It’s not easy transitioning from successful athlete to successful entrepreneur, but Ryk Neethling has made the move seem almost effortless. The 41-year-old Olympic gold medalist – and the first South African to compete in four successive Olympic Games – could have comfortably segued into a different career in the sporting field, but instead, he took on roles as shareholder and marketing director at luxury property development company Val de Vie Estate, Pearl Valley Golf Course and Cape Winelands Properties. In addition, he is an ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and the CEO of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation South Africa, where he’s involved in raising awareness of the importance of water safety and education through sport on behalf of the Princess of Monaco.
With his steadfast work ethic and rigorous self-discipline, it’s no surprise that Ryk, a Chōsen expert, is the host of the Chōsen Lifestyle Optimization Experience South Africa, taking place this week. But while he has found success both in and out of the pool, the swimming legend wants us to know that his journey towards his dreams was not without its difficulties.
“Transitioning from sports to business is challenging for all athletes,” he explains. “You have to reinvent yourself and your identity. There are many doubts along the way and you pretty much have to start from scratch all over again. As an athlete I also had my trying moments but it was through these tough times and failures that I grew the most.”
Goal setting has long been a huge part of Ryk’s success. Dreaming big is one thing, but he believes that the best way to bring those dreams to life is to take small steps towards them. “If my only goal as a 12-year-old was to go to the Olympics, I would have given up long before I got there because it’s such a massive dream and I probably would’ve been discouraged the moment I hit a roadblock. Instead, I made it my goal to do better every season, and before I knew it I was competing at my first Olympics (in Atlanta in 1996).”
Ryk still follows this goal-setting process, breaking up big goals into several smaller ones and focusing on the goals he has set himself for the day. He says that when you follow this process so that you are consistently checking off these smaller goals, you will be amazed at what you eventually accomplish.
“That’s where I think people go wrong when it comes to setting goals,” he adds. “They have the dream but don’t get to see it through because they don’t break the main goal up into smaller, short-term ones. It’s really a process that requires persistence, dedication and focus. Many people are also afraid of failure, but failure is where we find our strength. It’s where most of our growth takes place.”
Besides goal setting, Ryk says he did not get to be the success he is today without a few other personal rules. “I treat everybody the same and always with respect. I also work hard, act with integrity and make it a point to stay humble. On top of that, I believe it’s important to have people around you that you look up to; I’ve had some great role models along the way, one of them being my father.”