The progression of colored belts in martial arts represents the skills and accomplishments a student has achieved. For Ashton Eaton, an Every Kid Sports Champion, the belts motivated him when he was a kid participating in tae kwon do. “Every time you unlocked a new color, you had new material to tackle, new skills to learn, and then finally a test to see how much you’ve learned. If you passed the test, you unlocked more. I was very drawn to this process,” says Ashton.
This internal drive of always wanting to improve led Ashton to face increasingly difficult challenges, eventually winning two gold Olympic medals and countless world championships in the decathlon and heptathlon. “I always want to do better. Not sure where it comes from, but each time I reach a goal, I just want to go to the next level.”
Ashton was raised by his mother and grandparents in La Pine, a small town in Central Oregon. With no siblings and no internet, Ashton spent a lot of time outdoors and participated in a multitude of sports. “I was an active and independent kid. My family watched a lot of movies together and I was always drawn towards the hero; I’d go outside and act out scenes climbing trees and running around. When I was finally old enough to join sports I did everything..basketball, soccer, football, track, martial arts. Back then my opinion was that the military was the best way to be a hero so I participated in ROTC and my plan was to join the Marines after high school.”
“I attribute some of my success as an athlete to being curious and having a science-mindset.”
Those plans changed when Ashton accepted a Track & Field athletic scholarship to the University of Oregon. “I was a decent high school athlete, and I was a decent collegiate athlete as a freshman, but I didn’t win anything that first year at Oregon.” But he kept training and kept improving. As a sophomore, Ashton won the NCAA Championships, and as a junior, he was ranked top 20 in the world. After his senior year, Ashton decided to become a professional athlete competing on the world stage.“I attribute some of my success as an athlete to being curious and having a science-mindset. I look at every result as a data point. Positive and negative outcomes are both helpful. So instead of seeing negative outcomes as failures, they are just a piece of data that lead me to ask ‘okay, I tried this and it didn’t work out. What can I try next time?’ I think it’s also important to be open to critical feedback, and in fact, seek it out.”
When Ashton broke his first world record, he felt satisfied that he had accomplished his goal. When he broke his own world record, his hope was that he was inspiring someone else to achieve their dream. “At that point in my career, I wasn’t sure this was still what I wanted to do, so I thought about quitting. But I thought ‘maybe this is another challenge’ and decided to continue thinking that there was growth in moving through that feeling and accomplishing my goal. The most important thing sport taught me is that struggle is growth, and growth is struggle. Things are meant to be hard and a lot of people don’t understand that. For example, the reason you brush your teeth is to agitate your gums which leads them to strengthen. You lift weights and tear fibers to generate more muscle and get stronger. Solving difficult problems helps your brain grow. It’s all the same principle.”
Ashton would also advise young athletes to ensure they work on not just their physical ability but also their character. “It’s very hard to achieve things on your own. You need a good support system in order to achieve high goals and if you have a good character, people inherently want to help you. If you’re a jerk, you aren’t going to be shown as many opportunities.”
As an Every Kid Sports Champion, Ashton plans to apply all he has learned through sport to his desire to make an impact. “My goal is to contribute to the world in areas that I think matter. All the same principles I applied that led to my success in sports—to run faster, jump higher, be stronger—apply to impact. How can I advance a cause, overcome challenges and work well with people to achieve a greater goal?”
“Sport teaches you so much about yourself and about life. I truly believe in ‘Sound Body. Sound Mind and the fact that Every Kid Sports is located in Central Oregon where I grew up drew me to the organization. As a kid, I benefited from similar programs that covered my ‘pay to play’ fees and understand how important removing that barrier is for some kids.”
We are inspired by your drive to make an impact, Ashton! Thank you for sharing your story with us!
– Every Kid Sports