Olympian David Boudia about to perform a dive. After embarrassment in 2008, he became a gold medal-winner in 2012. (Photo source: Thomas Nelson)

Olympian David Boudia about to perform a dive. After embarrassment in 2008, he became a gold medal-winner in 2012. (Photo source: Thomas Nelson)

As I stood on the 10-meter platform in Beijing in 2008, preparing for my final dive in the aqua-colored, puffy-looking Water Cube (the venue for all the aquatic events), I wanted to savor the moment. This was the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment for hundreds of athletes like me who had sweated, pushed, lifted, trained, sacrificed, and willed their way to the Olympics.

For me, that Olympic experience amounted to a whopping total of about 8.5 seconds in my individual event. The final in the 10-meter platform competition consists of six dives. A dive takes about 1.4 seconds. That means I spent roughly five hours a day, six days a week, three hundred days a year training and preparing for those 8.5 seconds. Plus, the fact that millions of people around the world were watching me as I stood there in a skimpy suit added to my drive to attain perfection. Talk about pressure.

My Olympic journey had been an all-consuming passion and obsession since I was seven years old. That was the start of my pursuit of the American dream—my belief that I could achieve riches, fame, and success. For me, the Olympics were my vehicle of choice to get the goods. The desire accelerated over time. Once I made the Olympics, just making it there was no longer enough. I wanted to win a medal. Then winning a medal wasn’t enough. I wanted to win gold.

With a singular focus that never wavered, I pursued this dream of Olympic glory not for some noble purpose but because of what I thought it could deliver. My only desire in life was to please myself and do everything I could to make my life better, and I believed a gold medal would achieve that. A gold medal would mean fame and adoration. A gold medal would mean success. It would mean acceptance. It would mean happiness and joy.

So, relentlessly and doggedly, that’s what I chased. And the harder I pressed and the closer I got to that goal, the more miserable life became. Every time I thought I had almost achieved the goal, suddenly a new one took its place. No matter what I accomplished and no matter how happy I should have been, fulfillment always seemed just beyond my grasp.


The harder I pressed and the closer I got to that goal, the more miserable life became


Sound familiar?

Maybe everyone else in your life thinks you have it all together, but you know better. You look in the mirror and you see the emptiness staring back at you that eludes everyone else. Sometimes it feels as though your life is a disaster. You wonder if you’ll ever find joy, satisfaction, and peace. Maybe you think once you lose that ten pounds, everything will be better. Maybe you’re enslaved to your work, and you think your next promotion will solve so many problems. Maybe you’ve been looking for fulfillment in the next drink, the next hit, the next puff, or the next conquest.

I know exactly what it’s like, that unrelenting mirage of a promise that happiness is just around the next corner. Once you get there, you find a mouthful of sand instead.

If only I could get that scholarship. If only I could get married. If only my kids would obey. If only I could land that job. If only my spouse were different. If only the chemo would work.

If only.

My “if only” had partially come true when I made the Olympic team in 2008 and achieved a goal I had set as a boy. It was the American dream fulfilled. Now here I was, standing in front of thousands of Chinese fans in the first Olympics China had ever hosted. My final dive was meaningless because my previous two dives had left me far from medal contention. Nevertheless, I wanted to go out in memorable fashion. I wanted to absorb all I could of the atmosphere and the adulation. Normally I try to tune out the externals that can distract. This time, however, I looked around at the crowd. I tried to suck every bit of excitement and pleasure that I could out of my final attempt.

I enjoyed the moment. I took a deep breath and launched myself off the platform. And I turned in one of the worst dives I had ever done in a competition. The Olympics that began with such promise and potential had ended in embarrassment.

The days that followed that first Olympic experience marked a downward spiral of hopelessness and despair. My failed pursuit of Olympic glory had left me feeling abandoned and alone. I felt betrayed, rejected, and defeated by the “god” I had sacrificed everything to appease. I would have utterly scoffed at the Olympic creed declaring that the important thing “is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.” What nonsense that seemed to me in the aftermath of my greatest episode of heartbreak and disappointment. My whole purpose had proven hollow, and the destruction that followed left my life in tatters. I didn’t know it at the time, but my purpose needed to be redirected and redeemed. I needed to be redirected and redeemed.

If you’re fighting against hopelessness and emptiness in life, I’ve been there. If you’re battling fear and laziness, I’ve been there too. If you feel aimless, directionless, and purposeless, you’re not the only one. And I can tell you absolutely and without reservation, there is hope for you.


If you’re fighting against hopelessness and emptiness in life, I’ve been there. If you’re battling fear and laziness, I’ve been there too. If you feel aimless, directionless, and purposeless, you’re not the only one. And I can tell you absolutely and without reservation, there is hope for you.


(Source: Thomas Nelson)

(Source: Thomas Nelson)

Our hearts are made to love and to pursue meaning and purpose. Too often, though, we settle for chasing after things of inferior value—cheap imitations of the real thing. As it has for so many others, the American dream seemed to offer happiness and fulfillment but crushed me in the end when it didn’t deliver.

I’m thankful that my story doesn’t end with the failure and heartache I found in Beijing and in the days that followed. In the years since, my purpose in life has shifted and I have discovered something greater than worldly recognition and fame. Something greater than the American dream. Something far greater than even the gold medal that would ultimately be mine.

David Boudia is a professional diver who won gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, and will be competing in the 2016 games in Rio. This article is adapted from his new book, “Greater Than Gold,” available August 2.

Excerpt adapted from “Greater Than Gold” by David Boudia Copyright © 2016 by David Boudia. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.DavidBoudia.com.

For another story on overcoming failure, check out Shawn Johnson’s short film: