Many of the Olympic names are familiar -- Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps, Dwyane Wade. But what if you don't have money of your own or the financial strength of a sport like swimming or basketball?
Then you might have a series of fundraisers at small hotels, with raffle tickets and friends of friends. Adler Volmar, the United States' best hope for its first gold medal ever in judo, needed $23,000 to take his family, his trainer and his mental strength coach to Beijing. They just barely made it, leaving this week.
|Adler Volmar (in white) fights vs. eventual Olympian Brian Olson at the '04 U.S. trials. (Getty Images)|
In 1977, Volmar's mother, Yolette, from Cap-Haitien, Haiti, was visiting her sister in Miami when she needed an emergency caesarian section, giving birth to Adler. They returned to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean, and Volmar began his dream of Olympic judo.
With natural talent and dual citizenship, he made the Haitian team at 18 and carried the Haitian flag at the Games in Atlanta, where he did not medal.
But then his dream took a detour. Volmar enlisted in the U.S. Navy and trained as a combat medic, forcing him to miss the 2000 Games. Volmar competed in the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials, but did not qualify for the Athens Games. He continued to practice and compete on the side, and last year, to make money, he worked as a bodyguard in the Hillary Clinton campaign.
"It's been such a long journey," said Volmar, now 31 years old. "Like most of the Olympians you never hear about, I've needed help and support from so many people."
His team is diverse, from a world-record holding physical therapist to a retired builder who once built a home for Mikhail Gorbachev to a psychologist who worked with tennis pro Vincent Spaeda. One couple he met in the gym cashed in all their frequent-flier miles to send him to Beijing.
"I married Adler because he had a dream," said his wife Crystal, mother of their three children.
"Mentally, he's the strongest athlete I've ever worked with," said sports performance psychologist John Murray, who has trained hundreds of elite athletes, from the Washington State football team to Spaeda. "Adler has passion, discipline and the confidence of a day-trader."
Volmar has needed all of it. On Feb. 5, he was working out with Anthony Turner, a 300-pound heavyweight. Turner landed on Volmar's left knee, ripping both his ACL and LCL.
After successful surgery, doctors told him he might need six months to recover. Problem was, the Olympic trials were in 2½ months.
"I began rehabbing immediately, working out six to eight hours a day," said Volmar in his soft Creole accent. "I was not going to be denied."
He did endless pool therapy and weights and workouts with his coaches, German Velazco and Jhonny Prado. He needed three physical therapists, among them Jack Zatorski.
"He was doing something close to impossible," said Zatorski, who himself did something eye popping -- crunching the most sit-ups in a minute (162), an hour (9,568) and 24 hours (130,200), to land him in the Guinness World Book of Records. "Adler needed so much work on his strength, his lateral movement and his stamina, but he had to be careful not to go too far."
Volmar's Olympic Village, all going to Beijing, includes financial backer Sy Sadkin, the 83-year-old builder who once built a house for former Soviet Union premier Gorbachev, a pastor, a message therapist and a credit manager, all who have been with him for years.
The competition will be fierce. In Volmar's 100 kilogram division (220 pounds), the favorites are from Hungary, the Netherlands and Israel. Yet Volmar visualizes standing on the top of the podium, representing "the country of my birth, the country for which I served."
"This is my moment, this is my time," said Volmar. "I must come home with the gold."