Olympians share stories with Illinois business majors

In 1996, when women’s soccer entered the Olympics for the first time, Abby Wambach made up her mind that she wanted to play on the U.S. team one day. That same year, Melissa Stockwell kept posters of the Olympic gymnastics team in her room and dreamed to be one of them one day. Steve Mesler made his decision when he was 11 years old to go for track and field.

These three individuals each made it to the Olympics, but not exactly how they all expected. Wambach won a gold medal in women’s soccer, Mesler in bobsledding and Stockwell made it to the Paralympics in swimming.

The trio shared their stories at the ARC on Tuesday evening for business students as part of a tour through Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and the United States Olympic Committee. The tour called, “It’s Your Race, Take the Lead,” was on its fourth of 17 stops at colleges throughout the country. Athletes are typically on the tour for three to four stops.

“Your stories are going to be different and your stories are going to be as important as ours,” Wambach said. “We might do it on a littler bit of a grander scale in terms of how many cameras were on us or the kind of impact in terms of inspiration we can have, but your stories are as important as ours.”

Deloitte is a sponsor on the USOC and brought the speakers to potential employees as a means of inspiration.

“It’s natural for us to be aligned with the Olympic Committee because the core values are so similar, whether it’s integrity, strength, or cultural diversity, commitment to each other diversity,” Deloitte partner Howard Engle said. “Those are all the things of the Olympic movement and those are the same things that we think about and hope to achieve at Deloitte. We’re both in the business of creating leaders.”

Wambach said it might be hard to understand how business majors could relate to athletes, but the general principles are identical.

“All of us want the same things in life, we want to be happy, being happy is not easy, otherwise everybody would have it,” Wambach said. “It’s the decisions you make from right now until the end of your life. All of those decisions will create who you are.”

She talked about one’s journey in life and how every successful person will at some point have a meltdown. For Wambach, it was when she missed the 2008 Olympics because she broke her leg five days before. Before that, Wambach thought she could never get hurt.

“Life is going to take turns, it’s not always going to go as you planned,” Wambach said. “You have to do the best you can. You have to own it, you have to take ownership.”

On April 14, 2004, Stockwell lost her leg from a roadside bomb while fighting in Iraq. She will never forget the day life as she knew it changed forever.

“Finding out about the Paralympics was like finding my second chance,” Stockwell said. “I could make it to this huge athletic stage and wear the USA uniform. It was almost going to make everything right. It was going to make April 13, 2004 — it was going to make me being there the right thing, where I was supposed to be.”

Mesler’s meltdown was during his senior year of college at the University of Florida, when after getting injured five years in a row, he realized he had to re-evaluate his life. It was his time of weakness he said that was flashing through his mind when his team won the gold medal on the bobsled in 2010.

Mesler brought his gold medal to the presentation, passing it around for everyone to see with a nervous ease.

“This medal has touched thousands of people’s hands, it’s yet to be dropped or stained and you don’t want to be that person,” Mesler said with a laugh. “And there’s security in the back, so if anybody thinks they’re fast, you’re not that fast.”

He said the medal and the pictures capture the great moment of victory, but not the full story behind it, that the most important part in any story is not the end result, but the journey.

“It’s normal to not be sure if you’re going to do it or not, it’s normal to not believe you can see yourself actually getting there,” Mesler said. “That’s acceptable. What’s not acceptable is not just deciding to go for it and letting it happen the way it goes.”