It’s easy for fans to see the bright lights of success, but being a star athlete has a dark side too.
Most people don’t see the sweat, sacrifice and solitude.
“First and foremost you have to love it, whatever you’re doing – baseball, gymnastics, soccer, track and field, football. Whatever it is you have to love it because you’re going to do it so much it’s going to make you sick sometimes,” U.S. Olympian Janay DeLoach of Fairbanks told me.
“You have to work really, really hard, all the time. Even on the days you don’t want to work when you’re tired and you’re body feels yucky, those are the days that matter most. It’s hardest to do but it means you are making progress.”
DeLoach, of Eielson High fame, won an Olympic bronze medal at the 2012 Games in London in the women’s long jump. She is going back to the Summer Games this year in Rio after finishing third at the Olympic Trials.
DeLoach, 30, was one of many Alaska Sports Hall of Fame members on hand at last week’s ASHOF 10-year celebration party at the Alaska Airlines Center.
What better place to gain perspective on inspiration than from the people who deliver it on a regular basis.
“I have failed my way to another Olympic team,” she said with a smile. “I’ve had a pretty bad season, but I knew it took only one jump. It doesn’t matter where I failed before as long as when I needed it most it came for me.”
DeLoach was forced to switch her traditional takeoff last year because of injuries. She jumped off her left leg at the 2012 Olympics but will jump off her right leg at the 2016 Games.
In doing so she has inspired other jumpers all over the country that have been forced to switch legs. Rather than giving up, DeLoach has taught them to give it a try.
“You gotta work hard,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy and if you think that’s the case, or if you want it easy, this is not the thing you should be doing. I hope am I helping someone out.”
Former University of Alaska Fairbanks men’s basketball coach Al Sokaitis helped make history in 2002 when the Nanooks became the first NCAA D2 team to win a DI tournament at the Top of the World Classic.
He talked about the importance of being a role model.
“I always think talent is something you get on loan. You don’t have it forever. What you do when you have it determines what happens with the next generation; so if you take that talent and use it to inspire kids and they see how hard you’re working, how important it is to do the right things, then the next group coming up wants to be like you,” he told me.
“I idolized the kids that were in high school when I was in the sixth grade. People don’t realize how important that period is, but those people inspired me to do what I did, and hopefully I’ve been able to do things as a basketball coach to help kids get where they want to get.”
World-class long jumper David Registe of Palmer is still chasing his Olympic dream. The 28-year-old is a former NCAA D2 national champion for the University of Alaska Anchorage who now competes professionally for Dominica. He won a bronze medal at the Pan Am Games in 2011 and captured a gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2014.
He reminded athletes to make their own decisions.
“Especially in today’s world where everybody you talk to has an opinion about your life. You have to filter out those opinions. You have to choose in your life who’s opinion matters to you and who’s doesn’t, because everybody is going to tell you what to do, where to go; everybody wants to be a part of that,” Registe told me.
Dimond High hockey coach Dennis Sorenson of Anchorage last season became the first prep hockey coach in Alaska history to win 500 career games.
He promoted the idea of kids playing multiple sports rather than focusing on just one.
“Actually, Scott Gomez and I were talking a little while ago that too many kids are specialized at too young of an age. We think it’s the coaches pushing them, but it’s actually the parents pushing them. They need to play multiple sports, do multiple activities, and just be active, healthy and have fun. Maybe at 14, 15, when they bodies develop, that’s when you specialize,” Sorenson told me.
Passion drives success.
“You have to play for the love of the sport,” Sorenson said. “Dream all you want, but if you’re not playing for the love of the sport you won’t go anywhere. You have to enjoy the journey.”
“I think the main thing that I’ve learned over the years is you have to keep it fun and you have to keep variety in there,” Spencer told me. “Hate to see these kids get too specialized too early and that derails them. You see a lot of people burn out because they are training too hard, too focused. Pick a lot of things you like to do and keep it fun.
“There’s a time to get serious, but when you’re first getting started that’s not it.”
Kris Thorsness of Anchorage was the first Alaskan to win an Olympic medal when she pocketed a gold medal in women’s rowing at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
She wants kids to play outside.
She said the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame is an example of what is possible for kids in the 907.
“I met people that were like, ‘If she can do it, I could do it,’” Thorsness said. “I think that’s a big piece of it is getting us out there to meet kids, to talk with kids, to talk to them about where we come from and the steps we took. A lot of it is hard work, dedication and following your passion because that’s really key. You really have to want to do this in order to succeed.”