- Olympic gold medalist Tianna Madison helps young women develop personal strength
- Through her program, Club 360, she teaches girls to live with self-respect and integrity
- As a world record holder and Olympic champion, she uses her own experience as an inspiration
In the 4x100 sprint relay, it is the handoffs that decide the winner. Speed is important, but without a top-notch changeover, you're out. The maneuver is a perfectly orchestrated move performed in a split second without looking.
It's all about teamwork, something Tianna Madison knows a thing or two about. She was part of the U.S. team that won gold in the relay at the London Olympics, shattering the world record in the process.
Madison is now back in the U.S., using the lessons she learned on the track to help young girls learn their worth and make positive choices for the future.
As a role model, she is not shy to share her experiences -- including the downs in her life: "I went from being World Champion long jumper in 2005, to nothing in the last seven years, to now being an Olympian.
"I dealt with a bankruptcy; I had my home foreclosed, and these were things that happened and I was not honest with myself about why I was in that situation," she said.
Crucially for her career, she realized that she couldn't deal with everything on her own. She was lucky enough to get help and support from her husband.
Building on this experience, she started Club 360, to give young women love and support, which they might not find elsewhere.
Madison sat down with CNN to talk about the ups and downs of her career and how they motivated her to start the program.
CNN: What is Club 360 and why did you decide to start it?
Tianna Madison: Club 360 is a personal development program for girls aged nine and up. We teach girls and young women the importance of living with integrity, honor, and self-respect and we do that through both online and offline activities. They can learn good habits, take their weaknesses and make them into strengths.
CNN: Why did you decide to incorporate your ideals of "honor, integrity and self-respect" into Club 360's platform?
TM: Integrity means I will not waver from where I want to be, cut corners or cheat myself. When I met my husband, he had a hard conversation with me: I had a weakness where I would say one thing but my action would indicate something else. I would say I wanted to be a great athlete, but I would only give 50% at practice.
I learned to be very honest with myself so I know exactly where I am. I can take those weaknesses and turn them into my strengths.
Honor means that if I say I am going to do ten reps, I will do ten reps. Sometimes 12. It is important to me to bring honor to my sport, to the people I work with, and to my husband. I can only do that by setting the course.
Self-respect: Don't do anything that would derail you or damage you. When you know for a fact who you are and what you want, peer pressure really doesn't exist.
CNN: How does teamwork play into it?
TM: In a relay, you have to be trusted and you have to trust the next runner. That is what made our team successful. Allyson Felix trusted me to hand her the baton and I trusted her to give me a good target to give her the baton. In school when you have group projects or at work when you have to come together as a team, you have to trust that each person is going to deliver and you have to be trustworthy
iReport: Photos of Tianna Madison
CNN: Part of your group's platform is combating stereotypes and avoiding the over-sexualization of young women. What stereotypes do you feel compelled to combat as a female athlete?
TM: People think that athletes do not put a lot of emphasis on education. That is really not true; education is very important.
We want our members to experience a range of new things. We teach girls not to not keep themselves in a box where they think they are supposed to be or where they fit in.
CNN: What challenges have you faced in your life and career, and what lessons have you learned that you feel you can pass along to these young women?
TM: I had to deal with being molested in high school and what that did to my self-esteem and my ability to trust. I overcame this with the love and support of my husband.
But this is definitely not a sob story! I also went from being World Champion long jumper in 2005, to nothing in the last seven years, to now being an Olympian. I dealt with a bankruptcy; I had my home foreclosed, and these were things that happened and I was not honest with myself about why I was in that situation. It wasn't until (last) September that I was able to do that.
It took someone like my husband to give me the love and tools to help me change it. It was not something I could do on my own. That is why I wanted to start Club 360 -- so we could give these young women love and support as well.
CNN: What's the biggest lesson you'll take away from your experience in London?
TM: No matter what stage you're on, no matter where you are, it always comes down to your ability to execute. On the other side, the Olympic Games showed me that I was a part of a larger movement. While my role in that movement was in sports, the whole world was involved in a unity that was amazing to see.