Earlier this week a duo of athletes I was fortunate enough to work with named David Brown and Jerome Avery were featured on the front page of the LA Times.
When I read this story, I was humbled, because I believe that I had a hand in their success from a public relations perspective. I don’t want and don’t believe I deserve any credit for their recent and continued success, I am just proud to call them both great friends, I am proud of the memories that we have shared together and I am proud to have helped them in their unfinished journey towards greatness.
Public relations isn’t about being in the spotlight, it isn’t about getting recognition for yourself, it’s about working behind the scenes so that those you represent can excel and get recognition themselves. That’s what David and Jerome are doing, and I am extraordinarily lucky to have been a part of their journey.
Shortly after I graduated college I was fortunate enough to move to San Diego to become the Athlete and Community Relations Intern for the United States Olympic Committee at their Chula Vista Olympic Training Center. I was one of four post-graduate interns — out of thousands of applicants — that got to live on-site amongst the world class athletes that train for the Olympics and Paralympics. I got to work out in the strength and conditioning center, eat in the athlete dining hall and got the unique opportunity to work with world class athletes on a daily basis.
My first week on the job I got to meet and drive Nastia Liukin to the airport after a corporate sponsor event that she helped host.
I literally had the coolest job in the world.
One thing that I admittedly wasn’t familiar with was the United States Paralympic Movement and how many Paralympians train for the United States Paralympic games each and every year.
The Chula Vista Training Center is home to many Paralympians, including world record holders Lex Gilette and David Brown, both of whom became close personal friends of mine over the five months that I lived and worked there. I also became close with Jerome Avery, David’s guide runner with whom he competes.
David, Lex and Jerome were the first ones to volunteer whenever we had an event in the community where an athlete was requested. I believe this to be the case because the community is such a huge supporter of the Olympic Movement that this was the athletes’ way of giving back to those who support them. Also, Paralympians tend not to possess the arrogance that some able-bodied athletes have. It’s not that they’re not confident and the best at what they do, most just aren’t as cocky.
One day I accompanied David to an event at a local YMCA in San Diego where we had a table set up where David could talk to people and sign autographs. At the event also was Jack Hanna, who was accompanied by all sorts of wild animals that he showed off to the crowd of eager on-lookers.
After Hanna’s performance was finished the MC announced that David Brown from the United States Olympic Training Center was available to meet fans at our table.This drew a crowd immediately and David talked to fans about what he does on a daily basis and signed autographs.
After the crowd dispersed, Jack Hanna, his wife and his daughter came up to our table and talked with David and me about how impressed they were by David and what he’s able to do despite being blind.
He then personally invited David, David’s guide runner Jerome and me to Sea World the next day for a private tour and event that he was doing at the theme park. He also told us that he was having a special guest join us as well—none other than Betty White! I mean how cool is that?! Talk about being the coolest fly on the wall in the history of flies on the wall!
So the next day Jerome, David and I went to Sea World with Jack Hanna and Betty White for a private tour by the general manager of the park where we got to feed dolphins, go inside the penguin habitat, feed beluga whales, pet kangaroos and many other wild animals.
I actually remember pinching myself while I was there at a certain point just to make sure all of this was actually happening!
When we got back I wrote a story about the experience in the bi-weekly Olympic Voice Newsletter that is distributed to media, athletes and Olympic staff. We got calls from all over the place about the story from people who wanted to learn more and talk to David.
My internship ended shortly after this experience and since then David and Jerome have gone on to place first in the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in the 100m and 400m, first in the Parapan American Games in the 100m and 200m and first place in the 100m finals in The IPC Athletic World Championships in Doha.
Their sights are now set on the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
Some people might think that all of these cool experiences have gone to my head. My answer to that, is absolutely not. I am grateful for and often humbled by my experiences with people like David.
My experience with people like David, Jerome, Jack Hanna and Betty White reminds me that my job as a PR professional is to shine the spotlight on our clients while working diligently and inconspicuously in the background — it also gives me the best stories to tell at happy hour!