Go Be More
By Greg Bach
Former UCLA track great Jon Rankin’s interest in the sport was ignited in a most unlikely spot: in front of a television.
It was there in the summer of 1996 that the soon-to-be high school freshman was transfixed watching the gold cleat-wearing, mega-fast Michael Johnson at the Olympics in Atlanta become the first male to win both the 200 and 400 meters at a Summer Games.
“I fell in love with what he was doing, and the sport and the idea of the Olympics really inspired me that summer,” says Rankin, who had been all in on basketball up until that point in his young life. “And I decided I wanted to be a runner.”
And the course of his life soon changed forever.
“I remember going on my first distance run and I was hooked,” he says. “I liked that I had control over the outcome. It was just something that resonated with me. It made me really happy, more than basketball did, and I realized that I should do what made me happy. Even at 14 I realized that.”
A MESSAGE THAT MATTERS
Now a motivational speaker, and founder of the Go Be More apparel company, Rankin has an inspiring message for young athletes in all sports.
“The main thing is encouraging kids to pay attention to what really makes sense to them, what makes them happy, and then wholeheartedly pursuing those things,” he says. “Be more of what makes you happy and passionate about life and that’s something that will inspire the rest of the world. So that is what Go Be More is all about – pursuing who you are and becoming more of that every day.”
In the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Rankin was one of the premier 1,500-meter runners in the country. In 2005 he crashed the record books, joining an elite list of runners to complete the mile in under four minutes as he posted a blazing time of 3:57.89. He was the first UCLA runner to pull off the extraordinary feat in a quarter century. (Check out this clip of the historic run.)
Fast forward to 2008, with the Olympic Trials approaching, and every U.S. athlete went through a routine physical – but the news delivered to Rankin days later changed his life.
“I remember walking in, and I was wondering why there were all these people in the room,” he says. “The head trainer tells me that my urine test indicates that I am halfway to kidney failure. It was so shocking. I was in the best shape of my life and getting ready for the biggest moment in my athletic career.”
He had focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a disease in which scar tissue develops on the parts of the kidneys that filter waste from the blood.
The Olympic Trials drip with pressure, as life-long dreams of making the team are often decided by mere seconds, and even hundredths of seconds.
And now Rankin was competing with this weighing on his thoughts: his kidneys were failing and there was no known cure.
He finished sixth at the Trials. His Olympic dream was done. While he was named as an alternate to the team, he didn’t get to go to Beijing.
But he had family in the stands that day at the Trials, and even though he was unable to fulfill his ultimate dream there was still so much to be pleased about.
“The best moment about it was just how proud everybody was because they had watched me have this dream 12 years ago,” Rankin says. “The fact that I stuck to it was pretty cool – and that I didn’t give up.”
He’s thankful for all the experiences – both the good and not-so-good – which he tries to help young athletes embrace as they embark on their athletic journeys.
“It’s not necessarily about things working out exactly the way you thought,” he says. “I always tell kids that it’s better to dream and chase the dream because you’ll have so many experiences that you would otherwise never have if you didn’t even try.”
In 2011 Rankin underwent an experimental stem cell surgery that reversed his disease.
And ever since he has vowed to make the most of every day he has, and inspiring others to do the same.
“Fight to live the life you truly believe you are meant to live, because that’s what you are supposed to be doing,” Rankin says. “You weren’t born to just conform to people and to ideas. You are born to be different and to be who you are and to be unique and to do the things you really believe you are here to do.”
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Sara Slattery – NCAA champion, former collegiate cross country coach, and co-author of HOW SHE DID IT – encourages parents of young athletes to stress multiple sports over specializing to build athleticism and lay the foundation for greater success