Hello Everyone. I’m Stewart. I grew up in Columbus, OH and graduated from Ohio State University with a Business Degree. After a few years as an elite athlete living at the Olympic Training Center, I furthered my education and earned my Master of Business Administration from Pepperdine University. This blog is my adventures in business dealings, as well as the funny stories I have about people.
My life in Columbus was a simple one. My mother worked at Ohio State University, and I was the typical kid who liked the mainstream sports. I was pretty big in elementary school so naturally I gravitated towards basketball. I was good at talking trash, but my skills were limited and I realized that I would never be good enough to earn a basketball scholarship for college.
My other passion growing up was Taekwondo. Because I was tall and skinny, I had very long legs and soon realized that my opponents had difficulty with my reach. I competed in Olympic Sparring and has a lot of success at the local level so I started competing at the national level. My passion for sparring earned me a spot on the US Junior National Taekwondo Team. 20 of us and our coaches/staff traveled the world representing the USA at international competitions and training camps. The best Junior team we were a part of was the Junior World Taekwondo Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Although I was eliminated in the preliminary rounds, it was an excellent experience for me to use to further my passion for Taekwondo.
Being on the Junior Team taught me a lot of things. Although I was the heavy weight on the team, I was a little shy and was not at all interested in being a leader yet. I was a very strong team supporter, I trained hard and encouraged my teammates as best I knew how, but I realized that I could be a better captain than the ones that we elected. That was when I realized that if I wanted to give the best for my team, I needed to be the captain. Even though he didn’t always make the best decision, I did my best not to under-cut my captain’s authority. He was a nice guy and did his best, but was just not leadership material.
Since we were all juniors at the time, many were only on the Junior National Team for 1 year at the most. However, even though it was short, we formed a bond that would never be broken even to this day. We often still see each other at Taekwondo tournaments and are member of the same Facebook group. We are trying to plan a reunion, but with everyone now at the age where they have kids and careers, it is very difficult.
The natural transition from the Junior National Team is the Senior National Team. Because there are not many heavy weights (they are all playing football or basketball) the competition in my division was not as deep as some other divisions. Looking back, I don’t know if that hurt me or helped me because I didn’t end up with more “ring time” as my team mates. But you can bet I was the captain and kept the team in line.
Since I had a good record with the Junior Team and now the Senior Team, I was fortunate to be invited to live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. This was a huge opportunity because living at the OTC meant that we didn’t have to worry about living expenses. The US was the only country where athletes had to rely on their own fundraising. Other countries – especially the ones with strong Taekwondo programs – had big sponsors who treated their athletes as if they were professional. Housing allowance, monthly stipend, best training facilities, coaches and medical staff were paid for. Travel expenses were covered, and they produced results. The OTC was the best way we could be competitive with the other top countries in the world. At least 60% of the US National Team came from the OTC program every year.
But living at the OTC certainly had it drawbacks as well. Although we were full time athletes and many of our living expenses were covered, some of us still had to find employment. The Home Depot and US Olympic Committee recognized the financial hardships of Olympic hopefuls so they created the Olympic Job Opportunities Program. This program allowed National Team Athletes to train and compete and work with a very flexible schedule. Basically, we couldn’t get fired because training and competing always came first.
So now we were in the big leagues. I was rubbing elbows with US Olympic Committee staff and I knew this was an opportunity that everyone who has Olympic aspirations wanted to be a part of. I also realized that this is a great place to learn how Corporate America works while still young enough to be able to make mistakes that won’t affect my career. I must have impressed some people with my ambition because many of them recognized my desire to learn and took me under their wing to show me the ropes – which helped me understand which direction I wanted to go once my athletic career was over. In addition to being exposed to the US Olympic Committee, I was also fortunate to see how a National Governing Body (NGB) operates. All sports recognized by the USOC is considered an NGB. The US Taekwondo Union was our NGB and I became an athlete representative to the Board of Directors. This was the setting where I was able to see how politics really worked. Our President was very powerful and was very astute in how he controlled the Board of Directors. But the best thing about our President was he always took care of the athletes. He knew the USOC would always listen to the voice of the athletes before listening to anyone else.
I had so much fun at the OTC and during my life as an athlete that I could talk about this stuff for days on end… but I’ll end here and save some of my stories for next time.