Six recent Yale grads who attended this year’s Olympic games attributed part of their Olympic success to their athletic experiences at Yale in a Thursday night panel discussion.
In the Yale Law School auditorium, the Olympians — rowers Ashley Brzozowicz ’04, Tess Gerrand ’10, Jamie Redman ’08 and Taylor Ritzel ’10 and sailors Sarah Lihan ’10 and Stuart McNay ’05 — shared stories from the 2012 London games and offered advice on the transition from a collegiate athletic career to an Olympic one. Many student-athletes filled the audience, including members of men’s and women’s crew teams and the co-ed sailing team who attended to support their teams’ alumni.
At the Games, three Yalies won medals, a greater count than 36 countries. Ritzel, who won a gold medal in 2012 , said she had been dreaming about the Olympics from a young age, adding that her coaches and peers at Yale helped motivate her to achieve her Olympic aspirations.
“The Olympics increasingly became a much more tangible possibility than they had been before I arrived at Yale,” she said.
Yale sent its first athletes to the Olympic games in the early 1900s, according to Athletic Director Tom Beckett. Since then, 199 members of the Yale community have won a total of 108 medals including 53 golds, he added.
McNay said Yale’s intense academic environment allows student-athletes to gain respect in settings outside of sports. He said academic success, in addition to athletic success, gives athletes confidence to train harder.
“Having sports and academics makes you a balanced person,” he said. “Knowing your worth in a sense other than sports allows athletes to push themselves more in their sports.”
Ritzel said she focused most of her time at Yale on rowing, sometimes at the expense of other Yale experiences. Upon graduation, she tried out for the U.S Junior National Women’s Team and eventually joined the Olympic team. Traveling to London, she said, gave her the chance to be around “world-class athletes from every sport.”
Redman said attending the Olympics brought her a level of excitement she describes as “the culmination of college spring break, your birthday, Christmas and Super Bowl madness.”
But since the Olympics have ended, she said, she has found herself struggling to fill her new free time, which has been “driving her crazy.”
“We had been part of a team for so long,” she said. “You’re training, it’s intense, you’re at the Olympics and when you come home you’re excited to see everyone. Then all of a sudden there is nothing. It was very disorienting.”
Lihan said that progressing from Yale to Olympic training provided her structure, adding that after the Olympics ended, her days were no longer rigidly scheduled.
In spite of their post-Olympic transition, the athletes said they strongly encourage student-athletes at Yale to take advantage of the opportunity to bring their athletic skills to the next level.
“You only have one chance to be an elite athlete for so long,” Brzozowicz said. “It may not go the way you think, but you have to try it. The chance comes up so rarely.”
Head women’s crew coach Will Porter, who coached all four rowers on the panel, said he can tell which of his athletes are Olympic-quality immediately. Porter said he wanted to bring the athletes back to campus for the panel so they could share their accomplishments with other student-athletes.
Rower Charlie Cole ’07 competed in the 2012 Olympics but was not able to attend Thursday’s panel.