Who Said Meeting An Olympian Would Be Easy?

I rolled out of bed this morning at 8:45, thinking that under NO circumstances should I be awake this early on a Saturday. If I had my way, it would be at least another two hours before I would even think about getting up. But in the grand scheme of this assignment, waking up early was the least of my worries!

Let’s rewind, shall we?

On the first day of the semester, Dr. Mullane told my leadership class that we’d have a semester-long assignment to interview a leader in the field we want to enter one day. We’d choose our subject, interview them, observe them in action, and then present our findings in a powerpoint to the class at the end of November. This is all for us, she said. She was adamant that we find someone with a job relevant to what we want to do so we could begin to network, make some connections, and maybe find a job/internship with them.

Immediately, my thoughts go to Colorado, the headquarters of the USOC. Then, to my bank account. There’s no way I could afford to fly to Colorado for an interview for an assignment.

Fairly undeterred, I hit the internet, certain that there had to be SOMETHING down here related to the Olympics. An NGB (national governing body), at the very least. But as the list of fair-weather sports dwindled down to nothing, the closest I could find was USA Water Skiing in Polk City (over four hours away by car).


Nope.

Starting to get a little desperate, I went to Dr. Mullane’s office hours to ask (beg, plead…) for help. She pointed me in the direction of Paul Resnick. I’m not sure what exactly his title is, but I’m pretty sure he’s in charge of internships in the sport administration department. So he’s got a super fat Rolodex of contacts. ;)

Now, I don’t usually toot my own horn very much, but in this case… TOOT TOOT! My timing couldn’t have been more impeccable. Resnick told me that, that very night, he had someone distantly involved with USA Wakeboarding coming to speak to his classes. He told me to drop by at the end of class, around 7:00, to talk to him and see if he had any ideas about who I could talk to.

So at 7, I headed over to Allen Hall, where Resnick introduced me to Jonathan Strauss. He had taken a class with Dr. Mullane and knew the assignment I had to do, and spent a few minutes thinking about possible options for me. Finally, he gave me his card and told me to email him, and he’d have someone for me then. Thinking that that was better than nothing, I thanked him, and left. I was halfway down the hall when I heard the door to the classroom open.

“Wait! I’ve got it!”

Jackpot!

Jonathan told me that he’d get me in touch with Gary Hall, Jr. He told me he was recently an Olympic swimmer, that he and his father were the only father/son pair to each have competed in three Olympic Games, and that he’s still involved in the Olympic movement. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn’t think much of it as I thanked him profusely and left again, for real.

Kind of excited about where this project was potentially going, I decided to Google Gary Hall, Jr. to see what I was getting myself into. I did an image search, and my reaction, after my jaw hit the floor, was; “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” (Seriously. Ask Brittany, she was there.)

I REMEMBER him! And everyone else should too! Think for a minute: in 2004, the Olympics were in Athens (and so was born my desire to go to Greece. But that’s beside the point). This was when the world was introduced to Michael Phelps, so if you weren’t watching hours and hours of swimming, you had some serious patriotism issues. There was another swimmer that, honest to god, I thought looked like a cartoon character come to life. He was tan and muscular (obviously), with perfectly coiffed blonde hair, and lots and lots of blindingly white teeth. But to make it even better, he wore a star spangled silk robe out to the pool before his races. I referred to him as Captain America, not gonna lie! Imagine my surprise when I realized that Captain America is Gary Hall, Jr.!


Seriously, tell me this guy doesn't look like a cartoon!

So I emailed Jonathan, who forwarded my email to Gary Jr. (I think?). Either way, the next day I got an email from Gary Sr., saying that Jr. recently moved to Seattle, but if I wanted to do my assignment on “the original model” (his words! :D), he’d be more than happy to help me out.

I was a tiny bit disappointed, because it would’ve been really cool to interview an Olympian I clearly remembered watching on TV; Gary Sr. was a bit before my time. But still, he’s a freaking Olympian. And he was offering to help me. So I thanked him profusely (I feel like I do that a lot…) and told him that the original model would be fantastic!

And then I looked him up. Not only did he compete in three Olympics, but he won three medals, two silvers and a bronze. And now he’s a vice president of US Olympians (USO). But the most exciting part?



HE WAS THE FLAG BEARER FOR TEAM USA DURING THE CLOSING CEREMONIES IN 1976! CAPS LOCK CANNOT EVEN EXPRESS HOW EXCITING THAT IS!

Ahem. So anyway, I told him that part of the assignment was to observe him “in action.” He told me that the Olympic Congress would be held in Fort Myers on the weekend of November 6th, and he’d be giving a presentation about WorldFit (the adopted cause of the USO), and he invited me to come along. Needless to say, I was pretty much over the moon! That was all the information he had at the moment, so he said he’d let me know when he heard more.

Some time passes. More time than I was entirely comfortable with (you know me, always worrying!). So I emailed him again, asking for more details, and he said that all he knew was that he’d be presenting on the 6th. I’d asked him for the venue, but he sort of ignored that question… but I was like, okay, that’s fine, deep breaths. I’ll get it later on.

Then there was the issue of getting to Fort Myers. It’s two hours away by car, and I don’t have a car. It’s three hours by bus, and did I really want to spend 6 hours on a bus in a single day? -_- No. Hooray for having grandparents living in the area! I felt terrible for asking them to make such a long drive with me, but they eventually agreed.

At this point, it was Halloween weekend, and I was getting scared. I didn’t know where I’d have to be going, or what time on Saturday. So I emailed him again, and what did he tell me? That he’d just found out that the foundation was over budget, so they weren’t sending him after all.

Say it with me: WOMP. WOMP. WOMP.

My anxiety was now in high gear. I asked him when I’d be able to meet with him, and he said he’d be in Miami next weekend (aka now :P). Of course, I answered with a YESPLZ! WHEN? WHERE?

And, uh, he didn’t so much answer my questions. After several more emails of “give me a time and a place and I’ll be there if it kills me,” we reach this past Tuesday. I get an email from him saying “I’m leaving on Thursday to go to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the weekend, but if I’ll meet with you this week if you can drive down to my house in the Keys.”

Keep in mind, this was Tuesday. He was leaving on Thursday. There are no other words for it – I flipped a shit. He was telling me to DRIVE (he knows I don’t have a car) to the KEYS (all of them?) the NEXT DAY (despite class and work?). And he’d be gone for the weekend? HE TOLD ME HE’D BE IN MIAMI THAT WEEKEND! I seriously thought he was about to bail on me. If he had, I’d be screwed. SO. ROYALLY. SCREWED. I almost cried, and definitely ripped some hair out of my head. (This explains my emo facebook status that night, in case anyone was wondering. :P)

I emailed him back, basically saying “HAHAHAHANOPE! When are you going to be back in state? -________-“

His answer? Friday night.

…Umm, since when are Thursday and Friday considered “the weekend”?

I wanted to laugh and cry with relief. He invited me to his house in Miami Beach for Saturday (today!) at 11 am.

So there I was, waking up at an ungodly (for a Saturday) hour of the morning and getting ready to brave the Miami-Dade public transit system to have an interview with an Olympian. OH. No big deal, right?

Well, this “no big deal” caused my stomach to only allow me to eat half a bagel for breakfast. A bagel with butter, not cream cheese – the dining hall had only been open for 15 minutes when I got there, and the cream cheese wasn’t out yet. Faaaaaaantabulous.

I made it to the train station on time, but the train was over 10 minutes late, which made me miss the bus I was planning on taking from the Earlington Heights station. I had to sit there for a while, worrying about taking the right bus, being in a strange neighborhood I’d never been to before, and, OH YEAH, interviewing an Olympian.

…And being glad that I only ate half a bagel for breakfast. This is where I threw out the other half.

The next bus got there at around 10:45. Thanks to the super awesome (/sarcasm) bus driver, I paid $3.00 for a $2.35 fare because she didn’t tell me that the machine doesn’t give change until AFTER I put the third single in. Super. But I got off at the right stop, and walked the rest of the way to his house.

Ya know how, when you don’t want it to, time seems to go by really fast? Well, that’s how it seemed with the streets. I started out on 41st, and then all of a sudden I was on 37th, and then 34th, and then 31st (my destination). And I was looking at street signs SO CAREFULLY. It was weird. o_O

Luckily I had Google-mapped the house the night before, otherwise I wouldn’t have known what to do; I couldn’t find the number! The front yard was gated off, so I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do; do I just open the gate and walk in? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a gate? But then I heard movement on the side of the house. So I walked over there, and there he was. Getting a garbage can for his wife, who was working on her garden in the backyard.

Lesson: Olympians are very, very normal. Who knew?

He took me into the backyard and introduced me to his wife, Mary, who’s super nice. We sat at the table they have out there, and we talked. Well, he talked. I listened and asked questions. He’s a very soft-spoken, reserved kind of guy, so at first I was sort of afraid that he might just be wanting to get this over with. But I realized after a while that he’s just low key. He gave me lots of information – I have five (5!) pages of handwritten notes – and we talked for almost exactly an hour. He’s awesome. He’s really, really passionate about what he does; he very obviously loves and appreciates his wife; and he’s so proud of Gary Jr., bragging that his son’s Olympic career was more successful than his own.



After I was done with questions for my assignment, I got a bit more personal and asked if he knew how I should begin to get involved with the USOC. He said that the USO isn’t directly involved with the USOC (which I find completely bizarre), but that I should definitely try interning with them. I told him that’s my short-term goal, and he said he’d be happy to write a letter of recommendation for me.

Let me say that again.

He said he’d be happy to write a letter of recommendation for me.

A vice president of the USO. Writing me a letter of recommendation. For an internship with the USOC.

I think I managed to choke out “Oh my god, yeah, that’d be fantastic, thank you!”

And then I asked him if I could be a total nerd and take a picture with him. :D



He really put his arm around me like he meant it. It wasn’t one of those “this is awkward, I don’t really know you, let’s get this over with” kinds of things. It was more of an “I like you! Let’s take a picture together!” and it made me happy!

Then he took me inside (!!!) and got me a copy of the WorldFit program information and some volunteer cards. And I met one of his sons! I don’t know his name (because the internet only deems Gary Jr. worthy of being mentioned), but he knew exactly who I was and why I was there! It was exciting!

And then… that was it. I shook his hand, thanked him profusely (again), and let myself out. I practically skipped back to the bus stop and called my parents (for a good reason this time! YAY!). I waited for ages for a bus to finally get there, but I paid the right fare the second time! And the train took a little while too, but I was totally fine with that – suddenly, I was a pro at Miami-Dade transit. It’s no harder than NYC, and most certainly no sketchier.

And now I’m back at school, so glad that the assignment is over and wondering if it all actually happened.

I really want to thank everyone that helped me out on this one. Dr. Mullane, thank you for forcing me so far out of my comfort zone that all I could stomach was half a bagel – it was worth it! Paul Resnick, thank you for thinking to (and being willing to) introduce me to Jonathan Strauss, who I want to thank for being a freaking genius. And finally, to the Hall family, thank you for not thinking I’m crazy and weird, and for being so nice and welcoming. And Gary Sr. – you rock. SO HARD. :)

Next hurdle: getting an A.

But thankfully, that’s all on me!

2 comments :

  1. Darci, you rock! We're so proud of you! Gma & Gpa xoxoxo

    ReplyDelete