Olympian teaches kindergarteners how to set goals
Nikki Stone said she was five years old when she told her parents she was going to win the Olympics one day. While she originally believed it would be as a gymnast, standing at five-foot seven-inches tall, the sport she participated in recreationally is the one that took her to the top of the podium.
In 1998, Stone was the first American to win the gold medal as an inverted aerial skier at the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Fifteen years later, she is a motivational speaker, a part-time coach for the U.S. Winter Olympics team and a mother. Her five-year-old daughter, Zali Spencer, is in Melanie Coffelt’s kindergarten class at Shining Stars Academy.
Stone and Coffelt, along with parent volunteers, took Coffelt’s class to the Utah Olympic Park on Wednesday, Dec. 11, to teach the kindergarteners about the world of winter sports that sits in their backyard.
"I thought it would be a great field trip, because I was their age when I thought I wanted to win the Olympics someday," Stone said. "I know the Winter Olympics are coming up, and I want them to be inspired by the athletes they see here, like I was, and realize these athletes are real people and [the Olympics] are something they can aspire to."
They began the tour of the park and museum at the top of the hill, speaking with luge competitors from across the globe as they practiced for the 2013 Luge World Cup to be held the following two days. They saw lugers off as they began their races and walked down to the Quinney Welcome Center to listen to Stone speak about her Olympic aspirations.
The kindergarten class sat in the lobby looking out the window to the aerial practice jumps as Stone spoke to them about what her parents told her when she said she wanted to be in the Olympics one day. She said they told her she would have to be a turtle. When the five-year-olds looked confused, she explained what being a turtle meant.
"We need to have soft insides to do what we know in our hearts we want to do, have a hard shell to make sure we are strong and tough enough for anything that can go wrong, and we need to stick our necks out like turtles," Stone said. "Sometimes you have to take a chance, take risks and do things that scare you, so I worked very hard and made sure I was a turtle."
It was then that Stone showed the children the gold medal she won in Japan 15 years ago. Oohs and awes and "I want to touch it!" were heard throughout the lobby as Coffelt lined the students up to each take a photo with the medal. According to Stone, the medals given out at the Nagano Olympics are the only ones in the history of the Games to have color in them.
Stone’s daughter stood next to her mother handing out small, plastic gold medals and gold medal chocolates to her classmates after they took a picture with the Olympian and her unique medal.
"I think it’s so great the kids get to meet someone who accomplished such an amazing thing," Coffelt said. "I couldn’t be more grateful that she wanted to do this for the students."
Coffelt, parent volunteers and Stone led the children upstairs to see pictures, videos and souvenirs from the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games in 2002. Stone said she was glad the Utah Olympic Park had so much history from the 2002 Games so the children could see that a prestigious, worldwide event was held in the very place they live, and it is an attainable goal.
However, when it came to her own daughter, Stone said aspiring to become an Olympic athlete is not necessarily something she desires for her. "I want it to be an aspiration only if it is important to her, but I also want it to teach her that with hard work, you can accomplish great things," she said.
Hard work and dedication are not only valuable and necessary to become an Olympic athlete, she said, but to reach any sort of goal, whether it be academic, athletic, a job or something in the arts.
"I think it’s a valuable lesson no matter what they go into as they grow and shows that if you want to be the best at what you do, you really have to make sure that you persevere and push through hard times and have great commitment," she said.
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