By Tim Morehouse, 2008 Olympic Fencing Silver Medalist | April 22, 2013, 11:30 a.m. (ET)

 
Tim Morehouse won
the silver medal in
the men's team saber
fencing at the Beijing
2008 Olympic Games.

 
Silver medalists Jason Rogers (L) and Tim Morehouse (R) poses
for a photo on the red carpet at Bowlmor Lanes 70th Anniversary
party on October 7, 2008 at Bowlmor Lanes in New York City.

Jason Rogers is one of the top fencers in U.S. history – at least in my opinion – having been a member of the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic Teams and winning a silver medal in men’s team saber in Beijing. Now Jason puts his strategic skills to great use for WPP (a global marketing and communications company) on a program called the WPP Marketing Fellowship, which places fellows into rotations with WPP operating companies worldwide. He is currently working in New York City at Landor Associates, a brand consultancy and design firm. Jason also currently serves an athlete ambassador for Right To Play, an international humanitarian organization, which was founded by Norway’s Johann Olav Koss, a four-time Olympic speedskating gold medalist.

On a personal note, Jason and I were teammates on the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams and on numerous world championship teams. As teammates, roommates and partners in crime, we saw each other in many ups and downs in both our athletic and professional careers. From 2008-2010, we worked closely together to help promote fencing and for a while in NYC we were known as the dynamic duo, “Jason and Tim.”

You retired from fencing in 2010 at the age of 26. I’ve been going through a process now of trying to figure out if I will go for Rio 2016. It has been tough trying to balance building a “professional” career with the time commitment I know it will take to train properly and to travel.

As you know, there isn’t a lot of money in small sports like fencing and it is very hard to work full-time and train. What factored into your decision to retire? 

Jason: No matter what the circumstances, the decision about retirement is always difficult for any athlete. For me, I was focused on the fact that I knew that there was life after fencing, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly what that looked like. I pictured myself somewhere in the business realm, but couldn’t see clearly where my interests and skills would have the most impact. Ultimately, I came to realize that continuing to train in an effort to win another Olympic medal actually had much less professional value to me than investing that time into the suite of skills that you need to understand and maneuver the business world. But more importantly, I was just ready for the next fun challenge that life was going to throw at me.

Sports like fencing don’t get a lot of publicity, and there isn’t an easy way to figure out “where are they now” for our small-sport Olympians. So I’ll ask the question here, “Where are you now?”

 
Keeth Smart, James Williams, Jason Rogers and Tim Morehouse
pose in the NBC Today show studio after winning silver in
at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on Aug. 18, 2008 in Beijing, China.

Jason: I’m happy to say that I am exactly where I want to be: off to a strong start in my professional career. Currently, I am working for WPP, which is the largest marketing communications network in the world, on a special rotational work program that moves us around within the network to see different disciplines of marketing in different parts of the world. The placement I’m currently on is with a brand consultancy called Landor Associates, (where I’m) doing really interesting work with big brands like Verizon and Dell. It’s pretty incredible to be working in an industry that sits at the intersection of all of my interests: psychology, design, strategy and creativity. On the personal side, I couldn’t really ask for more. I have an incredible girlfriend and much more time for family and friends than when I was traveling the world as a fencer.

You and I are both athlete ambassadors for a great charity called Right To Play, along with a number of other Olympians including swimmer Summer Sanders and speedskater Joey Cheek. Right To Play's mission is to use sport and play to educate and empower children to overcome the effects of poverty. It is currently serving over 500,000 children in impoverished countries.

We’ve done fundraisers for them, you’ve traveled to Jordan. I’m so passionate to help them because I think sport is such a great universal tool to help children. Why are you involved, and can you tell me a little bit about your experience?

Jason: Actually, both of our first exposures to the organization was an event that Right To Play hosted in New York on the evening before their big gala in 2008. It’s pretty easy to identify why the organization stuck with me initially and that was (because) the founder, Johann Olav Koss, had such an incredible way of getting everyone in the room truly excited the organization’s mission. However, what I think has kept me engaged and dedicated in the long term is my belief in the true power of play. Play is a endless source of creativity and well-being, and the I think the way that Right To Play creates systemic change around such a simple concept to combat some of the world’s biggest issues is just brilliant. It’s really easy these days to think of play as a trivial concept that doesn’t belong in the adult world or development world, but fundamentally it’s one of the most important ingredients in the process of learning. And beyond that, just the fact alone that Right To Play gives kids around the world the chance to do what we got to do our whole lives – play, engage, be part of a team – is incredibly exciting to me.
 
Giving motivational, inspirational and educational talks seems to come with the territory of being an Olympian. Since 2008, I’ve done hundreds of school assemblies along with various corporate talks and demonstrations. Recently, you got the chance to give a talk on one of the most prestigious platforms for speaking, a TED talk. 

Tell me about that experience and what you talked about.

Jason: Speaking at TEDxYouth in San Diego was the ultimate opportunity because I was able to speak about the power of play through my own experiences and relate that to an organization I am passionate about, Right To Play. Presenting alongside the national director for Right To Play, Lindsay Hower, we both shared stories about how the power of play had deeply affected our own lives, mine through my coach Daniel Costin, and hers through a trip with the organization to the Middle East. It was truly an honor to be there, as I am a voracious consumer of TED, and I think their platform for spreading ideas is second to none. Also, my parents were in the audience, making it even more special because I know they worked so hard to make sure that play was an important part of my childhood. I’ll let you watch the talk to get the full story, but let me warn you that I did include in my slideshow a picture of me at age 2 in a leopard print speedo.

You and I were both signed to Wilhelmina modeling agency in 2009, and you did a lot of modeling, including photo shoots with some pretty amazing photographers, Nigel Barker and Howard Schatz, and brands Club Monaco and Cosmopolitan Hotels.

You were invited to the Louis Vuitton fashion show to walk and were also a brand ambassador for Calvin Klein. Are you still modeling?  What was that experience like for you? Why do people seem to like athletes as models?

Jason: The ultimate irony – if you are talking about the athlete/model combo - was that when I was invited to walk in the Louis Vuitton show in Paris, I flew 3,500 miles only to discover that my legs were too “athletic” to fit in the clothing.

But the other interesting thing about that world is that my experience in it served as the first moment in time that I really began to understand the role that brands play in consumers’ lives. I began to think more deeply about why I was attracted to certain brands but repelled from others; how visual imagery of and messaging can create meaning for a brand. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience I had, as, in a way, it served as the foundation for my current career in marketing.

Any final thoughts?

Jason: You’ve got to go for Rio. I’ll make sure I’m down there working on the brand side of the things.

Only if you and Keeth Smart join me!

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