By Pantelis Tsompanis
Masters World Champion and five-time National Champion track cyclist, model, fitness instructor, storyteller, and public speaker… I’m wondering what more is left for Christine D’Ercole to accomplish. Growing up aspiring to be a ballet dancer, she was told her thighs were too big, so she switched focus to theater arts. While auditioning for roles in New York City, she purchased a bike and worked as a messenger to pay her bills. She was so proficient on that bike that her fellow messengers encouraged her to pursue a career in track cycling, and the rest is history. D’Ercole’s experiences and never-say-die approach to life has given her plenty of material for her second career – in motivational speaking and storytelling. Her mantra, “I am, I can, I will, I do,” is inspiring to all.
Through “Wordshop,” a workshop about the power of words and positive self-talk, she aims to change the negative way we address ourselves, thereby improving our quality of life. Using storytelling and interactive writing experiments, participants develop the skills to edit their self-talk in real time.
This October, during a six-day event called “WordsWork,” organized at Costa Navarino by Mediterranean retreat company Travelgems, D’Ercole will teach her wordshop techniques in the form of an immersive course, an escape from daily life, with sessions interspersed with bike rides and challenging climbs in the beautiful natural environment of Messinia. In an exclusive interview, she talked to me about the upcoming event, and what inspires her.
When Travelgems approached you about the retreat at Costa Navarino, what made you say yes?
If there is one place on earth I have always wanted to go, it’s Greece. Since childhood I have been intrigued by ancient history and mythology and have a deep appreciation for Greek drama. I’ve always wanted to see and feel the ruins of the great monuments.
I’m curious about how a location affects the workshop activities. In this case, is the Greek setting in Messinia a factor that changes how you plan the assignments?
My Wordshops have traditionally taken place in one room – either in a corporate meeting space or, when virtual, from each participant’s own home or office. Sitting outside in the exquisite settings of Messinia adds a whole new, vibrant element that can only serve to further stimulate our thinking about what is possible for our lives.
Lets talk about how that’s done! You focus a lot on writing. Is keeping notes important to giving halt to negative inner dialogue?
Journaling is an incredibly powerful tool for organizing our thoughts so that we can process our conflicts and work through challenges. Putting words on paper helps me see where I may be stuck in an internal conflict and untangle that knot. Being able to go back and read what one wrote provides feedback on moments of learning and change.
My awareness of “self-talk” came in several different moments. A distinct one was during a bike race, when I could hear another racer coming up around me near the finish line. I remembered thinking, “AACK! She’s gonna win this!” And I watched as she wooshed around me and won the race. When we got off the track I realized I wasn’t even breathless. I could have pushed harder. I thought, the only thing that stopped me was the words in my head that said “She’s gonna win this!” Those were just words, and I, without thinking, believed them. I thought, could I just as easily believe other words? Words like, “What if you dig deeper, push harder, believe a little? What if you can win the race? What if you can win the race?” And I got back up for our next race and I won it! Now, this is not to say that changing your words will automatically change what happens, but being mindful of the words we use in our heads will change how we navigate fears and hopes and challenges in life.
Taking a look back at your first Wordshop, I bet you’ve considered what made people relate to your words?
I think the simplicity of the mantra sticks with people, and they unconsciously realize that in those words is a roadmap. Any sentence we make starting with “I am” identifies something about where we are. Any sentence we start with “I can” identifies what we can do about it. When we say “I will,” we have declared something that will be done, an action, to move our lives forward. When we say “I do,” we are granting ourselves agency to imagine the best version of our lives, and head in that direction. While people don’t consider all this when they hear the mantra, it’s all baked into that progression of words. At the end of the Wordshops we do writing experiments to make a concise mantra for ourselves in the form of “I am, I can, I will, I do.” Being able to walk away with that mantra really gives people a sense of empowerment.
Have you noticed forms and expressions in which motivation comes?
Many people are motivated by negative reinforcement, which I believe our culture promotes. In social media we’re bombarded with images of unattainable and unsustainable things, told we’re not enough as we are, and that we must change and even hurt ourselves in order to achieve these goals – to be worthy, to be successful, to be lovable. This has never worked for me and I hope that the work I’m doing helps others, who may have been caught up in that world, to break that belief system and realize that a more mindful life focused on accepting ourselves is far more fulfilling.
Finally, a misspelling of the word “begin” was a factor that inspired your mentality and philosophy. Tell us about that!
I had intended to carve the words “Begin the journey” into a block to make a blockprint. When I got to the end I realized I’d forgotten the “g” and instead written “Be in the journey.” It was a simple error that led to a profound discovery. We often wish to begin new things – perhaps to change our lives to make things better, to be happier, et cetera… but sometimes we forget the importance of being present in the journey. It isn’t either/or. It is always both. Begin the journey and be in the journey.
The “WorksWork” retreat organized by Travelgems will take place at Costa Navarino on October 16-21, 2022. You can find more information at travelgems.com.