Meeting of top athletes: Laureus Sports Awards 2017.

Four top athletes, Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Steudtner, Alex Thomson, and Garrett McNamara, are standing on a hill overlooking Monaco. Underneath the low hanging clouds seagulls are circling, the Mediterranean is clamoring nearby. The athletes have travelled to the principality on the Côte d’Azur for the Laureus Sports Awards.

The awards, cofounded by Mercedes-Benz, have become an integral part of the world of top sports and an internationally recognized accolade since the inaugural ceremony in the year 2000. Tonight the awards will be presented for the 17th time and the city is full of big name stars.

Frodeno, McNamara, Steudtner, and Thomson know each other and greet each other cordially. Even if they achieve their accomplishments in their respective sports as lone wolves, they have a special relationship both with the teams that cover their backs and the athletic community in general. Big wave surfer Sebastian Steudtner boils it down to this: “I may be on my own on the wave, but never alone in the waves.”


Challenges as opportunities for body and soul.

All four of them have had to overcome obstacles such as injuries, mental setbacks, and structural challenges over their varied careers. What unites them is their inspiring way of dealing with these moments of supposed weakness and turning them into new strengths. Their CVs show that injuries can bring even the most complex training regimen to a halt. At the same time, however, such setbacks carry the potential to bring about a productive time-out for body and soul, allowing them to come back even stronger.

Success through focusing.

German triathlete Jan Frodeno won an award in the category “Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year Award“ in 2016 and had big plans for this year, too. However, following a badly torn muscle in March of 2016 he had to take a break from running. Frodeno had to stop training and pull out of the Ironman in South Africa. His personal creed for these unforeseen obstacles? Carry on! “In moments of doubt I find it helpful to define new goals with the people closest to me. It’s essential if you want to look ahead and create new prospects for the future.”

Quitting is not an option.

Big wave surfers Garrett McNamara and Sebastian Steudtner are fully aware of the challenges injuries can pose. Both have suffered severe shoulder injuries in their eternal pursuit of the biggest waves. In 2015 Steudtner was unable to hit the water for six months following an injury. Upon his convalescence he was forced to rebuild the required muscle mass in time-consuming exercises. Still, he has fond memories of the recuperation period: “It was during these months that I realized how much I love my sport, how much I need the waves and how big my passion for surfing really is.” Looking back he goes as far as describing the injury as a positive experience: “I went at it a lot harder afterwards.”

Saved by passion.

McNamara begins to contemplate when asked about his latest injury. His shoulder was badly damaged, the bone fragmented into ten pieces. The doctors’ verdict was unanimous: You’re done with surfing. He, however, struggled through it and was back on the board a year later. “Without my family and my passion for surfing I wouldn’t have survived it. The pain was terrible and I saw no point in carrying on. But when I haven’t been in the water I start feeling like a fish on dry land. My passion for surfing saved me.”

Cohesion within the team is decisive.

For sailor Alex Thomson moments of doubt are not exactly unknown. The preparations for his challenging sailing voyages take up to four years. Four years of hard work, challenges, and discipline. During these times everything has to be carefully considered and planned – at the end, the quality of the preparation heavily influences the result. Thomson knows how important his team is and how critical a situation can become if one piece of the carefully organized puzzle fails. This knowledge is the foundation of his philosophy. He consciously celebrates moments of success in order to leave the past behind and gain a positive outlook on the future. “You always have to believe in yourself and the cause. With a positive attitude and strong faith you can overcome any obstacle.”

Goals and the path taken.

When Frodeno, Steudtner, Thomson, and McNamara say their goodbyes they know they will see each other again tonight. In the meantime there are press events and training sessions to attend. The Laureus Sports Awards are – just as the competitions, voyages, and waves – a goal they train for.

The moments between these appearances, however, are just as important. As Frodeno puts it: “I am made of all the days you don’t see.“