Olympic gold medalist and WNBA MVP: How burnout actually helped my career

What it takes to become a WNBA MVP and an Olympic gold medalist

Standing at 6 foot 5, Olympic gold medalist and WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne looks like she could never be stopped.

But burnout from basketball almost ended her incredible career.

"To be honest, I burned myself out" at one point, Donne told CNBC.

It happened at the end of high school. The young athlete would get up before school to run and lift, attend a full day of school, practice after school with the team, and then train even more on her own after that.

It was too much, and the rising star nearly walked off the court for good.

"I actually gave up the game after high school and put the basketball away for a year," she said. "I started playing volleyball and set my mind to becoming an Olympian in volleyball."

While 365 days without practice would be enough to sideline most athletes, Donne came back with full force.

Elena Delle Donne of the United States shoots against two players of France during a Women's Semifinal Basketball game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Getty Images

"I knew the second I picked the ball back up and started playing that I wanted to get back into it," she said.

Burnout, as it turns out, helped Donne rediscover her passion, a key ingredient she says all successful people need.

"You know, sometimes you do have to put it down in order to get the passion back," said Donne, a 2015 MVP of the Women's National Basketball Association who plays for the Chicago Sky. "Luckily, I got it back."

Donne recently took home a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics for the U.S. women's basketball team.

"There's going to be times you don't feel like doing it and you just have to remind yourself — what are you working for, what do you want to be, where do you want to get to?"

Without the passion, you've got nothing.
Elena Delle Donne
Olympic gold medalist and WNBA MVP

On top of Donne's already difficult job, since 2008 she has been battling Lyme disease, which often causes serious joint pain and fatigue, among a range of other symptoms. She says her older sister, Lizzie, who is deaf and blind, motivates her to keep striving.

"Without the passion, you've got nothing," she said. "You need the passion to put the practice and preparation in."

Video by Jeniece Pettitt.