This time of year is always special for me. Every 4 years, I get a friendly reminder of my past. I’m an Olympian, and that’s something no one can take away from me.
It’s not an easy road to get to the Olympics. My road started when my father moved our family to the Virgin Islands when I was just 1. He was looking for a change, and I’m glad he found it.
Like most kids, I started swimming at an early age just to be with my friends and soon after joined an organized team. I got my first up-close look at what it’s like to train for an Olympics when I was 8 years old. Our head coach was from West Germany, and he had some older swimmers from their national team come train in the Islands. I just remember being in awe of how good those guys were, and telling my dad that I wanted to be like them. He said something to me about my swimming that I’ll never forget. “If you’re really going to do this,” he said, “you have to commit to it and do it.” So I did.
I spent thousands of hours in the pool. My hard work eventually paid off and I was given the opportunity to compete for Yale. That’s where I continued to perfect my form and improve my strength, eventually reaching All-American status. In 2000, I was honored to represent my country in Sydney to compete in my first Olympics as the only swimmer from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Even though I didn’t advance to any races that made it to the TV broadcast, the experience was unforgettable. It made me want to train again to get back for the next Olympics.
After graduating from Yale, I went to help my parents with the family business in New York, where they had relocated. There, I began training with a local coach outside of Albany. It was just like when I was a kid back in the Islands, only I was now the Olympian swimming in the same pool as kids on the local swim teams. When I qualified for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, a lot of the local kids brought me cards wishing me good luck. I took those with me for inspiration.
Today, AT&T makes it easier than ever for people to communicate with their favorite Olympians. Fans can sign up to become an #ATTFanmate, cheer on Team USA athletes and even receive special messages in return. As an Olympian, I know messages like that make you want to train harder and be better.
I’ll never forget those kids from the local pool. I still keep in touch with many of them. It’s experiences I had as an Olympian that help me in my job today with AT&T. I’ve learned that you should always seek to be great at something. Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, find something to be passionate about and be great at it.
This is AT&T’s 32nd year as a sponsor of Team USA. And I’m proud to work for a company that helps so many young athletes’ dreams come true. My swimming career is long over, but you can bet I’ll be competing vicariously through the swimmers in Rio. Good luck to all the athletes!
*George Gleason swam for the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics Games. He swam the 200m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 200m individual medley in 2000. He swam the 100m backstroke and 100m freestyle in 2004. He is currently a chief of staff, celebrating 8 years with AT&T this year.
George is a chief of staff in the Business Solutions group.