The Buffalo News polled sports staffers as to the top 10 male and female athletes from Western New York. Here’s No. 10 among men:
Name: Steve Mesler
Sports: Bobsled, Track and Field
High School: City Honors
Born: Aug. 28, 1978
Career overview: Steve Mesler was a track-and-field prodigy who earned a scholarship to the University of Florida. He competed as a decathlete before a shoulder injury ended his track career. While surfing the Internet, he stumbled across an advertisement from the U.S. bobsled team looking for push athletes. His size, strength and speed made him an ideal candidate, and he landed a spot as an alternate for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City while also racing on the World Cup circuit. In 2006, his four-man team placed seventh in Turin, Italy. Four years later, in Vancouver, he helped the United States win Olympic gold in four-man for the first time in 62 years.
“It was for my parents who had done everything – everything – for 31 years of my life,” Mesler told The Buffalo News after coming off the track. “It was for a city that is so proud of people who come from there. I hope that Buffalo is proud. I can’t wait to get back there. I can’t wait to share it with the entire community.”
Memorable moment: Mesler was furious after finishing seventh in the 2006 Olympics and vowed he would be back in four years. He had already spent five years living near poverty level but refused to leave the sport in exchange for a stable income. Instead, he poured every penny he earned into expenses that came with his sport.
“It’s not a nightmare, but it’s a terrible, terrible, awful disappointment. There was nothing else to do here but medal,” Mesler said in Turin. “We had 14 days to suffer and agonize and watch our countrymen go out there one by one on the chopping block. Today was our day. I would love to say we succeeded, but we didn’t. We failed.
“I was so looking forward to come back and show something off. Now I’m going to have to wait four years. It’s going to be a long, long wait. I’m not going to forget this feeling. It’s a God-awful, miserable feeling.”
Youth: Mesler competed on a national level in track and field while growing up in Buffalo and dreamed about becoming an Olympian. However, it was always with the Summer Games in mind rather than the Winter Games. He held six records for track and field at City Honors and was a second-team All-Western New York soccer player before going to Florida.
Classroom Champion: Mesler’s parents were teachers in Buffalo Public Schools and handed their passion for education to their children while living on Bird Avenue on the West Side. A year before he won gold, Mesler founded Classroom Champions with his sister, Dr. Leigh Mesler Parise.
The international organization’s mission is connecting athletes with children around the world through video lessons and live video chats designed to encourage kids to reach for the stars and maximize their potential. The athletes serve as mentors for kids from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Classroom Champions has been recognized for its work by the White House and numerous organizations abroad.
“Too often we put our people doing amazing things … on pedestals … making their feats seem almost superhuman,” Mesler said. “We bring people off of those pedestals and make students realize these people are just like them. With this, a strong relationship is formed.”
TV topics: Mesler taught himself to speak German while traveling across Europe during his time in the World Cup and has worked as a commentator for various bobsled events. In the months leading into the 2010 Olympics, he gave up his seat to Stephen Colbert for a segment on Comedy Central. Colbert said he was “screaming like a girl” while his head slammed against the sled, making him feel “like I was the Liberty Bell.”
Said Colbert at the time to the Associated Press: “I have some terrible news. I can’t wait to go to Vancouver and be on the Olympic team. It’s going to be hard to tell Mesler. Is he emotionally frail?”
Post career: Mesler has lived in Calgary since 2003, where he first immersed himself in training for the bobsled. He spends much of his time traveling while running Classroom Champions. He’s also a business consultant and motivational speaker addressing numerous companies and universities around the world.