In February, students at Salt River Elementary School followed the action at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as part of a two-week lesson incorporating physical education, music, library and computers. Physical education coach Wes Filhart said, “Hopefully [the students] will all be able to watch the games and share what they observed and how it connects with what they do in PE.”
The finale was a webinar featuring former Olympic athlete Sean Smith, who competed in the men’s freestyle and mogul skiing events in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Several classes gathered in the school’s music room on Tuesday, February 11, for a videoconference chat with Smith in which he talked about his life and shared his experiences training for and competing in the Olympics.
The students sat on the floor, waiting patiently for Smith to appear on the screen. He came on and introduced himself, then told how he grew up in the mountains of Park City, Utah.
“My mom wanted me to learn how to ski, and she would take me out of school to go to the mountains to learn how. By the way, stay in school—it’s cool,” said Smith to the students.
During the video chat, Smith was wearing some of his skiing medals as well as his Olympic ring; his skis could be seen in the background. He also showed a poster of himself skiing, which he is sending to SRES.
Smith talked about watching the games at Sochi the night before and how he got to watch his friend win a gold medal for Team USA.
“I would suggest watching some of the Olympic games, because there are a lot of cool events happening, especially with the skiers, half-pipe, the snowboarders, the racers, ice skaters and hockey,” said Smith.
Growing up in Park City, he developed a love of the mountains and being outside with nature. “I learned how to ski and fell in love with it, got good at it, and it is just what I love to do because it makes me happy. I kept practicing and having fun, and before you knew it I was one of the best in the world.”
Smith currently works for NBC, and for the last three Winter Olympics he has interviewed the athletes on television, asking them questions about their events. He also teaches children how to ski.
SRES students asked Smith a couple of questions about the Olympics.
Angelina Ray asked Smith when he first was accepted for the U.S. Ski Team.
“I made the USA Ski Team when I was 19 years old, right out of high school in 1994. It was 20 years ago today that I skied in the Olympics in Norway, where there were reindeer, igloos and lots of snow,” said Smith.
Another student asked if he could snowboard, and Smith answered yes but he was not very good at it.
“To be in the Olympics was actually a very beautiful thing to me, because with a lot of hard work, practice and timing, which was huge, [you can] be the best of the best,” said Smith.
Smith also surfs, plays soccer, and enjoys mountain biking and other sports. But skiing is his favorite. He said, “It’s like I’m flying through the snow,” and he would rather ski than walk.
“On skis, I can do things that you cannot do walking,” said Smith.
One student asked Smith if his family put any pressure on him.
“They never pressured me,” he said. “I have coached kids for 20 years, and I see [that] the parents put pressure on the kids. I’ve never seen anything come out of it. It actually makes things harder, [because] pressure is something that we put on ourselves as well.”
The Olympian shared with the students how it’s always great to set goals in your mind, even if it is a small goal, like “I am going to get 100 percent on my math quiz today.” He likes setting little goals that you can meet and aren’t too high, but he said it’s also good to set big goals that you can work your way to achieve, like someday going to college and getting a job in the career that you like.
“I also make little goals like being a good dad to my son and daughter, and a big goal I have is to one day make the world a better place. But a goal I have every day is to always enjoy life and enjoy living,” said Smith.
Trying to earn his college degree and train for the Olympics at the same time presented some obstacles. Smith attended three different colleges and it took him a while to finish.
“I attended college, then I went to the Olympics, but I returned to college. I would [attend school] one quarter a year because in the summer I was skiing and training. But I finished college—it took me almost 10 years, but I finished,” he said, emphasizing that it was a priority to complete his education. He has a degree in public relations and communications, which serves him well in his work in TV broadcasting and reporting.
Smith talked about the equipment he uses to train, including working out lifting weights and routines like balancing, skipping and hopping.
“I had to become very good at this because my sport is very quick. I had to be able to move quickly back and forth and jump. The whole mogul run was 20 seconds—that is all it takes for the event I did and then it’s done,” he shared.
“He valued his education; even though it took him three colleges to finish it, he continued and was able to complete it,” said Filhart. “He turned something he loves doing into his life’s work. Every one of us has something we really love. It could be books, cars, sports—anything. You know yourself better than anyone else, so figure out what your passion is and run with it.”
At the conclusion of the event, Filhart refreshed the students’ minds regarding one thing the Olympian told them: “Remember he said his main goal is to be happy.”