Mya Thompson Doelling was 11 years old when she experienced her wish-come-true. That life-changing experience was a trip to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she met her pen pal – superstar runner Marion Jones.
Inspired by her father, a Cornell University track and field coach, Mya had been running competitively since the age of two. A diagnosis of leukemia at nine years old threatened to end that passion. But the idea of meeting Jones – a symbol of strength and inspiration for Mya – compelled her to keep moving forward.
During her wish trip, Mya excitedly watched her idol win three gold and two bronze medals. She experienced the thrill of finally meeting and talking with Jones, and even got to try on those newly won Olympic medals. The opportunity provided her with the motivation to keep running and to keep pursuing her dreams.
Whether it was tenacity and sheer determination, the inspiration provided by her wish, or a combination of both, Mya competed in the Junior Olympics National Championships in the summer of 2000. The track and field pentathlon event was her first major comeback meet since diagnosis a year and a half prior.
The same passion and discipline Mya applied to athletics, she applied to her studies. In high school, she was accepted by “all of the Ivy League schools” plus Stanford, Duke, MIT and Johns Hopkins University. Of that impressive field of collegiate possibilities, Mya chose Harvard, from which she graduated in 2011 with degrees in sociology and history of science. After graduation, she served as director of the Michael Phelps Foundation, then went on to earn an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.
Now 31, Mya serves as the International Olympic Committee Global Partner Manager and works in Lausanne, Switzerland. “Everything has come full circle,” she said.
Working for the Olympics, she said, is “absolutely incredible and incredibly complicated.”
“At the end of the day, it’s one of the most amazing organizations that promotes what truly makes sports special – giving anyone the opportunity to work their hardest, competing against people from around the world…and having one moment where you can show the world all that you have worked for,” Mya said. “I am thrilled to be here and hope that, as our entire world is changing right now, organizations like the IOC can bring us back together and redefine the new normal once we are able to.”
Reflecting on her journey, Mya believes her illness gave her a special perspective that she carries to this day.
“I understood at a very early age how precious life is and to try my hardest in everything I do,” she said. “It also taught me how quickly things in life can change – for anyone – so to always be genuine and sympathetic to those I meet and try to have a positive impact on their lives even in the smallest of interactions.”
After her wish, Mya became a national ambassador for Make-A-Wish and, when she moved to New York City in 2015, became a wish granter.
“It was amazing being able to talk to all different types of kids, get them excited about the possibilities and see through their eyes how they saw their dreams.”
In this uncertain time of COVID-19, she encourages those waiting for their wishes to hold on to hope.
“Going through an illness you and your family literally feel like everything has been turned upside down. Now with a pandemic, I can only imagine how scary and daunting it is,” she said. “Make-A-Wish makes dreams realities – it helps you and your family experience something that you never thought possible, provides hope that you and your family may not have experienced in a while, and provides a bright moment when things often feel a bit dreary.”
“I would encourage those waiting to keep dreaming, keep being the tough kids they are – they are role models for everyone around them and they know more than anyone else that, while things may not always go your way, it is how to react to adversity that makes all the difference.”