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Friday, July 27, 2012

how meeting Michael Phelps taught me about influence.

       In honor of the Olympic games beginning tonight,  I thought I'd share a story that's been on my heart lately. Perhaps it's because of all the hype surrounding the upcoming Olympics...perhaps it's because Influence conference is coming up (woohoo!) Maybe it's just something I value and am learning. And as friends share their hearts over cups of coffee - I want to share these thoughts and this story with you: 

          It was a sweltering hot day, late in the summer and there I stood in a long line, waiting to meet him. It was 2004. Yes, 2 Olympic seasons ago. Somewhere in my mid-teens at the time, I spent much of my summer watching Michael Phelps swim in competitions and eventually receive an incredible amount of gold medals. I remember being impressed by his athletic ability, drive, discipline and let's face it, totally thought he was cute and had a crush on him! So, when he came to visit Southern California to do a meet and greet, my sister and I just had to go. Our sweet, unselfish and long-suffering parents kindly loaded up the Suburban and drove us early in the morning to Orange County, found the random AT&T store where the event would be held, waited in line for more than a few hours in 110 degree shade-less heat and finally endured a crushing group of screaming young girls as the event took place.
        I remember looking down at my blue wristband - we made it into the group who would meet him and get his autograph! My sister and I were just so excited. After hours of waiting, we were finally ushered into a room to meet Michael. As we approached the table where he sat, holding a Sharpie and surrounded by bodyguards, my little girl heart was just pounding! Hoping for maybe a handshake, maybe a "hi"...possibly a few words to thank this heart-throb role model for his inspiration to me - all of a sudden - there we were. He casually glanced up as we passed him some photos and a magazine to sign, and just as I started to tell him, "Thank you for being so inspirin..." he mumbled something to his security guard about being starving, a group of pre-teen girls pushed me out the door as they screamed in a frenzy of excitement and suddenly the moment was over. A few minutes later, Phelps was ushered out the door onto a makeshift stage where the event hosts proceeded to paint his bare chest bright blue and laid him down on a piece of concrete that would soon be auctioned off. I remember just kinda standing there, puzzled and laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. 
         I understood Phelps was incredibly popular and had lots of demands on his time, I totally got that he had about 100 young girls pressing up to the table where he sat, demanding his time and attention. I got that he was probably tired (c'mon, the poor guy had just returned from swimming miles and miles in Athens) and maybe overwhelmed by his new-found fame and recognition. I understood that he really had no obligation to talk to me or any of his other fans. But at the same time - I wondered. I noticed how rushed the autograph session was, how un-interested he seemed in chatting with those in line, how silly the whole thing seemed (especially the painting him blue part!) 
I'm not trying to bash Phelps or speak badly of him at all - I respect him and I'm sure I cannot imagine the kind of pressure he was under at the time or the way money and fame of that magnitude can be very heady for a young person. But still, I could not help but wish he had tried to use his platform that day to encourage the crowds of young people by using his platform to make them smile. In the weeks ahead, my inspirational athlete role model would make some choices that made me really sad. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes - but because of his platform, I remember hearing about things he did and being so disappointed, I cried. In fact, I also got so mad that I threw away the tattered July 2004 copy of Sports Illustrated he had signed for me in his silver Sharpie ink. (Note to self: that would now be worth something, stupid move there!) 
   All of this to say, I learned from this experience. I learned about the power of influence. The influence role models have over those who look up to them. I learned in a memorable and poignant way how precious a platform is and how much influence one person can have over another, especially a person who is set out as a role model to young people. I certainly don't have any negative feelings toward Phelps - the guy made a few mistakes, haven't we all?! No one is a perfect role model or example, I know I'm certainly not. But after this experience, I realized how seriously we all should take our positions. Because, you see - we are all role models, in one way or another.

      Perhaps you're not a famous Olympic gold medalist, a movie star, or a well-known athlete. But you still have influence. You have a significant influence over the people in your life. Whoever you are, someone looks up to you. I guarantee it. Maybe it's your son, your daughter, your young nephew or cousin.. Perhaps it's your little sister who watches every move you make and wants to be like you. Maybe it is the girl in your youth group at church who thinks you're cool. Or perhaps it's just somebody you met once and watches your life through Facebook or your blog. Maybe you're a leader in your community, your college campus, your church, or your job. Whatever you do and whoever you are - you have influence. Friends, may I ask us all to consider - how will we use it? Like it or not, you are a role model to somebody. Will you be a good role model or a bad one?

       The paparazzi may not be following your every move and you may not featured in the opening ceremony of the Olympic games this evening or on the cover of People magazine. But I leave you with this thought: you have influence...what are you going to do with it? 

My dear reader,
May we live our lives with significance - standing strong for something.
Not going with the flow of our culture,
but being brave and fearless and standing alone if we must.
May we consciously love on and reach out to those who may look up to us,
setting an example of life, love, faith and purity (1 Timothy 4:12)
I encourage you to pray about this today.

You are a role model.
You have influence.
What are you going to do with it?

Happy weekend, loves.

And go USA!



PS  - And yes, I am totally still cheering for Michael Phelps.


  1. Love these words and the Truth that flows through them! You are quite the inspiration, yourself! Thank you for the reminder, as I think about who I may be inspiring. I have two precious nieces (9 & 6) who look up to me so much.. I am reminded that they watch me. Thank you! Love you, sweet friend! Happy Weekend, Go Michael! :)

  2. This articulated so well! I really enjoyed the story and learned from it, too! Great post!

  3. How true this is, Erin. We need to be aware that what we do is an example to those that do look up to us (whether we realize that they do or not). And above all else, we have a Heavenly Father who is watching us all the time and with Whom nothing goes unnoticed. Have a great weekend!

  4. that is a good reminder -it is also a big responsibility! I teach third grade and I often stop and think about what a huge influence I have on the kids and what a big responsibility it is!!

  5. Such great truth within this post! I always look forward to reading your posts, because I know I'll leave with newfound knowledge and inspiration! I'm now so inspired to be a better role model for those surrounding me at work, school, with friends, etc. Thank you, Erin! :)

  6. Wow, Erin this is just so good. I always look forward to your posts because you share your heart in such a honest and passionate way. I soak up your writing and it was no different this time! I needed this reminder today.

  7. no offense to anyone... he sounds like such a jerk! and acts like one too (i mean did you see his interview with seacrest yesterday??? he is very very cocky) i understand that he's a big time athlete, but humility is what we are called to possess! anyways, this post was great and totally brings you right back down to earth!

  8. no offense to anyone... he sounds like such a jerk! and acts like one too (i mean did you see his interview with seacrest yesterday??? he is very very cocky) i understand that he's a big time athlete, but humility is what we are called to possess! anyways, this post was great and totally brings you right back down to earth!

  9. Such powerful words, Erin. Loved this.

    I hope you are having a magnificient weekend, dear friend!


  10. That is so cool! However I have to agree he's seems a lil cocky, but your post is wonderful!

  11. That is an amazing story, it is great that you have met such an inspiring athlete.

  12. Love love love love love this. So incredibly true. And I think so many people lost sight of the fact that every move they make is being watched by SOMEONE. And if not someone on Earth, God is watching.

    I obviously don't mean that in a creepy way, but it's the truth.

    - Katelyn

  13. I just found your blog and I think it is amazing.I will come again for sure If you want we could follow each other? If you want just follow me and send me your link on and I will follow you immediately

  14. beautifully put, and it shows such strength of character that you were hurt but not left forever bitter! I always love stopping by your blog :)


sweet friends, share your heart.

"kind words are like honey...sweet..and healing.." -proverbs 16:24.


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