Duration : 59:19
Casey Cornelius: Hey everyone, thank you for joining this episode of the For College For Life podcast. My name is Casey Cornelius. I’m proud to be the founder and president of America’s leading college speaking agency. One of the things that we keep saying to ourselves is we have these great conversations that happen internally with members of our team. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just sort of hit record and let people in on some of these chats that happen.
Today, I have the opportunity to talk to one of the most interesting and compelling people that I know, someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, and that we have just had conversations that have gone on for hours and hours at times. I’m really, really honored to not only have him as part of our team, but also for him to be on this podcast and sharing a little bit of his background and his journey and some fun and interesting facts about himself. I’m going to bring him to the mic here, Evan Austin come on in. It’s good to have you.
Evan Austin: Yeah. Casey, thank you so much for having me.
Casey Cornelius: Great, man. Thank you. I should probably do just a little bit of the formal introduction to let people know if they’re not already familiar with you. A little bit about Evan. Evan is a three-time Paralympic swimmer. He’s a gold and bronze medalist. He’s been team USA captain. He attended Indiana State University for his bachelor’s degree in recreation, sports management. He is a proud brother of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, and now is a professional speaker. Evan, did I do a good enough job, giving the 30 second intro as to your professional bio there?
Evan Austin: It sounded great to me. Should we let our listeners know that I made most of that up? Sorry, what was that?
Casey Cornelius: At least half of it is true, right?
Evan Austin: Yes, it is. It was perfect. Graduated of Indiana state, brother of Pi Kappa Phi. Very honored. I’ve been a team USA captain and got the opportunity to represent my country and swim for this nation at three separate Paralympic games and was fortunate enough in the last one to bring home some hardware. So yes, a perfect 30 second introduction of me.
Casey Cornelius: There is quite a legacy of members of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity being successful in the speaking space. So, obvious.
Evan Austin: Are you talking about anyone in particular there, Casey?
Casey Cornelius: No one in particular. Let’s talk about some more fun stuff though, Evan. I think most people probably came to know you and your story at the podium, on TV at NBC, but maybe more interestingly would be your path to the podium. I know you went to Indiana state. I know you’re a proud Indiana guy. Tell us your story.
Evan Austin: That’s a good little phrase, “path to the podium” because I feel there is only extremes when sports broadcasters or news clips are talking about. It’s either they highlight an athlete and say, “he’s been dominant, she’s been the name in this sport for a decade.” Lot of times the struggle to get to that status is overlooked because of the product that they put out. I think a perfect example of this was King Richard that came out this year, and you got to really understand what the William sisters went through even though they ended up, redefining and reinventing tennis not just on the women’s side, but in general.
Post Rio, we got to know Michael Phelps a little bit better he had been so dominant in winning so many medals and just was for four or five Olympics kind of untouchable. People believed he was amphibious at some point. But you got to understand that, he had to go through a lot of things on the mental health side and that he had really had a disconnect with some relationships in his personal life.
I was not an exception to any of that. I think, sometimes it’s the opposite, which is, this person’s life has only been hard and they just keep struggling and keep struggling. That’s true sometimes, but then you don’t even really bring to light the idea that there’s been some good stuff too. So, I think my path to the podium was heavily sprinkled with elements of both polarities. The successes and the failures. Also, the growth that comes along with.
I wasn’t a man as far as like an adult when all this was happening. I’m still just a kid trying to figure things out when I’m first learning about what it feels like to not accomplish a goal and then, what it feels like to understand that we still got time. Just because you didn’t accomplish it this time, doesn’t mean you can’t begin the process of remedying this. I went to trials as a 15-year-old, with my family. Put it plainly, I was ignorant.
Truly by the definition, just clueless as to, did I have a shot at being on this team? Was I going to be competitive? Was I going to get blown out of the water? Should I have even come at all and been a part of this meet? We just went in with a mentality that we had nothing to lose. My family and I. I didn’t have a pretty good meet at trials in 2008.
And then, we found out how good a meet I had. It comes to the day of the selection ceremony and I was 15 years old. I found out I was the first alternate. I was number 21 of 20 athletes selected to go to Beijing in 2008 and represent team USA. That was the first time that we had any idea that I was going to be competitive all at all.
Casey Cornelius: Let’s put that in perspective for just a second Evan. Team USA only selected 20 swimmers that year. You were number 21 as a 15-year-old.
Evan Austin: Yes. The thing is, we didn’t know that. We didn’t even know that was even in the process. At least I didn’t, and maybe I was rightfully left in the dark on these kinds of things. That was the first moment where I got a notion that, oh, wow, I was really close. Wow. Being close, but not there, sucks. It went from being very satisfactory and the idea that I was in conversation to be taken as a kid, as a teenager, to a lot of dissatisfaction, which is, “well, why didn’t they take me?” Because, I’m a 15-year-old kid, I really don’t have a scope of the macro vision and what all the details go into making that selection and that decision.
Casey Cornelius: A potentially silly question. I apologize. Do you ever think to yourself, what would’ve happened if you had been number 20 and gotten that experience as a 15-year-old? Do you think the itch would’ve been scratched and you could have moved on? I don’t know how many people tried out, I apologize, but, if you’d been number 41, would you have been, oh, this is too far away? Was it that, it was so close to being a reality that really propelled you forward?
Evan Austin: Maybe. This life that I’ve chosen to live, which is in elite competition and athletics, I think it’s in every athlete, whether I was 21, 41 or number one, I think there’s just this always, ‘I can be better’. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t think there was a mark as far as, had I been last on the list, like they, who’s someone we can eliminate immediately? Well, we’re definitely not taking Evan Austin. If I had heard that, me in my brain, even now I hear, well then, give me four years and I’ll turn some heads when I get back here in 2012.
Again, the opposite of that spectrum is, well, we know Evan’s going. We have to take Evan. That’s the first name on our list. As a competitor, I hear, well, it’s my job to sustain that. In four years, I still want to be the first guy listed going. There is an element of, “man, I was 21 and I was super close” Now, my objective is to remedy that feeling and change it and be on the team. But if I had been selected in 2008, one thing I think would’ve happened like a facetious byproduct. I probably would’ve been intolerable as a high schooler. Because I would’ve been, “you can’t talk to me. I literally swim for team USA, man.”
Casey Cornelius: [Unclear 09:37]
Evan Austin: I matter, okay? I got bigger problems. No. I think it was in the grand scheme, probably a good thing just because of a very direct conversation I had with my coach when I came back. He asked me a very simple question. Simple, but so large in my development as an athlete and as a man, he just goes, “Do you ever want to feel like this again?” Because, I was disgusted and nauseous. Depressed isn’t right word, but I was just sad, because I learned that I could have had something and then that it also was taken away from me immediately.
I was just so close to realizing the dream and at the same moment was when I realized, I didn’t realize the dream. So, it really ignited a fire. Had I been 20th, I would’ve gone to the meet and not [unclear 10:40] because, I was just a 15-year-old kid. It would’ve been cool to get some exposure and get some races under me at a real international level. But I don’t think it would’ve [unclear 10:51] me from continuing to try in 2012. I don’t know if my drive to make the team in 2012 would’ve been the same because, I would’ve already had that notch in my belt.
Casey Cornelius: When did you know that, not only were you going to make it, but that you were going to be elite? Was it that first in 2008, was it 12, 16, 20? When was the moment that you’re like, “you know what, this is just a matter of time.”
Evan Austin: I really don’t want this to come off as false humility. I don’t know if I ever had that. Because I’ve always had to work for things outside of the sport of swimming, because of my diagnosis and for new listeners that don’t really know my background. One of the things that I guess Casey didn’t mention in my introduction because it’s not the only thing that defines me and so it not necessary half the time, but I do have a physical disability. I was born with a genetic disorder that I inherited from my mother called familial spastic paraparesis.
My childhood was riddled with adversities and challenges that are unique to a population of people that have physical impairments. So, the challenges that I’ve had to go through just in living and being in and out of hospitals and having surgeries and having medical specialists and all these eyes on you and all these tests being done, I learned from really a young age that the process and “working”, because I think work just takes on so many different shapes and forms, was something that was just going to be necessary in my life.
I was probably never going to get to a point where it’s like, “all right, now I’m done working.” So, I don’t know if I ever had the conscious moment where I’m like, “I’m elite now”, or “I’m just getting started, but I’m already at this level.” Maybe the closest thing to that would be, “I was really proud of the work that I’d done when I won my first world championship in 2019.” The definition of elite is just so broad. I thought I was an elite swimmer as a kid who made the sectional team, being the only physically disabled kid in my high school. I think that’s elite because that’s unique and that required work.
I have to outwork everyone to go the same speed as them. So, I have to really outwork them to go faster than able bodied athletes. For me to be selected ahead of people that don’t have the physical disadvantages that I was born with. That was elite mindset to me. But I knew I wasn’t going to go to the state championship meet and score points. That just wasn’t going to happen, but in my head, I had reached a level of pride and a new level of competition. So, I don’t know if there was ever a conscious moment where I was like, “man, this is my business.”
Because even when I won my world championship in 2019 that evening after I had hugged my family and exchanged tears and we were just so happy, before I even got to bed. I was like, “well now, I got a target on my back going into Tokyo and I’d like to be the guy that they’re all chasing. So, it wasn’t that I was elite. It was that, “yeah, we’re officially drinking from the pond where only lions drink from.” You know what I mean? I think it was not a mindset that I was better or elite. It’s just that, I enjoy the hunt and the idea that, to get to a certain level requires a tremendous amount of work and to sustain that level takes even more work. So, I don’t really know if that ever happened.
Casey Cornelius: Evan, this is an obvious question for many listeners, but I want to make sure that we explain this as well. Can you talk a little bit about the Paralympic mission as compared to the Olympics? Just so that people can have a clear understanding when we use that word?
Evan Austin: It’s really important discussion because even now, the last two Paralympic games, the one in Tokyo, and then just very recently in Beijing for the winter Paralympics those two games saw unprecedented coverage on NBC. So, we are getting more exposure and more unique viewers than ever before. I still get called an Olympian. Well, that’s not what I am technically. I think, I’m at the same echelon as an Olympian, but I’ve never made it to the Olympics. I’ve never swam for team USA in the Olympics.
I’m a proud Paralympian. The movement is just this ideology that, when people came back from, I believe it was World War II and I hope I’m right on that in Britain, wounded soldiers already had so much taken away from them. Because of the loss of life that happened friends and brothers in arms and all these different things. Some of them lost the ability to walk and lost arms and legs. You wake up one morning and you could go to bed that evening and have to be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. It really scares a lot of people. So, this doctor, this physician in England saw the potential for what a goal, as far as athletics could do for someone that was rehabbing from a lifelong injury and so they started to just enjoy life.
One of the most important things in life is to even when you accomplish a goal, now you have to begin a new one. That’s just part of everyone’s life is that if you only set out to do exactly one thing in your life, what happens when you accomplish it and you’re not even 30 yet? Which is what I experienced post Tokyo. But it’s a different entity than special Olympics. That’s so super important, too. Not to say that special Olympics doesn’t do a lot of great work. But it’s just really disheartening to hear that I identify myself, I’d be like, “yeah, I’m a 2012, 2016, 2020 Paralympic swimmer for team USA, won a pair of Paralympic gold medal, won a Paralympic bronze medal. I was team USA Paralympic captain for the swim team.
And then, 30 seconds later, I get introduced as, this is the Olympian I was telling you about Evan Austin. It’s like, I just said the Paralympic word, like six times, and the verbiage, it doesn’t seem significant unless you’re a Paralympian. My journey is very, very different than an Olympian. I’m not saying that they didn’t have their strife and struggle, but it’s unique.
A lot of them, maybe don’t. No one is adversity free, but it sounds a lot different when I say I’m a gold medalist being born with physical disability that I had to have intense surgery when I was six and basically had to learn how to walk again. Essentially paralyzed for multiple months in my life. In and out hospitals versus like some stud who was national champion or national age group record holder at age 11, ended up being 6’6″, carved from Greek God sculpture and my dad is Poseidon. Good accomplishment, but it seems like you should have been able to do that.
Casey Cornelius: The journey is a little different.
Evan Austin: Yes. I think that there’s just more density to a Paralympian’s journey that just gets overshadowed when some Paralympian gets called an Olympian. I think it’s just a very different ride. So, it’s an important movement that just gives hope to visually impaired athletes, physically impaired athletes and even in certain sports intellectually impaired athletes that, they can do something that’s significant and that requires dedication and slow methodical progress towards a worthy goal. I just think it needs to be discussed that I’m not an Olympian, I’m a Paralympian and I’m very proud to say so.
Casey Cornelius: Speaking of that pride, I know that just recently you have had some letters added to the end of your name. Do you want to talk about that just a little bit?
Evan Austin: Yeah. It was just a really cool initiative that the International Paralympic Committee, the IPC started not even a month ago now. It’s a post nominal title just Evan Ryan Austin, PLY. It just signifies that it is known and noted the amount of work that goes into becoming a Paralympian. It is not a small accomplishment. It is sometimes life changing that even if I had only gotten to be a part of the team ever, just once even, if I had just gone in 2012 and stopped swimming after that forever, I’d be known as Evan Ryan Austin, Paralympian for team USA. Just hearing my name called for that team is maybe the most significant moment, even more so than winning any medals or anything.
It’s just that I had failed in 2008 and in 2012. I really believed that I had done everything in my power to make the team. Being able to represent your country one, that’s a beautiful thing, and two, represent your country at this grand event where countries and athletes and humans come together in a time of peace and where the differences of the world and the cultures and the idiosyncrasies that go along with being raised [unclear 21:29] all these different parts of the world. It’s just there’s beauty and motion in that. I was just so, so thankful and grateful that, I get to add that feeling that I have of being a Paralympian.
Now, I get to start conversations when people ask, what is PLY? Is that like an MBA? I’m like, no, it’s very different. But it belongs as a part of my identity and something that I’ve accomplished, just like you’ve earned a PhD or an MBA or whatever. I think that, those go into your titles, [unclear 22:07] to help identify what kind of person you are. A small glimpse at the journey you’ve been on as a person. So, I’m very cool that I get to do that, mostly because I never thought I’d get to add letters in any capacity to my name. I didn’t think I’d get to that point in life, but here we are.
Casey Cornelius: Well, never say never ever. You never know someone listening to this might offer you an honorary doctorate or something. I would call you Dr. Austin.
Evan Austin: I appreciate that. Harvard, if you’re listening you can get my contact information through Casey.
Casey Cornelius: That’s right. There you go. Listen, we’re not going to talk about swimming. I don’t want to disappoint anybody at this point and we’ll see how many people stop listening at this point. But I have a pre-Tokyo question, the post Tokyo question for you.
Evan Austin: I’m all ears.
Casey Cornelius: 2020 was disruptive for most people.
Evan Austin: Yeah. Everyone.
Casey Cornelius: But my guess is that it felt particularly disruptive for you because Tokyo was supposed to host the Paralympic games in 2020. But it didn’t happen until 2021. What was that like for someone who’s trying to peak at this very particular moment for these seconds in the pool? What was it like, just the weight of that?
Evan Austin: It was a lot to digest. Again, I became a world champion for the first time in my career in 2019. So, Tokyo 2020 was supposed to be my welcome to the show party and it was the most confident I’d been feeling about being on this team and my chances of bringing home hardware and just being able to share a tangible object with my family and my friends and my fraternity brothers. You mentioned that in my introduction, but my coaches and teammates, and literally anyone in this community or this village that has supported me or been along for the ride. I was as confident as that I ever been in that timeframe that, “Hey, this is going to be one, one heck of a ride for me.”
So, March of 2020, fit, hit the shan and we just had to be patient. Swimming is fickle, because if you were a basketball player, and I’m not saying that other athletes and other sports didn’t have their own set of adversities and obstacles when that COVID broke out, but if you’re a basketball player, you can go shoot outside in your driveway. You can still play around and still work on things, even when you’re not in the actual basketball gym. If you’re a runner, you can go run nuts, man.
Casey Cornelius: Some of us did.
Evan Austin: Exactly. I don’t know if there’d been a greater time for walking in the United States of America than ever. Parks were seemed to be full than ever, but swimming is a sport that if you are not in the water day in, day out, just staring at a black line, putting in miles, you’re getting worse and you’re falling off of your training and your speed. There’s this common phrase in swimming which is, “for every day that you’re out of the water. It takes two to get back to where you were before you missed a day.” Pools especially in my area just closed.
I thought, we were told two weeks at the beginning of it, so, I’ll do some core stuff and get a mat and do some stretch bands and Pilates type thing, calisthenics, just keep everything tight and flexible and stretched out and loosey goosey in the shoulders, but tight in the core, it’s just all this stuff that swimmers do to supplement their training. And then, it was another two weeks. And then it was, well, we’re just not going to open the pool until this date. All of a sudden, I’m missing multiple months of being face down in the water.
Casey Cornelius: Are you changing your diet and everything too? Or are you bemoaning this preparation time? I’m taking you back to March, April, May, 2020 and that feeling. Are you like just everything upside down?
Evan Austin: Maybe a little. More than anything, I think just portion size changed because swimmers, that’s mildly common knowledge now we have one blessing of, we can basically eat whatever we want because we’re burning 8,000 calories a day by swimming four hours. I think I just got less hungry certainly but I started to slip a little bit metaphorically.
I was like, well, how many days in a row do I want to do Pilates and range of motion and flexibility and core stuff and pushups? I didn’t even have a pull up bar. I was just really getting over it, because that’s not my element. The water is my element. I can do things, like I said, in a supplemental variety on land, but where I want to be is in the pool and that’s the environment, I feel I have the most control over. So, when I wasn’t there at all, I just had no control, period. There was a time of that first couple of months where are they going to postpone? No, they might just cancel. No, I can’t see them doing either of those things because there’s just so much money involved. Yeah, You’re probably right. They’ll probably just make it work.
Casey Cornelius: Canceling had to be the worst-case scenario in your mind though. Right?
Evan Austin: Absolutely. In fact, I just pushed it out of my mind. I was like, in no way shape or form are they not going to have it, because it’s just so big. I don’t know how you don’t have it. That would be unprecedented. But, so was the pandemic. But I just couldn’t think like that because I would’ve spun out completely. Sometimes in that first couple months is when a news article broke that one of the members of the board of the IOC said, they’ll probably be a one-year postponement. He just said it off the cuff after a meeting that they had had and bad gas travels fast in a small town and a small town is the world of swimming.
In that community, especially when I’d been involved in team USA for two games at that point, I was very quick to get an email or text from teammates and have a lot of discussions about, “did you see what this person said? Yeah. Well, do you believe it? Yeah. I don’t know.” It pushed me to my edge as far as repeating the mantra, “control what you can control. Control what you can control. Control what you control” Sometimes you start to believe what you say more and sometimes every time you say you start to believe it less. I just started tipping towards that end of the spectrum, which is like, “no, I can’t even control what I can control right now. Because all I’m thinking about is what I can’t control.”
Casey Cornelius: You think that, that informs in some way to Evan, your signature program is ‘The Wait of Gold’. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s “wait” not weight like weight. Is that part of the wait that you talk about too? Not only the normal, just you get to compete every four years on this level, but there’s also this additional layer of [unclear 30:24] in as well.
Evan Austin: Certainly. It’s just another example of the fact that one, I never wanted to give up on my worthy pursuit and this was something that I had really dreamed of and it wasn’t a goal mentally. At this point it was like part of my soul, this is something that I’m just not going to quit until maybe I get it. That was my belief. I know I can win a gold. I can win a medal. It wasn’t even that big a deal to me to win gold specifically. I just wanted to bring something home because I knew that I think I believed that I could.
At that time where COVID broke out and I was pushed away from the pools, and I just didn’t know what was going to happen as far as the games being postponed or canceled or still going on in 2020. It was just all a cluster. The lessons you learn from a journey like mine and also my childhood with being born with a disability and living that life growing up, I relied on what I could rely on.
More than I control what I can control, I relied on what I knew I could rely on. I trusted what I knew I could trust, which was my family support, my coaches support, my teammates support and the fact that good, bad or ugly games go on, games get postponed, games get canceled, the people that I loved and cared about, always were going to love me and care about me. I just wanted to lean on that as much as I could, and they were officially postponed. So now we have, we know what we have, which is one year that we have to continue training and try and repeat and get to the same level of fitness that I was at when COVID broke.
Pre Tokyo, that summer 2020, I actually stepped away from the sport. One, I still didn’t really have access to a pool anyway, but I needed to emotionally and mentally decompress for my health. I had a friend that just kind of tossed it out via text one day and was like, “Hey man I got really nothing going on this summer.” His family was wealthy and had a lake house and a lake cottage and he was like, “I’ll probably be living out there for this summer. I think they’re going to let me just earn my keep by mowing the grass and watering the flowers out there. You want to come up and chill with me at the Lakehouse for a couple months or a month or so?” I was like, “yes, please. That sounds amazing.”
Casey Cornelius: There are worse places to quarantine, right?
Evan Austin: I’m already in the car. I went up to the finger lakes in upstate or central New York and a friend of mine, a close friend, just allowed me to hang out and I’d earned my keep too. I’d mow the grass at his family’s place and we helped trim the hedges around the dock and whatever. It was something that I didn’t have to worry about swimming. When I wanted to, he had a little paddle boat and he’d hop on that and I would do some open water training just in the lake, close to the dock and just get in and reconnect to the water. That sounds philosophical or deep, but really swimming is about leveraging water and connection, and you just don’t want that to feel rusty.
I was allowed to play. I knew that I would have an opportunity to start training again and get into some good shape. That summer was critical to me as far as what I was able to accomplish in Tokyo. Finishing your question, post Tokyo I did what I wanted to do. I got to bring home a gold and a bronze medal, and I got to share that with my family and my friends and my coaches and my teammates and my village. Now, I get to speak with FCFL about this whole story but the journey post Tokyo is potentially even more challenging than what it was pre-Tokyo.
Casey Cornelius: I was going to ask that. First of all, we see you on the podium. We see you having your gold medal moment. And then, you come home and what you hear and what you read is that there’s sort of this like reclamation process.
Evan Austin: Right.
Casey Cornelius: Have you experienced this as well?
Evan Austin: Oh, yes. This was by far the most brutal. 2012, like I said, you’d ask what would you have been like if you had gone in 2008? I said, I’d probably be intolerable. In 2012, I came home I’d already completed one year of undergraduate school at Indiana state. That fall, I had taken off in 2012 because I knew one, I would arrive back like a month into the semester. So, I didn’t want to be a month behind on schoolwork and, or expected to do schoolwork while I’m at the most important meet of my life and on this emotional high. So, I took that fall off and was still around though.
My hometown is Terre Haute, Indiana, and Indiana state is in Terre Haute, Indiana. So, all of my close friends and my fraternity brothers, I just didn’t have anything to do. I was just like, listen, I’m a big man on campus now. I’m back. I got time to kill. Let’s have fun. Let’s do whatever I want to do. I was just in this waiting game for spring semester to start. I thought that life’s going to be grand now. Everyone’s going to come back. I’m going to be an A lister. People are going to seek me out because they want to know Mr. USA.
What happened instead was, there was a little bit of that, but it was kind of fake feeling if I’m being honest. People that I’d never spoken to were like, “oh, dude, that was so sick man. Awesome. Congratulations.” Talking to me, like they had known me beforehand, I was just like, listen, I appreciate all the kind words, but you weren’t on my team actually, before I went. So, it just felt kind of icky. It started to rub off on me. People are just hanging out with me because they think I have a certain status or something like that. It just wasn’t enjoyable.
The main thing was, “What am I actually supposed to do now?” I just got back. The next opportunity, I’m going to have to represent my country is in four years. I’m 20 and four years still seems like a really long time to me. I wanted to kind of, well, can’t the Olympics be or Paralympics be every year? I felt just empty. More than anything, just like, man, I was all way up on this emotional and mental rush and high for, what felt like from the day that my name was called until I got back and then it was like, all right, well, not only are you back to ground level, you’re actually falling into the earth. What do people do [unclear 38:09] live just normal lives? How do you all spend your days?
Casey Cornelius: You felt that way since Tokyo as well?
Evan Austin: To the nth degree.
It was not something I was expecting because, coming home from Rio, again, 2012, I didn’t bring out medal home. 2016. I tried again, made the team, didn’t bring a medal home. I was like, well, I’ve been here before actually, and I know what I’m going to do now. I got some school I need to finish. I moved to Colorado Springs to train for Rio. I moved back out and started training again, thinking I’ll do some school online. I’ll stay in really, really good shape. I won’t take as long as a break. Maybe I’ll go to world champs in 2017 and start taking care of everything and just get this train rolling again. So, Rio felt like it went a little bit smoother, at least post Rio.
And then, I go to Tokyo and I had to wait another year. So, it’s five years instead of four. And then, I did what I wanted to do, not just for Tokyo, but for my whole career. I’m bringing not one but two home and one of them is gold. On the day I was asked to be the best in the world. I was the best in the world. It’s an unbelievable feeling. Then you come back and you go, man, that is a significant legacy for me. Like Evan Austin, gold medalist. Wow.
But if I’m still talking about winning a gold medal and I’m 45, that sounds terrible to me, Casey, because frankly, I like talking about my path to a gold medal because of the story that it illustrates, which is life is tough and you got to know that you got the goods to keep going and that you will fail and fail often. But failure is defined by the individual.
Looking back, if I’d gone to Tokyo and not won a medal, there is honor and there is real worth in the idea that I tried on technically four separate occasions to go to games and bring something home for me, my country, my family, my community, my team, and all these things. If I had never gotten it and the pursuit of that is something to really be proud of that. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way, even when you really, really want it to, it doesn’t go your way and that’s okay because you fought for it. When you truly give everything to you, the pursuit of a goal, you do succeed. That is success because you’ve grown, you’ve evolved, you’ve challenged yourself and you’ve become something that you never knew you could become.
Casey Cornelius: Listen, people who are listening to this right now, Evan, I just want to be honest. I always get the feedback when Evan speaks and everything like that, and people will sometimes they’ll even text me in the room, which is fantastic to me. They’re like, I’ve got the chills. I’m crying. The interesting thing that you do, Evan and I want people to learn more about your program The Wait of Gold, the interesting thing that you do is, you head fake people into thinking it’s a story about you, but in reality, you’re teaching them to understand the story about themselves and their own journey and whatever gold might look like to them. Is that your goal in speaking now? Is that what you want to accomplish?
Evan Austin: Absolutely. when you entrusted me with the opportunity to become a speaker for FCFL, I don’t take that trust lightly. I just want to say thank you publicly to any listener, Casey, he really helped me out. So, I appreciate you as a friend and a mentor and as a brother. I think I do have a vision for what is the purpose of me agreeing to be a part of this. I know that you saw something in me and we’ve had discussions on what that looks like. You’re an entrepreneur and a business owner and the president here. I also had to reflect and make this decision because I have a vision for what I want to accomplish with the opportunity to speak and share my story.
I think more people need to hear stories like mine. I hope that didn’t come off as tooting my own horn, but if I had been told stories, like the one I try and share with people as a kid who was, I’m going to do my best and not get emotional, because I still. Well, it’s real because it’s my life. I know that, I’m not alone in this. Life makes me emotional is that there are people that never heard that there is someone that believes in them and that they’ve never been told that they have the goods and sometimes you just need to hear it. There’s only so many things that you can say in the mirror before you actually believe it. Sometimes there’s a purpose of someone’s life is to literally just come in and have one conversation where they just tell you that you believe in them.
I spent so much of my time as a kid going through my diagnosis and growing up with a physical disability and growing up extremely fast metaphorically, knowing that I was different and that my life would be more challenging in this avenue because of my diagnosis. Thank God truly for my family, that one, I have a mother that shares my diagnosis.
So, I was truly never alone even in having a disability and living life like that. Two, I just gathered so much strength and courage and wisdom from watching everything that my mom had to go through. Because she was just a warrior, she just never presented that she was afraid because she knew she couldn’t because I was always watching. So, it was always just really, really empowering that my mom could always look at me and be like, “listen, I’m okay. You’re going to be great. I’m okay. You’re going to be great, because you’re my boy and you’re more used to this. You’re going to have this your whole life and so you’ll be able to tackle it even better than I do. I got to hear that she believed in me.
My dad, my father, who lives his entire life by this mode of service and just doing everything he can to help others. That’s just who he is as a person. That’s when he’s happiest is when he can help make other people happier or do things for other people. That’s just who he is in his soul. So, I got to have this beautiful world. An example of my mother, just constantly, not only being an example, but actually just saying, and communicating with me, “Evan, you’re going to be great and my father would do the same, Evan, I know you’re scared.” This is through my childhood, even into adulthood, even in post London, post Rio, post Tokyo, my dad was always quick to say, “Evan, I know that you have doubts, but it’s always been my belief that you’re going to be okay.”
It’s so incredible just hearing someone that you trust completely say that. A vision that I had for being a speaker is one, sharing my story, which opens up this vulnerability so that people can trust me when I say to a crowd of students or a group of men in fraternity or people at a leadership conference, “do you understand where I’m coming from now? We built this level of trust in this speech. Do you know enough about me to trust me when I say to you, I believe in you, and I know that you can tackle whatever you think is hindering you or stopping you or is this wall or this hurdle. I know that you can conquer it. Because if I can do it, I know you can.”
This vision that I have is that, I don’t get to talk about me winning a gold medal. I get to talk about the process of me not understanding that I was capable and that the reason I have resilience is because I believe in the people that believe in me. I believe in everyone that I’m going to talk to and share my story with because sometimes literally just knowing one person says to you, “You’re going to be okay. I’m not worried about you because you have it. You don’t know it yet. You can’t see it yet, but you actually really do have it. If you just keep going right now, if you just push through, which I know you will, because you have it, you’re going to be great.” So, my vision is that more people are going to understand about themselves.
I’m not teaching them about how to attain resilience. I’m teaching them that they are resilient. [unclear 48:33] to be recognized, and they have to give themselves credit because I spent so much time in my life. One, not giving myself credit. Two, sometimes I really wasn’t even a fan of myself. There were multiple times in my life where I didn’t think I was actually rooting for myself and people need to change that. It’s not cocky to say, “yeah, I’m a gold medalist.” I think that’s pretty rad if I’m being honest. It’s also not cocky to say I’m a first-generation college student. My family, neither of my parents went to college, but they worked so that I would have this opportunity. That’s a gold medal.
Casey Cornelius: 100%. Yes.
Evan Austin: It’s not until I got to college that I had a meal plan provided with the scholarship that I got. I survived off of food stamps. That’s a gold medal, the fact that you are alive. We didn’t have running water in my house ever. You’re still here. Do you know how significant that is? That’s unbelievable. There’s countless examples of people not being a fan of themselves and giving themselves the credit to understand. That is resilience. You are resilient.
You don’t need me to tell you that. Here’s the five-step program in developing resilience. No. It’s already a possession of yours. You own this. I’m just so thankful that I even have the opportunity to share with anyone at all. My vision is to allow people to hear my story. So, they might understand that their story could be actually really, really similar.
Casey Cornelius: Did it to me too, Evan. When I get these messages, the chills and the tears, you did it to me too. I know that you did it for listeners too. Listen, I want to get you out of here on some more fun topics, some questions that maybe give people a little insight into who Evan Austin is. So, you want to do some rapid-fire questions to say to send us out here?
Evan Austin: Absolutely.
Casey Cornelius: Here we go. Okay. You’ve got an entire day to binge watch anything. What do you choose?
Evan Austin: Right now, it is Community on Netflix, just a show about a ragtag diverse group of community college students that are all at this somewhat underwhelming type community college. They’re all there for different reasons. But they just team up and end up becoming a family and looking out for each other. It’s just a happy, spoofy satirical show. I love comedies. [unclear 51:36] office parks and recreation community all these different things.
I love the idea that people from all kinds of different backgrounds for different number of circumstances can still find a way to become a part of each other’s lives and really be invested in one another, just the characters that the show has. I just really love it. Community on Netflix, big 10 out of 10, recommend for me.
Casey Cornelius: Binge Community on Netflix. It’s Evan’s recommendation. Evan, I want you to think about your cell phone for just a second.
Evan Austin: Okay.
Casey Cornelius: What is the most used app on your phone?
Evan Austin: Lately, it’s probably been LinkedIn or DoorDash.
Casey Cornelius: I hope nobody from LinkedIn is listening to this. I apologize. But for being so important in this entity that we push everybody to, can their app be any worse? The app itself.
Evan Austin: I’m just so new to the game. So, I find myself obsessively checking it to be like, “am I doing this right?” Because, the app is [unclear 52:55] seamless and flowing as other social media apps, but I just want to build as many connections as possible because you just don’t need to post the resume or a cover letter, or like connect professionally when all you do is swim really fast for the last decade. So, I just officially made a LinkedIn and I’m trying to grow some connection and just network in this realm, in this atmosphere. So, I would say right now it’s LinkedIn, but I’m also very guilty of [unclear 53:28] or DoorDash is pretty convenient and maybe Five Guys burgers sounds really good right now.
Casey Cornelius: Speaking of eating, here’s my next question. Who would you most want to have dinner with?
Evan Austin: Wow. Past or present? Am I answering it in that capacity or just right now?
Casey Cornelius: However you take it.
Evan Austin: My family. Always my family. Literally last night even my brother and sister-in-law and my girlfriend or I guess the girl I’m talking to in the courting stages of relationship we went on this nice double date and just had great conversation and it’s just, there’s something about enjoying a delicious meal with people that you love. If our listeners are curious to know who I am a little bit more there’s an NBC special on me from just before trials in 2021 that it end it. They’re like, how would you like to end this little, and it was just a two-minute thing I think, but I was like, “I want my family on camera.” “Okay, well, in what capacity?” “How about a family meal?” We were at my brother’s house. He made chicken parmesan and my nephew was there. That’s just when I’m truly happiest is if I’m having a family meal. So, if you’re going to offer me to have dinner with anyone, I’ll take my family any day of the week.
Casey Cornelius: Love it. Evan, I know you’re really busy. I know you got a lot going on that you run fast, so here’s my next question. What do you do to wind down? Do you have any type of ritual or any type of pattern or any type of like, when I do this, I know that it’s time for me to relax. How do you wind down?
Evan Austin: Well, circling back to your first rapid fire question after dinner and I got nothing else to do for an evening I’ll fire up some community and just watch a few episodes. I’m a big sports guy but that can be counterintuitive because I’m a very passionate sports fan. So, if my team loses and it doesn’t go well, sometimes I maybe actually get fired back up, because I’m like “Come on.”
Casey Cornelius: Sure.
Evan Austin: But yeah, just good company and a good show. Lately I’ve been trying to make it a point to show as much gratitude as possible. So I’ve started writing some handwritten letters to send to some friends just to remind people that I love them and I care about them and that I’ve appreciated their friendship or what they’ve done for me over the years. So, I’ve been trying to be more present in showing appreciation and gratitude to some people. Lately I’ve been sitting down to just write a note to some friends and family and that kind of helps me just calm down and really be present in the moment and take some time to reflect and think about things.
Casey Cornelius: Listeners, you might be thinking that Evan just seems a little too good to be true. I’m going to tell you, even with some healthy skepticism, this is who he is. I’ve gotten to get to know Evan over the years and this is who he is. Last question, Evan, how can folks best connect with you? What’s the best way? I know you mentioned LinkedIn, but where’s your go-to? Where do you want people to find you?
Evan Austin: Instagram is a great place to start. I think I do my best at keeping that pretty professional. I like to keep updates from my team USA career. Obviously, I have some photos and some posts about my new speaking career and how that’s going and how the transition is coming along. Instagram “e_a_swim”, love new followers. Give me a follow and see what I’m up to and what my journey looks like. That’d probably be the best way to stay on top of the subject of Evan Austin.
Casey Cornelius: Make sure you do the underscores too folks. Its e underscore a underscore swim, because somebody else squatted on EA swim back in the day and that’s not cool. That’s not cool. You can also learn about Evan, his signature program. You can inquire about booking him for your campus event, your organizational conference, whatever it might be at forcollegeforlife.com/evan. Again, a little bit more about his signature program, The Wait of Gold. You can also see some videos posted there with his accolades. Evan, this has been fantastic. I appreciate you giving your time. I think I even learned something about you today that I didn’t know along the way. Angie got me emotional too. So, I would call this a fantastic interview.
Evan Austin: Well, I appreciate you allowing me to be on this episode and allowing me a platform to get to chance for listeners to get to know me a little bit better. I’m very appreciative of the conversation and that I get to teach you something new about [unclear 58:52]. I think the more people get to know me, the more you’re around you figure out you peel another layer of the onion off with me. Yes, I’m very thankful that you invited me to be your guest.
Casey Cornelius: I love it. I love it. Thank you everybody for listening. Please go ahead and share this episode, if you can. Show it some love. Show Evan some love. Let’s connect and we look forward to the next time. Thanks everybody.