Paralympian Josh Sundquist Is Set to Motivate Fitness Industry

“In these times more than ever, we need the ability to get back up when we fall,” says Sundquist, who will share his inspiring story at the IHRSA Innovation Summit on September 17.

  • September 03, 2020

Amid all of the uncertainty, stress, and frustration everyone in the fitness industry has been feeling over the past several months, it’s safe to say that we all need a bit more laughter and creativity these days. Josh Sundquist, paralympian, best-selling author and comedian, will give us a chance to do so during his IHRSA Innovation Summit keynote, where he’ll tell his inspirational story.

In his presentation, which is generously sponsored by ClubConnect, Sundquist will walk us through his journey that began when he lost his left leg to childhood cancer, and resulted in him competing on Team USA in the Alpine slalom and giant slalom at the 2006 Paralympics.

“In these times more than ever, we need the ability to get back up when we fall,” he says. His unique approach to life’s challenges will leave you inspired to do more and be more.

Sundquist Talks ‘One More Thing, One More Time’

Sunquist is the type of person that everyone wants to have as a friend. Inspirational, positive and funny, he is likely to leave you feeling ready to reimagine your business and your personal approach to innovation.

Club Business International (CBI) had a chance to catch up with Sundquist to learn more about his journey, his motivation style, and his views on the fitness industry. While the below interview was conducted before the pandemic, it still sheds light on what makes Sundquist so special and why we chose him to speak at the IHRSA Innovation Summit.

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CBI: The title of your first book, Just Don’t Fall: A Hilariously True Story of Childhood, Cancer, Amputation, Romantic Yearning, Truth, and Olympic Greatness, pretty much says it all. Can you give us a summary?

JS: I lost my left leg to a rare form of childhood cancer. Soon after the doctors declared that I was cured, I learned how to ski. When I was a teenager, I began training seriously and started to compete. Eventually, after six years, I competed in the Alpine slalom and giant slalom at the 2006 Paralympics, in Turino, Italy, but, unfortunately, didn’t take any medals home. So the book—like the speech I’ll be giving…—is about that story, and what I learned along the way.

CBI: Moving on to “motivational speaker”—the title of your presentation is “One More Thing, One More Time.” What is the origin of that phrase?

JS: That was the motto I adopted when I was training for the Paralympics. I wrote “1mt1mt” on all of my ski equipment. The idea was that, at the end of a day of training, I’d ask myself what one more thing could I do to get a little bit closer to my goal of making the Paralympic team. That’s what my presentation is really all about. I want the audience to walk away having discovered what their own 1mt1mt is—that “one more thing” that will help them reach their goals, both with respect to managing their club and in their personal life.

CBI: When, in your life, you reach one of those inevitable points when you feel that you just can’t go on—what makes it possible for you to do so?

JS: When faced with such a challenge, you have three options: You can hold on a little bit longer. You can reach a little further. Or you can find the grace to let go.

Each choice is equally valid. And, during each person’s journey through life, each will be the appropriate choice, at least once along the way.

CBI: A life-threatening battle with cancer, involvement in the U.S. Paralympic ski and amputee soccer teams, degrees in business and media—how do we get from there to motivational speaker?

JS: In fact, I was a motivational speaker before I was any of those other things. I gave my first keynote speech at a sports banquet for a local school when I was 12 years old. I’ve been doing it ever since.

CBI: What have you learned about their industry? What message do you want to convey to health and fitness professionals?

JS: The message I want to convey is: I love health clubs. They’ve played such an essential role in my life. And, therefore, I’m honored to be a part of your event, and to be able to share my story with you. I hope I’m about to inspire you to continue to serve your members wholeheartedly.

CBI: You obviously learned a great deal about the industry first-hand, having developed an impressive physique despite being an amputee. What role do exercise and clubs play in your life?

JS: I first joined an exercise facility when I was a teenager and began training for the Paralympics. I’d go every morning at 6 a.m. to work out before I went to school—I loved that place! I knew all of the staff members by name. Eventually, I was named Member of the Month; they hung up my photo, and I got a free massage.

Leadership 20 CV josh sundquist skiing column

CBI: And, in terms of your physical regimen, where did things go from there?

JS: Well, as you know, I did go to the Paralympics, and, today, I play for the U.S. Amputee Soccer Team. Along the way, I also won the Body for Life contest, and, for a short while, I actually held a personal training certification.

I wasn’t working as a personal trainer; it was just a hobby and an interest. Today, in my role as a motivational speaker, I’m constantly traveling, which means that, over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting quite a few clubs throughout the country.

CBI: Which makes you a rather perceptive critic. What about clubs do you like or dislike?

JS: The thing I’ve learned about fitness facilities is that vibe is more important than anything else. For example, I probably stay in 40 to 50 hotels per year, and the first thing I do, after checking in, is to take a look at the fitness center—not to work out; just to see if it’s an inspiring space. Does the vibe—the combination of design, light, smell, equipment, decorations, and, of course, staff— inspire me to want to exercise?

If so, I’ll change clothes and come back to exercise. If not—and I’d say it’s, maybe, a 50/50 split at hotels—I’ll just go for a walk instead.

CBI: “Motivating” people short-term is one thing, but producing a lasting impact—one that informs their lives in a positive way—is something else. How, as a speaker, do you strive to achieve the latter?

JS: I don’t subscribe to the idea that motivational speakers, such as myself, can change people. I don’t have the power to do that. I can’t even motivate you. You’re the only one who can do that. So my goal, as a speaker, is merely to provide people with a meaningful emotional experience during the hour…I want them to laugh, maybe cry, and, overall, walk away feeling great.

But I don’t believe I have the power to transform lives. People have to do that for themselves.

So my role is to create a narrative experience and a metaphor that, if people want to, they can apply in a positive way to their lives.

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This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.