Olympics Team has Military Roots – Nothing brings out national pride like the Olympics, except for our military. When the two combine, it’s an amazing show of patriotic pride.
RIO DE JANIERO, BRAZIL – They are our hometown heroes. The best of America. Super athletes from around the United States representing our country with all they got. Within that batch of Olympians is an even deeper connection for the military community – service members, veterans, and family members are among the 2016 #TeamUSA.
With the world’s best gathered in Rio this month, it’s hard not to become glued to the television. As I was watching the other night with my kids, they started talking when the action subsided.
“Shh!” I said. “We like the stories.”
It’s so true. Some of my favorite parts are learning about these athletes and their families. I love the stories. It makes me feel like I know the athletes and makes me root harder for them.
Stories like that of Ashton Eaton, the reigning Olympic champion in the decathlon, whose brother is a First Sergeant in the Marine Corps. Verice Bennett, a Silver Star recipient, is a combat veteran who has shared experiences and stories with Eaton. Eaton has expressed multiple times that he draws inspiration from their relationship and appreciates the experience Bennett brings to their conversations.
Gymnast Gabby Douglas, another reigning Olympic champion from 2012, is the daughter of an Air National Guardsman. Her father is a Staff Sergeant who has deployed several times to Iraq and has been in and out of Gabby’s life throughout. Douglas is a favorite among military kids everywhere as she continues to show them that despite missing her dad, she can still accomplish her goals. A grant from Operation Military Kids, an organization supporting military children in areas of athletics, arts, and tutoring, helped send Douglas to a gymnastics camp when she was a kid.
Similarly, Laurie Hernandez, another member of the USA Gymnastics team, was a military kid too. Her mother was in the Army Reserve for six years. She credits her mom with teaching her valuable lessons.
“She taught me the importance of following rules, finishing what I start, never giving up, leadership skills, teamwork, staying positive, motivated and how to pack the military way when I’m traveling!” Hernandez said in a Q&A with NBC.
Edward King, a native of South Africa and a US Naval Academy grad is taking a leave of absence from his Fort Meade, MD assignment to compete at the Olympics on the crew team. He grew up in Missouri and didn’t discover crew until his time at the academy. He’s BUD/S qualified, was on the under-23 national team after only two years of crewing, and is the first Navy rower to compete in the Olympics since 1988.
The Army has sent over 400 soldiers to the Olympics since 1948, earning 111 medals in sports such as boxing, shooting, bobsled, and track and field. These soldier-athletes provide a positive role model for the entire nation as they fulfill Army requirements and train for the Olympics. The Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy also have training programs that allow their service members to train while on active duty at the Olympic level.
There are 16 Olympians competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics who currently serve on Active Duty. One who is on a leave of absence and one who will be competing in the Paralympics in September. Their stories are of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice, just like other Olympians. But, their stories don’t end there. After the lights fade from the Olympics, they will put back on a different kind of uniform for this country and continue representing us all in the most patriotic way – through military service.
Learn more about the Olympians and their stories at: http://www.nbcolympics.com/.