When the men's USA bobsled team won gold at the 2010 Olympics, it marked the end of a long drought -- the last time a four-man American bobsled team had won a gold medal was 1948. While the Olympic Games are the culmination of a lifetime of hard work for many of the athletes, the work never lets up. Unlike other sports, there is no "off season." The bobsled team trains and competes year round as pressure mounts for its members to bring home another gold medal from Sochi.
A thirst for knowledge -- and gold
What makes it even more incredible is that bobsled team member Johnny Quinn is able to pursue his MBA in between hurtling down the bobsled track at 80 mph and running a small business. It's possible because of online education, according to Quinn.
"No matter where I'm at, I can get work done," Quinn says. "I can be in Europe and take a midterm."
Take another athlete, Stacey Cook, an alpine skier at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games. She started skiing at age four and began racing competitively soon after. Even though she attended school at the University of Nevada, Reno, she says it's nearly impossible to attend college and vie for a spot on the Olympic ski team. In her sport, she says, athletes make a decision to go pro or go to college, and it's not usually viable to do both. An opportunity through an online program, however, changed her outlook. While skiing at this level requires a strict schedule, she is able to fit online school in around her grueling schedule.
Brick-and-mortar schools get in on the game
It's not just online schools that offer elite athletes the opportunity to realize their educational goals. Many brick-and-mortar schools are also able to support their student athletes through online learning options.
University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) student Julia Marino's Olympic journey is far from typical. Even though she was on her way to representing the U.S. in the Olympics for slopestyle skiing, she formulated another idea. Marino was adopted from Paraguay when she was a baby, but she has always felt a strong connection to the country of her birth. When she found out that Paraguay had no athletes representing it in the Sochi games, she felt compelled to compete, and is able to do so thanks to her dual citizenship. The training is just as intense and if she were on the U.S. team, meaning that her college experience is also far from typical. She has another year of school for her degree in psychology, and she's on track to finish thanks to CU's flexible curricula, which includes online classes.
"I'm really not that behind right now," Marino said in an interview with CU. "I think CU is great… how the summer courses are run here and how there's a ton of people here in the summer." She has continued to enroll in online classes as well: "This fall I took two online courses just to, you know, stay engaged," said Marino. "I just started one more and will finish after the Olympics, before Maymester starts."
Determination on the track and in class
Johnny Quinn is joined on the U.S. bobsled team by Steven Holcomb, another online student studying computer science. Team Captain Holcomb, who was a member of the illustrious "Night Train" bobsled team that won the gold in 2010, was forced to withdraw from University of Utah in order to pursue his bobsled dreams. He has since gone back to school to finish his degree, but this time online.
But make no mistake, online school is just as rigorous as a traditional education. In fact, Holcomb admits in an interview with The New York Times that he once had to tackle a final exam in statistics on the same day as his bobsled team trials. "It was pretty stressful and overwhelming," he said. "But I still got an A." Overall, the simple fact that he was able to accomplish both in the same day is what makes online education so crucially flexible for so many students.
Steven Holcomb, Team USA, http://www.teamusa.org/Athletes/HO/Steven-Holcomb
"Student Realizes Groundbreaking Olympic Dream," University of Colorado, Boulder, January 30, 2014, http://www.colorado.edu/news/features/student-realizes-groundbreaking-olympic-dream
U.S. Ski Team, Stacey Cook, http://alpine.usskiteam.com/athletes/stacey-cook