My desire to become an Olympian

BY Tom Santagato

There will come a time in people’s lives where the right decision isn’t always the most obvious.  My decision to pursue Skeleton and leave my established life behind was not an easy one.  Despite it seeming completely counterintuitive to abandon my career, I couldn’t help but feel as though there was something better on the horizon.  The leap of faith I made five years ago has provided me with more than I could have possibly imagined.  In addition to being afforded the honor of representing my country, I’ve received a renewed sense of self worth and an education that not even the most prestigious of universities could provide.

When I began Skeleton in 2008 I was, for the most part, a professional.  I had a full-time job, benefits, salary, retirement plan, even a new car.  What I have come to realize over the past few years is that there is big difference between being a professional and being a pro.  When you think about it, anyone can be a professional.  By definition, a professional is simply someone who is engaged or qualified in a profession, regardless of its status in society.  Anyone who reports to a job on a regular basis can be defined as a professional, but how many of them are pros?

I have had the good fortune to live and train alongside some incredible individuals.  I revere these individuals not for their physical abilities, but for their work ethic and their steadfast dedication in becoming the quintessential pro.  Without knowing, or realizing that they are doing it, these individuals rub off on the newer athletes.  They serve as role models and set a very important example.  They let new athletes know that the road to the top is a long and arduous one.  It requires unabated dedication to a single cause.  Every decision that a world class athlete makes is made with their profession in mind and how it will effect their ability to perform.  These individuals are pros. 

As kids, we grow up watching sports on TV and marvel at the incredible things that our favorite athletes are able to accomplish.  What we aren’t able to see, however, is all the hard work that was required to get them to that point.  We don’t see the behind the scenes action and, as a result, people assume that the skills being displayed on their televisions is predominantly God-given.  All great athletes are blessed with some degree of inherent talent.  However, the all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods, have achieved athletic immortality because of their ability to pair God-given talent with an elite work ethic.  Those individuals are pros. 

As an athlete who lives and trains at the Olympic Training Center, I can tell you firsthand, that the behind the scenes action is on display each and every day.  It becomes overwhelmingly obvious that the top ranked athletes are also the most willing to invest all of their time and energy toward that single, solitary, objective; Olympic gold. This kind of blind determination is something that some people are just born with, it’s ingrained in every fiber of their being.  For others, the concept eludes them and their menial efforts fall short of their lofty expectations.  The good news, as I have come to find, is that not only can this skill be acquired, it can be applied to all aspects of life.

I can honestly say that when I began the sport of Skeleton, I was far from a pro.  My desire to become one, however, has proven to be the most meaningful journey of my life.  After years of living and training with athletes whom I would consider to be pros, I have developed an elite mentality.  One that requires me to strive for the highest level in all aspects of my life, be it skeleton, school, or otherwise.  The experiences I have been blessed with, and the people who I have been fortunate enough to meet, have changed me forever.  My time as an athlete on the United States Skeleton Team has proven to be the most influential and rewarding years of my life.  Whether or not I ever achieve my goal of becoming an Olympian has yet to be seen, but the way I see it, Skeleton has already given me so much more than a gold medal ever could.  For that, I will be forever thankful.

Tom Santagato is currently studying to earn his Master's of Business Administration at the Keller Graduate School of Management. He's competed on the skeleton national team since 2011, and recently claimed the 2013 U.S. National Skeleton Push Championship title in Lake Placid, N.Y.  Follow @Tomsantagato on Twitter to learn more about his sliding career.