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Pentathlon training grueling, athlete recalls at Olympic Day

by on June 21, 2014 10:54 AM

While the summer Olympics are only held every four years, the theme and ideals of the games can live on in everyone, even during those off years.

In the hope of bringing some Olympic spirit to Indiana County, the first Olympic Day celebration was held Friday at the Human Motion Institute at Indiana Regional Medical Center.

Hosted by staff of both the HMI and IRMC, county residents as well as patients of the HMI attended the red-, white- and blue-colored event.

“The theme is all about showcasing the Olympic movement,” said Tracey Missien, HMI director, “and this is really all about promoting fitness and well-being in addition to the Olympic ideals of sportsmanship, respect, fair play and perseverance.”

The idea to host an Olympic Day originated with Dr. Craig McKirgan, an orthopedic surgeon for the Center of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine at HMI, who volunteers as a physician for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. McKirgan also serves as a volunteer physician for the U.S. Olympic Committee and provided his services at the 1996 games in Atlanta.

“A lot of the medical coverage for our athletes is on a volunteer basis,” McKirgan said. “There are very few that are employed, at least from a professional physician standpoint. We all volunteer our time.”

The star of the event, however, was former pentathlete Sam Sacksen. Sacksen, 28, was born in Tucson, Ariz., but moved to Somerset when he was a child. He was a member of the Rockwood High School track team, and attended the University of Pittsburgh until he was picked up to train in the pentathlon event.

He trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., training that would culminate in his participation in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Sacksen would go on to place 18th.

He planned on participating in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but an ankle injury months before the games ended his Olympic career. He now describes himself as “happily retired from sports.”

Sacksen described how he gave up having a normal life when he decided to become an Olympic athlete. He would train for six to eight hours a day, then do his schoolwork at night at the University of Colorado. This lifestyle left very little free time afterward.

“That was a sacrifice I chose to make to accomplish that goal,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but a lot of times you’re alongside teammates who are also suffering, so that makes it a little easier.”

Sacksen advised anyone who wanted to pursue becoming an Olympic athlete to be ready to sacrifice a lot. “Do you have a life?” he asked. “Prepare to end it.”

He also explained that no one will force you to train, the drive must come from within.

“It’s the ones who are there before the coaches get there and are still there afterward on their own time,” he said. “If you’re willing to do that, there’s no reason you can’t ever get there.”

He said he hoped that Olympic Day will help bring smaller sports, such as the pentathlon, out of the shadows and keep awareness of the Olympics up. “There are more options than just gymnastics and swimming.”

The modern pentathlon was introduced in 1912 and features five events: shooting, fencing, freestyle swimming, equestrianism and a cross country run.

At the conclusion of Sacksen’s presentation, Indiana County Commissioner Mike Baker officially proclaimed “with much appreciation and admiration” June 23 to be Olympic Day in Indiana County.

Olympic Day was introduced in 1948 and is celebrated around the world every June 23, according to the Olympic Movement website. Friday’s event at HMI was one of 35 events in Pennsylvania, and the only event sponsored by a hospital, according to Missien.

“We just decided to take the leap and do it because it’s so close to what we do (at HMI),” she said. “We support it for what work we do here — keeping people moving — and then at the same time, I think it will be something that’s good for the community.”

Missien expects more Olympic Day events in the future with even more activities.

Sacksen says he’s currently studying to become a veterinarian, like his father. He still shoots for fun, and his wife is involved with horses, “so I clean a lot of horse stalls.”

However, his training days are over.

“I’m pretty much enjoying not getting up at 5:30 in the morning to go running,” he said.

Sacksen said he hopes he was able to provide some motivation to those in attendance.

“(I hope) they got a line or two that would encourage them, through a life thing or a sports thing, anything in general that they can use to motivate going forward.”

Jeremy Hartley is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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