How I got to meet the President of the United States:
It has been a long standing tradition for the Olympians to be honored by the President at the White House. I personally was aware of this from my Coach Tim as he was invited in both 2000 and 2004. Therefore, after the Olympic hype began to settle down and my life returned to “normal” well at least normal for me, I knew I had this amazing opportunity to look forward to. It was also the one thing I won’t be afraid to ask my boss Matt off for, after-all it’s not everyday you get invited to the White House to meet the President of The United States!
The first wind I had gotten was when one of our Track and Field Olympic Staff members shared her disappointment on Twitter that only the athletes were being invited this time and not the staff members, the same staff that worked tirelessly and selflessly for over a month to ensure that we had the best conditions to excel. This was a shame and I was sorry to hear. At the same time this tweet got me excited because I figured official invites would soon be on the way.
Now like I said life was back to normal, lab work was picking up again and I had resumed more structured training so this excitement was fleeting as I had many others distractions to focus on in the meanwhile. Then to my surprise and soon there after alarm I had happened to read another tweet from a fellow Olympian who shared that she was getting her hair done for the White House visit.
I felt completely crushed and kept wondering how this could be. Then after about 5 min of despairing self pity my brain woke up and I immediately began trying to gather information, was anything public online, what other teammates were attending, did our USATF staff have any info or did I have to contact the USOC directly? After 30 min of scrambling to obtain info I knew that the event was this Friday morning Sept 14th (now keep in mind “today” was Wed Sept 12th!!!)and began to look into the possibility of taking an Amtrak train down. This seemed a plausible option, now to see if I would be allowed/invited this late into the game. Luckily our head USATF staff member Sandy Snow got back to me that evening and to my delighted surprise said that since I was in NYC and could get transportation down to DC they would have a room for me Thursday night and she would email me all the details. I felt a rush of relief and joy and then it hit me, Friday the 14th was my best friend from Grad school, Veronika’s thesis defense! Ahhh what terrible timing, I missed her wedding because I was racing in London at the Olympics and now it seemed I would once again be missing a HUGE milestone of hers. Veronika was more than understanding and reassured me that this was worth it and it was okay to miss her defense. I ran ( well walked extremely fast) back to lab and booked my Amtrak tickets, leaving Thursday afternoon and returning Friday evening. In theory I would be able to work in lab before and after DC and even catch up with Veronika for her after party celebration. Now I needed to finish up my experiments and prepare everything for the next day to maximize my productivity of Thursday’s half day of lab work. Oh wait I also needed my Nike shoes that I received in London which happened to be home on LI. Luckily my Mom is beyond amazing and was willing to drive out at 10 pm Wednesday night to give them to me. Thanks Mom, you’re the best! That night I went to bed excited for tomorrow and didn’t even care that I would be waking up at 5 am.
Thursday morning I woke up, tired but motivated to get moving, after all I couldn’t miss my train, this wasn’t like the LIRR where another train comes every hour. I took a quick glance on twitter (which I guess I have fortunately become addicted to) and my emails. And then to my surprise, yet once more, I received an email from Sandy stating that she forgot that I needed to preregister to visit the White house and they may not have time to get me approved for clearance. I felt like the rug got pulled out from underneath me. She told me she wouldn’t have more info until she landed in DC around 7:30 am and would keep me posted. I had no choice but to begin my day as if I was still headed to DC, this became more difficult knowing that it might not workout. I kept trying to stay positive but at the same time knew it was out of my control. I cannot count how many times I refreshed my emails that morning, anxiously waiting to hear the verdict. In the end I found out about 1 hr before I had to leave for the train. Not a moment too late! Wow what a roller coaster of emotions I experienced in less than 24 hrs. Thank goodness it all worked out, and I am very grateful not just to Sandy Snow because without her it would never have been possible but also to the White house staff whoever you/they are that agreed to rush my security screening so that I could be granted admittance.
Why I got to meet the President:
What an opportunity I was blessed with, and even more blessed because this would be the second time I was visiting the White house, and under two different administrations, Bush in 2004 and now Obama in 2012. On the train ride down I put up a quick post on FB (look at me getting so savvy with all this social media lol):
“8.5 years ago I had a choice to make: go to high school indoor nationals and defend my National Title or go to DC for the Intel Science Competition. I chose science and DC after all there would be many more races and how many times would I get the chance to meet the President of the United States? Just because I was in DC being recognized for my merits in science didn’t mean I stopped training. Every morning of everyday in DC I woke up before the others to get my workouts in. Today I’m on my way down to DC and again I’ll get to meet the President of the United States except this time I am being recognized as an Olympian! Today I had to wake up extra early to fit in all my science experiments. Once a student athlete always a student athlete!”
The response I got to this post was overwhelming. Thanks everyone for the praise and I hope a few of my “fans” out there believe it is truly possible to be both a student and an athlete! Those who are true student athletes get to experience so much more in life. It may feel overwhelming, but it can also give your life balance. Yes plenty of times I feel as if I have burned the candle at both ends all the while holding my candle over yet a third flame in the center. However, there are also many times I am grateful for the peace of mind that a good old fashion sweat dripping workout brings, it can really clear my mind, allow me to refocus and provide a great outlet for stress, both the physical kind and mental too. Having to fit in my workouts keeps me disciplined and structured and definitely forces me to prioritize my daily activities. I get more done in lab when I have a workout that I have to squeeze in. Being busy forces me to be efficient and productive.
While my lab productivity definitely benefits because of my race walking the reverse is true too. While being a full time athlete appears to be an enjoyable luxury, often it can also be a burden in itself. Too often elite athletes become consumed with their training and mentally become burnt out. Constantly thinking about something, even in a positive manner can be beyond taxing mentally. Science keeps my mind sharp, allows me to explore a passion and provides something else for my brain to be occupied with and distracted by in a good sense. It also provides a great social outlet, as I genuinely love the people I work with. The lab I work in, The Evans’ Lab, has been immensely instrumental in keeping me sane during my Olympic journey. They allow me to vent any training/race walking related frustrations especially when I was injured. Additionally I enjoy being around them whether it’s talking science, as we often find ourselves unintentionally doing, or just shooting the breeze about life, weddings, friends, or even lack of sleep. The people in lab are a joy to be around. Essentially being a student makes me a better athlete and being an athlete makes me a better student.
Hello Mr. President!
I arrived in DC Thursday evening and headed straight to the welcoming banquet that was sponsored by BP. The first athlete I met was a sailor named Sarah, who was from Florida but currently living in NYC. It was great getting to meet with her and learning about sailing, an Olympic event I knew very little about. Sarah also was able to hook me up with a contact from the NY Giants that wound up getting Joey and I tickets to the Giants game that Sunday as well as on the field for warm-ups! Once I knew everything worked out for me getting down to DC I kept wondering why it happened the way it did, as I believe everything happens for a reason. Well I think I figured it out after meeting Sarah. Had I known in advance about the DC visit I most likely would have taken the day off from lab on Thursday to “maximize” my DC experience. Had I done that I would have already checked into the hotel and traveled over later to the reception and missed the earlier welcoming party by BP, in that case I would have missed meeting Sarah and getting the Giants hook up! I guess the roller coaster of emotions preceding my trip to DC was worth it!
The rest of the reception was nice, although I had expected a sit down dinner rather than
the hors d’oeuvre that were provided. Regardless it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up again with fellow USA teammates and even meet some new teammates such as some fencers and track and field Paraolympians. I even got to talk science and wedding planning with a geologist from BP! I definitely enjoyed myself. It was once again a late night as I crashed in bed around 2:00 am that was after trying on yet another new outfit Nike gave us, and ironing my new khaki pants. Too bad my alarm went off at 5 am! Yikes, I was definitely exhausted as this was the second morning on very little sleep. All the athletes looked pretty rough from lack of sleep down at breakfast that morning. At breakfast I found my London roommate Lacy the pole-vaulter and it was so great to catch up with her!
Then it was off to the White house! After waiting in line forever to go through security and then waiting some more since my clearance was so last minute I finally made it through onto the lawn. The White House had a mini reception with some pastries and refreshments. Even the napkins had the White House emblem on them, so cool! We had an opportunity to take some pictures and then it was time to take our seats for the assembly. Somehow the seven track and field athletes that I was chit chatting with managed to miss hearing our event be called and therefore sat in the bleachers away from the rest of our track and field teammates. Ooops, turns out those seats were directly behind the podium where the President spoke. Oh well, it was still an awesome experience. Michelle Obama began, with a few quick opening remarks and a few digs at her husband. Then Barack Obama addressed the crowd and us, congratulating us on our achievements both the feat of becoming an Olympian and our inspiring performances in London. Obama has always had a gift for delivering speeches and today was no exception. After his speech our flag bearers presented him with the US American Flag that was carried at both the Olympic and Paraolympic Games.
Then he began his meet and greet with the athletes. Michelle had already mentioned that Obama would try to meet as many of us as possible even if that meant blowing his schedule for the whole day. Of course we all sat in our seats and patiently waited for our possible turn to shake the President’s hand…wait what…absolutely not, we all stood up and started to push towards the front at which point the White House staff kindly reminded us to be patient and wait our turn and that the President would have time for everyone but that there was to be no delayed greetings, no stopping for pictures, and we were to continue to proceed forward after meeting him. This calmed the masses and relieved us that we would all get our moment. Some people thought if they waited to the very end they might get a chance at a picture. Seeing as it was rather hot in our long pants and t-shirts (yeah we took our jackets off rather quickly) and that after the meet-in-greet you could walk in the White House, Lacy and I and a few of the other delinquent track and field athletes I was with decided not to wait to the end. At one point when the line thinned we got on. Luckily we did because apparently not long after us the President had to leave and many people never got a chance to meet him individually. I may not have gotten a cool picture like Tim did when he met President Clinton, but it was still a great experience. Oh and did I mention while I was waiting to meet Obama I took a picture with Michael Phelps who was also patiently waiting for his turn! Additionally, I got to meet VP Biden, he congratulated me, shook my hand, asked my name, and asked where I lived. I then got a hug, yes a hug, from Michelle Obama, which was beyond awesome!
After the meet in greet segment it was time for a quick walk through of the White House and time for some more picture taking of course. I got a picture with the great Meb, who I officially met and talked with Thursday at the reception. Tim has always spoken so highly of him as he personally knows Meb well since they roomed together back in the day at the Olympic Training Center. I was psyched to finally talk with Meb and I am an even bigger fan now. I can’t wait to watch him run NYC this November!
I also got a picture with Katie Ledecky, the young 15 yr swimmer who got to bring some of her classmates with her to the White house. I even spoke with one of these classmates who runs cross-country on her high school team.
Then before I knew it I was back in the train station and ready to head back to NYC.
But first I was spoiled at Pret a Manger with a free lunch after they found out I was an Olympian and felt horrible for charging me for my lemonade. Okay, not going to lie they definitely made me feel like a celebrity. Thanks for the free food guys! I had spent less than 24 hrs in DC and made it back in time to celebrate Dr Redmann’s PhD!
What an incredible day in my life, the life of a professional “student-athlete”!