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Usain Bolt on learning from his mistakes and why his 'world's fastest man' rep is 'never a burden'

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The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

What makes the world's fastest man tick? Spending time with family and friends, and knowing when he needs some time alone to completely switch off. 

"Anytime I feel more overwhelmed I take a day or two to myself just to recharge," Usain Bolt tells Yahoo Life in a new video interview. 

While a break might include binge-watching a TV series, the Olympic icon says that the point is to "not think about work." Though Bolt retired from sports in 2017, the former sprinter certainly has no shortage of projects keeping him busy in his new life as an entrepreneur, music producer, father of three and philanthropist. 

Usain Bolt on mental health and giving back. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Usain Bolt on mental health and giving back. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

"If you're going through stuff you should take time [for yourself]," he says of his approach to mental health. "You always want to do more, to go further, but at the end of the day, if you don't take care of yourself then what's going to happen?"

These days, Bolt is also helping to take care of others thanks to a new partnership with the 3D dental printing technology company SprintRay. As a global brand ambassador, Bolt will launch his own Bolt Guard speciality sport guard dental line next summer, and is helping to make quality dental care more accessible and equitable for underserved populations around the world. He'll be starting by opening Bolt Labs dentalc clinics in his home country of Jamaica, where there are just 25 dental surgeons to serve 2.5 million citizens.

"I'm excited to be a part of this, to build something for my community and just Jamaica overall," he says of the charitable initiative, noting his own experience growing up of having to wait in long lines to see a dentist, something that still "plays on my mind."

While his athletic prowess is world renown — his eight Olympic gold medals speak for themselves — Bolt also reflects on the role his mental game has played in his success. For him, that's meant turning any failures into lessons. 

"One thing my coach said to me from the first time we met — and it took me two years to figure out — [was] 'You have to know how to lose before you can actually win,'" he recalls. "And it took me a while to figure out that meant you have to learn from your mistakes. If you don't learn from your mistakes, you will never move on from making those mistakes... So even when I fail, I sit down and I figure out, Why did I fail? How can I make this better? How can I move past it?"

Struggling with injuries also took a toll. 

"The only thing that can really mess with me mentally is if I'm not in good shape," he says, citing a World Championship in which problems with his feet meant he "couldn't really focus" on his race.  

It stands to reason, then, that he's supportive of athletes like Simone Biles for prioritizing their mental health over Olympic expectations. 

"Personally, I really appreciate Simone Biles for pushing off the Olympics," Bolt says. "It's always good to take care of yourself first, and then everything will fall into place. So I'm very happy that she understood that. I have to take care of myself first and then we'll see what happens down the road. But right now I'm thinking about me."

Now enjoying his retirement from track and field and relishing the patience being a father of three — and yes, two of his kids are named Thunder and Olympia Lightning Bolt — has taught him, Bolt says his "world's fastest man" title has brought him nothing but pride, not pressure.

"There's never a burden, you know what I mean? I've worked hard to earn it and I'm happy," he says. 

—Video produced by Olivia Schneider.

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