Deloitte hosted Olympic figure-skating champion Evan Lysacek and Paralympic swimming champ Brad Snyder at New York University as part of the firm’s campus recruiting efforts, telling students inspiring stories about how they overcame obstacles to win gold medals in their sports.
Lysacek won his gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and brought it with him to the Deloitte event. He talked about how he faced a turning point early in his career when he found himself drawn to the pursuit of fame rather than focusing on his sport.
“My father would always tell me fame and money are temporary and they’re cheap and they’re common,” said Lysacek. “Achieving something for real is rare, and it’s forever. There was always something attractive to me about the perpetuity of achievement because it’s something I learned from my parents.”
Noticing that he was starting to be tempted by the pursuit of celebrity, his father asked him, “Do you want to be a star? Why are you doing all this?” That had a powerful impact on Lysacek as he worked to qualify for the Olympic team at a competition in Spokane, Wash.
“I remember speeding into my first jump and I was listening to my music, every note of my music, thinking am I always on this pace? I was completely overthinking everything I was doing,” Lysacek recalled. “I wasn’t prepared. And I went into my first jump about 20 to 30 miles an hour. That was how fast we were skating into elements. I launched myself into the air for a quadruple toe loop, but when I launched up, I knew I was going down. I fell and slid into the barrier and I was overcome with panic because I thought it was all over at that point. Then I had to pick myself up and in 30 seconds be into my next element, a jumping pass, and I still had four and a half minutes to skate. I was out there with 20,000 eyes on me, and I had never felt that before. All of a sudden I felt every pair of eyes watching me. It was almost like watching a train wreck when someone has fallen and is trying to recover. When I finished my routine, I felt like I had skated for a month. Finally the music came to an end, and I thought that was it.”
[IMGCAP(1)]Despite the fumble, other skaters also faltered in their routines, and he placed second in the competition, qualifying for the Olympic team. Although he was supposed to attend a series of dinners, public events and media appearances, Lysacek knew he had to get back on track with his skating. He told his coach about his conversation with his father, and his coach advised him to cancel his personal appearances, autograph sessions and photo shoots and instead focus on his skating.
He was ultimately able to regain his confidence by practicing in private to perfect his routines outside the limelight. He flew back to Los Angeles and practiced in a nearly empty arena. “I was in a zone and I hit every element,” he recalled, practicing for eight or nine hours until he felt exhausted and his legs were shaking.
“Until you realize what your own 100 percent really is, what that means to you specifically and personally, you don’t know it, and in that moment I experienced it and I knew it,” he said.
After practicing every day with a similar mindset, he stepped onto the ice in Vancouver a month later to compete in the Winter Olympics.
“I went onto the ice and had two of the best performances of my life,” said Lysacek. “I got off the ice after my free skate. Within a half hour, it was confirmed that I had won the Olympics. I now got the chance to go onto the ice and know the weight of the Olympic medal around my neck, and I got to experience the vision of watching the American flag rise in that building and hearing the National Anthem played. In a way a lot more important than that, I got to feel that feeling of justification for a very strange, abnormal, insane’ some would say, lifestyle of sacrifice and discipline. And I could say, Look now, it was worth it.’ I had something tangible to justify the life that I had lived.”
He told the students that they would experience their own private moments as he had during his practices when the hard work they did studying would eventually bear fruit, even if their professors or future job interviewers weren’t there watching them putting in a late night poring over their textbooks.
“That’s what it takes to be great,” he said. “It takes that level of discipline and dedication, and I’m sure you’ve all experienced it. Those are the moments in the end when you achieve, and for those who have achieved, hopefully you’ve felt the same thing. Those are the moments that mean the most, the moments when you prove to yourself how strong you are and that you have the ability to achieve whatever goal you’ve set, no matter how lofty. That’s coming from an athlete that was quite possibly the worst figure skater to ever put skates on, and I set the goal, and I became an Olympic gold medalist.”
Later in an interview, Lysacek talked about his plans for a future career in the commercial real estate industry. “I always wanted to continue learning, which is why I’ve embarked on a new life and kind of closed a chapter in Olympic sports,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s what I’ll do for the next 20 years, but now I’m learning a lot. But I enjoyed it because of what was going on in my parallel life in skating. I was achieving and I was getting to the next level, and I’m proud of that. But I never wanted attention. I don’t know if I’m a freak that I think fame is completely unattractive. I never wanted to be famous. I never wanted attention. In high school people would say, Are you an ice skater? I saw you on TV.’ And I would say, No, that wasn’t me. I don’t what you’re talking about.’ Definitely there was sacrifice involved. But I never saw it as that. I was willing to do it, and I really liked my life. I wouldn’t go back and change it because I would never want things not to have played out as they did. Everything that I did and every decision that I made worked into a master plan and that created something that was very powerful. To me, it was powerful to then launch into my next life and hopefully I can create something in my second chapter launch.”
Lysacek added that he is continuing to figure skate and is going on tour in March, “straddling two worlds.” However, he took some time off after breaking his hip while training for last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. At the same time, he has been studying real estate concepts such as contracts, leasing and square footage as he gets ready to deal with a variety of different projects including hotels and shopping centers.
“I’m on a lot of projects, which I’m very lucky to be on,” he said. “I have an incredible boss, so I get to see as much as I possibly can, which is the goal. But I also have to have some structure to my day because otherwise I wouldn’t get to all of it. I find I do the same kind of multitasking like I was doing in training.”
From War Casualty to Paralympic Medalist
Snyder followed Lysacek’s talk with a harrowing story of how he lost his eyesight fighting for his country and eventually battled his way to achieving a gold medal as a swimmer in the Paralympics.
“I spent about seven years in the Navy as an explosives ordnance disposal officer, which is a fancy way of saying I was part of the bomb squad for the Navy,” he said. “For my Olympic gold four years, I was actually defusing bombs on the roads of Iraq trying to make that country a safer place in 2008. A few years later, I deployed to Afghanistan as an augment to a SEAL team in Kandahar province and on the morning of September 7, 2011, we were on a foot patrol looking for bad guys from one village to another. Up at the front of our patrol, two Afghanis in our partner forces stepped on an improvised explosive device and it sent a blast plume into the air. I ran from halfway back in the patrol to try to render aid to those two Afghans who were really hurt. In the ensuing effort to do so, I stepped on another bomb that had been buried halfway into the ground. Thankfully it detonated just a little bit in front of me, because had it detonated below me, I might not have lived. I remember waking up on the ground. I could still see out of my left eye. I looked down at my body and I saw I had two legs and two arms, which I thought meant that I was dead.”
As he lay on the ground, he expected to see his grandfather greeting him in the afterlife. He felt like he was lying there for a long time and he began to experience a ringing in his ears because he had ruptured his eardrum in two places. The tinnitus brought him back to consciousness and he realized he was still alive.
“I could hear my buddies calling to me, Hey Brad, where are you?’” he recalled. “Because when a blast goes up, it’s like fog. You can’t see anything for the first 15 or 20 feet. They couldn’t find me. So I remember yelling to them, I’m over here. I’m over here.’ They came to me, a medic pulled me into the blast hole and cut all my gear off. He looked at me and said, Brad, from the neck down, you look fine. Your face is pretty messed up, but we need to get you out of here. Do you think you can walk?’ I said, “I think so.’ So he propped me up and two guys carried me, one on each shoulder, and they got me to a place where a helicopter came down, despite the fact that we had walkie-talkies and we could hear what the Taliban were saying. The Taliban knew where we were and they were trying to mount an attack on the helicopter. The pilot put himself at risk to put himself down on the ground to remove me and the two Afghani casualties to take us to the hospital. That first day, I spent about 12 hours in surgery putting my face back together. I flew to Landstuhl Air Base in Germany where they spent another nine hours trying to save my left eye.”
Snyder was then flown to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., and reunited with his family. The doctors performed more surgery over the next six days in an effort to preserve some of his eyesight. As he lay in his hospital bed with IV tubes sticking out of him, a nurse asked him,” What’s your interest in throwing a shot put?” He replied, “None, why do you ask?”
She told him about the Warrior Games in Colorado where wounded warriors could compete in sports. “I said, Lady, let me just get out of this hospital bed and we’ll talk about sports.’”
However, Snyder had been a swimmer from the age of 11 through college and he thought swimming would be a better event for him than the shot put. He heard about the Paralympic games, which take place in the same athletic facilities as the Olympics, and he moved to Baltimore to begin training for them.
His coach talked about the different swimming events on the schedule and he found out that one of them would be happening exactly a year after his injury in Afghanistan.
“He said on the 7th of September you’re going to have the opportunity to swim the 400-meter freestyle, which at that time was my best chance at gold, an event I was favored in by over 20 seconds, and the significance of that day was that it was the exact day that I lost my vision in Afghanistan,” he said. “I was like, Holy cow, you can’t write a better sports story than that.’”
On the day of the competition, he walked into an arena where there were 18,000 people in attendance to watch the swimming event. He had never swum before more than 300 people before.
“As you advance through the sets of chairs, it gets louder and louder and louder and you start to hear all those 18,000 people screaming and pounding and chanting,” Snyder recalled. “As Evan said, that nervousness is like this demon that pops into your head and you start to think about all of those things that can go wrong. What if I crash? What if I miss my start? What if I false start? What if I swim into the wrong lane? It’s the preparation that you use to quell that demon and you say none of that is going to happen because I’m prepared. I’ve done this 1,000, 100,000, a million times. I swam so many laps that I can’t count how many laps I swam. I’m ready to race.”
When they announced the number for his race and he walked out on the pool deck to take his place at the mark, his coach guided Snyder's hand to the starting block. “At that moment all I could visualize in front of me is that I have the block and the lane,” Snyder recalled. “All that’s here is just me and the lane and all I have to do is just go back and forth a couple of times. The referee blows the whistle and quiets all those 18,000 people.”
[IMGCAP(2)]He took his mark, swam back and forth and when he reached the wall after the final lap, he didn't know who had won the race. “This funny thing happens in blind swimming that doesn’t happen anywhere else in sports,” said Snyder. “We all have these great visions of [Michael] Phelps who looks up at the Jumbotron and sees his score and he puts his hands in the air, he looks up at his team mates and his mom and his fist is pumping, and he’s super excited. That doesn’t happen in blind swimming because we can’t see the Jumbotron. So I just finished and I sat there. 18,000 people are screaming about a race I had won, but I had no idea. I’m just sitting there, and I had no idea what happened. The guy comes up next to me and he finishes and I leaned over and asked, Hey dude, what happened?” He’s blind too so he doesn’t know either and he’s from the Ukraine so he doesn’t speak English. We all just sit there not being able to communicate with each other. We had no idea. My coach leaned over and he said two words I’ll never forget, You won.’ It was really important to me because that story came true. In one year we had turned it around from sustaining that major battlefield injury to earning a gold medal at the Paralympics.”
When he received his medal around his neck on the podium and heard the Star-Spangled Banner, it had special significance. “Immediately afterward they raise our flag and they play our anthem and those 50 stars and 13 stripes,” said Snyder. “To me, even though I couldn’t see them, I knew that they were there. What they represented to me were all those people who had played a role to get me there, from those medics to my buddies who pulled me out of that blast hole to dust me off and get me to a helicopter to the hospital, to that pilot who put himself and his crew at risk, even though he knew the Taliban was getting ready to shoot that helicopter down, to a surgeon who spent 12 hours putting my face together, to my mom who got that call at 5 in the morning saying her son had been blown up and he may never be the same again and we don’t know if he’ll even be able to talk, to my coach who gave me a ride to practice every day, to my coach who stood on the side of the pool and tapped me just to make sure that I could get to the wall safe. All of those people who played a role in me getting there, I realized that gold medal has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with this community that I am a part of.”
He encouraged the students to rely on each other as part of a community. “I don’t think that individuals ever accomplish anything truly great,” said Snyder. “We’re all part of a team. We’re all part of a family, and the more that you can embrace the people around you and learn to lean on each other to get yourselves through those inevitable bouts of adversity, the more powerful we’re all going to become. We’re all going to face these challenges. My advice to you is don’t become a victim. Embrace your community. That’s when you’re going to unlock the keys to success.”
During an interview following the talk with the students, Snyder discussed the lessons that business students could learn from his experiences in Afghanistan and the Paralympics. Among them was the importance of having a positive attitude.
“I remember waking up in the hospital at one point or another,” he said. “When I dream, I can see. I walk around in my dreams. I have this reality where I say, Why is blindness so hard? I can see just fine. I can see the table. I can see the dog. This isn’t so bad.’ But when I wake up, it’s dark again, and I realize it is difficult. The first day I had that happen, I was in the hospital. Nobody was there with me. And I remember calling my mom that morning and saying, Mom, I’m having a really bad day. In my dream I can see, but when I wake up, I’m reminded again I’m blind.’ She said, You can’t look at it that way. You just have to look at it as at the end of every day, I get back my vision back, but then I just have to go back to pressing on and being blind. That’s just how it’s going to be. Dwelling on it isn’t going to change that. Just embracing it is what’s going to allow you to move forward and be successful.’”
Snyder described how that could apply to the young people at the event. “I think that resonates a lot with the youth of our generation,” he said. “Dwelling on the negatives, dwelling on the stress, dwelling on the uncertainty, none of those are positive ways forward. That’s not going to get you anywhere. Focus on the positives. Focus on personal development. Enjoy each day. Enjoy the fact that you’re in school. I look back on my own experiences in college and I wish I could go back and whisper to myself, Enjoy this,' because I was only at the Academy for four years and I had so much pressure. I enjoyed different days and certainly throwing my cap in the air was amazing. But I look back on it and I was always in a rush to get to the next step. Now that I’m 30 and I’ve lived a little bit more I realize that there’s always other steps. There’s always more years, always other things to do. Just enjoy the moment that you’re in, and having a near-death experience is what gave me that perspective, to say, Every day’s important. Every day is a treasure. Every day is something that you might not have tomorrow, so enjoy today.’”
Snyder's other piece of advice for young people is not to be a victim. “Crappy things are going to happen to everyone,” he said. “We’re all going to face challenges. We’re going to be in car wrecks, we’re going to have diseases, we’re going to have all kinds of bouts of adversity. Don’t be a victim. Embrace your circumstances. Embrace the fact that there’s a future out there and you can make things change if you want them to. You can’t control everything. There’s a skill to learning what to control and what not to control, but at the same time if you’re unhappy with the situation that you’re in, change it and find a new situation. Or change what you can and embrace the fact that you can manifest your own destiny if you so choose to. That’s the platform I speak from and that’s what I try to do in my own life is to take my own future on my back and make it be what I want it to be. I’ve had successes and I’ve had a lot of failures and realized that success is just the fourth or fifth try sometimes, and you just have to keep going.”
Deloitte Road Show
Lysacek, Snyder and other Olympic and Paralympic athletes are traveling to colleges and universities across the country as part of Deloitte's Team USA Road Show as the firm recruits students to join. Other stops on the tour through April 14 include Baylor University, Bentley University, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Georgetown, Michigan State, the University of Illinois, the University of California, Berkeley, and Wake Forest. Other Olympic athletes participating this year include diver David Boudia and speed skater Shani Davis.
Christine Kotarba, director of Enterprise Risk Services Advisory at Deloitte & Touche, noted, “Deloitte provides learning opportunities and experiences that help our people develop into strong leaders. Today’s event, 'It’s Your Race, Take the Lead,' aims to show students new ways to think about what they can do to achieve their personal best.”
Kotarba noted that this is the second round of Deloitte's Team USA recruitment events (see Deloitte kicks off “Team USA Road Show” of Olympic athletes).
“As a firm, across the country, we're looking to have campus recruits of 10,000, which is a component of our broader goal of having 20,000 new hires every year,” Kotarba added. “It's very ambitious and aggressive.”
[IMGCAP(3)]She said NYU is a strong school for recruiting, but Deloitte also recruits from other schools in the New York area. The firm recruits for various types of client services, including advisory, audit and tax. “Each region has a crop of schools they work with, and NYU is one for us in New York that we draw from,” she said. “I don't know that we have specific goals per school. We do try and put a handful forward for second rounds. We interview them on campus and we bring them into our offices for second-round interviews. They all get pooled together and are seen by the same interviewers so that they can make a more balanced decision across the schools.”
Mark Sirower, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and U.S. leader of the Merger & Acquisition Strategy and Commercial Diligence practice, commented, “The USOC mission aligns very closely with Deloitte’s core values—leadership, integrity, strength from diversity, teamwork, and commitment to each other. The common thread that runs through these core values is personal leadership: in the athletes who commit themselves to pursue their dreams; in our professionals who match that dedication; and in our organization’s tradition of mentorship, coaching, and learning and development.”
He noted that Deloitte has been the official professional services sponsor for the U.S. Olympic Committee since 2009. “For Deloitte, our sponsorship of Team USA isn't just about putting Olympic rings on our business cards,” he said. “It's a partnership and we have an opportunity to make a real impact. Deloitte has been the trusted advisor of Team USA since 2009, and today more than 330 Deloitte practitioners have delivered more than 33,000 hours of client service to the USOC. Our projects have shaped Team USA's long-term strategy. They have improved operational efficiency and have supported the core mission of supporting Team USA's athletes to compete at the highest level during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
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