Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard had a few words of advice for a group of Toledo teenagers: set goals, be a leader, make the most of your time, and be confident.
“You can do anything,” said Kynard, 21, a Toledo native who came in second in the high jump in London last summer.
A senior at Kansas State University, where he is majoring in business entrepreneurship, he was home for Thanksgiving and spoke to a group of 20 wide-eyed boys and girls in the teen room of the West Toledo branch of the YMCA on Tuesday night (Nov. 20).
Kynard credits positive thinking, discipline, and being independent -- combined with physical talent – for reaching the pinnacle of his chosen sport.
He said William Gladieux, who teaches at Kynard’s alma mater, Rogers High School, gave him a metal bar engraved with the saying, “What would you attempt to do today if you could not fail?”
“That’s how you have to live – like you cannot fail,” Kynard told the teens. “You don’t take a test in class and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to fail.’”
In a casual conversation with the group, Kynard said he has great confidence when he gets on the apron and prepares to jump, even telling the bar that it’s “time to get out of the way.”
The lanky, 6-foot-4-inch athlete cleared 7 feet, 7.75 inches in London, coming in second to Ivan Ukhov of Russia, who cleared the bar at 7 feet, 8.75 inches to win gold.
Kynard said he hates losing and is looking forward to the next Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, where he is aiming for gold.
In a separate interview, Kynard credited his success in sports and in life to his Christian faith.
“That’s what helps me get over a bar that’s over my head. God is everything to me,” he said.
He recalled a statement by Bishop Michael Pitts of Toledo’s Cornerstone Church that has been an ongoing inspiration to him: “The ability to believe and to have faith is the strongest power in the world today.”
“I just believe that I’m God’s absolute best. With faith, hard work and dedication, I believe I can accomplish anything,” Kynard said. "Whatever I do in life, I know I'm going to be successful."
He prays before every competition, he said, and credits his mother, grandfather, and other family members for influencing his Christian faith.
His mother, Brandynn Adams, 38, said she always tells her children that they are “God’s absolute best.”
“When you believe you are God’s absolute best, why wouldn’t you go to the Olympics? When you’re God’s absolute best, why wouldn’t you make 10 tackles in a football game? When you’re God’s absolute best, why wouldn’t you score 30 points in a basketball game? That’s the mantra we raised our family by.”
When Erik finished second in London, Adams knew her son would be disappointed because he is fiercely competitive. But when she asked Kynard how he was doing, she said he replied, “’Mom, I’m blessed.’”
“His discipline and his focus and his roots – he is rooted like a tree planted by the water -- allow him to not be afraid,” Adams said. “He knows who he is. He is God’s absolute best.”
Kynard told the teens that they need to be leaders, not followers, and that they should choose their friends wisely.
“If somebody is doing something that’s not correct, like they’re failing all their classes, they’ve been arrested three times, why would you follow them?” he asked.
“Just lead, man. So many people just want to be followers.”
Kynard also advised the teenagers to listen to their elders.
“You need the ability to observe, to listen for direction. Let people guide you. It’s like having a GPS,” he said. “Your parents aren’t going to steer you in the wrong direction. Be willing to follow the lead of capable individuals.”
He scoffed at people who party all the time as if they have reason to celebrate.
“Why do you go out every weekend and party? What are you celebrating? What did you do this week that was so great that you have to go out and celebrate Friday, Saturday and Sunday? I’ve done nothing in my life that deserves celebrating every weekend,” the Olympian said.
He said too many people are caught in a loop of drinking and partying just like they did in high school.
“You can set your watch to them. They do the same thing all the time.”
Then he realized his daily routine was predictable, but in a different way.
“You can set your watch to me, too. I do the same things all the time. Only this week I do them better,” Kynard said.
Josh Heaston, the YMCA’s Christian emphasis director, arranged for Kynard to speak to the group. He said the Olympian has extraordinary discipline, from working out to maintaining a healthful diet.
Kynard acknowledges that he's a workaholic. “You’ve got to be a workaholic” to succeed at the top level, he said.
His coach at Kansas State is always telling him to slow down, or to not lift so much weight, he said.
Kynard always dreamed of competing in the Olympics, he said, and the only time he didn’t dream about it was when he was in London last summer.
“I went to bed and I slept and I didn’t have any dreams. Because I was living them,” Kynard said.