The Olympic Games are where the world’s best athletes compete for a coveted medal. To get there, some — like former US gymnast Carrie Englert Zimmerman — leave their friends and family, moving across the country to train for 10 hours a day for three years. Others, like bobsledder Steve Mesler, give up a decade of their lives to prepare and compete in three separate Olympics.
Even for those who don’t place, something valuable is gained in the process — the physical and mental fortitude to compete continuously, and repeatedly testing mental and physical limits without giving up.
Consequently, many like these Olympians are successful in their post-Olympic careers.
Yes, Mesler won a gold medal in the four-man bobsled at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, the first US gold in the event in 62 years. But that’s not the brightest spot in his career.
Mesler, who also participated in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics and is now on the board of the US Olympic Committee, co-founded Classroom Champions, an international organization. It pairs students in high-poverty schools with Olympic or Paralympic athlete mentors like LeBron James, Christian Taylor, Chris Mazdzer and April Ross among others. These include a social and emotional learning (SEL) foundations curriculum, which emphasizes self-awareness, self-management, communication, social awareness, and decision-making. It has now reached 80,000 kids, and is proven to improve engagement, decrease bullying and boost student achievement.
“As an athlete, I learned that you’re not bad at something when you don’t get it right quickly, it just means you haven’t figured it out yet,” said Mesler. “I’m more proud of what we’ve been able to achieve through Classroom Champions than anything I’ve accomplished as an athlete.”
Carrie Englert Zimmerman
As the US gymnastics champion in the floor exercise and balance beam in 1976, Zimmerman was the first American to score a perfect 10 in the floor exercise. “That didn’t come easily,” she said. “I was never the fastest or strongest, so I had to work even harder and be creative.”
Although the US women’s gymnastics team didn’t medal in the Olympics held in Montreal that year, the process of getting there has served her well.
“I leaped from the balance beam to the boardroom, exercising the equally enviable attributes of fearlessness, coachability, strategic vision, innovation/creativity and passion,” said Zimmerman.
The co-founder and CEO of the Zimmerman Agency, a multimillion-dollar Tallahassee, Fla., marketing communications firm, said that although she was never the fastest or strongest gymnast in a competition, “my success, [both] now and then, has been about embracing the challenge and being nimble and determined enough to find another way.”
A bronze medalist in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, swimmer Furniss held the world record in the 200-meter individual medley for almost an entire year, from 1974 to ’75. In 1985, he co-founded TYR, a manufacturer of competitive swim and triathlon apparel and gear. You’ve seen the company’s swimsuits on the female lifeguards on “Baywatch,” and they’ll also be on the elite swimmers at the Tokyo Olympics.
“We practiced rigorously 50 weeks out of the year, swimming on average 70 miles a week. Figured out early on in my career that many things in life were not going to be more challenging by comparison.”
While TYR was Furniss’ business passion (he sold the company in 2019), he’s stayed involved with the swimming community and even carried the Olympic torch twice.
“The best lessons I learned as an athlete are also relevant in my business career,” said Furniss. “You do not win every account or deal, but, like in athletics, there will be another opportunity to succeed if one maintains the right mindset.”
The road from Charlotte, NC, to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney was more than a decade long for super heavyweight boxer Calvin Brock. “The experience was surreal, to be among so many people at the opening ceremonies, all of whom had put in the work to become the best,” said Brock.
Brock initially went on to a career as a professional boxer, competing for the world heavyweight championship against Wladimir Klitschko in 2006.
After retiring from the sport in 2010, today he owns and runs Jack and Landlords, a company that helps renters lease a property without having to put down a security deposit.
What drives Brock today?
“The sky doesn’t end, so keeping pushing to go higher,” he said.
When competitive figure skating became too expensive, 15-year-old Roark stuffed a sock in each of her brother’s ski boots and began swooshing down the mountains of her native Colorado. By the time she was 16, Roark had won the junior nationals and qualified for the US ski team.
Roark couldn’t represent the US at the Olympics in 1998 or 2002 because of injuries, so she took classes at the highly regarded Colorado School of Mines, a university specializing in public engineering and applied sciences.
By the time the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, came around, Roark was finally able to represent the US, and again in 2010 in Vancouver.
In her off time, Roark founded Phia Lab (formerly Phenomenal), a company that creates and produces an all-natural beauty and wellness product line. It is now, aside from her family, her primary focus.
“If you fall, you get up and learn from your mistakes,” she said. “They can obstruct or instruct. It’s up to you.”