Stanford at the Olympics

As the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver raged, Stanford University students and alumni supported their fellow teammates, while those anticipating competition in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London ramp up their training regimens.

Kelly Marren ’12, Matt Gentry ’05, Elaine Breeden ’10, and Julia Smit ’10 share their experiences as both stellar students and Olympic athletes. Whether they rely on their families, teammates, or pure success to keep themselves motivated, Stanford student Olympians have come to adopt the reality that they simply aren’t living the life of an average college student.

Kelly Marren admits that her parents kept her from snowboarding until the age of nine because they were concerned with popular perception of the sport. However, she stated, “Their attitude that snowboarders were just dirtbags made me want to snowboard even more.”

At that point she put together a PowerPoint presentation convincing them she was mature enough to make her own decisions and has been hooked to the sport ever since; her parents have become some of her strongest supporters.

She’s placed first in the USASA Nationals in pipe in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, Marren also became a Pac Sun USASA Snowboard Team Member and continues training with the team, currently cheering on her teammates competing in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. At only eighteen years of age, Marren barely missed passing the fifth and final qualifying round to compete, but she remains optimistic about making it to the next Winter Olympic Games.

Marren stated she puts “110% into everything,” including schoolwork, and didn’t doubt for a moment whether or not she’d make it into college. She plans on graduating from Stanford in six years, taking leaves of absence each summer and winter quarter to train with her teammates in New Zealand.

She admits, “I’ve missed out on a lot in high school, but it was a trade-off I was willing to make. Snowboarding is a major part of my life, and I’m just not willing to give it up.”

One of few on the US Olympic team to pursue higher education, Marren added: “Many of my teammates thought I was crazy for going to college, but I love academics.” Marren has always been interested in alternative energy and plans to become a resource engineer.

Matt Gentry graduated from Stanford University in 2005 and currently serves as Assistant Coach to the Men’s Wrestling Program at Stanford University. He competed in the Beijing Olympic Games and stated the most challenging part of being a student athlete was “keeping my motivation up while I was exhausted, especially in the heart of the season, when I was missing class and having to take tests on the road.”

What kept Gentry going? One word: “Success.” Gentry feels fortunate that he had great coaches and teammates with whom he competed on the Canadian Olympic wrestling team.

Although most of his friends were applying for jobs at the end of college senior year, he doesn’t regret turning down the pharmaceutical company that offered him a job in 2005. “A lot of things you can do at any age. Competing in the Olympics isn’t something like a job that people can decide to do at age sixty.” Gentry seized the opportunity to compete while he had it. However, he remains unsure of whether he’ll be competing in another Olympic competition.

Elaine Breeden ’10 joined her Stanford swim teammate Julia Smit ’10 for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Breeden won a silver medal in the 400-meter medley relay race; Smit was part of the silver medal winning team and also won a bronze medal in the 800-meter medley relay.

Breeden agreed with Gentry that the toughest part of being an Olympic student athlete is staying motivated. She had to adjust “to not having the same freedoms that other college students have.”

But the opportunity to join Michael Phelps in representing the United States National team is certainly one that most students don’t have. Smit shared, “I had dreamed about going [to the Olympics] since I was little. I couldn’t believe I was actually participating. The energy in the pool was amazing.”

Similarly, Breeden described the experience of competing in Beijing as very different from what she expected. She stated that when she arrived at the Olympics, “It was business time. I was there to compete. I don’t get too nervous – just an adrenaline rush.”

Smit believes that Breeden played a major part in keeping her spirits up, “Elaine and I are so different, but we have gone through so much together. Elaine helped me believe that I could make the Olympics.” With nearly twenty hours of practice a week, Breeden believes that her teammates and the ability “to drop even a hundredth of a second” keeps her going.

Although most of Breeden’s friends will be working for investment banking firms and entering the business sector after graduating, Breeden believes she will be “enjoying [her] job a lot more than [her] friends will.” In other words, she doesn’t have any regrets about sticking with the sport and putting an alternate career on pause.

Both Breeden and Smit plan to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics. They’ll be training with the Stanford team and will likely graduate after winter quarter of 2010. Although their lives may be somewhat different from that of an average senior in college, Breeden and Smit expressed a desire to continue studying, practicing, racing, and winning. Perhaps they’ll get a change catch their breath!

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