Guest Post by Riley Jensen – Stories of Grit, Perseverance and Overcoming Adversity


When I was young. I had a really cool and unique opportunity. I got to string rackets for Utah State University’s tennis team. My Dad was the Head Tennis Coach at USU, and to save money, they taught me how to string tennis rackets, and paid me next to nothing to do it. I loved my job. From time to time, it meant that I was able to travel with the team.

One of the better players on the team was a lefty by the name of Rob Markosian. He had a smoothness about his game that was really fun to watch. His first serve was explosive, and, so too, was his temperament from time to time.

He was a unique player with an unbelievable mindset. When he was a junior player, he had played Andre Agassi numerous times, and won! Although their paths had taken a little different turn since then, Rob was still an amazing player.

He strung his rackets at a super high tension, causing a lot of his strings to break when he was playing. We were at one particular PCAA tournament and he ran out of rackets. I simply couldn’t string his rackets fast enough. As I rushed to the court to let him know that I had not finished his other rackets, he screamed at me saying, “I don’t care. Bring me a ‘#$%^’ Two by Four, I don’t care, I can finish this guy off with anything you bring me.”

I did. I borrowed a less than desirable racket from another teammate. It wasn’t pretty. But he won. He winked at me after the tournament and said, “I told you.”

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe is one of the greatest athletes in all of history. His story is unique, and one of huge adversity and resiliency.

He is a Native American from Oklahoma who grew up hunting, fishing, and playing sports. At the age of 9 he lost his twin brother, and built in best friend at the age of 9 to pneumonia. This would be just the beginning of some of the adversity he faced. Because of the stress of his brother passing away, he acted out, and was sent to a Indian Boarding school in Kansas. His mother died a couple of years later to childbirth, and his Father passed away not long after. After some bouts with depression, it was at this Kansas boarding school that Jim saw other students jumping and running around the track, and was positive he could run faster and jump higher than his teammates.

Not many people noticed him clear a 5’9” bar in the high jump in heavy overalls and improper shoes. However one coach, the legendary Pop Warner did. The rest, as they say, is history. Jim became a multi sport star in high school and college. He was outstanding in lacrosse, football, high jump, baseball, basketball, and track and field. He won a national championship in football and ballroom dancing. But it wasn’t until the summer olympics of 1912 that Jim’s legend really solidified.

Heading into the Olympics of 1912, Native American Jim Thorpe was labeled as one of world’s greatest athletes. Interestingly enough, he did not have the greatest shoes in the world. If you look closely at the photo below, you will notice that his shoes and his socks didn’t match for this particular event. This wasn’t an attempt to be different or stand out from the crowd. His shoes were stolen the morning of his competition. He was fortunate enough to find a pair of track shoes in a garbage can later that day. That’s the pair in the photo. One of the shoes was too big for Jim, and that is why he has an extra sock on one of his feet. That day, Jim didn’t make any excuses. He found solutions. And all Jim Thorpe did that day was win two gold medals for the USA. He also went on to play professional football, basketball, and baseball. He is most definitely one of the best athletes in history.

Paper Clips

In some of my group sessions I’ll pass out a paper clip. I ask a few questions about paper clips after I pass them out. Do you know how many paper clips were sold last year? 38 billion! That’s 5 paper clips for every person in this world! It’s a great industry.

How many do you think were used for their original purpose of pairing two pieces of paper together? My guess is less than a 10%. So what do people use paper clips for? (Replacing sim cards, they use them to replace zippers, pick locks, make key chains, clear their salt and pepper shaker, etc. etc.). Do you think the manufacturers go around complaining that people don’t use them for what they were made for? Or are they just happy that they created something that has a unique role for each of us?

Recognizing the beauty of the position we are in can be empowering.

2 lessons here.

One, are you so terrible at your sport, are you so terrible at your profession, and are you so terrible at what you do that conditions have to be perfect? No!!! Heavens no! It’s never been true, nor is it true today.

You don’t need the perfect racket, the perfect weather, the perfect day, the perfect ref, or the perfect shoes and socks. You don’t need anything to be perfect. You just need you. And I’m betting on you!

Number Two is, are you adaptable to the situation? Are you ok with your current role? Are you pouting because your role isn’t what you thought it would be? Remember this, different isn’t bad, different isn’t disappointing, it’s just different. In fact, different might be what you were born to do.

The sports world is full of people who realized that their role, once accepted, could be vital to their team success. More importantly, it was vital to their own success! Dennis Rodman didn’t win championships because of his unbelievable jump shot. Mariano Rivera didn’t help the Yankees win because of his focus on being a starting pitcher. And Steffi Graf isn’t known for an amazing top spin backhand. But all were consistent and legendary winners, all knew what their strengths were, and all were willing to adapt in order to get what they wanted out of their sport. And don’t forget, all of them played extended careers in their respective sports!

Whatever you woke up with this morning is enough. You are enough. Life will come at you fast. It’s not always fair.

You can have excuses for losing, or you can have results. But you can’t have both. Get up, dust yourself off, shoulders back, eyes forward, and chin up. You got this.

Think about these questions. What is it you do that is a strength in your current situation? What is it that you do that isn’t a strength? How can this knowledge help your team, your business, or your family?

Finally, here’s my challenge to you today. My challenge to you today is to embrace your role wherever you are. Grow where you are planted. Work while you wait for your opportunity. Hustle while you wait. If you are leading a small SDR team, knock it out of the park with the SDRs. If you’re waiting for that next director role to open up – keep crushing it right now! Or if you are in charge of cleaning up the office at the end of the day, make that place shine!

Whatever your role, make people think it’s the most important job in the organization. It will be contagious. Be a fountain, not a drain. Be Tigger, not Eeyore. Wherever you are, bring beauty to it. As you embrace your circumstance, your performance will soar.

Riley Jensen is a Sports Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach. He’s currently the mental performance coach for Weber State University Athletics, Westminster College, various Ski Teams, Utah Jazz Ticket Sales organization and more. He is available for corporate, team, and individual sessions. You can find more information about Riley at, or follow him on Twitter: @rileyjensen, Instagram:@rileyjensenconsulting, and Facebook, Riley Jensen Consulting. You can also listen to his podcast: Riley Jensen, Mindset Matters Podcast