Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen

Alana Nichols - Finding That Line

November 08, 2023 Scott J. Allen Season 1 Episode 200
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen
Alana Nichols - Finding That Line
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Alana Nichols is a world-class athlete passionate about challenging herself and others. From a young age, her passion for sports and adventure has driven her and no matter what obstacle life throws her, she takes a challenge head-on.  After suffering a spinal cord injury at age 17 while attempting a back flip on her snowboard, Alana quickly transitioned to adaptive sports.  She is the first American female to win gold medals at the Summer (Wheelchair Basketball) and Winter (Alpine Ski Racing) Olympic/Paralympic Games.  Currently training for the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Paralympic Games, Alana will be taking on a new athletic challenge in Sprint Kayaking and will continue to inspire and attract fans worldwide.

Alana graduated from the University of Arizona with an Education degree. Two years later, she obtained a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Alabama. She serves on the board at EspnW, The Women’s Sports Foundation, and The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and advocates for sporting opportunities for girls and women. Finally, Alana won the first ever all-female adaptive surf competition in history and continues to passionately promote and enjoy adaptive surfing

Follow Alana on Social Media

  • Twitter: @alananichols21 
  • Instagram:@alanathejane

A Quote From this Episode

  • "Burnout is common for anyone, athlete or business much can you take without going over the edge? It's basically finding that line."

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

About The International Leadership Association (ILA)

  • The ILA was created in 1999 to bring together professionals interested in studying, practicing, and teaching leadership. Plan for ILA's 25th Global Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, October 12-15, 2023.

About The Boler College of Business at John Carroll University

  • Boler offers four MBA programs – 1 Year Flexible, Hybrid, Online, and Professional. Each MBA track offers flexible timelines and various class structure options (online, in-person, hybrid, asynchronous). Boler’s tech core and international study tour opportunities set these MBA programs apart. Rankings highlighted in the intro are taken from CEO Magazine.

About  Scott J. Allen

My Approach to Hosting

  • The views of my guests do not constitute "truth." Nor do they reflect my personal views in some instances. However, they are views to consider, and I hope they help you clarify your perspective. Nothing can replace your reflection, research, and exploration of the topic.

Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate, and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.

Scott Allen  0:00  

Okay, everybody, welcome to Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders. Thank you so much, this is a very, very special episode for a couple of reasons. This is episode number 200. And so, thanks to all of you for joining me on this journey and engaging in these conversations. And I can't tell you how excited I am for the conversation that we have lined up for today. Today, I have Alana Nichols, and she is a para-alpine skier, a sprint kayaker, and she's also a wheelchair basketball player. She has a fascinating story. She is a sixth-time Paralympic medalist; three gold, two silver, one bronze. She competed in Rio, Sochi, London, Vancouver, and Beijing. In July 2019, she became a mom to her son Gunner Owen Alexander Tuscany. In 2000, at age 17, she landed back first on a rock while attempting a backflip on her snowboard. The injury caused her to be paralyzed from the waist down but she quickly transitioned to adaptive sports. She became the first American female to win gold medals in both summer wheelchair basketball and winter Alpine Ski Racing Olympic Paralympic Games. She's a three-time best female athlete with a disability SP nominee. And, she works closely with her life partner’s nonprofit, the High Fives Foundation, to support individuals with spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries, returning back to life through adaptive outdoor sports. We have a commonality in Toyota. So, it says here that you drive a Sienna?


Alana Nichols  1:36  

Yes. Are you a Sienna driver? 


Scott Allen  1:40  

We were. So, we've moved on from the Sienna, but you know what? It was the best car. We have three children, and we could open up both sides of the doors, and all the kids jumped in. And it was the first car where we took a road trip with all five of us. And it was just my favorite car that I've ever owned. And I never thought I'd say that. A minivan, but it was awesome.


Alana Nichols  2:03  

If I had an up-to-date resume, I would put, “Minivan enthusiast hashtag Toyota Sienna,” or whatever. It is the best car. There's so much room for activities, and I am always promoting how much equipment I can fit in there. I've got my wheelchair behind me, I don't have to take it apart, it's the sliding doors. Everything's automatic. I put my son in, I can fit two surfboards, my Mono ski with all my skis. I can put my basketball chair. I've got so much adaptive equipment, and a truck's not going to do it, SUV is not going to do it. It's the minivan for me, it's so good.


Scott Allen  2:42  

(Laughs) It's all-wheel drive. It's just like it ticks every box.


Alana Nichols  2:46  

Yeah. Miles per gallon all day. It's the best car out there.


Scott Allen  2:50  

So Alana, what else can listeners learn about you, really quickly, before we jump into our conversation today? Is there anything else you want people to know?


Alana Nichols  2:57  

Well, yeah. Thank you for that warm introduction and the list of accolades. I did have such an incredible athletic career. One thing I guess that wasn't mentioned was that I do adaptive surfing, that's kind of my main squeeze right now. I'm so in love with it. I like to change sports because I love to learn how. I just love the process. It's like, that's what fires me up. But a lot of what we do through my husband's organization, the High Fives Foundation, is we get to take folks out surfing for their first time, and I just love that. So, hopefully, we can touch on that a little bit later. You mentioned I'm a mom, and I've got a little four-year-old, and it's the best part of my whole life. I've had so many pinch-me moments in my life, including meeting presidents, and riding in Michelle Obama's motorcade, and red carpets, and all those things, but the most amazing thing that I've ever done is become a mom. It's so normal and so extraordinary at the same time.


Scott Allen  4:06  

Isn’t it so much fun? My wife and I walk pretty much every day. And so it's 5:15, Ryan's out. You've had some early mornings in your days. Ryan's right there as we are walking and the Big Dipper. And we often reflect on how lucky we are because we live with these cool, three just cool roommates. That's what we call them, roommates. You kind of went through the drunken roommate phase when they were young. We had to put them in and out of bed, and they repeated themselves, and they were emotionally unstable, but it's just so much fun to watch them grow up. And I think my favorite thing, I mentioned us traveling in the Sienna, but really, I discovered that I think my favorite thing in life is exploring new places with them. So, it's Joshua Tree, maybe it's the Arch in St. Louis, maybe it's Yellowstone National Park. Or we've been up in your neck of the woods in Reno, and we got diverted from Yosemite a couple of summers back because of fires, and so we ended up in Reno. We were trying to get our kids to all 50 states. We stayed at the Grand Sierra Resort, and we explored. We explored a forest that was a national forest that was near you. I love having those adventures. And so, I'm so excited for you because, at four years old, there's a lot of adventuring, right?


Alana Nichols  5:27  

Oh, yeah. My most recent adventure with Gunnerr is we were in Times Square last weekend. I guess it was last week Thursday. This is actually a questionable parenting move on my part, but I took him to Times Square at 9:30 at night from Lower Manhattan. So, of course, it's like, I'm not from there. I'm not a New Yorker, so I think, “Oh, yeah, Times Square. It's just like Midtown.” And it took 30 minutes to get there, so it was 10 o'clock, way past his bedtime. Luckily, he had napped. And, of course, it's just Times Square, so he's got a chocolate ice cream going to his mouth, and I was like, “Wow, I make some really questionable parenting decisions.” But it was such an adventure, and there were so many moments when he delights such as, like, “Wow,” in that particular little corner of the universe that is Times Square. And I felt so lucky to share that time with him. It was cool.


Scott Allen  6:23  

Yeah, he won't forget it. He won’t forget it; being with mom in Times Square. Okay. So, I think I do want to get to surfing because I want to get to that, and then I also want to get to the foundation as well. But this podcast is really all about leadership. And, Bill George, he was the former CEO of Medtronic, and then he taught at Harvard for a while, and he had a quote that I just absolutely love, which is, “The hardest person you will ever lead is yourself.” And as an athlete, at the level at which you have participated, and to the degree that you have participated; winning gold medals, you know a lot about that. The hardest person you will ever lead is yourself. How do you think about that quote?


Alana Nichols  7:09  

It's a great quote. It's, in my opinion, true to the core. I've always said, throughout my career, and even as I've changed sports so many times, it doesn't matter to me as much what happens on the main stage, the more challenging times that I've ever had were when I was alone, there was nobody watching me, nobody keeping me accountable, and I knew it. And I had to say, “What are you made of right now?” And then, I had to be with myself with whatever decision I made. Was I going to go into the gym? I had to live with who I was in that moment, and there were times when I proved to myself what I was made of and how hard I could work, and there were other times I fell short. And the hardest person you'll ever lead is yourself. As somebody that had to leave myself a lot, there were moments where I had to hold myself in love and say, “That's okay, that's enough for today. Let's call it. Let's go home, let's do what's right for you in this moment and not have any judgment about it. And then, we'll come back and tomorrow is another day.” As a leader, I think there's those moments where you have to hold yourself accountable and you have your high standards, but there's also moments where grace is equally as powerful as that strong standard.


Scott Allen  8:38  

And I love that framing. I think there's a balance there. Obviously, we can go a little bit too hard, we can be too hard on ourselves. But having that, like you said, that grace, “Sometimes this is what I need right now. In this moment, it's a pause, and it's a break, and it's some space.” How do you know when you're in that space because that takes a heck of a lot of self-awareness?


Alana Nichols  9:03  

Right. The unfortunate part about being an Olympic athlete is you're going to be at your peak in your early 20s, and the self-awareness piece usually doesn't come until much later. So, it's trial by fire. And it's getting in there and pushing yourself too hard, and getting an injury. Kind of taking your licks and learning the hard way. But yeah, I think about my 20-year-old self and really remembering when I did grant myself grace and accepted myself fully for what I was able to give in those moments. But one thing that was important for me during my athletic career as we train in these quads, these four-year periods, was kind of being able to see the big picture and knowing that it's a marathon, it's not a sprint. It's about being your best at that four-year mark, and not trying to burn out. Burnout is common for anyone, athlete or business person, whatever it is. It's like, how much can you take without going over the edge? It's basically finding that line. 


Scott Allen  10:22  

Well, and as an individual where it's 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, those aren't just quads, those are… I don't know what that would be called. That's every two years.


Alana Nichols  10:34

Every two years. Yeah.


Scott Allen  10:35  

So having that balance, and having that grace, and knowing when not to let yourself off the hook, and to get yourself up, and to get into the gym. But then also knowing when it is time to step back and giving ourselves that grace. How else do you think about the quote, “The hardest person you'll ever lead is yourself?” Anything else come to mind?


Alana Nichols  10:55  

Oh, gosh. Well, as a leader, I think you have to have, I guess, just about every attribute a good parent would have, and parents are leaders. And with that is empathy and compassion, and that really kind of sums up what self-awareness is. And being able to embrace yourself for who you are. So, I know now, looking back, what my strengths and weaknesses are. And I, more so, now than I did when I was in my athletic career in my 20s. And I didn't have a lot of empathy or compassion for myself at that time, and trying to lead myself, I was a harsh leader. I was a harsh leader as an Olympic Paralympic athlete, and especially as somebody that did both sports year-round. So, I was training for basketball and then going into the ski season. And leading myself in those moments, I was gritty and tough. And I learned that from the person that raised me, and that was my grandma. And my grandma being from that particular generation where feelings weren't really a thing or welcome at all, but also I kind of think that her Norwegian background had a lot to do with her gritty toughness. And so, for me, it was like, show up, do the work, no excuses. And there were times when I did get so burnt out that I didn't know if I could keep going. Looking back, I would totally have given myself more grace as I was training and leading myself. And one little nugget of wisdom that I kind of derived from my athletic career was how really important it is to enjoy the process. I broke my back in the year 2000 in a snowboarding accident. Fast forward eight years in Beijing 2008 playing paralympic women's wheelchair basketball, undefeated team, went into the tournament undefeated, left with a gold medal. It was all very Cinderella story, you couldn't have planned that better. But with the leadership that we had in place for that team, there wasn't a whole lot of enjoying the process. 


Scott Allen  13:19  



Alana Nichols  13:20  

It was timed water breaks. It was very regimented. It was very serious on game day. And maybe it's a little bit of my personality that didn't vibe with that because I like to loosen things up so I perform better. I like to tell a joke before I push out the start gate of a ski race before I'm about to risk my life at 70 miles an hour. I was like, “How's my hair?” Like, let's relax a little. 


Scott Allen  13:44  

(Laughs) Here it goes.


Alana Nichols  13:48  

So, in 2008, we won that gold medal, and I'm not discounting the effectiveness of the leadership. We won that gold medal. So, the next quad that comes around is London for 2012. We had a different person, a whole different leadership; team, coach, assistant coach, all that. And that coach was really more focused on camaraderie, connection, a sense of ‘right now is all that matters, not that end result.’ And going through that process of training and competing with that group of women for London 2012 was the warmest memories in my heart. I don't have any of that anxiety I have when I think about Beijing, and we lost in London on a bad call from a referee in the semifinal match, and went on to play the bronze. In the bronze medal match, we played the Dutch, lost that.. It's like the worst possible result. So painful. But if I were to choose those two experiences, I would choose the latter, the London experience with those girls and that feeling of connection and camaraderie that I didn't have going into Beijing, even though the result was so drastically different.


Scott Allen  15:04  

Well, as you're speaking, it almost makes me think of like Bobby Knight versus John Wooden, right? 


Alana Nichols 15:13  



Scott Allen  15:13  

You've got someone who's a little bit more, well, a lot more intense, rigid, structured, and screaming, throwing chairs, and, in some rights, a really good coach. And then you have a more sustainable approach from a John Wooden who is concerned with, “Okay, here's how you put on your shoes, your socks, actually.” (Laughs) 


Alana Nichols  15:32  

Right. The socks first.


Scott Allen  15:32 

I think we'll start from there. And it's more even-keeled, it's more emotionally intelligent, it's more sustainable. And people walked away, as I understand it, loving him. And, as you reflect on kind of other coaches, because, again, as a coach, you're in a position of authority, what were some other attributes of coaches along the way that helped you be at your best?


Alana Nichols  15:57  

Yeah. What a great question. I think, using that same example, my coach from 2012 made me feel like I could get up to the play. This is the wrong sports analogy but just swing away. Like, he believed in me. I knew that he knew that I was a great athlete, and he made me know that, and that's all due to his good leadership that made that connection with me and said, “Hey, I know what you're made of, I know your potential, I know your greatness and I'm just ready to sit back and watch it all happen.” That feeling of relaxation and ‘anything's possible,’ optimistic, all of that energy, set me up to be the best I could be. And there were moments in London that I had that I was on the free throw line looking at this jumbotron of my own face, like, one of the biggest moments of my career, and looking at the score, and we're down one. My free throw mattered more than any other free throw, and I sunk it because I had that leadership behind me, that belief. It was like I was being held up by that, really. And it's so drastically different if you're playing for someone or if you have a leader that you're afraid to mess up. There's a difference between if you're shooting to win or if you're shooting not to miss. You know that energy that's just slightly different?


Scott Allen  17:30  

Yeah. And I loved your phrasing there ‘being held up.’ You're being held up. I love that phrasing. I don't know how to expand on that anymore, but there's a support mechanism there that helps you focus on the task at hand versus other things, right?


Alana Nichols  17:49  

Yeah, exactly. It's kind of the same as I think when people say it gave me the strength I needed in that moment. I wasn't directly focusing on the fact that my coach believed in me, I just knew. I knew, I knew, I knew, and that gave me the strength and the confidence I needed. And not to mention the ridiculous amount of free throw shooting I did in practice, that I knew was also going to have support me.


Scott Allen  18:16  

And you said something earlier in our conversation that was just… I can't agree more that parenting is just this ultimate leadership experience. Because, in many ways, you're influencing your children to be curious, you're influencing your children to be engaged. You're helping your children figure out what it is, why they're here, and what they can tap into. My daughter loves jewelry making; she will spend four hours on a Friday night. I never would have imagined that as a thing., but she tapped in, and she loves it. She loves sitting there and making jewelry for four hours and talking with friends on a Friday night. And it's a similar thing where you kind of hold Gunner, you're holding and providing that foundation, and then lifting up and propping forward, right?


Alana Nichols  19:03  



Scott Allen  19:03  

I'm jumping around a little bit, but, oh my gosh.


Alana Nichols  19:06  

Oh, yeah. No, that's exactly right. And I've learned a lot. I served on the board of the Women's Sports Foundation for six years. And just recently, I was telling you about the New York trip that was for the Women's Sports Foundation. At that organization, we are such believers in the positive byproducts of what sports do for kids in terms of learning, confidence, goal setting, achievement, discipline, and determination. And there's no way to truly know your own strength until you prove to yourself what you are made of, right?


Scott Allen  19:43  



Alana Nichols  19:44  

It’s kind of how we kicked off this conversation. But as a leader for my son, Gunner, I know how important it is to push him in some ways, grant grace in other ways, and be that soft presence that really believes in him. And it's been interesting, as a parent and a leader with a disability, how much longer leash I've had to give him. He knows his limits, I think, to a greater extent because I physically can't be a helicopter parent in a lot of situations. He's climbing on a rock wall, and I'm like, “Hey, bud, you got to make a good decision right now because what are we doing here?”


Scott Allen  20:26  

(Laughs) “What’s going on here, guy?”


Alana Nichols  20:28  

So, it's been funny to help him learn his limits in terms of, like, “I'm not necessarily going to be able to catch you if you fall in a lot of ways.” And I think that's been empowering for him.


Scott Allen  20:40  

I'm going to go back to the coach question. Any other attributes of coaches that helped you be the best version of you? Or what were some of the behaviors -- we could ask it that way as well -- that led to you feeling held up?Tthose coaches that caused you to feel that way because it's a magic. There's a magic there when you encounter someone who pushes hard. In the leadership literature, actually, it's called the zone of proximal development. You've got someone who's challenging you, but there's also support, and it's a good amount of both. We're not challenging so hard that someone shuts down, and it's not so easy that we are developing at the rate we could, but it's kind of that right space of challenge and support. Were there other attributes or behaviors that stood out for you in coaches?


Alana Nichols  21:28  

Yeah. I would say the first thing that comes to mind is there's this concept, really, I guess it's a concept that an athlete can either be task-oriented or ego-oriented. And a task-oriented athlete is focusing on personal goals and comparing themselves only to their best recent accomplishment, or whatever, depending on the sport, like, how fast you ran that last 400, or whatever. An ego-oriented athlete is comparing themselves to the other athlete that's running that race. They're looking to their left and right, and like, “Where do I end up in this group?” And I think from a leadership position, having a coach focus on tasks that are directly related to each athlete… If you're creating this environment of ego-oriented comparison, kind of sizing everybody up, it’s really pitting everybody against each other. And so, I think what came to mind when you're asking that was, like, my coaches that saw me with specific strengths and weaknesses, and actually, when I say see me, like, see me, my strengths, my weaknesses, what I bring to the table, what I'm not necessarily going to be able to bring to the table, and then were able to push me to reach my task-oriented goals, that felt like an obtainable pressure. It felt like this pressure that, “I see you, and I know what your potential is, and I'm asking you to push to this extent,” if that makes sense. I know I'm being very vague here, but there were definitely environments I was in where I felt like I'm always going to be compared to this other athlete, and that didn't feel obtainable to me because that's not me. 


Scott Allen  23:22  

Yeah. And you also said something in there that really stood out for me that I think is very important, and you said, “See me.” There's that kind of, like, I'm seeing you, I'm working with you, and helping you focus on becoming the best version of you. But again, to your point, if I'm in an environment where I'm kind of looking to my left and looking to my right, and being pitted against, you don't have that psychological safety to become your best.


Alana Nichols  23:48  

Psychological safety, that's exactly… That sums it all up. When I was talking about the differences between my coach -  the psychological safety, I had to be the best athlete that I could be, allowed me to reach my fullest potential. Otherwise, you're just trying not to mess up; you're trying not to miss. And 99% of the time, if you're shooting not to miss, you're going to miss it. It's like a magical energy. When you have that closed off, like, “Oh, God, don't just…” It won't go. It just won't go. It's like some weird thing that says, “Nope, that didn't have the right energy.”


Scott Allen  24:26  

Yeah. Well, you said something at the beginning of our discussion that I want to get back to, and I forget exactly how you phrased it, but it seems that you are an individual who is curious. And, as you mentioned at the beginning of the conversation, you liked the process of learning and learning new. So, talk a little bit about surfing and what that's taught you as you've begun to explore that sport. I didn't surf, actually; I couldn't pop myself up. We, as a family, we were in Venice Beach, and we had a lesson with a gentleman, and both of my daughters popped up, and they were surfing like right out of the gates, but I couldn't do it. It's hard. It's very hard. 


Alana Nichols  25:08  

Oh, wow. Yes, and it takes, I mentioned, some gritty toughness earlier. It's such a hard sport. There's like this barrier to entry, which is the ocean. You have to get past the ocean to the outside, where you can finally relax, but you've got to take a bunch of waves in the face to get to the outside. So, it's like, if you can do that, then you've got a chance. And a lot of people don't; they're just like, “Nope.” But, for me, I feel like surfing came into my life and a very divine intervention type of way because, in 2014, which was the Sochi Winter Paralympics, I had big hopes for cleaning up. I had this enormous goal of winning five medals. After 2010 in Vancouver, I was the most medaling athlete of those games. And I was a rookie at the time, so I felt like I had so much more potential. And I had been training both for basketball and skiing and so I was in great shape. And, in 2013, the season right before the Winter Paralympics, I dislocated my right shoulder backward, actually. It was like a really bizarre injury, I ran into a rock up at Mount Hood, Oregon. So I had to have my shoulder redone completely and then build my whole arm back up from square one. I was in a sling for six weeks. If the podcast listeners were seeing me right now, like, I have this little normal girl arm, and I'm a wheelchair user. I've got a lot going on there. So, this arm was like square one, building it back up. I get back on snow in November, I am really hesitant...some post-traumatic stress stuff. And then I'd make it to Sochi in March of 2014. And it wasn't how I wanted to get there; I wanted to be preseason training, and working on really important fundamental skill stuff when I was still trying to get my arm back into shape. So, it's a scramble. I got there and make a huge mistake in the downhill, and actually won a silver there. And I never thought I would win, I would ever feel like I won a silver, but after the mistake I made. and then made up for all that time, it was like, “Wow, I won this. This is epic.” So I'm gearing up for the next race, which is the Super G, feeling really good about it, and I made another mistake almost in the same spot. Ended up falling on my face, hit chin first, and just got knocked out, and a helicopter ride to the Russian hospital and everything. And it was just kind of heartbreaking how much I tried and how little it was working out. I was trying so hard after the shoulder injury, and then I fell on my face. Long story short, that led me to taking my grandma on a trip to Hawaii. And so, one of my sponsors from the 2014 games had asked me if I could go anywhere where I would go, of course, I asked my grandma, who is my actual saint and angel, and, “Whatever you want, where do you want to go?” And she said, “I'd love to go to Hawaii, I want to see the Pearl Harbor museum.” So, we went out there, and while visiting, I came across a friend who was on the island who told me about this program called Access Surf. And Access Surf is a nonprofit in Honolulu that will take anyone with a disability out in the ocean and teach them how to surf. And they went totally out of their way to take me out on a day off like they are just awesome. That's Aloha, right? 


Scott Allen  29:00  



Alana Nichols  29:00  

And I caught my first wave at Queens break in Waikiki. And I was like, “Well, I'm ruined. How am I going to go forward with my life now that I know how this feels?” Because, for anybody that's never surfed in Hawaii, it's like a therapy session for your heart, and your soul, and your mind. And you get out of the ocean, and you're like, “I think it's going to be alright no matter what it is.”


Scott Allen  29:25  

It sounds like a Jack Johnson song. (Laughs)


Alana Nichols  29:29  

Totally. It's so cliche. All surfers are like, “Man, it's so spiritual,” and it is. It just is. And sitting out in the ocean and feeling so small. And there's scientific evidence to show that being around a body of water is good for your mind, and it is. So, after that experience in Hawaii, I found myself living in San Diego, training for Sprint kayak but surfing also. And just fully immersed, I will say, as a play on words, in the water, but also in the sports of water sport. And it gave me that reprieve from all the pressure that I felt from both of my sports, and I found this competitive side of me in adaptive surfing. I got to scratch that itch of competitiveness, but it didn't hurt so bad when I hit my face on the water, and that was like, “Yeah, let's do this.” 


Scott Allen  30:32  

(Laughs) Let’s do this. Not as difficult as a mountain.


Alana Nichols  30:36  

Yeah. But also, just to go back to the cliche, spiritual stuff, I think what I'm constantly searching for is a lot of athletes call it being in the zone. But it's that feeling of when you don't have anything else to do but be in that moment. And when you're on a wave, there's nothing else, so it just shuts everything down. And it's such a beautiful release of just, like, none of your problems matter when you're out in the ocean. Like, there's nothing you can do about it, and there is a wave coming this way, and you're excited about it. So, it's just like this beautiful therapeutic thing that I'm so grateful came into my life.


Scott Allen  31:16  

Well, I think it was probably last year around now; maybe you've watched this series on HBO (Max) ‘100 Foot Wave.’ I think it's on Max now. Have you seen that series? 


Alana Nichols  31:27



Scott Allen  31:28

It's an incredible sport. And I have so much respect. I really, really do. Well, as we begin to wind down our time, would you talk a little bit about the High Fives Foundation?


Alana Nichols  31:39  

Absolutely, yeah.. Thank you so much for asking. Well, so I came across the High Fives Foundation just as it was being founded in 2009. The founder and CEO happens to also be my husband now, but, at the time, he had just broken his back in a skiing accident as well. And so, he went 130 feet on a 100-foot jump at Mammoth and came down and first fractured his lower back at the same place as I did. So we both have a T-12 injury, but he ended up walking. He recovered because spinal cords are so intricate, and depending on how they're damaged. In terms of me and my husband, he would say that I didn't try hard enough in rehab, and I would say that he got like a paper-cut spinal cord injury, but that's like between us. I’m like, “Okay.” So, anyway, he's this just great visionary. And when he got injured, he had all of this support coming from the parents of the kids that he was coaching at the time, he was coaching moguls. And so, after all that support for him to go through rehab and try to recover, he had $500 left over from that support and decided he was going to start the High Fives Foundation. And so, I met him in 2010 after the Vancouver games, and I was on top of the world. I had just become the first female American to win gold in the Summer and Winter Games and the most medaling athlete of Vancouver, both the Olympic or Paralympic. It was a good time for me. And so, Roy, when he met me, was like, “Who's this big deal?” It was like good timing. We actually worked together over the following 10 years just as… I worked as an ambassador and he was continuing to grow his foundation. And I just really loved what he was doing because it was so different from anything I'd experienced with adaptive sports organizations prior. And the difference really was that he is a person with a disability that's running a foundation for people with disabilities, and creating an environment that felt more like normal than it did us in them. So, like, there are organizations that, if you're somebody with a disability, and you access their resources, or their programs, or whatever, it's kind of like able-bodied people and the disabled, and they're helping you, and everything, but with the High Fives Foundation, it's kind of like this ohana. He talks a lot about the Hawaiian word ‘ohana,’ meaning family. It's like we are with you in this experience because we know how it feels to have a life-altering injury come out of nowhere and change everything, and we're here to support you from the beginning and till the end. And that's really powerful. And it's also really amazing to feel like you're in a cohort of people that are your age and that know your disability. And so, anyway, I always admired what he did. And then, about five and a half or six years ago, we reconnected at one of his fundraisers. And we're both single. And next thing you know, we're like, “Why don't we do this thing? Why don't we do this thing together? You want to do this together?” And I was like “Okay.”


Scott Allen  35:08  

Oh, that's awesome. That's awesome. Well, I'd love to have a conversation and learn more. 


Alana Nichols  35:15  

Yeah. I will, for sure, connect you two. He would love it too.


Scott Allen  35:18  

Well, my final question as always, and this could have something to do with what we've just discussed, it could have nothing to do with what we've just discussed, but is there anything that you've been reading or streaming, or listening to? I know you love podcasts. What's something that's caught your attention in recent times that listeners might be interested in? And, again, it might have nothing to do with leadership, it's just something that's caught your attention. Anything come to mind?


Alana Nichols  35:42  

Absolutely. Well, as I was preparing for this podcast, I was listening, and it wasn't necessarily related to leadership, but I was like, “This is so interesting to me.” So Gabor Maté is a psychologist and an author, and his most recent book is called ‘The Myth of Normal.’ And he discusses a lot about childhood trauma and attachment. And how those early childhood experiences affect the way that we attach and relate today in both romantic and business relationships. And what I'm most interested in, and always have been, is, like, what makes people the way that they are? What makes them tick? What makes them react in certain ways? And I think Gabor has really figured it out. And his book, ‘The Myth of Normal,’ it's like New York Times bestseller, it's all over the place right now. He talks about this culture of people pleasing as it specifically relates to women, and how a lot of different autoimmune disorders, cancers, and things like that will show up in people that don't and haven't found their no, haven't been able to say no, haven't been able to set a strong boundary. And that's just really interesting to me, both as it relates to me, but my family members, my sisters. And so, I've just been really digging into that stuff, shadow work, childhood trauma. It helps me understand how I relate, but also how other people are relating to me. 


Scott Allen  37:25  

Yeah, my undergraduate degree was family social science. So, marriage and family therapy. 


Alana Nichols  37:31

Oh, that's great. 


Scott Allen  37:32

And, of exploring, looking within, reflecting, making sense. I will put that in the show notes. And I'm going to go ahead and download that on Audible tonight.


Alana Nichols  37:43  

So good. It's really good. 


Scott Allen  37:47  

I Will. That's awesome. Well, Alana, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for your incredible work that you do. Whether it's in the kayak, on the mountain, or in the ocean, thank you for modeling the way and just being an inspiration to so many people. I really, really appreciated your time today. And just thank you so much. And I do look forward to that conversation about the High Fives Foundation. I think we can learn a lot from people who are doing the work and making a difference out in the world. You're one of them, so thank you.


Alana Nichols  38:19  

Yes. Well, thank you for saying all that. No, it's my pleasure. I've been put in this position for a reason. I'm stepping into my power as an inspiration. And I know there's other young girls that need to see me doing this stuff, so I appreciate you seeing me in that way. And thank you for having me on your podcast, it was really a fun conversation.


Scott Allen  38:40  

Oh, well, thank you so much. Well, be well, and take care, and have fun out there with Gunner.


Alana Nichols  38:45  

Yes. I'll talk to you soon. 


Scott Allen  38:47




[End Of Audio]




Leadership & Adventure With Elena Nichols
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Reflection and Inspiration in Leadership
Celebrating a Milestone and Looking Forward