What does a group of athletes do when they’ve just won historic medals at the 2010 Olympics? If the athletes are Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY), Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO), Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO) and Brett Camerota (Park City, UT), they pack up their Olympic hardware and head to the Middle East.
With a total of seven Olympic medals in tow, the U.S. Ski Team’s nordic combined superstars headed off to visit the troops as part of the 2010 Heavy Medal Tour in April, and the trip was nothing short of amazing.
“It was an incredible experience. We would never have had the opportunity to see what we did and do what we did unless we got this chance,” said Spillane, who came home from Vancouver with a record three silver medals. “We met so many servicemen who sacrifice so much for this country. To be able to feel like we were giving back in some little way was cool.”
Throughout their time in the Middle East the Olympians visited different bases and stations where they met a variety of servicemen who the athletes were excited to learn from.
“The lasting impression was how much I got out of it – just seeing such a cool cross section of Americans. There is no one type of person – there are people from all walks of life,” Demong said. “They’re a really skilled and determined group of people.”
According to Demong, days on the bases were spent getting an up-close look at day-to-day operations of on-base units.
“Every day we’d have hours to spend time with small groups in their respective units, whether that meant the K9 unit, or a special-forces unit. We really got hands-on information on how their day goes and what their responsibilities are,” Demong said.
For Spillane, the highlight of the trip had to be riding on and off a destroyer in the middle of the ocean on a helicopter.
“We got helicoptered on and off the USS Sullivan, which is a destroyer, and that was pretty awesome,” Spillane said. “We were landing on this boat that is huge and there are guns everywhere. Just the experience of the taking off and landing, as well as meeting all the sailors, was awesome.”
Demong found inspiration in the care the servicemen took for the planes flown by U.S. Air Force pilots.
“One day we went out to the flight line at an air base to be with the mechanics that take care of the airplanes. They baby the planes,” Demong said. “Every time the plane comes back, they take them apart, pull the engine sometimes and take ownership of them. There’s a lot of pride and expert precision involved.”
But, in the end, the visit was about giving back to the troops and, as far as Demong was concerned, he and the other athletes are the ones who are thankful to have had the opportunity.
“I didn’t have any idea how I would be received and it was amazing how excited and thankful everyone was that we took the time to come over and hang out,” Demong said. “It was just an incredible experience that we’re thankful to have had.”