Because of the combination of my athletic background and my proximity to the University of Michigan growing up, I've been fortunate enough to meet Olympic athletes throughout my entire life.
The first time I ever remember technically meeting an Olympian, I was about eight years old, and swimmer Erik Namesnik was present at an age-group swim meet in Grand Rapids, Mich. I don't remember the exact year, but I do know it was between the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. Namesnik had already won a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley at the Barcelona Olympics, and at the time, he was still training to compete at the Atlanta Olympics. In Atlanta, Namesnik would go on to win a second silver in the same event.
Throughout the years, I met several Olympic swimmers in the same fashion. I grew up just minutes from Club Wolverine swim club, which has been home to some of the greatest Olympic swimmers in history, including Namesik, Michael Phelps, Tom Dolan, Peter Vanderkaay, Allison Schmitt, and many others.
None of these swim meet encounters were nearly as influential as the meetings I had when I lived in Colorado Springs, though. During my years as an employee of the United States Olympic Committee, I had the opportunity to live on campus at the Olympic Training Center complex, where I met, lived near, and interacted daily with some of the greatest elite athletes in the world.
In fact, I'll never forget my first day on the complex, when I walked into the gym to go through my daily workout routine. While warming up on a stair stepper, speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno jumped onto the stepper next to mine. He said "hello" and began his workout.
Standing at about 5-foot, 8-inches, Ohno is not a particularly large guy -- in fact, he and I are about the same height. The size of his legs, though, as he powered away on the stair stepper, was totally intimidating. I got off my own cardio machine and began my lifting routine a few minutes early that day!
Eventually, Ohno and I would go on to become friends, as I would with many of the other speedskaters, wrestlers, weightlifters, triathletes, shooters and Paralympians living in the training center. I can honestly say without a doubt that living at the Olympic Training Center was the most influential experience of my life. In fact, I even met my husband -- an elite-level athlete himself -- while living there.
Sandra Johnson is a longtime Olympic fan. While working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46
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