Devon Harris – How This 3-Time Olympian Keeps on Pushing for Success (#268)

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Devon Harris

Devon Harris, a three-time Olympian, is a retired Jamaican bobsledder and military officer. He was one of the founding members of the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team and captain of the 1992 and 1998 teams. His achievements have been made famous by the movie Cool Runnings (1993), based on the true story of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s debut in competition during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Picture by 1988 Getty Images

Devon’s current ambition is to motivate others to achieve their goals. He now uses the same passion, dedication, and talents that allowed him to bobsled with the best in the world to inspire audiences of all ages to dream big and take their “game” to the next level as an international motivational keynote speaker.

The Road from a Violent Ghetto to Becoming an Olympian

Devon Harris was raised in Olympic Gardens, Kingston’s violent ghetto in Jamaica. From a very young age, he had what he considered the greatest gift: the belief that a positive attitude and a never say die mentality would get him further than a feeling of injustice and an angry heart. After graduating from the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England and receiving a Queen’s Commission in December 1985, Devon served in the Jamaica Defense Force officer corps until December 1992, when he retired as a Captain.

His military career has had a strong influence on what happened next. Encouraged by his commanding officer, Devon tried out for and was selected to the first Jamaican bobsled team. The team competed in three Olympics: Calgary 1988, Albertville 1992, and Nagano 1998.

After retiring from his sport, Devon shifted his career toward motivational public speaking. He has given keynotes and seminars on pursuing the dream, diversity, peak performance, persistence, leadership, and teamwork at many conferences and corporate events worldwide. Devon Harris has also written two books. The children’s book, Yes, I can! : the story of the Jamaican bobsled team, and his semi-autobiographical motivational book; Keep On Pushing: Hot Lessons From Cool Runnings

In 2006, Harris founded the Keep On Pushing Foundation, which supports kids’ education in disadvantaged communities. During the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Devon was honored by the World Olympians Association and inducted as an Olympian For Life in recognition of the significant contribution he has made to society in inspiring others never to give up.

And now here’s Devon Harris.

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Podcast with Devon Harris. How This 3-Time Olympian Keeps on Pushing for Success.


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Mike Malatesta, Devon Harris

Mike Malatesta  00:04

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the How’d it happen Podcast. I’m so happy to have you here as I am with every episode, and today, I’m fulfilling my promise to you with another amazing success story. I’ve got Devon Harris on the show. Devon, thank you so much for joining me.

Devon Harris  00:32

My man. Thank you for having me on. Pleasure. Yeah, this

Mike Malatesta  00:35

is gonna be fun because you are going to kind of be blown away by Devon and I’m going to tell you a little bit about why that’s going to be the case and then we’re going to fill in the blanks after we get started. Devon Harris was raised in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, a place called in a place called Olympic gardens that would turn out to be an ironic name. Getty graduate graduated from the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England, and served as an officer in the Jamaica Defense Force. He started off as a barefoot boy trying to win a track race and became a member of his country’s first Olympic bobsled team. circumstances and others constantly told Devon Harris it was impossible. But at every step of the way, he kept on pushing and found a way to make it possible since his days on the bobsled slope. As a three-time Olympian, that’s three times Devon Harris has become a top corporate motivational keynote speaker and author sharing his philosophy on keep on pushing his flashy of keep on pushing, and never stopped dreaming with Fortune 100 companies across many industries. Devon is also the founder and CEO of the keep on pushing Foundation, a New York based 501 C three charity focused on helping children in disadvantaged communities receive a quality education Devon’s written three books, a children’s book called Yes, I can, a semi-autobiographical motivational book called keep on pushing hot lessons from cool running from Cool Runnings and goals, how to set and achieve them. Finally, in 2018, Devon was inducted into the world Olympian Association as an Olympian Flyff. Devon’s podcast is called, keep on pushing. I was fortunate to be a guest on his show, it’s very cool show you should check it out and follow it. And you can find out more about Devon at Devon Harris. D E V O N, Harris with two So Devon, let’s get started with it. How did happen for you?

Devon Harris  02:50

That’s a loaded question. Where do I start with that, um, I want to go all the way back to my early years, I spent those with my grandmother in rural Jamaica, a small rural district on the south coast of Jamaica. And the thing I remember about my grandmother is that she was an amazing storyteller. And the stories I remember the most Mike are the ones I should say, had the greatest impact on me. Were the ones you told me about soldiers and the amazing things they could do and not get hurt, you know, and it find out my little five-year-old imagination, I’m like, Oh my God, I don’t know if I could do that. But I like to try. And it kind of inspired me to want to be a soldier but more importantly, I think it’s inspired me to want to do things pursue results go after goals that everybody else think is impossible are in my best difficult and that’s kind of where it started. For me. It just it’s turned that started something in me that got me to keep doing stuff that I’m not supposed to be doing, I suppose.

Mike Malatesta  03:54

What’s your was there a military sort of history in your family? Devon that your that your grandmother was talking about? Or was she just talking about soldiers in general? Or how was how was it that she was so interested in telling you those stories?

Devon Harris  04:08

Yeah, no, no, no, no, I think I’m the I’m the first soldier in my family. That’s no military history. But we live in a country where soldiers are really respected right, they are seen as tough and hardy and, and I guess protective as well. Just something to look up to. So try, especially if you like my mother grandmother was a country bumpkin. They live in the country. They are very impressionable people, I have to say. And so what does generally I think so does that we just grew up with a kind of a love and a respect for soldiers.

Mike Malatesta  04:43

And she’s telling you these stories Yeah, I get a little feedback. See what we got? That’s better. Yeah. I’m still hearing

Devon Harris  05:08

why I wasn’t even hearing you before my MacBook speakers. Let me just my book. How does that?

Mike Malatesta  05:24

How’s it for you as I’m hearing? Good? I’m hearing you okay. Yeah, I hear myself

Devon Harris  05:35

there’s always something.

Mike Malatesta  05:38

Check, check, check. Let’s see now I’m not hearing. Okay, you can try it again. See? I’ll go from the point of my last question. Here. Okay. 321. So your grandmother’s telling you these stories as a five year old, and you’re getting all excited about the lore of being a soldier and, and what that might mean for you. But what do you do with that? I mean, as a five-year-old, besides it being like something you’re imagining or something you’re fixated on, because of your grandmother? What are you actually doing in your life? Or can you remember? Like, what do you How did you make something out of what she was telling

Devon Harris  06:28

you? No, I’ve never been asked that question before. So no, you are forcing me to think why. I’m actually I don’t know that I did anything different. I just kind of grew up and it was always in the back of my head. So I fantasize about it. i Yeah. You know, I joined the Boy Scouts and his back in the day when you had his who remember those P I guess people age. Remember, those are the plastic toy soldiers. And so you’re you’re playing with that, right? Playing war games and that kind of stuff. It does. So it stayed with me. And throughout my years, I’ve always wanted to be different things and a lawyer doctor that, you know, that kind of stuff. But that always come back to soldier. And that became the thing.

Mike Malatesta  07:18

And what was going on with the rest of your family while you were growing up? Tell me about your parents and your siblings. How were they thinking about things? The way you were thinking about things?

Devon Harris  07:32

Yeah, um, so I. So I said, that’s what my early years are my grandmother, I think I moved back to Kingston live with my dad when I was five years old or thereabouts. And so I grew up in as you mentioned, Olympic gardens, right. Sounds like a suburb of Kingston was actually one of the toughest ghettos in the world, really rough

Mike Malatesta  07:56

places you would have to apply to, like a prestigious Olympic pre-Olympic training school. Sounds like,

Devon Harris  08:05

yeah. It’s this trick in the name. So a really poor, impoverished, violent kind of environment. You know, my dad was a bus driver, I worked for the National bus company. As a driver. My stepmom was actually employed for the entire time I was growing up, you know, so that didn’t make life easy, you know, financially for us. Um, but, you know, I guess, you know, when you’re in an environment like that, and you, you find a way to be happy and you find a way to live. But, you know, I discovered sports I you know, love school, you know, play with my siblings. Yeah. So I grew up and I tell you know, so I grew up with, let’s say, two sets of siblings because my, my, my birth mother had, you know, a bunch of kids as well. So, you know, I’m the first off for your birth 16 kids. So I grew up with about half of them and the other half into my mother’s which are my dad’s kids, my mother’s kids, you know, we just kind of meet up wherever in just a normal runner life, but we’re falling away despite all of that to be relatively close even today.

Mike Malatesta  09:32

Grandmother, you talked about your mom’s mom.

Devon Harris  09:36

My dad’s mom you got to do a big

Mike Malatesta  09:53

Were you ever attracted to the lore of this? Part of the direction you ended up on?

Devon Harris  10:06

Yeah, no, no, that’s a really good question, too. I guess the first thing is that my dad would probably kill me that that was not in the equation man hanging out. No. Um, but then there was another part of me and I would see it right, I would see this group of boys hanging out. And somebody was always getting beaten up in that group. And I remember just looking at them and go, you know, I’m so glad my father don’t allow me to hell, because that would not be me getting beaten up in either bursting, busting somebody’s head and running home. So that, that that kind of lifestyle was never attractive to me at all, you know? Because I didn’t like the dynamics that I observed in the groups. I’m a little bit I was I suppose I’m a little bit of a loner. Yes, I guess I am. I am the dude who likes to march to the beat of his own drums. And when you’re in a group, like that doesn’t always work. It makes it difficult to i Oh, no, I want to do this. If you guys want to join me fine, but I’m not doing that kind of thing. You know?

Mike Malatesta  11:15

Okay, so you never really needed. You never needed the sort of peer approval that so many people end up needing?

Devon Harris  11:25

That’s correct. Yeah.

Mike Malatesta  11:29

And it’s good that you obviously you had your dad’s support and

Devon Harris  11:34

support. Support my Oh, can’t find support. This is 20 to 22. Intimidation, you use the correct word there man intimidation, yeah.

Mike Malatesta  11:57

Okay, the path toward to the Royal Military Academy, which was, which was not in Jamaica. Right? I was in England. So how does? How does? What did you have to push to get that?

Devon Harris  12:11

man Um, so you know, fortunately, I grew up in Jamaica, where we were based on a British system, the educational system, the military, the police laws, etc., etc. But we didn’t have the little Boston Tea Party thing. So we’re coding in grand, right? We’re still cool with that. So you kind of have to go through school, you know, to go from elementary school to high school, you have to pass an exam. So let’s do this an entire process, right. So I eventually get to high school. And we again, based on a British system, so at the end of high school to do these exams on the University of Cambridge, or Oxford, all at all levels. And I ended up going back to school for two extra years to do in advanced levels, were just kind of like, pre-University stuff. On the strength of that those passes, I’m able to now apply it to the officer corps of the Jamaica defense force that only gets you in the door. So I turned up, you know, all bright eyed and bushy tailed that morning, and there were 33 of us waiting to go through this rigorous three days selection process. And before we got started, that 33 was down to nine. And then you’re heard through the grapevine, oh, they’re looking for five people. I don’t think that’s, that’s true. Now that I know how the process works. And they were looking for five, and I’m like, okay, so then it means that four of us aren’t making it, you know. Anyway, we went through the process, which was pretty rigorous. And in the end, I was a top pick up on the three that made it. Yeah, yeah. And then I went through 18 weeks of the most miserable time in my life, you know, basic training in Jamaica. And then they, they smiled on me and sent me to Sandhurst, so I could train to become an officer.

Mike Malatesta  14:18

So it sounds like that’s where the soldiers earned their respect, that your grandmother was talking about 33 out of 33. And I know everyone doesn’t go through the same thing.

Devon Harris  14:30

Right. So yeah, there’s a very, there’s a different process when you’re an enlisted soldier when you’re just joined as an unlisted man, but for as officers, you kind of have to go through this three-day process. And I have as an officer, have been one of the officers selecting other candidates, and I’ve had selection. I’ve been on selection boards. That’s what we call them. We didn’t select anybody. We didn’t think that they were up to snuff. Yeah, it’s challenging. Yeah, we don’t just, you know, that took me because of my smile, but we don’t take everybody else because of their smiling. I mean good, I worked. I worked so hard in that three days, man, like I just like, you know, cuz it’s all about where it began. And it’s like, wherever it is that it began for me there’s that I like getting into the officer corps was my shot, to move forward, failing would mean that I will go back to Olympic guns, that wasn’t part of the plan. So I had to dig deep.

Mike Malatesta  15:36

So if you failed, you didn’t like drop down to enlisted status?

Devon Harris  15:40

In other words, you know, you go home to go sit back in the gardens. And, you know, wonder if I should be hanging out with those guys over there, which was not part of the plan at all? No.

Mike Malatesta  15:49

Do you remember? You’re seeing these guys drop out? Was that giving you strength?

Devon Harris  15:56

Yeah, well, yeah. So you know. So once you got your saw, these guys being with the numbers being whittled down from 33 to nine, and I remember, we’re having this kind of discussion. And people are like, Man, if I don’t make it, I’m gonna reapply in three months, or six months or a year. And I remember blurting out, I’m not coming back. And they all kind of looked at me as like, Oh, this guy’s serious. And I was actually thinking to myself, I just happen to blurt out a load and everybody heard. And I and then I saw, I responded, after that. I said, after that, I’m not coming back, because I’m not going home. And so I got down to drop down to that nine, we’re going to do the actual selection process. And it’s difficult to know how you’re doing, I was kind of keeping tabs in my head, you know, assessing my performance and assessing the other guy’s performance. And, you know, I never put myself at one, but that was always in my head firmly in the top five, because I’d heard that they were gonna select five, I did the same thing with a box of 10 trials. But yeah, it turned out I was a top pick. So you know, things worked out for me.

Mike Malatesta  17:09

Do you? Do you keep in touch with?

Devon Harris  17:17

Well, we served together. We haven’t been in touch. I’ve been around for 30 years when Geez, it’s an up there. So it’s been a while since I’ve spoken to the other two guys

Mike Malatesta  17:40

in the military and the defense force,

Devon Harris  17:43

dude, I love that, man. I’m born for this. Um, you know it? Well, you know, the thing is, I know we live in a world now, especially in America, as an athlete. You know, having a background like mine, people think that oh, sports was my way. Oh, it was never, the army was my way out, being an officer was my wheel. And I just, it just was challenging. I had to get comfortable going from being this ghetto kid, to being an army officer in the middle of class. And I always thought that went once I became an officer of manual, but out of the ghetto, like, instantly, and that didn’t happen. It I felt like I was straddling two worlds. I was first I had one leg still from in the hood, because my siblings were still there. My family was still there. When I left the base to quote unquote, go home, I went back to the hood. And then, you know, my, my, my normal day, I’m an Army officer in the middle class, you know? So yeah, it took it took a lot of work on myself to feel like I belonged initially. Until I kind of got in there.

Mike Malatesta  19:00

And then when you when you would go back home during the experience, did you feel like you were home or did you feel out of place?

Devon Harris  19:11

No, I felt I felt home. I was with family. I felt, um, yeah, I felt comfortable. You know, I never because it’s always good to go home is that it’s not the place that I went home and spent a night or too often, I would probably spend one night you know, the art ever no one again, but it was it was always cool to go on because I was keep in contact with the people that I love and who I care about the most. So that was fine. Then when they came to see me felt like a fish out of water. They were always uncomfortable in my new environment.

Mike Malatesta  19:51

Okay. I think that seems not very understandable, right? Because it’s like, Who is this guy? You know, we were kind of had this thing that we shared with our family. And now, you know, you’ve got this great opportunity that I’m assuming maybe no one else in your family had maybe no one else in your network?

Devon Harris  20:13

Yeah, yeah, that’s true. This is true. Yeah. Well, you know, the thing is that my night, my siblings, right, they felt very comfortable around me, because I was still just Devon to them. But in the new environment that Devon was hanging out in, they were never at ease with it. You know, I was more at ease going back to them. And they were at ease, as I said earlier, that you know, I had to do a real job on myself to convince myself that I actually deserve to be here and that nobody gave this to me, man, I earned it.

Mike Malatesta  20:50

And if the if the army was your way out, how did you know you got out a different way? You’re in the army. So you got out that way and then I think it was your superior officer or someone that’s sort of inspired or directed or whatever you to you know, this year what became your Olympic career? Yeah. Was that a hard sell? Yeah,

Devon Harris  21:23

no, it’s so he did not inspire me right. He directed us is nice word for inspired what’s wrong? So the story is, so I actually so although that Iman was my way out. I harbored Olympic aspirations. I wanted to go to the Olympics to run not sprint, I was admitted distance runner because I’m from Jamaica, where everybody is fast, right? And speed. This is. It’s relative. So maybe I was fast somewhere. It’s just not in Jamaica. So I couldn’t win in the spring. So I ran 815 100 meters and had aspirations of competing in the Olympics and h4. know, when I was at Sandhurst, I jumped out of a plane, and I broke my ankle. Don’t judge me. I was young and foolish, okay. It was foolish, I admitted. So when I came back to Jamaica, I’m limping and not the picture of an athlete. Not many people knew I was an athlete, actually. But this is, it is. So if you fast forward to the summer of 87. I’m not mad the Olympics are coming up. I need to get as fit as I can to try and qualify for the games. So, I’m running my five miles every day before I have to report for duty. And then I ran this cross country and I finished 14 from 40. And they’re like, Oh, my God is fit. It was it was right about that same time that the bobsled team idea came about. And so my colonel thought he had sent his young fit officer to the team trials, not expecting me to meet the team, but because of a philosophy in the army that says officers must always participate. So since he had his young his enlisted men going he thought that sentence young fit officer to make up the numbers as well. But do the minute he told me I had, I didn’t think I was going to go to the team tries had no interest in it. Thought this was a ridiculous idea. You know, Bob said to him from Jamaica, who the hell comes up with that? Right? And but the minute the colonel told me, I was going to the team trials, then that thing that my grandmother, my grandmother turned on when I was five kicked in, and so it wasn’t I’m just gonna go to the team trials and make up numbers. Like, how do I make this team? Like I don’t know how I’m gonna make it all I know is that I have to meet the team. And so I just went there and competed as hard as I possibly could and you know, that smile does it again, man, it worked for the selection board and here we are again, antenna selectively

Mike Malatesta  24:12

Oh, yeah. So the lesson there for everyone is there’s no substitute for work. You got to do the work but man if you got a good smile

Devon Harris  24:21

over the edge not smiling. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Dude, I I just work I was fighting fighting to, like be in that top four. Because, again, you’re going through the process and I’m assessing everybody as you’re going through like I’m and I know I’m not the fastest guy there. But, you know, I was fighting to be considered in the top four.

Mike Malatesta  24:49

And when your Colonel gave you these directions, you know you had been on this track route Did you resist or you’re like hey, you know, thank you for thinking of me but I’m you know, I’m shooting to be Dude, I’m a I’m a second left hand and the American army that’s a first lieutenant. Yeah, it’s a Yes, sir. That’s a great idea.

Devon Harris  25:14

Yes, sir. Actually, I was I was relieved because I thought it was going to be in trouble. And he called me. I said, Oh, you’re gonna want to teach me? Oh, no, okay, fine. I’m not in trouble then cool.

Mike Malatesta  25:28

Competition, like,

Devon Harris  25:31

you know, most of the guys are? Well, there’s seven of the top 10, who are the 10 tribes are army guys. And I just, I remember, because I was still new in the army. These are all the track stars that I saw in the army when I just came, you know. So it was it was fierce. And in my head, I wasn’t I describe myself as army fit at the time, I could walk 100 miles with 50 pounds on my back on a raft in my hand, I didn’t think I was puts fit and done and a serious, intense force training for about two years. So you know, I was all good. And grit. You know, again, just trying to, to, in my head fit myself in that top four. And I was doing, I was doing well, on all the tests, I wasn’t dominating any of them. That the one that I dominated was what we call a push test, I ended up with a two fastest pushes faster than even the fastest sprinter. So, like, I remember thinking, man, if there’s one test that has to be the most important, it has to be this one. And I ended up you know, getting the two fastest wishes.

Mike Malatesta  26:49

So is that test pushing a sled or equivalent?

Devon Harris  26:52

Yeah, pushing a makeshift sled on wheels? Yeah, yeah. So the simulator, I’m like, yeah, if there’s one test, that’s the most important there has to be this. And yeah, I kill it.

Mike Malatesta  27:03

How long in the test period or the trial? Try out whatever it’s called. Was it before you actually got in a bobsled and ran down a track?

Devon Harris  27:17

Hmm. So we saw the test happen. The trials happen in September 87. early to mid-September, and the first time we went on a bobsled track was in October of 87. By the way, the Olympics in February it right. The first time we’re actually going to abovesaid track is in October of 87.

Mike Malatesta  27:41


Devon Harris  27:43

That’s one way to describe it. What were you thinking? You’re very kind. I appreciate you.

Mike Malatesta  27:56

So okay, so most people know the story. You know, the initial Olympic bobsled team has been made into a movie that’s, I understand is maybe partly representational, partly fantasy, but I’m really more interested in like, so you get in, you’re in the you’re in the army. While you’re doing it, you go to three straight Olympics, right?

Devon Harris  28:24

I missed that Miss. I actually missed the nine to four games because I just left the army and moved to the US. So there was not there was it nine to two and then they flipped. So there was a nine to four Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. So I missed that one. And then I went back in 98.

Mike Malatesta  28:42

Yeah, so that’s an Olympic career that’s unlike most Olympians that most Olympians don’t make it to three, arguably for the stretch of time for four Olympics. So you mentioned that you got out of the army when went Could you remind me when that was?

Devon Harris  28:59

Yeah. So December 92. Okay, so

Mike Malatesta  29:03

you’d been in two Olympics at that, by that time? Yeah. So how do you? And by the way, you’re the first three time Olympian that I’ve had on my show. So this is really interesting. And you’re in the army during this so so you go to the Olympics? I mean, do they let you focus exclusively on the Olympics once you make the team then?

Devon Harris  29:25

So once I’m if I’m in Jamaica, I’m splitting armored uterus with training time, I’m actually trying to fit time in to train in between my army duties that that takes priority. Yeah, when it went, but fortunately, because Bob said it happens overseas. Yeah, when I do go for real Bob’s setting. I’m aware. You know, I’m away in North America, Europe. So in that way, I’m able to exclusively focus on Bob setting and then I go home and I literally take my Bob said uniform off, put my army uniform back on and go to work.

Mike Malatesta  30:04

Okay. And you moved to the US between 1994 Something like that.

Devon Harris  30:13

Yeah, at the end of 92. So I left the army and I came straight here.

Mike Malatesta  30:16

What how come

Devon Harris  30:19

I came with a bright idea to study Hospitality Management. I love traveling, I love meeting people. And I thought I would come to school in the US to get a hospitality management degree and, and work my way up to, you know, whatever left in my head at the time general manager for hotel, but I could not shake the bobsled bug, I could not get it out of my system. And so I decided to go pursue that. And so that’s how I ended up you know, training for and qualifying for the 90 games, and in the process discovered this thing called motivational speaking. And so now, you know, I live in hotels and are working there. So I described it.

Mike Malatesta  31:07

And were you able to two time Olympian you move to a new country, get this new idea? The Olympic bug sticks with you decide that you’re going to keep doing that, and not pursue the other? Which is the motivational speaking, come right away? Or how do you support yourself?

Devon Harris  31:27

So no, so I do so nine to two. So for about 18, my first 18 months, I worked in a restaurant in the Bronx as a cook. And, you know, going to school at night, because that’s that was a focus, right? To get that that Hospitality Management degree. And so. And Bob setting was I was struggling with it, I was struggling to get it out of my system, right. So I’m working, you know, six days a week going to school at nights, trying to get this Hospitality Management degree. And then I left there, and I went to work at a retail store. So I worked in retail for another 18 months. And again, it’s kind of especially after I left the kitchen, and I know had access to back then phone and fax right, no emails, I stopped I really started to pursue this bob said thing, I’m trying to figure out how I couldn’t get it done. And that at the end of 1996, I literally dropped everything. And because I had to make that moves, I don’t want to go back into training now or forget about the 98 Olympics. And so I just dropped everything man and went to Calgary. How did I support myself that then? That’s a really good question. I don’t even know I remember. Nine to seven. We were in Evanston, Wyoming training eight hours a day and delivering pizzas at night. You know, we just figure out a way. Here, they are little things here and there screws, scrimping and scratching, eking out an existence. And, and all the while training, because you have to do that.

Mike Malatesta  33:13

And you use your, your, your wording. What, what was it the cap you pushing to that? 98? Those 98 games like what? Why?

Devon Harris  33:27

So, you know, we might sound delusional, when we talk about as a Jamaican that I think we have the ability to win a medal, right? Like I just saw believe that. So I was willing to do the work, put in the effort, make the sacrifice and make that happen. And so it’s just the thing was in my blood, I’m passionate about it. I love the idea of competing in the Olympic Games. I love the idea of representing my country. So yeah, I was just Yeah, I remember saying to a psychologist, I think I think I’m delusional, but I think I can win an Olympic medal. And he goes, Well, you have to be delusional. Like, you’re no, you’re right. I mean, there’s nothing in here. And I think all of us when we go after these big crazy dreams, you know, there’s nothing in our background, or training or experience that suggests that this thing is possible. And I know when you use the word delusional, it’s using a negative with a negative connotation. I think you have to be like crazy to think that of 6 billion people in the world. You can be one of them who goes to the Olympic Games, right? That’s, that’s I describe that as being delusional, not in the same breath as someone who goes on American Idol and can sing to save their lives, and are shocked when they’re told they can’t No, you can’t seem like no, that’s the loser. No, they don’t. But I think if you can actually go after the whole step-by-step sacrifice, go through the pain, do everything that moves you that the lusion meant, eventually transcend to reality can transcend to possibility. And one day reality.

Mike Malatesta  35:15

You know, I, I actually don’t attribute delusional to with a negative connotation because I feel like the so the easiest thing you could do is have an idea and someone say, Devon, come on, you’re not going to be able to do that and you go, you’re probably right, you know, and it’s just gone before you’ve even taken a step. Maybe word it right. I like to use the word selfish, when it comes to, you know, really getting a good understanding about what you want, and I don’t And that word has a negative connotation to but I also, if you’re not selfish, about really getting clear, you know what, what you want, you’re really gonna have a tough time doing it, and all kinds of people are gonna say, same thing, they’re gonna, they’re gonna want to just fill it, they’re either gonna want to tell you, you can’t do it, or they’re gonna want to fill your time with something that means nothing to you, and you take it, because you don’t know, you know, kind of where you’re going.

Devon Harris  36:18

You’re right. You’re right. You’re right. And I love the word, love to use the word selfish. And I bought a book years ago, because I had Bob said it. And I lived in Jamaica, every time I land in America, we walk into the bookstore, in the airport, and I buy a book. And I bought this book, The Art of selfishness. And I’m reading through the book. And I’m like, What is nothing selfless about these stories? The reason why I bought the book is because I thought it said the art of selflessness. Oh, but it does. I do I have it on my bookshelf here somewhere. Yes, because it’s exactly what you’re saying that if you want to save the world, and um, this is not necessarily in the book, but is an idea that I’ve taken from the book, and then I live by actually, you have to be able to save yourself first. Right? You can’t, you can’t, at something I talked about in my speeches, you can’t give value to others if you’re not a person of value. So you have to first work on yourself to become valuable. So you can impart value to others, right? You have to have some achieved some amount of success before you can encourage and challenge other people to be successful. That requires a level of selfishness. Not over the board. mind, mind, mind. You can’t have any but I need to focus on me kind of like I guess I’ve always had that selfish streak. You know, we go back to did I hang out with the boys? I don’t I know because I wanted to go running. I want you to go play soccer and you want to go fool around. And that’s just not my thing.

Mike Malatesta  38:06

Yeah, I think that’s funny that you picked it up because you thought it it said selfish because selfless really sells right servant leadership. So wow, who wouldn’t want to be selfless and I’ve come to believe that you. You can only truly be selfless once you’ve been selfish. So in other words, you you you’ve really identified where you’re going, who you want to be what your future is going to look like once you have that you can be very selfless with other people. Because your selflessness isn’t going to get in the way of your they’re actually going to heat you’re actually going to use your selflessness to bring them into your journey and help you get to what you want. Yeah, exactly.

Devon Harris  38:49

I agree.

Mike Malatesta  38:51

And you when, when you had your final Olympic Games, you were the captain of the team. So third time 1998 You mentioned a psychologist but and I don’t know if the two are connected but I’m thinking to myself Well, geez, when that’s over, whether the you know, even if you did win a medal even if you were the most, you know, acclaimed athlete in the games when that’s over. How did you process that? How did it Are you there Did I lose you?

Devon Harris  42:26

2:30pm call tomorrow probably alright so may I call you back on this of course yes thank you good all right

Mike Malatesta  42:43

are you hear my bro I can hear you I can’t see

Devon Harris  42:45

you alright coming up once so I just pick up my phone to call you and I saw that I’d missed a call so I call the number it was somebody else okay but for the for the for the call afterwards so we have come on man we can go a little past two o’clock because that call is not going to happen again if I can get back to the screen here check check check check check check check one sec so the power just went

Mike Malatesta  43:36

oh your power went Oh, okay.

Devon Harris  43:39

That’s that’s some I don’t know what’s going on as a member because we had a snowstorm among the friends so yeah, just went off and everything shut down and then it came back. So let’s try and get back on camera here. I’m not sure why I’m not coming on. So that’s not the camera I want. So let’s go back to the cat canon sweared this stupid things don’t work the way they’re supposed to.

Mike Malatesta  44:22

I’ve been there. I know exactly what it feels like.

Devon Harris  44:29

Because a cannon gives you a better quality picture. It’s because Yeah. Because you’re using the video Correct?

Mike Malatesta  44:36

Yes. Yeah.

Devon Harris  44:40

So I want to give you the best quality picture there is. I think what I’m going to do, Mike is leave the meeting and return. Yeah. All right.

Mike Malatesta  44:53

Okay. There we go. Just got to get you off mute. And we’re, yeah. Good.

Devon Harris  45:38

All right, sorry about that. Let’s, let’s keep it rolling

Mike Malatesta  45:41

tech wizard, man. There you go. Okay, so I’ll just count down again. And I’ll go back to that question that I that I had asked. Yeah. Okay. 321. Okay, the 1998, you have your last Olympic Games, and I’m wondering how you feel. After that, I mean, you. You took us through, you know what it meant, what you felt like when you wanted to get into that. Now, you’re a three-time Olympian. And even if you were like that, like the biggest athletes that year, I’m still I’m still I’m thinking that once it stops, something happens.

Devon Harris  46:29

Yeah. Yes, I remember coming back from Nagano and I was in Salt Lake City, I had an event with my sponsor, and I woke up that morning. And it was the first time in two years I didn’t have to get up to go workout for the Olympics, and i Oh, my God, what do I do with myself now? Yeah, I remember that moment. But the thing that was? Well, two things, one, I still had the desire to compete in another Olympic Games. Because again, that I still had the delusion illusion that I had an opportunity to win a medal, I had the ability to win a medal, I didn’t feel like I had prepared the way I needed to prepare the way I thought I needed to prepare in order to win that medal. Because I, you know, half of my time was spent raising funds on the other half training and, you know, a third of it anyway, or half of it was spent training, and a quarter spend raising five and a quarter doing administrative stuff and dealing with pilot the politics of the sport and that kind of stuff. So I felt after Nagano that I had created a good foundation on which I could build, and then go, Okay, for the next four years, I can truly train because I would have had some sponsorship. And then let’s see where the chips fall. But then the politics piece of it just got a little bit, I realized I could qualify for the Olympics. But I’m not going to be in the shape, mentally and physically that I want to be, because I would have used up so much energy fighting and dealing with the politics of it. So I’m going to go focus on something else. And so happens that as I was preparing for Nagano, I met a guy whose only purpose in my life, I’m convinced was to tell me about this thing called motivational speaking, that never heard of it before. And I said, Oh, that sounds good. I’ll do it. After the Olympics. So as I was, he did nothing to help me to go to the Olympics. But now I’m working with a new set of guys. And I said, Hey, after the Olympics, I want to be a motivational speaker. Whatever that looks like, I don’t even know. But hey, after the Olympics, I came back then I started speaking. Yeah.

Mike Malatesta  49:02

So that was interesting. You said you wanted to do it again, because you didn’t feel like you were in the proper shape or state of mind because of these other things that were happening. And it reminded me of what you said earlier when you when you first went to the you know, the trials, you said we were in military shape, but not sports shape. And now, like you were saying I was in sports shape, but not champion Olympian.

Devon Harris  49:27

Not champion. Exactly. Not championship. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve never expressed it that way before you have a way with words, man. Thank you. I’m gonna have to have it with you more often.

Mike Malatesta  49:39

I appreciate that. You. You mentioned that. This is the last question. I’m going to ask you about this. But you mentioned the fighting and the politics and I’m not sure that I understand what that means. And so I’m thinking that the people listening maybe don’t have that sort of inside what what fighting what politics?

Devon Harris  49:56

Yeah, every good every sports team Have some have politics and fighting going on, who should be on the team who shouldn’t be on the team who should get the funding who should be getting the funding? Who should be given a certain latitude? Who shouldn’t, that kind of stuff. And that, unfortunately exists on our team as well. And so there was just a lot of that going on. And it’s, it’s draining. It really is draining, you know, I can handle, obviously, I can handle it because I was able to do that and qualify for the Olympic Games. But I knew that in order to become a champion, you can’t be deluded so much of that you know, I can codify it in my head, I could qualify for the Olympics. Easy, but can I be in a space where I can train the way I need to train without all of that drama going on? So I could possibly win a medal. And I didn’t feel like that was in the cards. Yeah. Didn’t necessarily need to be a four-time Olympian right? I wanted to go to the Olympics. I wanted to be in a space and then shape mind and body that says you know what, this dude could actually pull it off and win a medal.

Mike Malatesta  51:19

So you wanted your delusionality surrounded by a complete 100% Winning environment?

Devon Harris  51:26

Yes. No, absolutely.

Mike Malatesta  51:30

So that’s pretty cool. This this this gentleman’s, you know, mentions motivational speaking to you at a time when you’re you know, a turns out you’re near the point where reinvention, if you want to call it that, or the next chapter, if you want to call it that is sort of knocking on the door. Right? Did it did did, and you said right away, it appealed to you. But I’m wondering, before that you had to off already be thinking about, you know, what, snacks? So what were you thinking about going back to the hotel management? Are you thinking about? Going back to Germany, what were you thinking

Devon Harris  52:07

that would have been going back to hotel management would have been a natural thing. It’s a kind of, you know, as I was leaving Jamaica to come to the US, that was kind of the focus, man, that’s, that’s the thing that gave me some direction. So even though I was working the restaurant as a cook, and you know, those were just hard days emotionally and financially. But that gave me direction that gave me focus as much as I was trying to share the ball setting. So once I go, Okay, I’m gonna go do this Boston thing, get it out of my system. And then I’m gonna get back to quote unquote, real life, you know. So him suggesting that go, Oh, I’m to do those always open to opportunities and new challenges and adventures? I suppose. So I’m like, I like that. And I will do it. But after the Olympics, that’s not something I want to take on. No, when I’m trying to get to the Olympic Games. Because the conversation between he and I started about him be my agent and help me raise funding fund sponsorship, to get to the Olympics. So we, you know, in my head, we needed to focus on that. You didn’t do anything to help me to get that done, but you know, kind of fully planted the seed motivational speaking.

Mike Malatesta  53:25

And when you did make the decision, were you 100% confident that you would be great at it? Yeah, were you 100% delusional that?

Devon Harris  53:36

Yeah, absolutely. There’s this like, so the dude that I ended up working with, I’m in, I’m in Lake Placid, Park City, Utah. This is November 9, seven, you know, qualifying for Nagano and he comes to my room with a VHS tape. So that’s how long ago that was. And sticks. Yeah, exactly. Kids. It’s this big, rectangular thing. But it sticks it in and it’s a guy called Vince Basanti, who’s our speaker, one time Olympian from Canada, downhill skier, speed skier. And when and so he shows me this videos have been speaking. And he says, Can you do that? Because I told him, Hey, after the Olympics, I’m going to be a motivational speaker. And he goes, Can you do that? I’m like, Yeah, I could do that. So I came back, and I started to do that. And it just kind of grew from there.

Mike Malatesta  54:37

And the first time you’re speaking in front of a fortune 100 crowd, and if you go to you go to Devon’s website, there’s a very long list of the clients that each work and then it’s they’re all names that you will recognize. Do you are you thinking you’re on stage thinking to yourself, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be or you’re on stage thinking to yourself how this A barefoot kid from Olympic gardens, Jamaica, you know, who wanted to be in the military as my way out, you know, transitioned into this to a three time Olympian. And now, here I am with all these people that, you know, just have such a different came from such a different place and arrived in this theater or auditorium or whatever with me from such different on such different paths. Did you feel like, I’m exactly where I supposed to be? Or did you feel like the hell’s going on,

Devon Harris  55:39

I was working my way into it mine. My first I would say professional speech was actually my sponsor. They had, they have their sales kickoff meeting in Vegas in January 98. And it was a surprise speaker and I, I think I spoke in my Bob said uniform at the time I buy than I used to. And so I had a lavalier mic that was clipped on. So I’m trying and I and I had my nose, everything that I was wanting to say was written out, right or typed out. And it was on the podium. And I’m trying to be cool, right by walking away from the podium. But I can’t walk away too far. Because I feel like I’m tethered like an astronaut on a spacewalk. Right. So I need, which is cool, because I needed that safety line. To be honest, I wasn’t as confident as I am no. And I saw I would kind of walk away to demonstrate some level of confidence. But I always had to wander back to the podium to check on my notes. budget went well, you know, nobody booed. That’s, that’s, that’s, that’s a first. That’s a that’s a credit to? Yeah, but actually, people came up and they were like, well, they’re so they’re inspired, impressed. There was one girl who came to me afterwards, and she said, You know, I was gonna quit. But I’ve heard your speech, I’m gonna stay. So, you know, that give me some encouragement was validation, in a way. And so I came back and I, you know, started just telling my story. And it’s, I guess, a more. I told that story of growing up in Olympic gardens and all that entailed. I felt more comfortable, because prior to that, I was less hyper conscious of my background, and it’s not something I would have willingly shared. I’m from the hood. And I grew up in a shack and, you know, despite the fact that I’ve gone on to accomplish some stuff I was hyper sensitive. About the beginnings.

Mike Malatesta  57:50

Yeah. About talking about it, right.

Devon Harris  57:54

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. No, no, we’re like a badge of honor moments. Yeah.

Mike Malatesta  57:58

Because it’s your story. Yeah. anybody else’s story. And it’s pretty, you know, profound story as well. So I know you talk about a lot of different things, but this keep on pushing thing. You know, it’s your book. It’s your podcast, it’s obviously you know, has an attachment to the bobsled. But what does it actually mean? Definitely, like someone’s like, you know, yeah. You talk about making the impossible possible and people have heard all that stuff once or twice in their lives, you know, but how do you how did you how did you keep on pushing message sort of manifest itself in a way that where I’m like, moved?

Devon Harris  58:38

Yeah, I often joke and say dude, Mr. Bob salad as creative as I get, you know, we push things right. But it Yes, does have this above certain knowledge, right. That’s how you start the risk of push the sled. But it’s not one massive push is actually a process, right? Four months that weighs 650 pounds. So yes, you need at the start this massive amount of energy to get it going. But then you can’t stop there, you have to keep on pushing. Theoretically, if you stop the cycle literally come to a halt as well, right. And even as you’re heading down the track in a real way, you’re still pushing the ice conditions or weather conditions, you have the twists and turns of the track. And you also have the limits of your own abilities. You’re trying to do better than what you did previously. Which reminds me of the success journey of life. Like every delusional dream that we have, is sitting on his own it’s equivalent of a 650-pound bobsled. And, and so how do you get that baby moving? Yeah, you have to come up with a massive amount of energy to get over the inertia. But then you can’t just stop there. You have to follow through, right? You have to keep on pushing. And as you start to attend that journey, there are all these things whether it’s people who don’t believe Because the delusion man, the impossibility of your dream is glaringly obvious to them just not you, because you’re so blinded by, I don’t know, whatever it is. Yeah. So you have to fight that sometimes you have to fight your own self-doubts, because that creeps in sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, you know, when if I’m gonna make a fool of myself, right? They have to push past that. And then yeah, you know, we was talking about my first time speaking, and getting better. So you’re always trying to get better, you’re, you should always be trying to get better. So you have to be pushing the limits the boundaries of your own abilities as well, right. That’s how you grow. So it’s a process. Its dynamic is ever changing, it’s fluid process through which we are transforming ourselves. But in the process to go back to some part of the conversation we had earlier. The process, you’re also transforming the people and the organizations around helping them right. So it’s about growth, constant growth, that’s what we are created and designed for, right? And the idea that you’re making some progress, man doesn’t have to be like giant leaps. But if you’re making tiny progress, you feel that’s the thing that gives us a certain amount of contentment that, you know. Yeah, you know, it’s not a homerun, but I got a single kind of thing.

Mike Malatesta  1:01:30

Yeah, no giant leaps are scary. But, you know, one step forward. Yeah. You know, little bit of progress is not scary, right? The stakes are that high? was a great one, you said, you know, you got to get up to speed to, you know, break the inertia, because I was thinking that he said that, even when that happens, now you get used to a different speed, but it can become your new inertia, right? There’s

Devon Harris  1:01:58

constant ever fluid ever changing fluid process, man every year, right? So every time you you’re pushed to a new level, that becomes your new foundation, your new normal, and you have to not push past that, to get to the next level, always. So you have to keep on pushing it. Yeah, the challenge sometimes I think, with the philosophy is people feel that it’s always about struggle. No, it’s about, well, growth does involve struggle. At every point in our lives, you know, we are, you know, we are to be growing. And it involves struggle in the sense that you have to change something about you something about what you’re doing. So even if it’s going from, you know, working 40 5060 hours a week, to retiring, there is that change that you have to deal with. And so, it requires, sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it requires you know, pushing yourself to go from somebody who was willing 100 miles an hour to retiring, what can I do now in retirement to make myself feel worthwhile? Because I think people think retirement means that you go a tie yourself to a pastor, like a call and like Katelyn knows, like, you sit, you’re a human being and you, your life still needs to count. So where’s that next step that you’re going to push yourself to?

Mike Malatesta  1:03:35

That’s powerful, because the, the, the out to pasture thing can become really real in a hurry. If you don’t have something that you’re, you know, striving towards some purpose that that’s meaningful to you. Because I think people underestimate the, you know, when you’ve been involved in something for a long time, whether it’s, as an Olympian or an athlete or just an executive, or just someone working at a company, there’s a lot of meaning attached to that. And even if it’s not, like, you know, setting the world on fire, meaning without it, it has to be replaced. Yeah, something has to be released.

Devon Harris  1:04:15

Otherwise, you’d die a very slow death. Yeah. Yeah. You know, the divers slow death might have meaning. Yeah.

Mike Malatesta  1:04:27

Two things I’d like to finish up with First, your foundation. Keep on pushing foundation. Seems to me if my time frame is right, about six years after you started as a motivational speaker in 2004 or so.

Devon Harris  1:04:43

Yeah, 2006 2006

Mike Malatesta  1:04:46

years later. And so you’re, you’re going around the world you’re becoming more and more famous as a as a speaker and not as just solely as an Olympic You are a decorated soldier. What makes you want to start a foundation? Because I there? I know they’re not they’re not easy.

Devon Harris  1:05:13

No, they’re not. And I think it’s because I have a screw missing. I like to go do the hard things. You know, so I was back in Jamaica and I visited the school, I was speaking to the principal. And so what’s the biggest challenge you have here? And it was, kids are coming to school hungry? And what do we know, if kids are hungry, they can’t learn, if they can’t learn, they don’t get educated, they’re educated, they can really be productive citizens, you know. And what I know is that when you grew up in a house, like I grew up and you know, other places, similarly, I grew up in a place like Jamaica, and other places. Similar to that, if you’ve missed the bus, you have missed the bus. There’s, there’s no other buses coming, right. And so I wanted to do what I could to have these scans because I can, I can clearly remember this was after high school, I’m 19 years old. And just before that summer, before I got into the army. And there was a real possibility, as I described earlier that I would not have been selected, you know, so what if I don’t get selected, what next, I didn’t know what that would be. And whatever remember, feeling is despair. If there’s no hope, that’s all that’s left to spare, if you have some ambition, and you can figure the next way out. And I still remember that feeling today, you know, so I wanted to do what I could to help put those kids on a path that would lessen the chance that they would feel that this fear, and, you know, on, go to the wrong road. So growing up in an environment like that, and then serving in the military, and going back to the old neighborhood, to go look for the quote unquote, bad boys, one of my favorite things to do. So I was able to, I’ve seen and lived both sides of this equation, right. And this is a very school, and this very classroom that I learned in the schoolyard I ran around. So I saw myself in this case, so I wanted to do what I could to help.

Mike Malatesta  1:07:31

And do you think that those kids could or can see themselves in you?

Devon Harris  1:07:38

I think so, it’s really interesting, you know, it’s a really cool thing, actually, to go back. And, you know, like, the school supplies program that I that we have there and like, you see one line long line of the boys and everybody’s one want me to look in their books, the notebooks that I gave them on the work that they did, to the point where the teachers go back to class, you know, kind of thing. I’m Jen, just I remember a few years later, visiting a high school where my artwork and there was one of the boys was attending that high school was that that primary school, an elementary school, and him just talking about the impact that my what I was doing at the school had on him and his friends in the way there was, and I remember him saying, Well, when you’re a kid, you think all kinds of strange things, aren’t you? Because he was talking about, he wanted to be a scientist and develop something that could make you breathe in a black hole. And like, I remember that, you know, but just as any goes, Man, you bought so many stuff for so many things for us. So I hope that yeah, they will go well, if he can do it. And it’s not all that smart or good looking, then you know, I could do it too.

Mike Malatesta  1:09:07

So last thing is your podcast, keep on pushing. Want to tell everybody about that? And

Devon Harris  1:09:13

yeah, man. So I got started, you know, thank you. COVID. I think I was thinking about a little bit before, but I am, like I’ve, you know, been interviewed on a million times and I never interviewed anyone. But I understood the Olympian world, and the fact that you know, you’re good, you have this big crazy dreams and you fight and you struggle, and you achieve your dream so, so I wanted to tell those stories, because I think there are lessons that everyone can learn. And because I understood that word, and I never interviewed anybody, I started there just interviewing Olympians. But as I’m thinking, You know what, there’s so many other people out there man who they didn’t compete in the winter, the Summer Olympics. But in many respects, there’s a correlation to what they’re doing. And those stories are to be told. So I just started to spread my wings and again and there’s a process right of transforming and hopefully becoming a better interviewer. Not that I’m able to share these experiences and Nuggets with everyone challenging and encouraging them to Yes, keep on pushing. Keep on going.

Mike Malatesta  1:10:31

Nice. Well, Devon, this has been such a pleasure having you on thank you so much for making time for me and you know, the work that you’re doing for your foundation and the work that you’re doing for the rest of us, you know, helping us understand that what’s may seem impossible is actually possible. And there’s a way to get it. But you but it’s not going to be given to you. Yeah, get it you have to keep pushing. I gave your website and some other stuff at the beginning. Is there other ways that you want people to connect with you?

Devon Harris  1:11:06

Oh, yeah. Instagram and Twitter. The do the ad keep on pushing 88 and keep on pushing 88 You can find me on Facebook. And the doodle there are several Devon Harris’s on Facebook. I’m the one in the to make up offset uniform.

Mike Malatesta  1:11:23

Can mistaken. Yeah, yeah. Hi, Devon. Thanks so much,

Devon Harris  1:11:28

Mike. It was a pleasure, man. Thank you for having me on.

Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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