As a steady rain dissolved lingering mounds of snow in Buffalo last Friday, Steve Mesler thought back to his childhood, and remembered. How he used to fly over the blanketed ground of the Delaware Park hill on his sled. When he played soccer. When he and his friends played hockey every day in the backyard, eventually managing to accidentally shatter every window nearby. Doing all of the things that any child and teenager does.
Now, the Buffalo native and City Honors graduate has returned to visit his hometown. He has returned as an Olympic gold medalist in the four-man bobsled event of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. His win was the first Olympic gold for a Buffalo-area athlete, and the first for the USA bobsled team in 62 years.
"I get to come back and share this," said Mesler of his Olympic win. "I get to talk about experiences, talk about the things I've learned, and hope that they'll help" ignite passion within Buffalo's youth.
Indeed, when Mesler arrived at his alma mater for an assembly in his honor, and as his gold medal passed through the hands of countless middle and high school students, his victory was tangible. The promise and possibility and potential upon which Mesler has thrived throughout years of training has finally culminated in a chunk of wavy gold-plated metal weighing a little more than one pound.
"I've waited my whole life for this. Not necessarily the publicity and what comes along with it, but this little guy for sure," Mesler said with a ready smile as he taps the medal lying on the desk.
Although he is powerful in stature, one is instantly at ease when exposed to Mesler's humor, humility and generous spirit. The blue satin ribbon from which the medal hangs is already becoming tattered and the glinting gold is smudged with the fingerprints of countless students. For photographs with the students of City Honors, Mesler removed the medal from his neck to place it in the hands of each beaming and nervous individual. And as the grin on each student's face widened, Mesler's face also brightened, eyes squinted in a broad smile.
The success he now enjoys is one he eagerly shares. While offering his win to the community, the athlete who did not make his high school basketball team reminds his audience: "Don't be afraid to fail." The young man who, in his 1996 senior poll, was voted "most likely to appear on a Wheaties box" -- and as "having the sexiest legs" -- has been able to unite his community in the celebration of a homegrown Buffalo boy's victory.
Aside from the bottomless well of support his parents and friends have been in his life, Mesler also credits the positive environment of his high school and city that helped lay the foundation for his dreams.
"You'll realize [Buffalo] is a great place to grow up," says the current resident of Calgary, Alberta. "I know the feeling of chomping at the bit to get out, but I miss the people in Buffalo and the environment that is Buffalo."
During high school, private coaches nurtured Mesler's natural ability in track and, ultimately, he attended the University of Florida on a track scholarship. In retrospect, the scholar in the City Honors graduate would have preferred to attend one of the academically renowned universities to which he was accepted, such as Harvard, Princeton or Duke. However, Mesler uses the word "regret" lightly. He credits the University of Florida with fostering his athletic drive and considers where he would be if he had not attended the university. "Would I have gotten to the point in my life where I am now?" he ponders. "Probably not."
The attraction to bobsled sprang from the fact that it was "something I could do. I felt like I wasn't quite ready to be done being an athlete yet. I knew I hadn't quite reached my potential," he says.
Regarding sports, work or life in general, Mesler advises that "you're better off just facing your problems."
Since the Olympics, Mesler and his teammates have been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, appeared on the "Today" show, read the Top Ten List on "Late Show With David Letterman" and visited a NASCAR race in Atlanta.
"The fact that our sport has leaked into the national consciousness enough to be put on that kind of pedestal in the sports realm is pretty cool," he says.
Madeleine Burns is a senior at City Honors.