The White House Visit

\It was an absolutely fantastic trip to the White house this week, in fact one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.  It’s not a normal day when I am able to be in the same house that the president and his family live in, be surrounded by secret service and meet up with all the other US Olympians at the same time.  To top it all off I had lunch in the west wing and just happened to bump into our secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, among others that I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be able to meet.  I tried not to sound too surprised!

The event started on Monday were all the US Olympic Team and Para Olympic Team spent the night in the Hilton, we all met up for dinner in the events room.  It was great, everybody had so many stories to tell, so much excitement to see each other again. Some had retired, some had been on tours with the family, and some are back to racing again. It was awesome!.

The next morning we all went in 25 coach busses to the white house South Lawn, where we had to go through a borage of security before we could make it in.  Heavily fortified would be an understatement, there were secret service everywhere, who never took a break from eying the scene.  But the white house is absolutely stunning and so well maintained and pristine with a heritage that rivals anything out there.  We all made our way to the stands and took our seats waiting for the president to arrive.  This was the second time I would see him in less than a month! He also came to the fencing hall in China, and spent time with each team, I felt awfully spoiled.  His speech in person is a lot more lively than the way too serious speeches he does on TV, he loves to crack a laugh with the audience and you can see his charisma with the US team, he clearly enjoys the Olympic Spirit!  After the speech we shake his hand again, he congrats everybody and then we take a tour of the white house.

The inside of the White House is fantastic, but basically a museum. There was the Green room, the Red room, the expansive library,  the State Dining room to name a few. Not sure what they would do with all that living space but they had each inch of the walls hung with famous paintings from artists such as George PA Healy portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1869.  It was definitely a tour of the nations deepest roots and really touching to be this close in person.After I toured the white house, I had a lunch appointment with James Connaugton, the chairman of the council on Environmental Quality. I really didn’t know what I was getting into.  After meeting Mr. Connaugton at his office we arrived to the west wing, yes the West Wing!  A Marine opened the door for us, and the secretary greeted us by our names and lead us into the “mess” they call it, where we had lunch.  Now I have had some good lunches in my time at leading hotels (and Kim Bailey’s food), but nothing compares to going to the executive dining hall in the white house.  On the way there, I was just following along staring at the walls, and here comes Ms. Condoleezza Rice, I am taking a second look, I was like, does she work here, where I am standing???  Mr. Connaugton introduced us, it was fantastic, she was personable and enjoyed hearing my story of the Olympics.  I was in way over my head, as usual!  So we arrive to the dining hall and are greeted by the host and escorted to our table walking by all the white house notables.  As you can imagine the food was outstanding, the service was first class.  I had a great lunch with Mr. Connaugton, asked him a ton of questions about his role as advisor to the president and learned a lot about the inside business.  He was personable and very likable, I can tell why he was hired to do the job, he gave me some good advice for the future and it was inspiring.  I always love meeting people that have done something with their lives, lived with inspiration and dreams and completed them. And here I was speaking to one. Not only that, but he treated me as a success. I was flattered, I am just an average guy who lives big, goes hard and out works the rest.

After our lunch we took a tour of the west wing, and I was surprised at how cozy or quaint the building was in person.  Much more intimate than what you see on TV.  I saw all the main conference rooms where they save the country from crisis as well as the coffee machine. But I couldn’t help but notice all the pictures of the president on the hallway, all covered in mud at his ranch mountain biking.  I really thought it was totally cool, Mr. Connaugton thought I should invite the president to a mountain bike ride.

I was like would he even read my mail? Does he read outside mail? I guess we’ll see!  We then went up stairs and saw the Chief of Staffs office, which was expansive and very bright with many windows and books everywhere.  A touch of antiqueness with a business feel would be my best explanation. We walked by the oval office and through the Economics area, and of course they were all working very diligently!

As we left the west wing we then visited the press room, where all the main press stories are aired to the public. I took to the podium and pretended for a second I was saving the country, the press crew turned on all the bright lights, actually pretty intimidating room. I took a picture (attached) and then we left the white house.

This was the most epic tour of the white house I could have ever imagined, and I definitely never thought I’d get this kind of reception from being an Olympian. It was a great honor to race for our great country, and see so many people take such pride in the games. I hope I’ll be blessed with another opportunity. I’ve been at work planning reviewing and training it up, 2012 will approach before I know it, and I need to be ready for that perfect gold medal performance. Thanks for cheering me on. We’ll be in touch.

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