Athletes to local kids: Train hard, have fun | AspenTimes.com

Athletes to local kids: Train hard, have fun

Rick CarrollThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado

Ross Daniels/The Aspen InstituteAt Thursday's Sports and Society symposium put on by the Aspen Institute, moderator Jemele Hill, of ESPN, right, told kids they have a better chance of being struck by lightning twice in their lifetimes than becoming a professional athlete. But, as Olympic gold-medal swimmer Gary Hall Jr., middle, said, an athlete can find fulfillment no matter the level of competition. Decorated American figure skater Michelle Kwan, left, agreed.

ASPEN – You can be a devoted athlete and still have fun. It’s a simple message – and one that was delivered from a star-studded panel of athletes to valley kids Thursday evening at The Aspen Institute.The athletes were as diverse physically as the sports in which they’ve succeeded.There was the heralded figure skater Michelle Kwan, 10-time Olympic medalist swimmer Gary Hall Jr., four-time Olympic medalist swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar and two Paralympians – Ironman athlete Sarah Reinersten and Jon Lujan, an Iraq War veteran who’s downhill skied as fast as 78 mph.”There are 16 (Olympic) medals represented on this panel,” gushed moderator Jemele Hill, also an analyst for ESPN. There would have been more, but one of the scheduled panelists, former Olympic heptathlete Jackie Joyner Kersee, returned home to St. Louis because of the tornadoes that struck the area earlier this week, an institute official said.Yet Hall, known for his flamboyant antics before stepping into the pool on race days, said that an athlete doesn’t have to attain international fame to be fulfilled.”You don’t need to win an Olympic medal or go to the Olympics to enjoy sport,” he said. “Small steps can take us to great places.”Hall, who sits on the board of directors for the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute, wasn’t always an angel, either. He admitted as much, noting he missed a practice here and there, much to the chagrin of his coaches at the time.Hailing from a family of accomplished swimmers, Hall also was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1999, but he still competed in the Sydney Games in 2000 and went on to win six more medals between then and the 2004 Games in Athens.Hall learned to live and compete with his ailment, and the same could be said for both Reinersten and Lujan. Neither one, however, conceded that they have a disability. “I don’t consider myself different from anyone else,” Lujan said.The upbeat Reinersten, whose left leg was amputated because of a bone disorder when she was 7, was the first woman to complete the Ironman Triathlon with a prosthetic leg. She said she gained her drive at an early age.”Sport was so integral for me, filling my whole body,” she said, later adding, “For me, sport is synonymous with living. Sport doesn’t end when school ends. You can always be an athlete.”Kwan’s challenges were different. She grew up poor but received unyielding support from her parents.”To think they could barely make ends meet to sacrifice their time and money,” she said.For Hogshead-Makar, an accomplished attorney with an emphasis on gender equity in sports, her parents weren’t as aware of her feats. But to her, it did not matter.”You’ve got the body you’ve got, and you’ve got the parents you’ve got,” she said. “So make your circumstances right.”For sure, athletes who want to be successful need to eat right, train right and stay committed. But Lujan was emphatic that kids need to be kids and not take themselves so seriously in sports. “Have fun,” he said. The panel discussion was part of The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program and was geared toward local youth.rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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