077. Loving Yourself Enough to Come Back After a Fall with CrisMarie Campbell

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

CrisMarie Campbell was an Olympic rower, a Boeing Flight Test Engineer and a Manager at Arthur Andersen. Her rowing career was thriving as she made her way from the college level, national level, international level and finally heading to the Olympics until a chronic back injury cut everything off. It also helped her realize, while she looked good on the outside, she felt like a fraud on the inside.

CrisMarie went on a healing journey that lead to competing in the Olympics, but left her feeling empty still when the team failed to win Gold despite being the favorites. She had more work to do.

That journey continued, leading to CrisMarie co-founding thrive! inc., a coaching and consulting firm, with Susan Clarke. Now, she works with leaders and teams, and her passion is helping professional women reclaim their hearts while becoming the lady-bosses they’re meant to be the world! She’s a Master Certified Coach, artist, actress and dancer.

Key Points from the Episode with CrisMarie Campbell:

  • CrisMarie is a leadership and team dynamics speaker, author and coach today.
  • Part of that work stretches beyond the corporate world into personal relationship work, helping couples relate better.
  • Her personal story started as she got into rowing crew, which lead her to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea
  • Her US Women Rowing team was supposed to win gold, but lost, which crushed her and created a period of intense self-hate and sense of failure.
  • CrisMarie’s athletic career started in band, when she was not an athlete at all. When that got too intense, it turned her off from music, and left her looking for what’s next.
  • She was introduced to rowing through a movie, and fell in love the idea of it and the life around it that was portrayed in the movie.
  • After trying out for a team, CrisMarie got into it, and a coach who challenged her in a way that questioned whether she could do it drove her to work harder and actually achieve.
  • Her father, who she refers to as “The Colonel” due to his military background and style, played a prominent and repetitive role in CrisMarie’s decision-making process.
  • The Colonel judged her, told her she can’t, and expected perfection, which was very definitional in how CrisMarie thought about herself, her abilities and what would motivate her to work hard.
  • As a result of that, reverse psychology often sparked action in CrisMarie back then, which her coach took advantage of.
  • CrisMarie’s capabilities grew, and she just wanted more and more. That lead her to keep moving up the ranks, getting on higher and higher level teams.
  • She made the US Nationals team, and ended up in a race against the Russians, which was a very big deal in the 1980s when US/Russian tensions were at a peak.
  • While they didn’t take gold, they did beat the Russian team, earning a Silver in the Worlds.
  • This was a high moment for CrisMarie and the rest of her team. They also had proven themselves, with CrisMarie taking a lead role as stroke, a key role in the boat.
  • She ended up beating a friend for the stroke position, and it hurt their relationship, with CrisMarie hoping things could just go back to the way they were before.
  • As a result, she made some self-sabotaging decisions, including starting power lifting (which is not a good idea for a rower in general, let alone heading into the Olympics), and hurt her back, taking her off the water.
  • This put CrisMarie into a deep depression, and also didn’t help her friendship.
  • The doctors gave her pain medication, which she thought about taking all of them at once, and ending the pain she feeling inside.
  • Her physical therapist could tell something was going on in her head, and gave CrisMarie a book called “The Mental Athlete”.
  • While CrisMarie shrugged it off, she ended up opening the book, and found ways to prepare and train mentally despite the physical limitation, and it got her back into it.
  • CrisMarie’s identity had been so linked to winning and making the Olympics that her injury lead to huge questions of identity and self-worth.
  • We talked about the “Olympic Blues” – something the USOC runs a program on to help Olympians after the games as many struggle with their identity after the competition ends.
  • CrisMarie was able to turn things around, and actually made the team.
  • They were favored to win Gold, and didn’t, and she was right back in the middle of the question of identity and purpose, and she spiraled down.
  • She met Susan, who would later become CrisMarie’s wife and business partner, and when Susan asked about the Olympics, CrisMarie couldn’t even talk about it.
  • CrisMarie finally got the Olympic Rings tattooed on her after almost 30 years as it took that long to accept that she is an Olympian, it’s real and an achievement, and it’s behind but a part of her.
  • All of this informed her work today, which is focused on helping people recover from failure, which she knows is possible.
  • One of the things CrisMarie learned in this is not to just try to solve everything in your head, but bringing your body into it – breathing, physical awareness, movement can all help.
  • A big contributor has also been CrisMarie changing how she was in childhood and now she speaks up for what she wants rather than seeing her needs as taboo.


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