September's column was intended to be a potpourri of excerpts from students who blogged about their Olympic Academic Experience in London this summer. Instead, when an Olympian from the 2012 Games paid a personal visit to the Tiffin University campus earlier this month by invitation of Dr. Gretchen Carroll, it became apparent that the focus would shift to profiling the personal side of Katie Bell, USA diver.
Olympic athletes are notoriously competitive. They train with intensity and purpose. They are driven by goals, accomplishments, and unimaginable feats of superiority in their respective sport. A miniscule portion of the U.S. population is ever worthy enough to earn the title as an Olympian, but once an Olympian, always an Olympian. Bell earned that elusive title by claiming second in the 10-meter platform event at the U.S. Diving trials. Only two spots were available for the London Olympics.
A casual dinner with Katie upon her arrival paved the way for ensuring one of the most memorable guests to visit Tiffin University would find camaraderie among the friendly faces she would greet on campus the next day. The 2012 Olympian spoke candidly about juggling responsibilities while studying, interning, and training/competing at The Ohio State University over the past years. When asked if she was more proud of her college degree in social work or her recent Olympic performance, the seemingly shy 24-year-old was quick to note an inability to make a distinction. The tiny Olympian beamed as she described the sense of pride that was shared by her six siblings (she is directly in the middle), her devoted parents, and her thousands upon thousands of supporters.
Yes, Katie has boatloads of supporters ranging from elementary children back in her hometown of Clintonville (near Columbus) to the brave troops stationed in Afghanistan who used their Twitter accounts to follow the Golden Girl from the Buckeye State. Katie didn't disappoint, either. She finished among the top 16 in the world at the 2012 Games.
The best description of Katie Bell is small in stature, big in heart. At 4-foot-11, she was officially the smallest U.S. female Olympian (Shillone Calvert on a Jamaican relay team was the overall smallest Olympian standing only 4-foot-5). Spending almost 24 hours with Katie, it was easy to see that she wears her heart on her sleeve. She has an infectious smile and a subtle persona of innocence despite being a fierce competitor with the fortune of experiencing the best in world class diving throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. Katie has personality, too! Check out the YouTube video featuring Bell and the USA Diving team lip synching and performing to Carly Rae Jepsen's pop tune, "Call Me Maybe."
Above all, Katie has perseverance. In her first Big Ten championship meet, the freshman crashed and suffered a collapsed lung, separated her chest cartilage, and popped several ribs out of place. It took two years to heal and over two more years to get back into elite training shape. During her red-shirted sophomore year, Katie spent time with psychologists to regain her focus while continuing with whatever out-of-water physical training she could handle. Soon after she was back in the pool, she suffered another physical set-back with a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage to her right shoulder that required surgery. It took an insurmountable courage and dedication to get back on the platform and perfect a skill that so few have mastered at the level Katie has achieved. Indeed, the little firecracker who first dreamed of the Olympics when only a five-year-old gymnast had the heart, mind, and courage to rise above adversity and finally triumph on the World's biggest sports stage.
There was little Katie Bell up on Tiffin University's academic stage last week telling everyone the story of how seemingly impossible dreams can come true if you stay focused and believe. Before reading a prepared speech to an audience who eagerly awaited her visit, Katie suggested it was more nerve-racking to be up on a stage speaking than it was to be competing on a 10-meter diving platform. After her brief presentation, she candidly answered dozens of interest-related questions, such as who she met in the Olympic Village, how it felt to be at the Opening Ceremonies, when she knew she someday could make the Olympics, and how she liked the fish and chips in London. One of her favorite memories was having dinner with Michael Phelps in the dining hall at the Olympic Village.
In a classroom visit with sport management students earlier in the day, Katie shared more scholarly insights on the London Games. She described staffing and operations for international competition and the high level of security at the Aquatic Center, in the Olympic Park, and in the Olympic Village. She described everyday life in the Village and the steps to process Olympic athletes, coaches, officials and media when they initially arrived to the airport. She shared training tips USA athletes received to properly interact and interview with the media. Finally, she explained the composition and governance of the USA Diving Team and the general services (massages, transportation, medical) afforded Olympians during the Games.
Katie also shared her personal training regimen for the London Olympics, which included traveling to the Host City almost a month prior to the start of the Games. The team stayed in the Village and took a few days to get acclimated to the Olympic Aquatic Center. Then, the USA team sequestered themselves by traveling two hours north to train in Leicester, England before returning just prior to the Opening Ceremonies. Interestingly, Katie chose not to personally interact with any of her family or friends traveling thousands of miles to support her in London until after her event finished. "I wanted to minimize any distractions. I knew my family and friends would be super-excited when they arrived and I needed to stay calm and focused," Katie explained.
During lunch later in the day, Katie had an idea. She threw on a Tiffin University Sport Management Club T-shirt, smiled as someone took a picture on her iPhone, and proceeded to tweet about her campus visit to her more than 2,000 followers. It was apparent the mighty little Olympic dynamo with the shy side was enjoying the afternoon.
Two days after her visit to Tiffin, Katie moved to Colorado for the sole purpose of fun and relaxation. She accepted a part-time job as a club diving coach and is looking forward to a little snowboarding and just "playing" in the fresh air of the high altitude of the Rockies. Only time will tell if Katie will apply to Graduate School or get back into serious training for a shot to make the synchronized diving squad for Rio in 2016.
So small in stature, so big in heart. It was indeed fortunate that Katie Bell visited just weeks after the 2012 Games to spark a genuine Olympic spirit on the TU campus. Her story was a golden opportunity compared to some of the hot sport topics ranging from the replacement NFL officials to the 10,000 runners participating in Tiffin's Cross Country Carnival last weekend.
Stay tuned next month for that collection of Olympic memories from students who traveled to the 2012 London Games. As always, it is a pleasure to share interesting and fascinating sport stories from around the Globe to our vibrant community in northwest Ohio.
Bonnie Tiell is the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at Tiffin University.