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Olympian DeeDee Trotter Shares the Mantra That Helped Her Achieve Her Biggest Goals (EXCLUSIVE)

Plus, the three-time Olympic medalist reveals why her bronze is sweeter than any gold

Track star DeeDee Trotter, 41, competed in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, taking home two gold medals for Team USA in the 4 × 400 meters relay and a bronze in the 400 meters. But her road to success was anything but smooth — after recovering from a nearly career-ending knee injury, Trotter cleared stumbling block after stumbling block to achieve what others thought impossible. Here, she reveals how her empowering personal mantra held the key to overcoming obstacles and reinventing herself as a successful entrepreneur (Spoiler alert: her business involves cakes!).

FIRST for Women (FFW): Have your trials and tribulations redefined your idea of success in any way?

DeeDee Trotter: Once you establish what winning looks like for you, you become less fearful and are able to achieve your greatest goals. I made my third Olympic team in 2012, but I had to overcome a lot of adversity to get there. I like to say that I don’t just tell a story of sports — I tell a story of life.

In 2008, I had major surgery on my knee, and there was a 90% chance my injury would end my career. For three years, I was unable to break 51 seconds [a benchmark in the 400 meters]. Failure can easily detach you from self-belief, so in 2012, I wrote down a simple but powerful mantra: “I can. I must. I will.™” I jotted it down, read it aloud to myself, repeated it… and believed it.

FFW: How has that changed your perspective on life?

DeeDee Trotter: I made my third Olympic team in 2012 with a time of 50.02, when no one believed I could do it. When I got to the London Olympics, however, I was fighting for my life in the 400-meters and crossed the finish line in third with a time of 49.72. That’s when I learned that winning is all about perspective because I value my bronze more than any gold.

Winning by definition means being first — but if that’s the only definition we ever use, then we’re all losers. Winning has to have an alternate meaning: When you do your best, though you may not be able to control the outcome, you will be able to control your output. That’s the true definition of a champion: a person who never gives up.

DeeDee Trotter beams with pride as she wears her three Olympic medals: two golds and one bronze
DeeDee Trotter wears her three Olympic medals: two golds and one bronzecourtesy of DeeDee Trotter

FFW: You own Taste of Gold Bakery . Tell us about transitioning from the track to the… trifle.

DeeDee Trotter: After retiring from track in 2016, I did a lot of motivational speaking internationally. But in 2020, COVID put a hard stop to being able to travel, and I decided then to start my new journey.

I’d always wanted to be a pastry chef, and I was finally free to pursue it without anything holding me back. I attended culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta, earning a 4.0 and graduating as valedictorian!

Just as my personal motto [I can. I must. I will.™] motivated me when I was competing, my life’s mantra inspires me every day, whether I’m creating a single wedding cake or planning an elaborate event for 1,000 people.

For more stories of athletes triumphing over the odds:

Olympic Hopeful Has Near-Death Experience That Teaches Her “God Has A Plan For Us All”

Olympian, Mom, and Lifestyle Creator Shawn Johnson Shares What She’s Learned

Did Simone Biles Make the Olympic Team? Inside the Gymnast’s Team Trials and Viral Floor Routine

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