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U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team Members Participate in Olympic Build Day with Habitat for Humanity

Nov. 26, 2008, 12:33 p.m. (ET)


Question: how many Olympians does it take to screw in a light bulb?


Answer: no clue, particularly when it takes more than 10 to hammer in a single nail.


Regardless of the apparent over-abundance of people it took to cleanly hammer in a single nail, it was all for a great cause as resident athletes, coaches and staff of the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center and the United States Olympic Committee came together as a team on November 22nd to give back to the community for Olympic Build Day with Habitat for Humanity. 


"My construction background starts and ends with Lego's" 2008 Olympic track cyclist Michael Blatchford (Cypress, CA.) proclaimed.  Most of the 12 member team echoed the sentiment, but that certainly didn't preclude them from tackling numerous projects with the same gusto and drive you would see them exert on the playing field.


If anything, their over-achieving personality traits helped propel them to take on the challenge.  Their competitive natures served them well as it truly became a competitive task to see how far along they could get on building a home. Moreover, their obsessive temperaments pushed them to make sure the house wasn't simply put together quickly; it most certainly had to be done to perfection.


"When we screwed up, we would just undo it.  It was no big deal: ‘Okay, let's just redo it,'" noted rifle shooter and 2012 Olympic hopeful Amy Sowash (Richmond, KY). 


Despite every athletes' drive and focus to complete as much as possible on the build, the atmosphere had none of the fierce intensity of a gold medal match or a general competition.  Everyone cracked jokes, mocked one another, as well as cheered each other on, while enjoying the unexpected sunshine of a beautiful fall day in Northeast Colorado Springs.  The number of "That's what she said" comments spurred on by 2008 Women's Volleyball silver medalist Nicole Davis (Stockton, CA) assuredly rivaled your stereotypical, male dominated construction site, but all in good fun and jest and minus any misogynist malice. 


Given that it is a down time in most athletes' training schedules and with the Thanksgiving holiday poking around the corner, the Olympic Build Day was a great chance for residents of the CS-OTC to get out and work together.  Normally, athletes of different sports rarely get the opportunity to co-mingle outside of the dining hall; even then, training and competition schedules keep athletes a part.  Furthermore, most athletes tend to hang out with their teammates out of convenience.  A Greco-roman wrestler and a track athlete would have as much reason to hang out together as would students studying engineering and art history would at on a college campus. 


The Olympic Build Day with Habitat for Humanity gave a dozen athletes, coaches and staff members from different sports and backgrounds a chance to work and socialize together for an entire Saturday.  Pentathlete and 2008 Olympian Eli Bremer (Monument, CO) agreed, "It's been a lot of fun getting out here with other athletes.  [The highlight of the day came from] watching Lopez cut the I-beam with the saw for an hour."


Indeed, it was a highlight for many of the crew to get a chance to see the U.S. Olympic Team's flag bearer and track & field athlete Lopez Lomong (Flagstaff, AZ) trade in his track spikes for a hard hat, hammer, and an industrial saw.  Lomong normally trains out of the Olympic site, Northern Arizona University, but has split his training over the past year at the Colorado Springs training center.  This was the first opportunity for many athletes to interact with him in a relaxed setting.  And they found him to be just one of the gang, cracking jokes with a broad smile and enthusiastically take on big projects such as hammering in floor boards to the foundation and sawing a one foot chunk out of the I-beam that would serve as the house's main support base. 


Yet, another high point of the event for the athletes came from working with the USOC's Chief Operating Officer and three-time Olympian Kayak Norm Bellingham (Colorado Springs, CO).  Despite the fact that the Habitat foreman could not find a tool strong enough to pry away the Blackberry from Bellingham's hands, the executive officer certainly wasn't reticent about jumping in, getting dirty, or even taking direction from athletes with construction experience who naturally took on leadership roles like fencer and 2004 Olympian Cody Mattern-Nagengast (Tigard, OR).


Sowash certainly appreciated Bellingham's presence, and explained it best, "I was surprised he was so involved.  He was in the foundation the whole time.  He was dirty!  He worked hard!  It was neat to see him working with us, and us working with him."


Ultimately, the Olympic Build Day with Habitat for Humanity truly exemplified the ideals of the Olympic Movement.  It demonstrated the importance of teamwork, as well as helped athletes, coaches, and staff members get a better understanding of what it means to be a part of Team USA and represent your country.  Much of the day was about giving back to a Colorado Springs community that generously supports the USOC and the resident athletes who make the city their home.  It was a great opportunity for all involved to further the Olympic ideals of goodwill, understanding, tolerance, and harmony through hard work.  Even the family members who will receive the house when completed where on hand to help with the build and invest "sweat equity" into the project, and their presence and work provided that much more of a tangible purpose to the day.


2008 Olympic weightlifter, Carissa Gump (Essex, VT) summed the day up well, "People with no skills who can actually help build a house is pretty amazing."


For more information, please contact the USOC Communications Division at 719-866-4529.


Athletes and coaches participating in the Olympic Build Day with Habitat for Humanity not included in the story: Olympic Women's Volleyball Coach Tom Hogan (Colorado Springs, CO), Olympic wrestler Brad Vering (Howells, Neb.), three-time women's handball Olympian and U.S. Paralympic staff member Laura Ryan (Colorado Springs, CO).


About Habitat for Humanity International

Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian minestry that welcomes to its work all people dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing.  Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built more than 300,000 houses worldwide, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 1.5 million people.  For more information, visit www.habitat.org.