Five panelists, with a combined Olympic medal count of 16, gave Aspen children and residents a pep-talk Thursday evening at The Aspen Institute. The “Project Play: Reimagining Youth Sports in America” multi-day summit featured a panel which included Michelle Kwan, Gary Hall Jr., Sarah Reinerstein, Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Jon Lujan.
Moderated by ESPN analyst Jemele Hill, the panel focused on the foundations it takes to produce Olympic and Paralympic athletes. It was part of a two-year initiative by the Institute to bring people together to focus on health, philanthropy and play in America.
“You don’t need a medal to enjoy sport; just go out and have fun,” Gary Hill Jr. told the crowd. He’s an U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame inductee and 10-time Olympic medalist. “Small steps take us to great places.”
Hogshead-Makar, a four-time Olympic medalist in swimming and an advocate for women in sports, stressed that “you’ve got the body you’ve got and the parents you’ve got and you’ve gotta make your circumstances right.” She swam 400 laps per day in high school to reach the Olympics.
Kwan offered the advice “to be curious and ask questions.” She is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, winning five world championships. After meeting Condoleeza Rice during a White House dinner, she was later appointed a public diplomacy ambassador.
Reinersten, who had her left leg amputated at 7, is a Paralympian and the first woman to finish an Ironman on a prosthetic leg. She says she “has a little hitch in my get-along,” and that sport was so integral to her feeling OK with her body that “it is synonymous with living.”
Lujan is training for the 2014 Paralympics and is the 2012 Standing Adaptive Skiing U.S. National Champion. As a disabled marine veteran, his advice to the kids–and audience–was don’t grow up too fast.