An Interview with a Former Olympic Intern
Ever wish you could be a part of the Olympic games even though you can't throw a ball or swim a lap? Ever wish the Olympics had a writing event (even though you're still not sure if literature would be a Winter or Summer sport)? Well, if you win a spot as an intern for the United States Olympic Committee, like my BFF, Khrista, those dreams could come true!
Since the Olympics are coming up so quickly and we know you're excited, we wanted to give you a look at what happens behind the scenes (full disclosure: I also wanted to give my friend a place on the internet to brag about herself and her amazing experiences).
Ashley: How did you hear about the internship at the United States Olympic Committee? What made you want to intern for the Olympics? Was it because you used to be like a VERY good swimmer?
Khrista: Well, although I was a *pretty* good swimmer, my obsession with the Olympics started at an even younger age. I remember staying up waaaay past my bedtime as a kid to watch EVERY event...I don't recommend this. But as an adult, even though my dreams of being involved in the Olympics as an athlete were dead, I realized I could still be involved by working for them. When I graduated into, like, the worst economy ever, I couldn’t find a job...anywhere. Bummer. So I started volunteering regularly for the Chicago 2016 committee. It was that staff that tipped me off to the internship for the United States Olympic Committee at their headquarters in Colorado Springs. I applied on a whim, thinking, "Well, the worst thing they could say is no, and it's not like I haven't heard that before!
Tell us about the interview process—we’re you dressed up in a Speedo, ready to show off your swimming moves if necessary? When you finished did you think there was a real chance you'd get hired?
I was originally contacted via email and almost immediately scheduled for a phone interview. I might be the only person in the world who doesn't get nervous for interviews, and since this one was only over the phone, I was even less worried. (You're telling me I can read over my notes and my resume the whole time and not worry about eye contact or sweaty palms? Sign me up!) The interview went really well, but I assumed almost everyone's interview goes really well, you know? This is a very competitive internship and there were a lot of other great candidates pining for the same opportunity. So even though it went smoothly, I was worried I didn't have enough to set me apart.
When you found out you got the job, were you excited about moving to the Olympic Village? Were you really excited to feast your eyes on Olympic men all day?
I was excited about moving into the Olympic Training Center (not the Olympic Village—that’s what they call the place the athletes stay during the actual Olympic games. Tthe Olympic Training Center [OTC] is where Olympic-caliber athletes live, eat, and train year round). I was mostly grateful not to have to find my own place to live in a town I'd never been to before (Colorado Springs). And of course as a swimmer, I was drooling at the chance to meet Ryan Lochte (shocked I didn't say Michael Phelps? Google him, ladies. Lochte's way hotter).
When you arrived, what about the Olympic Training Center most surprise you?
I was actually most surprised about how small it is. Don't get me wrong—these facilities are amazing, but I came from a big city (Chicago) and a big college (University of Illinois)...and the OTC is actually set up a lot like a small college campus, with a ton of dorm-style housing, one big cafeteria, and multiple gyms, sports-medical facilities, and offices. There are two other major Olympic training centers in the US: Chula Vista, CA, and Lake Placid, NY.
Who did you room with at the village? Did you live in a dorm with athletes? Did you sleep among Olympians?
I was paired with a random roommate through the internship program. There are about 30 interns per semester for the USOC and NGBs (National Governing Bodies of Sport—i.e. USA Swimming, USA Volleyball, USA Wrestling, USA Basketball, etc.). All the interns live on one floor in one of the dormitory buildings. And yes, athletes lived in this building, too. But it was mostly used for temporary housing, mostly for athletes here for a short-term training program or camp.
On to the really important stuff: what do you eat when you live there? Did you eat the same as the athletes?
I was lucky enough to eat in the same cafeteria as all the athletes every day for every meal. All the interns did. If you were going to run into a famous Olympian somewhere on campus, this is where it was going be. A buffet-style smorgasbord of food and daily specials, made-to-order omelets, turkey burgers, pasta (hey, carbs are important for athletes!), a salad bar, fruits, veggies, and even desserts. Everything edible was clearly marked with nutrition facts so each athlete could tailor their meals to their diet. I lost ten pounds during my four-month internship without even trying.
What did you do day to day? Was your intership as exciting as it sounds? What was the coolest project you worked on?
My day-to-day involved writing press releases, updating Twitter and Facebook and website content, assisting in event planning, and other not so glamorous administrative tasks. My internship was as exciting as it sounds! I learned so much and it opened so many doors for me.
My internship didn't fall over an Olympic year so unfortunately, international travel wasn't in the cards for me, but I was able to travel with the National Wheelchair Basketball team to the NBA All Star game in Los Angeles and helped with events and projects for NBA Cares.
What did the athletes do each day? What were their vigorous training schedules like? Do the athletes and interns hang out a lot during their downtime?
An athlete who lives at the OTC has a very intense schedule. Training for the Olympics is a full-time, year-round, extremely selective job. I can't speak to their exact schedule, but I think most athletes practice twice a day, and train for a ton of other major local, national, and international competitions throughout the year (not just the Olympics!).
When we both have free time, athletes do hang out with interns all the time! The USOC is a tight knit community, everyone is very close...we live together, eat together, work together...and sometimes our lives are taped (am I allowed to say that, or does the "Real World" have the copyright?).
Who's the coolest person you met during your intership? Did you get your hands on anyone's "gold medals"?
I'm borderline embarrassed to say that after all my time spent at the Olympic Training Center, I didn't meet anyone whose name the general public would recognize as famous. That doesn't mean that I wasn't consistently inspired and awe-struck by all the hard-working, amazing athletes I did come across on a daily basis. But one fun fact: I was living at the OTC when "The Biggest Loser" decided to film an episode there! I shook hands with Rulon Gardner, but only saw Bob & Gillian from afar.
As a native Chicago girl, decribe how you felt when the city didn't get picked to host the Olympics.
I cried, and I was sent home from work. Seriously.
After about 2 years, you left your internship (sad face) and moved back to Chicago (happy face). Was it hard to leave? What factors helped lead you in that direction?
It was hard for me to leave. I made a lot of great friends in Colorado, but anyone who knows me, knows my idea of being outdoorsy is going to an outlet mall. If you don't ski, hike, mountain bike, etc. there isn't much to do in Colorado...I know, I know, to most people that sounds amaze-balls, but it's kind of my own personal nightmare. Regardless, I made the decision to extend my internship for that long because the work experience was invaluable, and I know I would not have finally gotten that job offer at home in Chicago, had I not had this USOC internship on my resume.
What are you excited to see in the London Olympics? Do you wish you were going there? Should we borrow a plane from one of our rich friends?
I literally am obsessed with almost every event in the summer Olympics. What I find most fun and entertaining is, it's usually the only time you get to see some of these sports on TV....or maybe I don't watch enough TV, but when do we ever get to watch so much swimming?! I definitely wish I was going to be there in person. I have been to London before and I love it there. I toyed with the idea of volunteering across the pond, but it would be too hard to get away from work for that long...and not get paid for it!
How did working for the Olympics change your life?
Like I mentioned a few times before, this internship opened a lot of doors for me and taught me so much in my career. I think what most people don't realize is the United States Olympic Committee is a full-time organization that functions year in, year out—not just during the Olympic games. Aside from the athletes, there are a ton of hard-working people behind this organization and I feel so lucky to have been even just a small part of it for a temporary amount of time. Now for the rest of my life, I will never watch the Olympics and not think about my time spent there. The Olympics have been around forever and they'll be around forever and it's cool to know what goes on behind the scenes.
After reading this, we know you want to apply to be a USOC intern, so check this out!