By Karen Rosen | Jan. 30, 2017, 1:05 p.m. (ET)
Four-time Olympian Troy Dumais (R) greets members of the U.S. Air Force at Thule Air Base in January 2017 in Greenland.


Divers Sam Dorman and Troy Dumais know how it feels to be on top of the world.

Each had the heady experience of winning an Olympic medal and standing on the podium. Dorman took silver at the Rio 2016 Games in 3-meter synchro while Dumais earned bronze four years earlier in London in the same event.

And on Jan. 19 they had the rare privilege of physically being so close to the North Pole, Dorman said, “that the polar bears don’t want to go there. We went out to see the Northern Lights, and they were the Southern Lights because we were so far north we had to look south.”

He and Dumais traveled to Thule Air Base on the top end of Greenland as part of the “Dive into Service” program earlier this month. Launched last year by USA Diving, the program encourages athletes to build relationships with military service members and share kindred experiences as representatives of the United States.

“That was a trip of a lifetime,” Dorman said. “The fact that we were going to Greenland, of all places, how amazing is that? Not many people ever get to go there, so I was kind of blown away by that.”

The divers flew to Baltimore and boarded a chartered military plane that is also fitted to carry cargo. The flight was about six hours to Thule, which is 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle and is the U.S. Armed Forces’ most remote military base.

USA Diving, in conjunction with American300 Tours, began “Dive into Service” last Sept. 11, with Dumais visiting the Air Force’s 21st Space Wing located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The four-time Olympian was eager to sign on for another trip.

“We need to thank them,” Dumais said of the service members. “They’ve gone out of their way for us. Every airman and every service unit in the United States has protected our freedoms to the point where I can do my diving and my traveling. And as professional athletes, giving up what we gave up, that inspires them.

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“And when we go up there and personally thank them for what they do, it makes it easier for them to do what they do. It’s a lifelong achievement for me and for them, and they’re going to remember that.”

Dumais has personal ties to the military. His older brother Justin, who was his partner at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in 3-meter synchro, is an F-16 fighter pilot for the South Carolina Air National Guard. Dumais’ uncle and his fiancée’s father were also in the service and he was friends with Chris Kyle, upon whom the movie “American Sniper” was based.

Dive into Service is a year-round, two-way exchange program and will subsequently include the other branches of the military.

The commitment, training, intensity and pressure-driven nature of military service and top-level athletics provide common ground for participants.

“We really sat down and swapped stories and kind of got a feel for what they’ve learned throughout the years and what we’ve learned and how similar it is,” Dorman said. “They all travel the world just like we do and experience different things. The adrenaline rush that you get, it’s a similar mentality.

2016 Olympic silver medalist Sam Dorman (R) greets members of the U.S. Air Force at Thule Air Base in January 2017 in Greenland.

“I think they enjoyed it because they don’t have anybody ever come visit them – ever. They were so excited because we didn’t cancel. They’ve had multiple people cancel because it’s just so hard to get up there.”

Greenland is the world’s largest island that is not a continent. It is an autonomous Danish dependent territory.

The mission of Thule Air Base, which reports to the 21st Space Wing, is to provide early warning and defense of ballistic missile launches against the United States and southern Canada to the North American Aerospace Defense Command and JCS Command Centers. The 12th Space Warning Squadron also detects and tracks polar orbiting satellites in support of operational space surveillance and space control missions.

While on base, Dorman participated in a training scenario. “The computer would alert you – for me it was 58 missiles were incoming,” he said. “You pick up the phone and you have this dialogue to go through, answering a bunch of questions, warning the U.S. we had incoming missiles.

“I had no clue what I was doing, of course. I had to do it in less in 60 seconds, and I did it in 42, so basically I saved the world.”

On the flip side, Dorman and Dumais weren’t able to show what they can do in the pool.

“They had a pool they wanted us to dive in,” Dumais said, “but it was one of those where they basically had a jet and you would swim and stay in one place. That was a joke, and we didn’t get to see it. It was actually out of order.”

They did tour other parts of the base. The divers saw as much as they could during their 25 hours on the ground, although they were in almost constant darkness.

“We had 20 minutes of miniscule daylight where we could see stuff,” Dumais said. “You can barely see in front of you, but when that light came out, you could see the iceberg, you could see the hill and the ground. It was phenomenal.”

It was also bitterly cold. The lowest temperature was between minus-30 and minus-40 degrees, and Dumais regretted that he wore Nikes instead of wool socks and boots.

“I had to go back into the car to defrost my toes, and it took hours,” Dumais said.

Dorman, who picked up some souvenir T-shirts, a coffee mug and some trinkets on the trip, said that it even hurt to breathe if they were outside for more than a couple of minutes. “If you take a deep breath, you cough,” he said. He also noticed that when he breathed near the window on the bus, “my breath would freeze on the window immediately and you could scrape it off.”

2016 Olympic silver medalist Sam Dorman (R) greets members of the U.S. Air Force at Thule Air Base in January 2017 in Greenland.

The divers, who were accompanied by Dan Beery, an American300 mentor and a 2004 gold medalist in rowing, spoke at dinner and showed off their Olympic medals.

“What’s really cool is if I didn’t go through all these things (in his diving career), I wouldn’t have been up there and able to meet these special people,” Dumais said.

Fresh off the Rio Games, Dorman shared his view of the Opening Ceremony. “When you’re marching out wearing red, white and blue, there’s no better feeling than that,” he said. “Once you put on those colors, it’s kind of life-changing. Everybody in the village looks up to all the Americans, which is really, really cool.”

Dorman, 25, hopes to march again in Tokyo in 2020. He flew to Indianapolis recently for his first post-Rio training camp with partner Michael Hixon. Dorman, who lives in Miami, is also studying to become a personal trainer and is contemplating going back to school for a business degree. He earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering.

Dumais, 37, has retired from diving after a long and productive career, although within days of the Greenland trip he was working a junior diving camp in Colorado Springs.

“I’m starting to live my life, and becoming the non-athlete version of Troy Dumais, and that’s inspiring in and of itself,” he said, “because now every day is almost different. You don’t know what the next day is going to bring.”

He plans to move to Dallas get his doctorate in chiropractics.

“My goal down the road is to help athletes to reach their dreams,” he said.

But there’s one more plunge he wants to take.

“Because it wasn’t summertime and everything was frozen, they told us to come back and partake in the polar plunge,” Dumais said, “where you dive into the water with ice all the way around you.

“I would love to do that.”