A two-time Olympian, Michelle Roark skied professionally for more than 16 years before becoming a full-time entrepreneur. During that illustrious run, Roark was known for her ability to maintain both a laser-sharp focus and a beaming smile in the heat of competition — no matter how tough her life off the slopes got.
In addition to competing in the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the high-energy go-getter competed in 150 World Cup races (winning six) while earning her chemical engineering degree. Her Denver-based fragrance company, Phia Lab, started with a natural perfume that Roark created to help herself visualize success on the slopes. Here, Roark shares how the right scent, paired with the ancient technique of visualization, can help anyone compete in business or in sports.
THE ROOTS OF A DREAM
When I was five years old and living in a small town in Utah, my dad took me to a natural gas plant. There was massive equipment everywhere, and I saw this lady in a hard hat telling all the men what to do. I said, “Daddy, what does she do?” He answered, “She’s a chemical engineer, honey.” And I said, “That’s what I want to be.” I also knew from a very young age that I wanted to compete in the Olympics — and eventually took up downhill mogul skiing. I never doubted either dream, and both have led me to where I am today.
FINDING POSITIVITY IN TOUGH TIMES
My parents divorced when I was 15, and my mom was really unhappy. She ended up kicking me out of the house. I didn’t understand it then, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t left that negative environment, my childhood dreams would not have come true.
“In the days leading up to a competition, I would practice the art of visualization, imagining myself skiing skillfully and effortlessly, rather than focusing on the outcome.”
After I left home, I enrolled in a new high school. I camped and couched-surfed my way through my teens. To support myself, I worked at a movie theater, a T-shirt shop and a bakery. I got depressed and lonely at times.
Eventually, I qualified for the U.S. Ski Team when I was 16, and I got sponsored right away. That wasn’t easy either; I kept blowing out my knee in training, and it was several years before I actually got to compete in a World Cup. But I stayed focused on my dream, and eventually, I got my shot.
Michelle Roark, center, stands in Phia Lab’s bustling boutique in the heart of downtown Denver, where shoppers can have custom fragrances blended to help them optimize their “energy.” Courtesy of Michelle Roark
STAYING IN ‘THE ZONE’ IN TIMES OF STRESS
If we did not perform well at every World Cup, we’d lose our sponsors and get shipped home. You had to excel every single time. Athletes are always looking for an edge. We have a competition playlist. We wear our lucky socks. My secret: In the days leading up to a competition, I would practice the art of visualization, imagining myself skiing skillfully and effortlessly, rather than focusing on the outcome. There were skiers who were all about winning. But that doesn’t always make you the happiest person, and it will not lead to consistent success. My other ritual was to take the day off before a competition. I wouldn’t even look at the course. My teammates and coaches thought I was crazy. But while they were out studying the course and getting stressed out, I was going shopping and looking at pink sparkly things that made me feel good! I was getting into the mindset of what I wanted my outcome to be.
VISUALIZING SUCCESS WITH ALL FIVE SENSES
I learned about visualization from a sports psychologist while I was training for my first World Cup. She told me I should visualize success on the slopes by using all five of my senses. I could hear success, see it, touch it, and taste it. But I couldn’t smell it. That’s what gave me the idea to find my competition scent — and eventually led me to create my own fragrance business.
By that point, I was studying chemical engineering at Colorado School of Mines. I took courses to become a certified perfumer, bought every antique perfume book I could find and started making scents to boost my personal energy.
No matter what your field, success in anything comes when you make sure the energy around you is strong and positive. Attitude goes a long way, as does learning how to visualize an ultimate goal without getting hung up on the little stuff. For me, that's been so important. Nothing in my life, including my business, has come to fruition until I've clearly visualized it.