team spirit times ten: how 690 people won a single gold medal

By in People Who Achieve and Teams
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Tomorrow we’re launching our 2014 Inspiration Award.  We’ve been collecting stories from our U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Athletes about who inspired them along their journey to greatness—a coach, a parent, a spouse. We’ll be sharing their stories with you tomorrow. You’ll be able to read each Inspiration Award story and vote for your favorite. The winners will then be able to present the person who inspired them to become an Olympian with a beautifully handcrafted 14K gold commemorative ring.

Below is a story from one of our 2010 Inspiration Award winners and Olympic gold medalist Curtis Tomasevicz. Get inspired and discover how 690 people helped him realize his dream. 

I’ve competed on the National and Olympic Bobsled Team for the past eight years, relying on many people for support. Bobsled can be an expensive sport: equipment, travel, rented ice time, weight room fees, etc. It also requires sacrifices including family time at holidays, relationships, school, friendships, and more. I feel very fortunate to have 690 people backing me through my entire career.

In 2010, just before the Vancouver Winter Olympics, O.C. Tanner provided all Olympians with an opportunity to present the Inspiration Award to someone who helped that Olympian achieve their athletic success. I struggled to think of a single individual I could give all the credit. Of course, my parents and brother were at the front of the line of people that I will forever be indebted. But I really wanted to acknowledge many others who supported me in one way or another. So instead of nominating one single individual, I nominated the 690 people of my hometown–Shelby, Nebraska.

With such a small population, Shelby is unique when it comes to Olympian hometowns. There is no stop light in the entire county. Kindergarten through 12th grade is all in one school building. The two bars in town are always the place to get the latest news. A quick errand to the bank can take a couple hours because it’s so easy to have a fifteen minute conversation with everyone you see.

In 2005, Shelby held a fundraiser to encourage me to continue chasing the crazy dream of making the Olympic bobsled team. The town hosted a golf tournament, a steak dinner and a street dance. What exactly is a street dance? A flat-bed semi-trailer is parked across the main street of town where a band plays and the street is transformed into a dance floor. (Every small town in Nebraska is familiar with an event like this.)

I think Shelby was just looking for a reason to celebrate, but Shelby also raised $25,000 for me so I could continue to bobsled. Yes, 690 people raised that much money for a kid who grew up thinking that sledding is tying a saucer sled to the back of a 4-wheeler with a 40-foot rope, then driving around in the fields and pastures. No one from Shelby had seen a bobsled in real life and no one knew how much potential I really had to make the 2006 Olympic team. They raised the money on faith and excitement that one of their own was going to do something big.

Shelby is the type of town that comes together whenever there is a need or a reason. Whether it’s supporting the high school’s sports teams or a fundraiser for a new library, the town is always generous and reliable. So when it came time to recognize and honor the town for their impact on my life, I was thrilled to learn that my story had been voted to win the 2010 O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award. Even though every citizen cannot wear the Inspiration Ring, they each own a part of it as well as a part of the Olympic gold medal that I won because of their continuous support.

By curtis tomasevicz
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