What's Next For Team USA Athletes After Sochi?
Noelle Pikus-Pace (in silver) and family (L-R) Traycen Pace, Janson Pace and Lacee Pace visit the USA House in the Olympic Village on Feb. 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
It is a question that comes up for athletes after every Games, summer and winter: Now what?
It’s no different for the Team USA athletes who competed at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. Once the flame goes out, the red carpet events are over and the White House visit has passed, athletes start to wonder what path their future might take.
More than 200 Team USA athletes gathered for a reunion of sorts in the nation’s capital last week. Many of whom attended the inaugural Best of U.S. awards event in the historic Warner Theatre and the highlight of the week came Thursday when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed and honored the Team USA athletes in the White House.
But perhaps the most important opportunity for the athletes’ future came at the Olympic & Paralympic Athlete Summit, which provides professional development tools for Team USA athletes. Themed “Train, Compete and Succeed in Life,” the summit offered workshops and seminars for athletes and covered topics: careers, financial management, personal development and education. This year marked the first time the summit was held since 2006.
The United States Olympic Committee provides career and education services for Team USA, and works closely with partners Adecco, DeVry University and Global Sports Development to help athletes prepare for life after sport.
Some Team USA athletes from Sochi plan to keep training for the next Winter Games, which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018. Some are retiring from athletics and embarking into the working world.
Here’s a look at what some Team USA athletes have planned for following their performances in Sochi:
Lauryn Williams: Although her bobsled teammate Elana Meyers has already been recruiting Williams to join USA Rugby (Meyers walks the walk and is already in China to compete in her first USA Eagles Sevens event), Williams said she is seeking a career as a financial planner. The only U.S. woman to medal at both the summer and Winter Games (as a track athlete she won gold and silver medals at the summer edition of the Games), Williams is 30 and said she has to grow up after living the life of a “Toys”R”Us kid.” Read more about Elana Meyers’ road to rugby here.
Chris Fogt: The bobsledder who was part of the U.S. four-man team that earned a bronze medal in Sochi, is now heading back to active duty in the U.S. Army. A member of the World Class Athlete Program, Fogt knows what it’s like to transition between the Olympic Winter Games to the military. Immediately after competing in Vancouver four years ago, he was deployed to Iraq for one year. He will head to Fort Huachuca in Arizona and is not sure where he will serve after that. But, he said, “I hope to come back to bobsled. I have a good life. I have an opportunity to be a regular Joe and then work with athletes.”
Josh Sweeney: The forward who scored the game-winning goal for Team USA’s sled hockey team at the Paralympic Winter Games is planning a move to Portland, Ore., to be closer to his wife’s family. The Arizona native said one of his first plans is to start a sled hockey program in the city and ultimately get some tournaments going in the Pacific Northwest. “I’ve gone to some camps in Portland and Seattle and there was good turnout,” he said. “We’ve got to get fundraising going and have faith.” Sweeney still plans to continue training with hopes of helping Team USA to a gold-medal three-peat in South Korea.
Mikaela Shiffrin: This alpine skier has no plans of slowing down. In fact, she made the public proclamation in Sochi that she wanted to win five gold medals in her second trip to the Winter Games. President Barack Obama backed her four-year plan. In his address to the Team USA athletes in the White House Wednesday, Obama said, “I’ve just got three words of advice: Go for it.” Shiffrin, who became the youngest Olympic slalom champion at 18, turned 19 shortly after the Winter Games. Now she has plans to add super-G and even trained on the 2015 World Championship course recently. She’s only been off snow for about two days but when asked about her immediate future she said, “We just chase the snow all year long.”
Jon Lujan: The Paralympic alpine skier served more than eight and a half years in the U.S. Marine Corps before competing in Sochi. He was honored by being named the flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympic Winter Games. On Wednesday, he and Olympic ice hockey player Julie Chu presented President Barack Obama with U.S. Olympic and Paralympic flags. Although the skiing results didn’t go as well as Lujan hoped — he suffered a severe knee injury during the GS event — he wrote in a recent blog that he was counting down the days until the next Winter Games in 2018. Still, he has some things to take care of first. When asked what he had on tap, he told reporters, “On Wednesday, I get trained in the doctor’s office for knee surgery.” Lujan left out one minor detail: In between the White House visit and the doctor’s office, he was scheduled to throw out the first pitch Friday at the Colorado Rockies game.
Julie Chu: The four-time Olympian and U.S. flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony in Sochi is at a crossroads. She does plan to continue to play hockey for the Montreal Stars in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League next season but is not sure what her future will be with the U.S. national team. She has had experience in the coaching ranks, working as an assistant at the University of Minnesota Duluth and was part of the coaching staff at Union College. She was among the athletes taking part in the summit in Washington and can always fall back on her college degree. It is from Harvard after all.
Tatyana McFadden: The 11-time Paralympic medalist made her debut at the Winter Games in Sochi, taking home a silver medal in the 1-kilometer sitting cross-country event. On tap are the London Marathon and the Boston Marathon. McFadden is the defending champion in both events. Her return to Boston will be especially emotional since the race last year was marred by the tragic bombings. She won her wheelchair race shortly before the bombings occurred.
Noelle Pikus-Pace: The skeleton racer thought she was finished with the Olympic Winter Games after Vancouver, but she mounted a huge comeback after being lured back into the sport by her husband, Janson. She won an emotional silver medal in Sochi and has been enjoying life in much-loved role as the mother of two in Utah since. In addition, she runs a business called Snowfire Hats. No word on whether her husband will encourage her to try for another medal in four years.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.