As a child, Debbi Sullivan dreamed of running in the Olympics.
She cut out pictures of runners and put them on what she called a dream page,
“Every night I would look at that before I went to bed,” she said.
When she ran her first race in high school, Sullivan collapsed in the arms of her mother at the end.
“I finished dead last,” she said.
Her mother encouraged her and told her she had done a great job.
From that experience, Sullivan learned how important it is to keep working toward goals and dreams.
“That is how you learn. You correct little mistakes and get better and better,” she told students at Weyauwega Elementary School during a recently assembly.
Sullivan, who lives in suburban Milwaukee, visits schools to share her story with students.
She tells them to set goals, train both their minds and their bodies and to make healthy choices.
“You’re the director of your own movie. Your mind will then help you accomplish your goal,” Sullivan said.
In 1992, she was in Barcelona, Spain for the Olympics, aas a member of the U.S. team.
However, by then, Sullivan’s dream had altered slightly – she was at the Olympics as a race walker, not a runner.
She was at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside on a running scholarship when she injured her knee.
“My coach showed me how to do race walking,” she said.
Race walking was popular there, and the plan was for her to race walk until her knee healed.
However, she soon turned to that sport and in 1992, was one of three women on the first U.S. female walking team when a woman’s walk was added to the official games schedule.
Sullivan subsequently also competed in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic games.
For a number of years, she has traveled throughout the United States, sharing her story as part of her Olympic assembly program.
During her visit in Weyauwega, Sullivan explained why reading and math were important during her training.
She told the elementary students she needed to read about other athletes and the places she would be visiting for competitions and to know math to calculate how far she would be race walking.
Some students got to race walking themselves during a short competition.
Sullivan first explained that during race walking, one foot must be on the ground at all times and the knee must be straightened when the heel hits the ground, with the arms swinging at 90-degree angles.
There were thousands of athletes at the Olympics in which she competed, and she said being one of three from her country in a particular event was special.
She told the students to follow their own dreams and how to believe in themselves.
“I believe that I can have whatever I want. I can have that dream,” Sullivan said. “I’ll make that mine.”