The Naval Officer and the Olympian

Indeed, the little things matter. On occasion, you may come across a story that begs to be retold – an inspiring and unlikely story. A tale of generosity and patriotism. A true story.

Like this one:

Earlier this week, I came across a narrative posted on Facebook by my friend Joe. He and I were both in the Navy ROTC program at RPI, graduating in the same year. To say that he is a bright guy is an understatement. He graduated with an undergraduate degree in applied physics and later obtained a graduate degree in mathematics.

Oh yeah. He’s also a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, a 19-year veteran who has served on nuclear-powered submarines. I gather that his current role requires him to travel overseas quite a bit.

Which brings us back to the story. It starts in an airport lounge in Munich, Germany. Joe was heading home, but had a lengthy six-hour layover before he could board his flight to Washington DC.

In Joe’s own words:

…I noticed all these Team USA shirts, and quickly realized that a lot of our Olympic athletes were coming into the lounge, on their way home from Sochi. One guy was showing some others a couple of medals, and I heard them mention bobsledding, so I hit up Google and determined that it was Steven Holcomb, with his two bronze medals.

Now that’s cool! Especially since everyone, (and by everyone… I mean me), knows that Bobsledding is the best Winter Olympics event. Well, Bobsledding, Luge and Skeleton. And Biathlon. And Women’s Ice Hockey. And don’t forget about Snowboard Cross. But I digress.

Joe’s story gets better. Again, in his own words:

A few hours later, I’m waiting to board my flight to Dulles, and seeing a lot of the athletes are on my flight. Steve Holcomb walks up to the counter, and tries to talk them into giving him a free upgrade to first class, even flashing his medals to try to convince them, but he doesn’t get anywhere, so he goes back to his seat.

If I were watching that, I would wonder why the airline isn’t stepping up to upgrade an Olympian. I mean, come on, you can’t buy that kind of PR. I think many of us might shake our heads, and go back to our eBooks.

Not Joe:

I had already cashed in one of my free upgrades on United, so I had a seat in first class. I decided to ask at the counter if I could give another one of my upgrades to someone else…

This time, the airline came through. Not only did they upgrade Steven Holcomb’s ticket, but they seated the intrepid Olympian next to the dedicated Naval Officer for the nine-hour flight to the States. Along the way, Joe was introduced to quite a few members of our Olympic team, and he enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Steven Holcomb during the flight:

Steven Holcomb is a great guy to talk to. He’s proud of what he has accomplished, but certainly not arrogant about it.

In another Facebook post, Joe described how he has enjoyed and appreciated the generosity and hospitality that many others have provided to him during his travels, given in recognition of his military service. He viewed this as an opportunity to “pay it forward.” Here is more that he wrote about it:

My wife… is always helping others both personally and through her work with various charities/nonprofits, and I guess I’m just trying to follow her lead and help others. I just wish I could have done more for the entire US Olympic Team.

I think, though, that other members of the US Olympic Team deeply appreciated Joe’s generosity as evidenced by this Tweet from skeleton racer, Katie Uhlaender:

So, too, did Steven Holcomb who expressed his gratitude for Joe’s actions and for his distinguished military service:

And finally, here’s the Naval Officer, holding one of the Olympian’s bronze medals.

Joe with the Bronze Medal

Joe with the Bronze Medal. Photo used with permission.

Too cool.

And very inspiring. I’d give ’em both gold medals… for generosity and patriotism.

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  1. Absolutely awesome. Thanks for sharing an inspiring story.

    For what it is worth, I think the bigger hero of the two is the naval officer. We are forever indebted to those who protect our country.

    Learning here of your service was interesting too. Thank you!


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