Overcoming Blind Adversity with Jake Olson

May 13, 2020

In today’s episode of Impact! with John Shegerian, John interviews Jake Olson, NCAA’s first blind athlete turned technology entrepreneur, about the adversities he has overcome being blind since age 12. Jake shares tips for thinking positive, staying motivated, and opens up about the successes and challenges of starting a business. Listen along as Jake shares his story of how he is making an impact in the world.

John Shegerian: Welcome to the Impact Podcast. This is the first episode ever of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian and today, I’m so honored to have on our podcast on the inaugural Impact Podcast my good friend and business partner, Mr. Jake Olson. Welcome to Impact, Jake.

Jake Olson: Thank you. You didn’t tell me I was going to be the first.

John: You know, Jake, there’s a lot of things I can say but all I’m going to say is you know what, you always remember the first.

Jake: Yes, you do. Well, let’s make this a memorable podcast.

John: That’s why. You’re it, man. It will be. Just having you on and thank you for taking the time today to join in. Before we get going here, Jake, I just want you to share a little bit about your background andhistory. For people who haven’t heard about you before, tell a little bit about who you are and where you’ve been.

Jake: Yes. Well, I was born and raised in Southern California where I still am today. I’m currently 20 [inaudible] old. I graduated from USC, that’s Southern California for those listening across the country. I played football at USC, but what makes that I guess a little more special and cool than the average football player at USC is that I’m completely blind. I was a long snapper on the team for four years, which was just incredible experience. Kind of coming up to that, I guess point in my life, I had battled cancer for the first 12 years of my life and after 12 years of battling that cancer, the cancer rendered me blind. It took both my eyes. At 12 years old, had a real crossroads of where I wanted to take my life and continue to push forward. That included to continue to play the sports that I loved. Eventually throughout high school, was playing golf and football, earned my way in the USC, and then was offered a walk-on at USC. Of course, took that opportunity and just made the most of it. As a result, I’ve had incredible experiences in my life, been able to meet incredible people like you, John, and then just leverage those relationships into what I’m doing today–an entrepreneur and a motivational speaker and everything else I’m doing.

John: You know, Jake, I want to go back to something you mentioned because it’s sort of sometimes gets glossed over with your incredible story. For those who haven’t seen you, I’m going to be on the Impact Podcast on the website. I’m going to have a link to the ESPN video that they did the profile on you, which I just love every time it comes on ESPN E60. I just watch it over and over again almost like it’s the first time. As you said in your
earlier remarks, you beat cancer and you fought cancer. A lot of people beat cancer once or twice and it’s an incredible story, incredible journey. How many times in the first 12 years of your life did you have to fight back and be cancer down?

Jake: It was a nasty cycle. I guess at the end of it all, the last time it came back was the eighth time that I would have come back. At that time where we just had to kind of come to the conclusion that one, this thing did not seem like it was going to be going anywhere anytime soon and two, because it did come back eight times, we had fought it with everything that existed. I maxed out on radiation, I maxed out on chemotherapy and as a result, we couldn’t use those treatments anymore. Everything was was utilized.John: First 12 years, that’s a lot to fight cancer eight times. That’s a lot.

Jake: It was. It was difficult just because if you think about it, you’re celebrating the fact that the cancer goes away and then six months or a year later, you’re back in that same mindset you were two years ago when you found that the cancer came back. Eventually kind of gets into this thing that toys with your mind, your hope, and your spirit because you just never know. Is it gonna be the last time? Okay, like, should we be celebrating right now? I don’t know.

John: Right, right, right. You know, Jake, every time I’m with you. I learn something new about you and I enjoy just being with you because you’re one of those special people that have whatever one wants, that X Factor but very few really, really have. If you could share a little bit with our audience, what is your core mission or guiding light and what drives you to be the best everyday? I love you to just share. What makes you tick?

Jake: Well, I think what makes me tick is and I don’t know if it’s in my DNA or not, but I’ve always been a very stubborn individual. I’ve always been someone who when is confronted with a challenge, almost has this desire to fix the problem. I’m one of those people that if I’m writing an essay and it’s 1 am, 2 am, I’ve been working on for four hours. Even if I try to go to bed, it’s going to be on my mind. I just want to finish through it. I just want to just absolutely finish it. That’s just I guess where my core is in trying to accomplish goals. I’m very much into helping others and impacting other people’s lives. When you combine those two things together, plus obviously the circumstances my life has been put through of me just continuing to overcome adversity, impactingpeople’s lives, sharing my story and then making sure that when the obstacles do come that I’m putting my head down and embracing them. I really do think there’s no greater feeling than when you do accomplish your goal, when you do go through that journey and look back on all the steps you’ve had made, all the different times you had to overcome what you were going through. I think the journey and obviously the accomplishment itself, make any adversity worth going through and overcoming.

John: You know, you speak about impact. I have seen you speak publicly numerous times and every time I’m very moved. What are some of the comments that people share with you after they’ve either seen your story on television or seen you in person speak? What are some of the impact that you make on other people’s lives when you’re sharing and what resonates with people after they’ve heard your story, Jake?

Jake: It’s incredible. It’s something that really inspires me. To be honest, just being able to impact people’s lives in the way that my story has been able to and that I’ve been able to. I think it’s something that is like when someone that you know has gone through struggles themselves and if it’s someone going through cancer, if it’s someone who’s lost a kid or a parent, if it’s someone who was born in a terrible family, bounced around foster homes, the ones that really get me are the service men and women that have lost legs and limbs. They come and say, “You know, Jake, you’re doing this. We see you out here living a normal life and inspires me to do the same.” In those times, it really humbles me just because at the same time, I realized blindness is tough and what I’ve done is incredible, but for someone who’s literally given up their their livelihood and their body parts to keep me safe every day, I mean that’s at another level. To be able to inspire those people, it really does kind of put a light on what I’m doing and just makes me want to continue to do it and do it even at a greater level.

John: You know, Jake, everyone has a secret super power. What’s yours and how did you figure out what your secret superpower really was? Because I’ve seen you do things besides the very obvious USC long snapping that everyone in America has seen. What’s your inside superpower that you’re able to turn on? I was sharing this with a friend last night who knows you too, Dan Angelo. Your memory, your recall, your intelligence is just so next level, Jake, and I know you know, I’m one of the co-CEOs of your fan club, but I mean, what’s your secret superpower from in your own words and how did you discover it?

Jake: Well, John, a lot of people have called me Daredevil, or at least compared me to him, so there’s there’s definitely that. I don’t know if it’s because of my excellent hearing or my other blind senses or whatever you want to call them, spider senses, I got blind senses. There’s been a lot. One of my super powers is being able to look at situations and I know it’s kind of weird because I don’t have physical sight, but just the ability to look at a situation, circumstance or opportunity from a lot of different angles, from a third party, try to remove emotion from it and just really see it how it is. I think that’s definitely one of my superpowers. I think humor is one of my superpowers. I think I’m a somewhat of a funny guy or at least I like to bring a light to a situation, but my real answer to you I think is resilience and that’s just my ability to continue to balance off different aversions that come my way, put my head down and push through like one of those guys that I think if you drop off in the middle of the wilderness or middle of the ocean, I’m not giving up until I literally can’t move anymore. I know there’s a lot of people out there who have that mindset, who have taken that task on of just fighting, fighting, and fighting even when the odds are stacked against you. Even when there’s nothing left in the tank, you’re still fighting, finding more, you’re still fighting and I think that’s something that I pride myself. I think that is something that gives me dignity. I think that it’s something that you really have to create that mindset and live in that mindset because you never know when those situations are going to come. You never know when life’s gonna hit you hard. It’s about preparing that, not choosing it just in the moment, but preparing your whole life for that. It’s gotten me to where I am today and it’s going to get me to where I’m going, so I think resilience is the answer I’m going to give you.

John: I love it and you know, you’re always in great shape whenever I see you both mentally, physically, and always upbeat. What would you say is your greatest time or health act? Because you’re always absorbing tons of information. You don’t have all your senses like everybody else does to do so, so what’s a timer health act you could share with our audience that gives you more time and makes you more efficient to be the best Jake Olson that you can be on a daily basis?

Jake: Yes, I think from a health standpoint, there’s two things I think that really helped me just be able to grind throughout the rest of the day, throughout the rest of the week and that is working out. I love lifting. I love setting that time aside every day or at least three, four, five times a week to just go in there and kind of almost have a different universe. You’re not concerned about things on the outside. You’re just there to get yourself better and take out emotions on weights or whatever the individual wants to do. The other thing I’d say is hanging out with friends and meaningful relationships. Just making sure you spend the time that you need with quality friends and family and for me it’s hanging out or whatever you do. If it’s watching a baseball game, if it’s going out to dinner, the activity doesn’t have to be anything special and it doesn’t have to be the same every week. Just making sure you’re sharing your feelings with those people, that you’re soaking in what they have to say, helping them with their problems and just building that relationship with people that are there for you and are definitely in your corner of the ring and are going to be there for the rest of your life.

John: Jake, you know, everybody gets to inspiration from different places. Do you ever listen to podcasts, TED talks or do you listen to television or the radio? Where do you get your best information or is it just books? Because I find you’re always up. You’re so unique in that you’re always up to speed on what’s going on in the real world. You and I are always having fascinating discussions. You also have tremendous knowledge about things that I wouldn’t expect you to be able to totally riff about such as when we had dinner the other night, you know more about the Bible than most priests I know. You’re so fascinating and have such a world of knowledge. Where are you finding the inspiration in terms of your knowledge? How are you feeding your mind and your soul? Where are you gathering that information from typically?

Jake: Well, I guess I can be kind of real funny with this and say I definitely read the Bible a ton, so I have a vast knowledge of that. Yes, and obviously it provides a lot of wisdom for my life and guidance. On the flip side Twitter.

John: That’s okay. That’s fine.

Jake: I watch TV. Just reading different news articles and the thing I think that’s important that I think a lot of people have lost too is if it’s on Twitter, if it’s on my news app on the phone or whatever, I make sure to follow CNN, Fox, Wall Street Journal, and all these different publications. I’ll read every article just because it’s something different. Again I kind of mentioned this in the previous answer but all these people have different ways of viewing the same situation. There’s a lens of bias in all of them. You can you can create your own but I think where people are getting tripped up is when you choose a look at this this one situation through one lens and then you get trapped in all the opinions in that lens and it’s like, “Okay. Well, wait a second. There’s actually like four other people that have different views on it?” and some you can just check off. Hey that’s a ridiculous thing, but it’s still important to know that theories out there because someone else might have changed up a little bit and have used that to formulate their own opinion. There’s just so many things out there that I think are importantto look at every situation, look at every circumstance from different lenses. I think when you say like, “Oh, I know so much about things.” It’s like, well, I probably don’t know too much about a lot of things but the things I do know, I kind of try to surround it and figure out what everyone thinks about it from every side.

John: Yes, you do and I’ll tell you what, Jake, it’s just inspirational to be around you because of your knowledge base and how you process different information is just fascinating. Hey, before we get going here and do some plugs for some of the brands that you’re involved with and you’re speaking engagements as well, I want you to just share your best advice for our audience and listeners if they want to make a change in their life or do something that makes an impact like you’re doing. I want to share also a little bit about your vision of the future. How can our listeners make a change and make the world a better place as well?

Jake: Yes. I think the thing I would say is you really have to change the way you look at yourself in the sense that you got to be the first person to believe in yourself and the first person that believes that you can go out there and accomplish what you want to accomplish. Once you really believe in yourself and I mean really, really believe in yourself, then you can start putting things in motion. The first thing is obviously you surround yourself as a support system then that believes in you, believes you can do it and gives you opportunities to prove yourself. Beyond that is just continuing to then deal with the adversity that’s going to come when trying to prove yourself and and reach your goals. Diversity will come, but again, that’s why authentic belief in yourself is going to be so necessary in those moments of doubt and adversity that do come. Throughout it all just making sure you’re following your passion. I think a lot of people in this world do a lot of things that they’re not passionate about and as a result, they don’t feel fulfilled at the end of the day. They look back 10 years and they’re like, “What have I accomplished?” and they feel empty. So I think really pursuing your passion is something that’s very important and just realizing that what you love to do is what you want to do in life. Never forget that. I think one of the most special things you can have in life is when you make that you’re living and I think that’s the most successful people in this world as well.

John: Jake, before we ask you how people can best connect with you, shameless plugs. I know you’re involved with a lot of brands. I know you’re doing a lot of things and this is your opportunity to share with our listeners all the great places and things that you’re doing so they could listen to you, hear you more, see you more online offline. Give us some shameless plugs on brands that you’re involved with.

Jake: Absolutely. First brand, my company, John, is letsengage.com. Engage is the company’s name, but as where you can find me, you go to my social media handles to JakeOlson61 both on Twitter and Instagram and you can see them in my link there. It’s a cool hub where you can kind of find out what I’m doing, but also you can book me for anything you want to including a couple fun experiences like playing golf with me. If you have never played golf with the blind guy, it’s a quite an experience. I’m not going to promise that I’ll let you win, but you pay me enough money maybe I will. Just kidding.

I mean, it’s definitely something I’m doing. Definitely follow me on social because I’m up to a lot of cool projects including maybe another book coming out here soon and a lot of other cool things that hopefully can inspire you to live your best life.

John: Jake, that’s amazing. I mean, you’re such a humble person when you say that people can book an event with you on Let’s Engage and again, for people who missed it the first time it’s www.letsengage.com. Jake Olson is the president and co-founder and you could book him there. I know that one of your friends / acquaintances and someone you played golf with before is Tiger Woods, that just goes to show how everyone loves being around you, how everyone’s inspired by you both large personalities, superstars and just the regular man or woman on the street. You do love speaking and you do a lot of speaking eventsso people can book you on Let’s Engage to do more speaking around the country.

Jake: Absolutely.

John: Jake, any last words before we sign off here?

Jake: No, it’s been a pleasure to be the first. I hope that based on this interview people come back for more because I know, John, you, like me are very well connected and have a lot to share for people to live successful lives.

John: Well, for all our listeners out there, this has been the first edition and podcast ofImpact. We’ve been honored to have both my friend and business partner, Jake Olson on. Jake, you are living proof that we can all make an impact. Thank you very much.