The new Syensqo 'And is the Future' podcasts hosted by CEO Ilham Kadri will be a continuation of the former Solvay editions that concluded after the spin off of Syensqo in December 2023.
Overcoming challenges to become a record-breaking track and field athlete
Trenten Merrill speaks with Ilham about his incredible journey to become one of the world’s top paralympic track and field athletes. After overcoming many challenges, he has gone on to break the American record for long jump, not just once but three times! In this episode, he explains his passion for sports, how he stays disciplined, his advice for business leaders and young athletes, and so much more.
1:20 - Upbringing and passion for sports
3:03 - Accident that changed his life
7:31 - First competition in Rio
10:41 - What can businesses learn from athletes?
12:18 - Passion for journaling
15:51 - Focus on the journey not the destination
18:05 - Career in modeling
20:34 - Entrepreneurial side
23:16 - Working with children with prosthetics
27:04 - What’s next?
28:17 - Hobbies outside of sports
29:20 - Diversity, equity and inclusion in the world of sport
Meet Trenten Merrill
Trenten Merrill is one of the world’s top paralympic track and field athletes. At the age of 14 he and his best friend were struck by a car and Trenten’s foot had to be amputated, but that did not stop him from fulfilling his childhood dream of being a professional athlete. Trenten learned about Paralympics and set his eyes on competing at the Paralympic Games. In 2016 Trenten made his first Paralympic team and broke the American Record in Long Jump. He went on to break the record again in 2018 and 2021.
Ilham Kadri: Today, I'm delighted to be speaking with Trenten Merrill, one of the world’s top paralympic track and field athletes. Trenten has broken the American record for long jump, not just once but three times. So at Solvay, we are so thrilled to be part of his journey. We are thrilled to sponsor Trenten and two other athletes as part of our Solvay4Sport initiative. He has such an incredible story of strength and resilience, and I can't wait to hear more about it on this podcast. Trenton, thank you so much for being here today.
Trenten Merrill: Oh, thank you for having me. This is a pleasure and I think we're gonna have some fun today.
Upbringing and passion for sports
Ilham Kadri: Absolutely Trenten. So I know that everyone will want to hear more about your amazing achievements, athletic achievements, but first Trenten, I always enjoy finding out what motivates people. And I was wondering if you could tell us about your upbringing. And what first sparks your interest in sports growing up?
Trenten Merrill: Yes, I grew up in Southern California in Orange County, in a city named San Juan Capistrano, and I believe that what first brought my interest to sports was when my dad taught me how to play baseball, basketball, ride bicycles at a very, very early age, like my earliest memories were playing sports. And not too long ago, I remember my mom telling me the story that one day she came out and told us, Hey guys, dinner's ready. You guys need to come in, stop playing basketball. And my dad said he tried to get me to come in, but he said, every time if I was losing, he's like, I refused to go in until I won. And so he said unless I was winning, he would have to let me, like beat him in the point scale for me to be comfortable coming in. So I think there was this, either innate competitiveness that was just driven and drawn to sports, but those are my earliest memories and I think influenced a lot of the success that I had today.
Ilham Kadri: Yeah. Well, so winning and competition was in your DNA, was your father an athlete as well, or he, he liked sports, right?
Trenten Merrill: Yes, yes. Both my mom and dad grew up playing sports, but not on a professional level. But both were naturally good at playing sports.
Accident that changed his life
Ilham Kadri: Yeah. Then something happened that changed everything, right? And when you were involved in that accident, I know you faced many challenges, but you didn't let go of your dreams to be a professional athlete. And now you are the American record holder. This must have been an incredible journey, Trenten. What was it like for you and what made you stay so focused and determined through it all? Can you tell us more about this?
Trenten Merrill: Yes, so when I was 14 years old, my best friend and I, we both were racing motocross at the time, and then this one day, we had a little dirt bike where we had, typically taken that as a motor transportation, like from my house to his house and his house to mine. Just like a bicycle, a skateboard or scooter. And this one day we're going to his house and we get to the street where we cross to go up to his house. And we look both ways and we don't see any cars coming. So we start crossing and right when we cross the road, that's when we get hit by a car.
Ilham Kadri: Wow.
Trenten Merrill: The girl that was driving the BMW was 16 years old, so you can imagine she was just shocked. Her world got rocked too. And then my friend, my best friend when he was 13, I was 14. And so I woke up on the side of the road and the ambulance came and I remember seeing my friend, his face was all bloody, uh, his lungs were punctured, broke his back. So he took the first ambulance. I took the second. We were in the hospital together. He was in there for a few weeks and then was released as an outpatient. I was there for about a month and a half where they had determined that my foot was no longer salvageable and they were going to have to amputate it because at this point I was getting no circulation to my toes and infection was gonna start rising up my leg. And so I remember thinking in the hospital, this whole time though, like I was under the understanding that I was gonna get a cast and I was, it was just, it was my first broken foot, so I didn't know the severity of it. And I just thought, these doctors can handle it. They see it all the time. So, this one day, the doctor comes in and he says, Hey, Trenton, can I perform a test on your foot? And I said, yeah, no problem. So he says, I'm gonna take this pencil right here and I'm gonna drag it on the bottom of your foot, and I want you to tell me if you can feel it. And I was like, okay. And so he did it and he said, did you feel anything? I said, no. And he said, Trenton, I didn't use a pencil. I used a scalpel, which is like a knife. And so his face all of a sudden looked concerned. And he looked at my mom and he said, Hey, Denise, can I talk to you outside real quick? It takes my mom outside and now I'm like in the room by myself and I look outside the little rectangle window of the hospital and I see my mom crying. And that's when I realized that my, I wasn't gonna save my foot, that my foot was gonna have to be amputated. So I started crying and I thought my dreams were gone. And as I'm crying, my friend's mom, she came in, she started praying over me when she was praying over me, all of a sudden I felt this overwhelming peace. And I remember hearing God speak to me and saying, I got great plans for you. And I remember having this conversation with God, like, I got nothing right now. Like my whole world is upside down. I'm only 14 years old. But I had this overwhelming feeling that, you know what? Like I need something to trust and have hope in. And so if you say so, God, then I believe you. So the doctor came back in and he said, what do you want to do? I said, let's go ahead and amputate it. Fast forward now, four years later, I graduated from high school and I go to this running clinic where I'm introduced to the world of Paralympics. I get invited down to the Olympic Training Center and where I live now, and I'm walking, I park my car and I hear God speak to me. Same thing. This is four years later now. I got great plans for you. I'm like, whoa, that's weird. I go down to the track and I see all these Olympians and Paralympians training, and I'm like, no way. My dreams of being a professional athlete are still possible. And so then it was like a fire ignited in me. I put in my headphones that night. I was doing stadiums. It was like my Rocky Balboa. I was like shadow boxing and stuff. I was jogging, I was yelling. I was telling myself, you're the champ. Make it here. And now I live here. So it's been really cool.
First competition in Rio
Ilham Kadri: Wow. I think you are already giving us in the first probably, you know, whatever, seven minutes, since we started a lesson of determination, perseverance, resilience, and new hopes. And speaking of challenges, a loved one thing that you said recently, the challenges and struggles you face in life have the potential to bring you to new heights, right? Introduce you to new people and increase your impact for others is such a positive, a great way of putting it. And, and you were 14, right? And just four years after you graduate, and you move on with your dreams and turning that something difficult into something so positive. It's so overwhelming and beautiful and moving, frankly. So thank you Trenton, for sharing that story. Can you expand, how did you see it working in your life later? I mean, what, what was your first competition like for you? I think it was in Rio, right? Because not only did you make the team, but you also broke the American record. How did that feel?
Trenten Merrill: Going to Rio. It was a feeling of excitement, thankfulness, overwhelming joy because there was all this hard work. And then years of like failure. I first started training and finding out about track and field in around 2009, and my first nationals that I tried out at was 2010. My first Paralympic team was 2016, and so it was years of progressing but not making the team and not hitting standards and not on the national team. And so when I had gone out to Rio for my Paralympic debut. I placed fourth in the world and I broke the American record twice. And then in the meet, I knew it was a good jump and I could feel it. Yeah, you could feel like when you've done something better than you have in the past. So for me, I was, I like, you could see in the video, like if you go on YouTube and I'm like, I knew it was a good jump. And I go back and I talk to my coach. I'm like, all right, let's keep going. And then I did it again. I was like, oh, let's go. And so, I was very, very proud of myself. I'm always thankful for the opportunity. I like to represent my country and the opportunity to compete amongst the best in the world. And, for me, it was like the fire was ignited. Like, this is my time. Like, let's go. Like this is just the beginning. So, I knew that I still had a lot of work to do to get on the podium and continue to move up in the ranks and, but I, in the moment I was just ecstatic. You know, I was like, I did what I wanna do. I performed better than I ever have at the world stage, and that's one of the hardest things to do, is to go out there and do your best.
What can businesses learn from athletes?
Ilham Kadri: Wow. Wow. I often say to our people at Solvay, Trenten, that businesses can learn a lot from athletes like you and often tell our Solvay teams that we need to have an athletic mentality. Just what you just said, you right and train the muscles because you said you know that there were a lot of failures and finally successes through training and prepare to win. So tell us a bit your secrets. What's your training regime look like? Do you look for what you eat, how often you train? I looked at, I'm not a TikTok generation, but I did and I was amazed by, you know, all the things you share with your followers. And what do you think business people can learn from you about your mindset practices, your discipline, your routine?
Trenten Merrill: Well, I think that business minded people can learn a lot from me. And then you'll also see a lot of similarities of the very successful companies or businessmen and women, alongside the very successful athletes because they have this mind that's a growth mindset. They're constantly focused on how can I get at least, you know, 1% better today. And I think the similarities probably would be they set goals that are realistic, but also challenging goals. Whether it's for today, a month, a quarter, one year, five year, 10 year, they kind of have this stuff mapped out. Like they know where they want to go, and then they work backwards to the now.
Passion for journaling
Ilham Kadri: Is that true, Trenten? Sorry to interrupt that you keep a journal and you ensure that you write down your goals. Did I read it well?
Trenten Merrill: Yeah.
Ilham Kadri: show it to me.
Trenten Merrill: Here's my journal right here. Yep. And so,
Ilham Kadri: what do you write inside? Tell me.
Trenten Merrill: oh, I can't tell you all my secrets.
Ilham Kadri: I want to know you secrets
Trenten Merrill: So for me, I think it's important, like as an athlete and then even, even any businessman or woman is to write out like three things you're grateful for. What are three things that you're thankful for every single day? Because if you start with that mindset, then you are already in a positive mindset to learn more. If you start the day negative, then you're limiting how much you can grow in one day. And so that's, that's one thing that I try to do every single day is write at least three things that I'm thankful for, and I try to make them different so that way it's not the same thing. The next is what is my focus today? If I could get better, at least one thing at practice, even if I have the day off, what, how can I get 1% better? And so I write that down because what happens is you go about your day, maybe especially like in whether you're in office or wherever you get all these texts, phone calls, emails, all these things kind of pull in your way of potentially what actually is gonna help you progress that day. So, Having it written down reminds your subconscious mind, Hey, this is what I need to do today. And then also, if you get distracted, you can just look back at your journal. Okay, I need to do this. So that's one of the things. And there's two more, that I think are very crucial. At least like main things is you write down, how did I get better today? So like, at the end of the day, how did I get better today? And so that's reinforcing the positive growth mindset. And that's going to help build your confidence, especially if you're first starting off. Then you get to see, like, you know, even if you had a really, really bad day, you could, you could still, if you think hard enough and you have the right mindset, you could think of a few things, how you actually got better, even if it's like you had a bad day, but you know what? You took the time to talk to somebody about it. You took the time to change your perspective, and then you learn from it. And so I try to write down how did I get better? Then the next one is, how could I improve tomorrow? Or how could I improve the next time? So then you're thinking like, how can I continue to elevate my game each and every day?
Focus on the journey not the destination
Ilham Kadri: Wow. Elevate the game. It's amazing. What's a recipe for success. I love it. This is invaluable. It's gold. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for sharing and it resonates with me, with us. I think it's true in sports, but it's true in business. Exactly what you said. So another thing that you said that really resonated is your advice to focus on the process, not the results. I have this in common with you. I've been taught, you know, when I was young that. It's better to focus on the journey rather than the destination. And if you make your journey great, and you learn and unlearn, relearn, practice hard, you're gonna have more than one destination and bright destination. How has this mentality worked for you in your training?
Trenten Merrill: That's, that is I think, what led to my success. I'm gonna close the window real quick cause I keep hearing, the lawnmower outside
Ilham Kadri: Yeah, go ahead. No worries.
Trenten Merrill: So for me, I think. When you learn to be process focused and enjoy the journey, and then part of that journaling, that helps keep you process focused. Cause if you focus on getting like 1% better that day, it's not, like for instance, my goal is to jump over eight meters, like 26 feet. I can't jump over eight meters today. You know, I have to say, okay, maybe my shin's like better shin control when I'm sprinting, putting my prosthetic underneath me when I take off. So those little things, that's what leads to the eight meter jumps.
Ilham Kadri: Ah, yeah.
Trenten Merrill: But I learned the process of orientation of getting like 1% better every day in 2016. And I was struggling at that time and I remember a mentor of mine, he had told me, you have to learn to be like process focused and process oriented. And I didn't realize it, but then I started like going on deep dive reading all these books and listening to all these YouTube videos and stuff, and I realized, you know what? It's the little small things consistently each and every day that you're putting into like your bucket that actually gets you to the top of the mountain. And so, Then I became obsessed with it and I started realizing, you know, it's like sleep. It's the diet, and then it's specific like training, being very focused and intentional, and that's gonna lead me to my dreams and goals. And, and I saw it happen really, really quickly for me in 2016, like right before Rio, I had like this big growth spurt because my mind shifted. And, and so for me, that has led to my success and I try to stay there, but it's always a temptation to, because the world always looks at results and outcomes. So it's, you gotta kind of battle that and be very focused and almost, be willing to listen to people, but also defend and shield yourself from, maybe what their thoughts are and stuff, you know.
Career in modeling
Ilham Kadri: Fabulous. Fabulous. So mastering those small things, as you said, you include in the buckets, right? To help you to get the big jump and that obsession It's amazing. But you are a man of many facets and talents, right, Trenten, and not only you are a champion athlete, but you are also a model and you've appeared on the runway with ads like Yoga Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, and others. Nike of course, and many more. And I've heard you say before, when you own your differences and embrace your differences, your uniqueness, probably that helps others do the same. This is beautifully said, and that's exactly what you are doing. Not only in your career as an at least, but in your modeling too. So are you enjoying modeling? How, how is it for you to be a model?
Trenten Merrill: Yes, I'm enjoying it. It is, it is fun and it is actually challenging. And when I first got into modeling, I didn't think it would be that tough, but it is. And, having to hit certain poses for a long period of time, and mentally you get tired, it starts to show in your face. And so I didn't realize this, but it's true. And so I was like, okay, it is challenging and you gotta stay focused. And then my first runway, it was like my adrenaline was rushing. Like I was gonna go compete. And I was like, this isn't, it was weird to me cuz I'm like, I'm just walking, you know? But it's a performance too. And, I mean, it's been really, really fun and I've got to meet a lot of people because it opened up doors and for me, I saw modeling as an opportunity to build my brand, but also a, a new arena to inspire other people indirectly or subconsciously, because when I, if I show them my confidence in owning myself with an obvious disability, what I have seen in my experience in life is that, people usually gravitate towards that and they say, this guy has an obvious disability that stands out, but he's confident in himself, so why am I not confident in maybe some of the stuff that I have in my mind or some of the struggles I have? And so I knew that that could be a really cool place to help more people and positively impact the world.
Ilham Kadri: Fabulous. You are. I mean, the definition of a role model, right? If I can do it, others can do it. and you are also in, I'm also interested to hear about your entrepreneurial side. You are very involved at the moment with the technology of prosthesis, and you said before that you may want to get into the business yourself, so we may actually share some, you know, our notes and compare things. This is fantastic. Can you tell us more about your entrepreneurial, you know, chapter.
Trenten Merrill: Yes. I would love to do that in the future. I think that'd be very exciting, and very cool. So for me, I think the entrepreneurship side, it kind of started, my mom had told me in the past, I remember as I was growing up after the World Trade Center went down, my dad was released from his job and, and we struggled. And my mom said, Trenton, when you, after you graduate from college and stuff, like don't work for anybody, like be your own boss because then you won't have to do this, but you'll have other challenges, but, you know, you won't be fired from somebody else, per se. And so I took that to heart and I didn't know how I'd become an entrepreneur, but I think that stuck with me. And I just like solving problems. And so fortunately for me, I had a lot of problems having prosthetic and so I saw a lot of areas to grow and I have worked with a lot of amazing prosthetists, helping me throughout the years, from early stages to my professional career. And I've noticed the same common themes of what could improve. And then I've also seen and helped with the development, the R&D with prosthetic walking feet, long jump blades and sprinting blades. And so for me, I wanted to continue to help the development of better prosthetics and then also how the prosthetics attach and fit to amputees because that is an area that I believe has the most improvement to grow. And is the most archaic, the most, like, hasn't changed. Yes. And so I think that, if I don't do it, somebody else is going to, but I would love to be, to partner with somebody and help solve that problem. So for me, I love helping people and I like solving problems and this is an area that I get to even benefit in trial and use. More than potentially other people. So I'm excited to do that in the future and see where that takes me and yeah.
Working with children with prosthetics
Ilham Kadri: I love it. I love it. I saw you in TikTok. Right? Weighing your prosthetic the three pounds. Right. I love that one as well. And you know, we, it's interesting. I think you need, it's multidisciplinary, probably, you know, collaboration you may need. I also. So you are also a public speaker, Trenten, and you work with the kids who have prosthetic limbs and I saw some pictures of you at an event with kids, which was also really moving, to be honest, because you could see how much they looked up at you, right? To you. It must be really important for you to give back like that, right?
Trenten Merrill: Yes, when I, yeah, it's very important. When I first got introduced to the paralympics, or, sorry, let me back up. When I first got my foot amputated, I had all these insecurities on my mind. And I remember the doctor coming in and I asked him all these questions. I said, Hey, can I still run? Can I still play soccer? Can I still ride motorcycles and can I, like, you know, asked him all these things about sports. And he said, I don't know, Trenton. And so for me, at 14, I'm like, this is all like, I dreamed of, this is my identity sports. And now you're telling me it's uncertain. So, then, a few weeks went by and this Marine came in and he was an amputee and he was this big buff dude. And I remember he came in with a nice looking lady as well, and I asked him all these questions. I said, Hey, like, can you play, can you run, can you ride motorcycles and do you still date girls? Those are important for me, you know?
Ilham Kadri: very pragmatic.
Trenten Merrill: I was 14, I was in, I was in high school, you know, and he said, yeah, he said he re-enlisted as a marine, he runs on the beach every day. I was like, okay, cool. And he said that, he still rides motorcycles, and he is like, so can you. I was like, all right, nice. And he is like, and yeah, I still date girls. And he looked over to the pretty girl next to him. He said, this is my girlfriend right here. And I was like, Oh, nice. Cuz I thought that was his sister or something. I had no clue he was bringing a girlfriend with him and I, so I was thinking, all right, great. This guy just instilled hope in me. You know, it took one person to just say, you can, and be an example for that. So for me, when I saw that and I experienced it instead, I knew right away that I could do the same for other people once I had the platform for that. And so I became determined and, once I reached the level of the Paralympic games after Rio, I was like, all right, we gotta start giving back now. And so I started connecting with Challenge Athletes Foundation, and that was the group that I first found out about Paralympics. So when I first found out about Paralympics, I met two Paralympians there that day and they put me through a running workout. Then they asked me, have you ever thought about trying out for the Paralympics? I told 'em, I don't know what that is. They explained it to me and then a month later I was invited down here. And so now you know the roles are reversed. I'm that Paralympian helping inspire other, other athletes. And so it's, it's very important to me to give back because, I was introduced to Paralympics through a running clinic. I want to do a nonprofit as well where I could help athletes that wanna learn track and field specifically in running and prosthetics. I think that'd be amazing. I would love to do more of that. And so, that's a special place in my heart that I kind of helps me stay motivated too to succeed.
Ilham Kadri: Yeah. Oh, brilliant. I think, thank you for the human being you are. I think you have, not only you are a strong athlete, but you have a beautiful soul. And I'm sure all these kids, and I've seen it with my eyes looking up at you. It means a lot to them, right. So, to dream big. Right? And even if the dreams are scary, right? Because they are so big. But you showed that at 14 you could do that. So what, what's next for you? What's your next ambition or challenge? Are you coming to Paris this summer by any chance?
Trenten Merrill: God willing, you know, I'm gonna get out there and fight at nationals cuz I wanna be there. I wanna be there. So first stop is our US Paralympic Nationals. It's May 18th through the 21st, which May 18th is my birthday. So I'm really excited I get to compete on my birthday. So that's the first check is Nationals make the team. Then yes, Paris World Championships.
Ilham Kadri: Wow.
Trenten Merrill: I want be up there fighting on the podium. That's what I want do fighting for Solvay and, fighting for all my fans and my family
Ilham Kadri: I will be there. I will be in the crowd, believe me, Trenten, I will be in Paris cheering you. So what do you most enjoy doing when you are not training
Hobbies outside of sports
Trenten Merrill: That's a great question. I like cooking. I like barbecuing. I enjoy barbecuing. I enjoy hanging out with my friends and so, learning new recipes is a fun challenge as well. Learning how to make, really good food. Like healthy food tastes good as well, which I think is a good challenge. And so I like the challenge of that. I enjoy working on my car too. I have a 4runner and I like to go offroading, so sometimes I'll get new parts and then my friends and I will tear down the 4runner and build it back up. And so I enjoy working with my hands. And then also on the other side, completely just resting, maybe going to the beach and surfing, playing volleyball. But just resting because. For the most part, I'm working out, I'm always on my feet, so I really enjoy, quality time of like rest and laughing with people and connecting with people.
Diversity, equity and inclusion in the world of sport
Ilham Kadri: Beautiful. So before we close and I can go on, you know, for hours with you, I would like to talk about a theme, which is very important to Solvay and very close to my heart. As I'm also, you know, a product of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I know DEI is at the forefront for businesses or corporations, and I was wondering if you think the word of sport has made a lot of progress strengthen in that area, or is there still a long way to go? And what could business learn from your experience?
Trenten Merrill: Yeah, that's a great question. I think that there's still a long way to go. But I have seen that there's been a me, like amazing things that sport does. And you know, my first games in Rio, I had experienced. Every nation around the world in one village, and there wasn't strife, there wasn't conflict. And I noticed, I noticed this. I was very present and I was paying attention to my surroundings. I said, you know what? This is so beautiful. And, so I got to see how sport really tore down barriers and walls of race, religion, different backgrounds, you know, all these other things and, and. I believe it's because people had the same common goal of performing to the best of their abilities in their sport, and they had a mutual respect and understanding for each other. Everybody there at the Paralympic games had some type of challenge or struggle in their life being disabled. And I think there's a mutual respect when you, when you understand that and have this perspective. And so for me, I have seen that there's been a lot of positive for sport. But there is a lot of room to improve, no doubt, especially in the US and Paralympics. People still don't know what Paralympics is, whereas maybe in France and in the UK maybe they're a little bit more of like, they understand and they know the athletes and so I would love to help push for more of this positive change, because I really appreciate how other countries, see them as, you know, equal playing fields and they'll compete in the same competitions like for national meets, or grand prix meets. So, there's a lot of room to improve it, especially in my country. And, I would love to help with that positive change.
Ilham Kadri: Absolutely. And you are a real change agent and a role model, so well thank you. Thank you, Trenton, for joining me today. I think your enthusiasm is contagious simply, you have inspired me. I'm sure you've inspired all our Solvay colleagues and beyond, and you are a man of many ands A-N-D right? I mean, it's just amazing, beautiful soul. A lot of wisdom for a young man. And we'll be there cheering you on the victory in all your next endeavors. And I know there are great things ahead of you. And the best is yet to come. So thank you very much.
Trenten Merrill: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I really, really enjoy this conversation. And the next one I'm hoping is in person, so we can share
Ilham Kadri: Absolutely, absolutely. We'll celebrate together.