We had the good fortune of connecting with Lealem Mulugeta and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lealem, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born in Ethiopia, where I was often surrounded and inflicted by poverty and illness. But even under these conditions, I was consumed by visions of moving to North America where I imagined my family and I could enjoy the peace and live our dreams, and let me tell you, I had many dreams.
I was filled with visions of exploring the cosmos. I wanted to become a gymnast. I also had all kinds of ideas of someday curing diseases like those I was surrounded by. There were many obvious reasons to believe achieving any one of them was impossible. Yet I was an idealist, and it got me into lots of trouble with family, friends and neighbors. No matter the opposition I faced, I just could not “grow out of it.” I suppose I still haven’t.
Then came the day when I unexpectedly had to say goodbye to my father. He told me he would be back, but we didn’t reunite with him until six years later in Uganda. We then moved to Canada where I had to learn a whole new culture and language. I eventually earned a degree in Mechanical-Aerospace Engineering while working three jobs and pursuing competitive gymnastics on my “spare time.” None of this was easy, but it was the foundation that taught me how to push the human body and mind beyond perceived limitations.
After completing my engineering degree and working in the industry for a couple of years, I moved to France for graduate school in space studies. As a by-product of my years of hard work and dedication, I was recruited to join NASA’s Digital Astronaut Project (DAP). In less than three years, I was promoted to DAP Project Scientist.
As the Project Scientist, I was responsible for the scientific content and direction of the project. We developed highly complex computational models using all our cutting-edge knowledge in human physiology, anatomy, exercise science, human health and performance, engineering and much more. I also took the lead in helping NASA spin-off our work to healthcare applications by actively engaging with the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Defense, and other leading organizations. One by-product of this work is a recent publication in the prestigious peer-reviewed Journal of Translational Medicine where my colleagues and I present methodology for robust and reliable use of computational methods for healthcare challenges like COVID-19.
I am very proud of my work at NASA. It helped me integrate my life-long passions for spaceflight and pushing the limits of human potential. I got to work on real problems that didn’t just matter to space exploration, but also to the average person. I also got to be part of the leading edge in human health and performance research, with real scientific backing and practical application.
After my tenure at NASA ended in 2015, and much soul-searching, I formed Medalist Performance in 2016 to take all this learning to the next level and bring it to real-world people. Through the work I do at Medalist Performance, I get to tailor programs for each of my clients by combining cutting-edge research with real-world know-how. And I get to watch them exceed their own perceived limitations. It is incredibly fulfilling.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Since early childhood, my life has been riddled with challenges that should have made it impossible to achieve my dreams. This includes overcoming poverty, disease and migration across multiple countries. I didn’t learn how to read until I turned eight years old, and writing was a whole challenge of its own. I had to learn how to speak, read and write in a new language, when I was already struggling with my first. I’ve also had several life events (too private to discuss) that have forced me to start from scratch more than once. I would be lying if I said I never thought of quitting. But through unrelenting hard work, I learned how to build on every personal and professional experience to improve my situation in life. So when I decided to start Medalist Performance™, it only made sense for me to integrating my life experiences and professional expertise to help people reach their untapped potential, and give back to society in a similar manner.
Medalist Performance™ is dedicated to delivering state of the art peak performance coaching for active and aspiring athletes, astronauts, tactical personnel and executives. This is distinctly different from a typical fitness, personal training or coaching program because the focus is to help our clients discover their peak physical, mental and intellectual performance. In many cases, we help them surpass what they believed they were capable of. They also experience substantial improvement in their health and physical appearance.
The transformational changes the Medalist Performance system produces lies in the proprietary coaching curricula to deliver highly personalized programs using our:
NASA Research: We apply our extensive experience with NASA’s astronaut exercise and space biomedical research and development program to ensure our clients have an edge on the competition.
Scientifically Driven Programming: We are adamant about using scientifically based coaching techniques. We invest a substantial amount of time vetting and applying the latest progress in all domains of peak performance coaching.
Practical Experience: Although we have a strong scientific foundation upon which we have built our coaching programs, we also recognize the methods and systems we layout must be readily applicable to the real world. So we take every measure to ensure that our scientific methods are substantively complemented with our many years of practical experience in athletics and high-pace professional lifestyle.
Individualized Programming: The one thing we absolutely refuse to do is to treat an individual the same as everyone else. Regardless of the coaching curriculum, a client enrolls in, their program will be individualized to their unique needs with respect to:
• Physiologic performance development
• Anatomical and body composition attributes
• Biomechanical optimization
• Nutrition coaching
• Injury recovery and prevention education
• Mental performance coaching
Data Analytics: We use scientifically sound techniques to track and analyze all aspects of our clients’ progress so that they have a clear understanding of their progress relative to their performance goals and their potential competition.
Versatile Delivery Format: Our coaching programs are available both in-person and virtual formats to meet the unique accessibility needs of our clients. However, regardless of the coaching format, every client has a virtual portal where all aspects of their program will be administered and monitored.
In addition to helping our clients, Medalist Performance has a mission to recognize and cultivate the next generation of leaders. To achieve this goal, we established the Medalist Scholars™ program to recognize and support individuals who clearly demonstrate a drive to be the best of our society. To learn more about the program please visit: https://
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Houston is an amazing place to entertain guests. Of all the places I have lived, I can honestly say it is the only place where you can find almost anything you want to experience (except for mountains). So I would take my guests to the diverse places that really shows Houston’s expansive culture and possibilities.
On the first day, we would probably go to Cafe Layal in Midtown. The patio is a great area to just sit back and catch up while enjoying a flavorful hookah or any of their Mediterranean foods and beverages. The chatter of diverse languages in the background really sets a wonderful mood. If they feel like getting a fine dining, drink or dessert, we can easily walk over to multiple restaurants, bars or dessert shops less than five minutes away.
As an Ethiopian, I always love sharing the rich flavors of my cultural cuisine. So, on day two or three, I would take them to Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant. I absolutely love this place because the food and presentation is about as authentic as you can get without having to travel to Ethiopia. We would likely have the Mesob combination plate with Kitfo added. I would also encourage them to try the Honey Wine or any of the Ethiopian beers with their meal. Finally, we would close off with a traditional coffee ceremony.
Let’s not forget Houston’s rich African American culture of hip-hop, soul food and the absolutely amazing people. For that, I’d take them to Bar 5015 on a Saturday or Sunday night. Before you even step into the place, you see the great southern vibe spill onto the street. It’s not unusual to see a group of people dancing on the streets to the hip-hop music the DJ is mixing inside. When you walk in, the security staff is friendly, the patrons are lively and the staff is hospitable.
Sunday brunch is also an absolute must! My current favorite spot is Café Poêtes in Midtown. This is a truly authentic French restaurant and pastry bar that reminds me of the cafes and bakeries I used to frequent while living in France.
Since we are in Texas, I would make sure to take them to Top Gun Range for a memorable shooting session with the elite SWAT Beast (https://www.swatbeast.com/). SWAT Beast and Top Gun Range are by far the best businesses I’ve found that expose people to firearms in a safe, fun and practical way. There is no one I trust more than these two businesses.
Obviously, I also would arrange a special tour of NASA, as well as visits to Houston’s incredible museums and parks. If professional sports are available, that’s also a must. But, honestly, Houston has so much to offer, the list can be endless!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
This is dedicated to my father, for the decades and dreams he sacrificed so that I may live out mine to the fullest.