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“It’s not generally the strongest or the most intelligent, but those most able to change and adapt to the new environment, that survive and thrive.”
“I use this quote all the time,” explained Derek Redmond to his Zoom audience, all of whom had tuned in to hear how to create a winning mindset. It’s a version of a saying often attributed to 19th century naturalist Charles Darwin, an unlikely icon for the fabled British 400m runner. On reflection, it could easily have been written in 2020 by Redmond himself.
The 54-year-old Redmond is certainly an example of a man who has adapted. In an hour-and-a-half, Redmond whisks viewers through a life that has so far included world medals, international caps in numerous sports, financial success and dramatic failure before reinvention as a business guru.
“You need to do things that are not your norm. I don’t like the saying ‘you need to work outside your comfort zone’, because it implies you will do that work outside your comfort zone and, when you have done that job, you will go back into your comfort zone,” Redmond emphasised. “But I look at it in a different way. You are not working outside your comfort zone; you are increasing the size of your comfort zone.”
The key is that the former European and world champion wants everyone to succeed. And, after years of travelling the world as a business coach and motivational speaker, he is good at helping them do just that.
“I always say in our everyday lives we come across ‘T-junctions’… Imagine you are driving a car, you have a load of traffic backed up behind you and you come up to a T-junction, and you can either turn left or right. You can’t go straight because you go off the edge of a cliff; you can’t go back because there’s loads of traffic backed up,” Redmond explained.
We all get to points in our life where we have to make a decision. And whatever that decision is, make it with confidence and go for it. Derek Redmond - Derek Redmond
Understandably, much of Redmond’s audience is made up of mad keen sports fans, and the fact that he can add further depth to his talk with live examples of how he approached his own elite sporting career helps things hit home.
For Redmond, his first “T-junction” came when he almost made the British squad for the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984, despite the fact that he was an unknown junior still spending all his spare time playing rugby, basketball and football. He would come back to those sports, but Redmond chose to focus on athletics.
It paid off almost immediately. By the end of 1985, he had gone from being ranked sixth in Britain to fifth in the world. But then came the first of many setbacks, all of which seem to have been turned into positive life lessons.
“I kept going through the dark times because I had the belief that, if I could stay healthy, I could be the best in the world,” said Redmond, who had “six or seven surgeries” during the 1985 and ’86 seasons.
“Whatever your dream is in life – it could be something quite small, it could be something absolutely huge – you have to have 100 per cent belief and confidence you can achieve that goal. If you don’t have that belief, that passion that you can achieve this, I would suggest you are chasing the wrong dream.”
For Redmond, the 1991 World Championships were a seminal event. Although he failed to shine in the individual event, he and team-mates Roger Black, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi overcame all the odds to defeat the USA in the 4x400m relay. On paper, the USA quartet were more than three seconds quicker than the British but, thanks to innovative thinking and unshakeable belief, Redmond and friends prevailed.
“Our coach thought it was a crazy idea to put Roger on the first leg and Kriss on the last, and I wish I had said to him, ‘The crazy ideas of today become the norm of tomorrow’,” Redmond said, as he explained how they turned convention on its head.
Until that race, 400m relays had always been run with the fastest on the anchor leg and the second fastest leading out, but Akabusi, who had just won an unexpected bronze in the 400m hurdles, told his team-mates to give him the baton within “10m” of the USA’s new world champion Antonio Pettigrew and he would “bring home gold”.
Of course, Redmond’s audience want to hear about Barcelona 1992, and the excitement on the Zoom call ratchets up a notch when Redmond gets on to that moment, the image of which has been viewed online more than 300 million times.
In fact, he lets the video footage do the talking for him, as we watch the moment he pings his hamstring in the 400m men’s semi-finals before somehow defying the pain to hobble defiantly over the line, leaning on his dad’s shoulders as the tears flow, amid deafening cheers.
“I tell you why I got up and finished: because four years prior, I snapped my Achilles tendon without even getting out of the warm-up arena, and I didn’t want to be beaten by the Olympic Games,” Redmond tells his viewers. “I felt the Games in ’88 got the better of me, but if I got up and finished, I could live the rest of my life with the fact that I got to the semi-finals and got knocked out. What I could not live with was not finishing.”
Redmond admits that, despite it contributing hugely to his current career, he has “never got over it” and remains deeply “frustrated” by how things turned out. But this indefatigable man turned the “worst day of his life” into an opportunity.
After seven surgeries and seven attempts to get back on the track, Redmond accepted his doctor’s advice and retired from athletics. What he did not accept was that he would not represent his country again. Less than three years later, he sent his doctor a signed photo of himself playing basketball for England.
Semi-pro rugby followed, as did a national title in motorbike endurance and kickboxing. Away from the sporting arena, he has recovered from bankruptcy to advise corporations around the world.
It is no wonder a happy participant hailed the “amazing” Online Experience as one that has “inspired me to push myself during these difficult days”.