By Taelor Duckworth with Sydni Walker contributing
Texas A&M University-Commerce was showered in gold on April 16 as it welcomed Olympic gold medalists, Ryan Lochte and Misty May-Treanor, along with ESPN SportsCenter’s Linda Cohn.
The William L. Mayo Prestigious Speaker Series, which previously brought Dan Rather to campus, hosted these special individuals for dinner and a question-and-answer panel event in Ferguson Auditorium.
“It was our goal as a committee to bring a group of speakers to A&M-Commerce that would really have an impact on the students,” said Taylor Fore, the Associate Director of Development for Athletics and a committee member for the Series. “We wanted to bring someone who would be relevant to the student body; someone to be excited about. This experience was intended for college students to realize that all of their wildest dreams can come true, and we sincerely hope that everyone enjoyed having Ryan Lochte, Misty May-Treanor and Linda Cohn on campus.”
The series invited students to apply for an opportunity to meet the sports icons and eat dinner in an intimate setting. Approximately 25 students were chosen for the esteemed honor which included a picture for each student with the trio. These student leaders were hand-selected based on their essays submissions and a recommendation letter from a faculty member on campus. The applicants were split into three tables with one of the celebrities at each, and the groups got the chance to converse through dinner and learn more about their respective speaker. At the end of the meal, Lochte, May-Treanor and Cohn were invited up to a small stage to answer questions from the small number of students and faculty in the room.
Linda Cohn was asked about being a pioneer for women in journalism and sports casting.
“It’s really about believing it will happen, as corny as it sounds,” said Cohn. “If you believe you can do it and take the right steps toward your dream you can open a lot of doors. Make small goals for yourself that are attainable, and then make long term goals, as well. Like, ‘I want to sit in Linda Cohn’s chair in five years’ preferably if I’m not sitting in it. But really, it’s half believing in yourself and half luck. With the extra work you put in, the luck comes.”
Ryan Lochte let his dinner mates know how he got started in swimming with his father, and that he didn’t always have dreams of swimming. From a young age, he always had dreams of winning Olympic gold, but he wasn’t quite sure what sport it would be in. There were times he wanted to quit, but the sense of peace and serenity he found in the water always brought him back to the pool. As a senior in high school, he was offered a scholarship to play basketball for the University of Ohio, but turned it down at the last minute to swim for the University of Florida. In fact, he didn’t realize until after his freshman year of college that winning a gold medal in swimming was really a possibility for him.
“When I was growing up, I wasn’t really very good at swimming,” recalls Lochte. “After someone else turned their opportunity down, I got the call from Florida, and that’s when I decided that I would embarrass all of those other schools who didn’t give me a chance. I wanted to show them that I could win and beat them.”
After their meal, Linda Cohn and Misty May-Treanor were escorted across campus to Binnion Hall for exclusive interviews with 88.9 KETR. May-Treanor mentioned that she has plans to coach volleyball and do “Dream in Gold” clinics after she finishes her Master’s degree in three weeks. She has recently picked up golfing as a hobby and says she really enjoys watching the game on television, as well. Not only is the three-time gold medalist full of sporting success and future plans, but she also has a very inspirational nature.
“My dad always told me from a very young age to play for those who couldn’t; the injured, sick and handicapped and those who didn’t have the ability to compete at the capacity that I could,” said May-Treanor when asked about her inspirations and overcoming adversity. “There’s always someone who wants to trade places with you, and if you think you’re having a bad day you can put some perspective on it and realize that there’s someone out there who has it worse than you.”
Cohn told KETR she was very excited about getting to interview the Olympians later that night, and mentioned that it was her first time meeting them as well. She divulges that she got into sports because of a desire to get closer to her dad when she was younger, and she has loved her 20 years working for ESPN as a result. She hopes she will have her own radio show in the future.
“My favorite sporting events were not ones that I covered because when you cover a story you don’t actually get to enjoy the game,” remarked Cohn. “My best memories are games when I got to go as a fan, especially with my dad or family.”
The doors of Ferguson Auditorium opened early for the question-and-answer panel as lines formed to fill seats. The two athletes answered questions from the A&M-Commerce community moderated by Cohn in front of a packed venue. Students were able to send in questions from Twitter, and Amy Yzanga won the Twitter contest to meet the Olympians, sending in over 250 tweets with the hashtag #GoldInCommerce. Some were comical and some were more serious, but ticket holders got an insight into the lives and minds of two of the world’s top athletes. Unfortunately for all the ladies, Lochte mentioned that he has recently reached out to Sports Illustrated cover model, Kate Upton, to strike up a romance. May-Treanor is happily married to MLB free agent catcher, Matt Treanor, and the two live in sunny southern California. Both competitors had interesting stories of their proudest Olympic moments.
“My proudest moment would probably be the opening ceremonies. Walking behind your flag, marching in with athletes representing the USA and from all over the world and hearing your national anthem, well, there’s nothing like it,” said May-Treanor.
Lochte, who, in three trips to the Games, has never seen an opening ceremony due to the fact that his sport competes the next day, had a slightly different recollection.“When I won my first gold medal, I remember standing on the podium as the American flag was being raised and they began to play the national anthem,” said Lochte. “I’m normally not a very teary, emotional person, but I started to tear up and then the Jumbotron at the back of the pool started to go around the stands and it zoomed in on my family. My dad was bawling and I just kept thinking ‘Please, don’t do this. Don’t cry.’ I am going to the next opening ceremonies though. No matter what.”
The William L. Mayo Series had yet another successful event, and students and faculty alike are heavy with anticipation for next year.