s not the answer, and sugar makes the low more pronounced. The clever thing is to recognise the cycle and incorporate it into the way you work, taking that low moment to have a break, rest and renew yourself.
“People don’t renew themselves enough. Instead, we go flat out all day, expecting to get more done and actually we get less done. A power nap, a walk or run, stretching, whatever, will be more beneficial for performance and productivity,” says Katrina, who believes without management buy in and transparent participation in the process, you will never successfully create a culture that views the physical and mental well-being of human capital as part of corporate responsibility.
Creating the right mindset and cultivating the skills you need to put aside self-doubt are hot topics for Katrina, who is now dabbling in the lessons she learned from her elite sporting days around attitude with corporates in mind.
“At the top level athletes invest a great deal of energy in developing mental toughness. We know that to perform and win gold there can be no doubt in our minds. Corporates ignore mindset, focusing all their time on getting tasks done, often poorly,” says Katrina, pointing out the main strategy in perfecting mindset is simply to visualise yourself moving through the whole process perfectly.
“Self-doubt is another area that needs acknowledgment and work. Talking about where we feel were not good enough and why can help normalize and rationalize fears,” believes Katrina.
Simple strategies for allaying self-doubt, include acknowledging its existence and making a conscious decision to put away the unhelpful thoughts.
“It’s also very important if your mind drifts toward things that fill you with self-doubt and worry that you learn to switch it off,” says Katrina, who goes on to say that learning to allocate time to think about the event in a structured, planned way is a great rule and will support you in the difficult process of eliminating avenues for self-doubt.
Go to Katrina’s website or meet her for the first time and she can be pretty sure she knows what you are thinking: ‘But, what’s wrong with you? You don’t look disabled.’
“I am going to write a book and its title’s going to be something like: ‘But you’re not disabled enough’. Accepting my disability and speaking about it publicly – when that story affects others and helps them in some way or another, that’s what matters,” finishes Katrina.
Life’s a bag of genes. What counts is what you do with them.
This August, WHY NOT RUN?
Join Katrina Webb on The Run4Peace campaign. She is supporting the work of the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in this year’s City2Surf in Sydney with her feet.
Tegla Loroupe is a world champion athlete. Tegla has a vision for peace. With the support of the international community Tegla’s foundation has lead an incredible peace building effort, saving and changing the lives of thousands of children in Africa.
Tegla will be running in this year’s City2Surf to raise money and awareness for her peace building efforts in Kenya. If you would like to run with Tegla and Katrina to support this great cause, here’s how: Register and run for peace in the 2012 City2Surf and select Run4Peace as your charity or just sponsor the charity.
Visit www.visionofhumanity.org/run4peace to become part of the movement.
For more on Katrina and her innovative training solutions: www.katrinawebb.com.au