On our Smart Meeting What One Thing podcast (listen here), we sat down with Michelle Roark, World Cup champion freestyle mogul skier, to uncover the secrets for conquering obstacles—mental and physical—and tackling the sports and business worlds in her effort to help others.
Roark attended Colorado School of Mines for chemical engineering, which Smart Meetings founder and CEO Marin Bright described as “the Harvard for mining.” Roark then went on to become founder and CEO of Phia Lab, studying wellness resources and producing products to increase performance. She speaks about her resilience, her grit and her book “Be A Force: Hacking Physics, Persevering Like an Olympian and Realizing the Alchemist in You.”
Q: How did you begin your athletic career?
Michelle Roark: When I was five years old, I knew I wanted to do two things. I wanted to compete in the Olympics and be a chemical engineer. I started off figure skating, but when my parents got divorced when I was 15 it became too draining for them. I was crushed and devastated. But I thought to myself, how can I still accomplish my goal of competing in the Olympics? I knew I was good at skiing, so I jumped right into competing in freestyle mogul skiing when I was 16. I made it onto the U.S. Ski Team in my first year.
“Anything that appears to be bad can always be transformed into something better.”
What inspired you to not only compete at the highest level of athleticism but to also attend Colorado School of Mines in the male-dominated field of engineering?
It definitely didn’t come without its own challenges and bumps in the road. I got kicked out of my house when I was 15 and moved up to the mountains, lived in a tent, worked three jobs and enrolled myself in high school so I could graduate and achieve my academic goals. I was blessed to have a unique experience young in life. It felt like something larger than myself was always watching over me. My one defining thing is just being able to get over all of those bumps and hurdles thrown from so many different directions.
Why did you found Phia Lab?
As I was training for the 2006 Olympics, I had missed so many Olympic games and I really wanted to go so I was crossing all of my “T”s and dotting all of my “I”s. My sports psychologist said, “make sure you visualize with all of your senses. So, hear it, feel it, see it, taste it and smell it.” I could manifest all of them except smell. I had no idea what it smelled like to ski well. I thought I’d find a fragrance awareness but was highly dissatisfied with commercial blends.
They would often give me a headache and they burned my nose. I did some research and found out how toxic commercial perfumes can be. I decided to apply my chemical engineering background and come up with my own. I found I could combine natural essences and essential oils in such a way that would amplify energy.
What was your inspiration to write your book?
I’ve had seven knee surgeries and two near-death experiences. I kept bouncing back and I really look at all of that from the natural laws of physics and explain it from a more scientific perspective to understand what was causing those tangles in my energy and body. I needed to release the energy subconsciously and that really made all the difference in the long run. I wanted to connect all the pieces for any young athlete. My goal was to explain how you can get around all of that with some really simple practices.
What is one word that describes Michelle Roark?
The word that comes to mind is “alchemy,” which is transformation. Anything that appears to be bad can always be transformed into something better. Energy can’t be created or destroyed, but it can be transformed.