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Keys to Being Your Personal Best from Speed Skater Bonnie Blair

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At the 20th Annual Ambulatory Surgery Centers Conference in Chicago on Oct. 25, speed skating champion and Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair gave a keynote speech on achieving your personal best.

Ms. Blair won five gold medals and one bronze medal over four Olympic games, and was the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian of all time from 1994 to 2010, when Apolo Ohno surpassed her record.

All of life's successes come through striving to be your personal best, Ms. Blair said. Throughout her speed skating career, she always strove to be the best she could be and did whatever it took to get there.

Her three ways to achieve utmost success boil down to dedication, balance and risk.

Ms. Blair recounted a 1500m race where she placed fourth, missing a bronze medal by 0.03 seconds but achieving a personal best racing time.

"It was a personal best for me and the fastest any American woman had ever skated in that race," she said. "I couldn't be disappointed with what I had done and the accomplishment I had. What I had set out to do was be the best I could be and that was what happened."

Her dedication to her craft started soon after birth, and by 5 years old, Ms. Blair was racing on skates. She learned over years of training that commitment, perseverance and control all stemmed from her love of the sport.

As for everything in life, there will be good days and bad days. When going through the challenging times, Ms. Blair focused on the positive aspects of her training. The only thing we can control is our mind, she said, and what we mentally bring to the starting line. The mind is a powerful tool for both positive and negative thinking.

"If we think too much about the negative, it tends to snowball and get out of hand," she said. "If we focus on the positive, things will gradually get better."

Ms. Blair emphasized the importance of teamwork. Even though she competed in an individual sport, she looked to her fellow U.S. Olympian teammates to feed off of one another's success and passion.

In sports and in life, taking risks also can lead to greater fulfillment. After Ms. Blair competed in her last Olympic games in 1994, she decided to participate in the World Championships in Milwaukee, even though she risked retiring after a loss rather than a successful Olympic showing.

"Taking risks can be scary, but we need to think outside of the box," she said. "If you know in your heart you're making the right move, then it gives you all the confidence in the world to do it."

Ms. Blair went on to win all four of her races at the World Championship and closed her career out on a high note.

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