May 2, 2012
Passion Personified!By pmihalek

Reading the sports page in newspapers and magazines and watching the weekend TV sports programs showing the fierce competition for spots on national teams, there’s no doubt that the every-four-year media blitz surrounding the Summer Olympic Games is building to what will be a crescendo in July in London. I love watching all the pageantry, the personal and country rivalries, and seeing everyone involved — athletes and viewers alike — immersed in the spirit of the Olympics. But as I think about the stories of the journeys some of these athletes took to get to the Olympics, the sacrifices they made, and why they made them, I’m even more in awe of their accomplishments. The laser-like focus, dedication and commitment these people display is amazing, and at the end of the day, what do they get in return? For the vast majority, the payback isn’t financial. Sure, for a very few, they may get product endorsement deals. And except for the major sports, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the individual sport governing associations provide very little funding for training expenses, travel to national and international meets, or living expenses. Most of the funding comes to the individual athletes directly from personal sponsorships and donations from family members and friends. And coaches don’t come cheap! Some of the athletes have to relocate to different parts of the country to gain access to training facilities and expertise, many at an early age and displacing/disrupting normal family lives. Training to reach Olympic caliber requires years of commitment and dedication. One literally has to put his/her life on hold for the opportunity to compete at this level. And very few of these sports provide skill training that will carry over to post-Olympic life and careers. That’s not to suggest that the attitudinal and emotional skills such as goal setting, competitiveness, commitment and tenacity won’t benefit them throughout their lives, but these alone won’t pay the bills for their futures. For the Love of the Sport I just took a look at the list of sports that will be represented at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and was amazed at how varied they were. The media focuses on the major sports, like track and field, tennis, basketball, gymnastics, swimming and soccer. These are sports where either professionals can participate, super stars can earn endorsements, or there are national tours that allow the athletes to leverage their fame and success after the Olympics. But what about the athletes who participate in sports like archery, badminton, canoe and kayak, equestrian, fencing, field hockey, handball, judo, rhythmic gymnastics, sailing, trampoline or synchronized swimming? Why do they compete? What do they gain from their quest? Time magazine recently ran an article on the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming team, a sport that I have some familiarity with, believe it or not. No, I never participated in this sport, but both of my daughters participated in “synchro” in high school, earning State championship status on their teams and as individuals. Some people may make the grave error to suggest that synchro isn’t a “real” sport that requires a lot of physical skill, strength or training. My triathlon participating and ultra-marathon running son made this almost fatal mistake with his sisters and was challenged to get into the pool with them and do what they did — he almost drowned and was sore for a week. Synchro isn’t just about making their routines look effortless while smiling and wearing waterproof makeup, sequined suits and gelled hair. These athletes spend more than half of their routine time underwater and upside down, paddling, kicking and swimming like crazy and setting up lifts and throws, with all of their moves synchronized to music with their teammates. The true essence of this sport is to make everything they do look easy. Okay, so back to the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming team’s efforts. These world class athletes from all over the U.S. have to move to Santa Clara, CA, to train at the Aquamaids Synchronized Swimming Club. These ladies have to raise over 50 percent of their annual budget, getting little support from the USOC or the USA Synchro, the sport’s governing body. They’re in the water at 7 a.m., seven days a week, training all day, leaving no time for outside employment. They receive a token stipend from USA Synchro for living expenses of about $750 a month, barely enough to eke by with rent and food. To raise money to cover training expenses and travel to qualifying international meets, they revert to high school activity funding tactics such as bake sales, raffles and car washes. In exchange for the resources like coaching, pool time, and a small subsidy for travel to meets, for each trimester they trained at the Aquamaids Synchro Club, these elite swimmers had to log 100 hours of labor each at the club’s 20,000 square-foot bingo hall that raises more than 90 percent of the club’s $2.5 million annual budget by selling bingo cards. For every Olympic-class athlete who is 100 percent sponsored or is earning a living from their sport through endorsements, there are hundreds paying their own way and sacrificing to the Nth degree to participate in the Olympics. You have to wonder what drives them and why do they do this! There are a number of reasons cited. There’s the drive to be the best in their sport. The personal challenge to compete against the best athletes in the world in their sport. The desire to perform at the highest individual level they possibly achieve. The honor of being able to represent their country on this highly visible international forum. The recognition that very few people can ever claim that they were Olympians. Heart and Soul So what does all of this have to do with our industry or the people in it? I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll continue talking about it: one thing that makes our industry and the people in it so special is their passion, the love of the product they work with and enjoy, their desire to share this love and passion with others, and their drive to be the best. The commitment and dedication to grow, improve and be the best that these world-class athletes exhibit are the same traits shared by many individuals in our industry that make it so great. Like the majority of our Olympic athletes who make tremendous sacrifices and take risks to play at this elite level, the players in our industry also make tremendous sacrifices and take risks. So why do you and these remarkable athletes do what you do? Because you can. Because you have the ability and skills to do so. Because you have the drive, the determination and commitment to make the necessary sacrifices to improve and be the best you can be. Because you both share the passion to do what you do and achieve your goals and dreams…



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