Olympic Grit in Adland: Lessons From a Former Pro-Athlete

Exec at the Via Agency Won a Medal at the 1992 Olympics

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It was the final race of the series and I had to not only beat the Swede and the Spaniard, but put two other competitors between us in order to win the bronze medal.

That was me, 20 years ago, heading into the racing series of my life. Growing up sailing with my grandparents, I had fallen in love with the sport and become addicted to it, sailing through my teens and, later on, for Harvard. My road to the Olympics was certainly not obvious, though, as individual sailing for women wasn't even introduced into the games until '92.

Julia Brady
Julia Brady

We had some adventures just getting my boat over to Barcelona, and the race itself was an amazingly brutal experience. In the end, against all odds, I found myself accepting a bronze medal for sailing (in the European-dinghy class).

When I came back from the games, I went into sports marketing, married one of my Olympic sailing teammates and worked my way onto the ad-agency side as a group-strategy director at the Via Agency. I have acquired a lot of skills over the years working in advertising, but much of what I learned during my sailing training has made me better at my job today. With the Summer Olympics upon us, it feels like the perfect time to share some of those lessons, which I've boiled down to four points.

1. It's a mental game. Whether prepping for an Olympic qualifying swim meet or an important client presentation, I get nervous. I use the same tactic to address both situations -- a calm, confident mental state. Most people are talented and well equipped for the job at hand, but what it comes down to is the mental skill of pulling themselves together and performing. Managing nervous butterflies and channeling them into your performance is one of the mainstays of the mental fortitude seen in successful athletes, and also something you will also find in an impressive pitch team.

2. Ignore expected outcomes. Do not let the predictions of "experts" get inside your head. When you've been competing against a group of people for a long time, you may feel you know -- or perhaps others are telling you -- how things are probably going to pan out. Ignore that . There is no faster way to lose than to assume odds or rankings are written in stone. Belief in your team and your abilities, despite what the commentators may say, can be the difference between winning and losing.

3. Experience isn't everything. Have you ever noticed how athletes always talk about how they've been doing [fill in the blank] since before they could walk? While that 's impressive, it's not necessary to have the most experience to be the best. While I started sailing as a kid, I didn't begin training for the Olympics until two years before the games I competed in. While experience is useful, persistence and passion are really the key. It's the person who wants it the most, not the one who's been training the longest, that gets medals or Lions.

4. You can accomplish more than your resources may indicate. When you're competing, you should know that there will always be someone with better equipment. They have more money or better sponsors. While great equipment is helpful, it's not key to winning. What does make a difference is having the best coach and teammates to help you cross the finish line. Equipment can be bought -- loyalty, creative thinking and support you get from people you trust is invaluable.

These points are the most critical part of setting yourself up to succeed, but they're certainly not the only things. At the end of the day it really comes down to one thing: never giving up.

Julia Brady (nee Trotman) won the bronze medal for sailing in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona at age 24, and has worked at the Via Agency in Portland, Maine, for the better part of 10 years. Julia is a group strategy director, overseeing accounts that include Perdue Farms, State Street Global Advisors and Hannaford SuperMarkets. In previous agency roles (McKinsey & Co. in Stamford and Advantage International in Washington) she worked on Time Warner , Foot Locker, BMW, Northwest Airlines and Home Depot.

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