Jill Holub, from Williamsburg, traveled to Colorado for an internship in the University of Iowa’s Sports and Recreation Management program, which allowed her to network with a wide range of people involved in the Olympic movement. (Courtesy picture)
IOWA CITY – Gold is the color of choice for Team USA. But for a week this summer at the United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, black and gold were the dominant color combination.
Jill Holub, from Williamsburg, recently traveled to Colorado with a group of 14 University of Iowa students from the Sports and Recreation Management program for a unique internship that allowed her to learn and network. with a wide range of people involved in the Olympic movement, the organizations and actions carried out under the authority of the International Olympic Committee.
They also lived alongside the country’s elite athletes and coaches at the training center for a week.
“It was cool to have a kind of ‘week in the life of an athlete,'” says Holub, a fourth-year sports and recreation management student. “We lived in the same dorms as them and saw them at breakfast, lunch, dinner, saw them go to practice and come back from practice. It was just a great experience.”
Jeremy Parrish, a lecturer in the Sport and Recreation Management program, created the field experience – which was supposed to start in 2020 but was canceled due to COVID-19 and was conducted virtually in 2021 – to dig deeper this unique part of the sports industry.
“This internship offers a different angle from a business perspective than other traditional sports,” Parrish said. “The Olympic movement is its own unique corner in the industry; while it shares some qualities of intercollegiate athletics and nonprofits, our textbooks don’t always do a good job of making it clear that the Olympics are a viable place to make a career.”
Before heading to Colorado, the Team USA internship experience began with intensive instruction in the Olympic Movement, which gave students the basic Olympic knowledge they needed. They then applied those lessons to a project with the Iowa City Area Sports Commission and USA Team Handball, in which students developed a potential multi-day tournament that could have a positive local impact while helping to increase interest in a sports in development. The group then packed up and headed west to Colorado Springs.
The group had a full itinerary while in Olympic City USA, getting exclusive tours of the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center facilities; try Paralympic sports like wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and goalball; and visit area attractions including Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, the Air Force Academy, and a Rocky Mountain Vibes minor league baseball game. The students divided into groups to work on projects — such as cultivating more youth engagement with the Olympic movement, recommending awards for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, and quantifying the cost of an Olympic medal — that they then presented at the end of the week. .
They also met and discussed with CEOs, Vice Presidents and Senior Directors from several national sports governing bodies, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
In addition to learning from the speakers, the networking the students were able to participate in was invaluable, says Parrish.
“They were in many cases talking to the people at the top,” Parrish says. “And the connection they make is not just with that person, but their network beyond them. It’s hard to quantify how powerful that can be, especially for a young person looking to step into industry.”
The students agree.
A few of the guest speakers also went the extra mile for Iowa students. Charlie Huebner, vice president of Paralympic development for the Olympic and Paralympic Foundation of the United States, offered to review student resumes and make suggestions — an offer some students accepted before they even left Colorado.
“It was just a really good experience with a lot of great people who were all welcoming and friendly and really wanted us to learn,” Holub said. “They really took time out of their day to make sure we got the most out of it.”
The list of guest speakers included two University of Iowa alumni: Morgan Rabine Benham, head of corporate partnerships for USA Wrestling, and Sarah Wilhelmi, senior director of collegiate partnerships for USOPC.
Holub says talking to former Hawkeyes is especially important.
“It’s heartwarming to know that someone who went to the same school as me and has a similar background is now working for the Olympics,” Holub said. “It helps to hear how they got to their position and to know that’s a possible route I could take.”
Several students say that if a career in the Olympic movement wasn’t on their radar before the trip to Colorado Springs, it is now.
“There are more jobs than you might think in the sports industry, and I want to see what they are and what people are doing to see if that’s something I would like,” said said Holub.
Wilhelmi knows firsthand how important practical experience can be in a student’s life.
“These experiences are life changing. They can define your trajectory,” says Wilhelmi. “I had the privilege during an internship to work with the Paralympics. Now I’m helping to launch the Para-College Inclusion Project to expand adaptive sport opportunities at universities and colleges, and these are seeds that were planted while I was in Iowa.”