Michal Smolen – Canoe Slalom

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • 2019 NHK Cup: 1st
  • 2019 Oceania Championships: 1st
  • 2017 Oceania Championships: 1st
  • 2016 World Cup No. 5: 9th
  • 2016 World Cup No. 4: 10th
  • 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion
  • 2015 World Championships: Bronze
  • 2015 Pan American Games: Gold
  • 2015 U.S. National Team Trials: 1st in K1 and 3rd in C2 
  • 2014 World Cup No. 3: Bronze 
  • 2014 U-23 World Champion
  • 2012 U.S. National Champion
  • 2012 U-23 World Championships: 5th 
  • 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials: 2nd
  • 2010 Junior World Championships: 4th 

Background

Michal Smolen’s Olympic dreams started early, as both of his parents were part of the Polish National Team, his father for kayaking and his mother for team handball, but fell just short of the Games. He was born and raised in Krakow, Poland where he lived until he was 10 years old before moving to the United States. 

While Michal was growing up, he desperately wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps in his love for kayaking, unfortunately Michal had a fear of the water. In an attempt to get over his fear, he took up swimming, as he felt he was more in control. As he became more comfortable, he started training as a competitive swimmer. Training and discipline became an everyday routine and he slowly fell out of love with swimming and decided to give kayaking another try. This time his fear had vanished and he became completely captivated by becoming the best kayaker he could be. This is when Michal was faced with his next challenge. 

One morning Michal woke up in the hospital and was told he had endured a seizure in his sleep the evening before. Soon after this incident he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Over the next few years, Michal faced many new challenges with his health conditions, but was thankfully able to continue competing. Three years later, at the age of 16, Michal was racing in his first Junior World Championships in Foix, France. He came up just short of the podium, but this motivated him to work even harder and showed him that he was in contention with the best of the best. 

Michal was becoming competitive with the best kayakers in the country and won the 2011 U.S. National Championships. However, Michal’s US Citizenship had not yet been passed, therefore he was unable to race in 2011 and in turn unable to go out for the 2012 Olympic Team. Again, this did not discourage Michal’s Olympic dream, as he officially became an American citizen in 2013 and began competing with the U.S. National team. 

He represented Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games in the single kayak, and has only continued to grow as an athlete since, competing in international competitions in preparation for Tokyo 2021. 

Facebook: Michal Smolen            Instagram: @instapaddler        Twitter: @michalsmolen

AJ Edelman – Olympic Bobsled and Skeleton

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • Created “BobTeam Israel”, targeting to create Israel’s first Winter Olympic Medal
  • Forbes 30 Under 30, Europe 2021
  • 4x Israeli National Skeleton Champion
  • 2018 Olympian, first Orthodox Jew to compete in Winter Olympics
  • 2x international IBSF medalist
  • Currently pursuing Yale School of Management M.B.A (2023)
  • 2014 MIT, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

BIO

AJ Edelman (March 14, 1991) is an American-Israeli four-time national skeleton champion and 2018 Olympian, currently fielding a 4-man bobsled team that he intends to pilot in Beijing 2022.

Edelman was born in Boston, MA and raised in a Jewish, Modern Orthodox home. Edelman started his sporting career at age 3 as a hockey player, eventually playing for his hometown team through high school. His hockey career continued through his time at MIT, and ended after he turned down an offer to join the Israeli national team.

In 2013, Edelman decided that he wanted to pursue a goal to empower Jewish and Israeli youth to break the self-fulfilling vicious cycle of abandoning elite sport dreams by starting a foundation to provide resources/coaching to youth in need from those communities. He believed the best way to attain a platform to speak on these issues was to make an impact at the elite level of sport, qualifying Israel for the Olympics in a sliding sport. On March 14, 2014, Edelman was given a scouting report at the Lake Placid skeleton school that he would “never be competitive…not what we’d call athletic” and would “get down the track but that’ll be the most of it.” Edelman’s complete inability to sprint at an elite level, scoliosis (preventing effective stabilization on his sled,) was considered effective death-sentences to his chances. Upon hearing the report Edelman decided to pursue Olympic qualification in skeleton, resolving that it would be his life’s mission for at least the next 2,884 days (the time in which remained until Beijing ’22) to qualify Israel for the Olympics in skeleton.

Edelman was self-funded and could not afford a coach. He self-coached by watching 10-12 hours of YouTube World Cup footage daily and took on average 2-3 times the daily training-run volume of a typical skeleton athlete. Throughout his journey, Edelman established a number of traditions including that of having an Israeli athlete light Hannukah candles at the Koenigssee bobsled track each season. Edelman qualified for PyeongChang 2018 by securing back-to-back medals in his final two qualification races. He is the first Orthodox Jew to compete in a Winter Games, the first Orthodox Jewish male to do so in any modern Olympic iteration. Edelman competed in two World Championships representing Israel, and retired from skeleton as Israel’s most decorated slider, winning four Israeli national titles and two medals in IBSF-sanctioned international competition, the most of any Israeli sliding sport athletes.

In April, 2020 Edelman took a leave of absence from the MBA program at Yale School of Management to found, manage, and compete as part of “Operation Medal ’26,” an effort to build Israel’s bobsled program to medal contention at the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. OM26 seeks to field both men’s and women’s teams, a first in Israeli Bobsled history, under the collective team name “BobTeam Israel”. BobTeam Israel has representation of Israeli Arabs, Jews, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Additionally, Edelman has said he is a supporter of anti-bullying and mental health initiatives, and that his motivation for continuing in sport is largely a desire “to use my Olympic journey as a platform to promote further Jewish and Israeli involvement in sport.” As member of the LGBT community, Edelman also takes the opportunity to talk to students and young adults who approach him with questions of how he has dealt with his personal identity as both a private and public individual.

Alec Yoder – Gymnast

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • 2020 Tokyo Olympian USAG Men’s Team Specialist (Pommel)
  • 2020 Winter Cup Pommel Horse Champion
  • 2-time Ohio State University Men’s Gymnastics Team Captain
  • 2019 NCAA Pommel Horse National Champion
  • 2018 USA Pommel Horse National Champion
  • 2018 World Team Member (4th place team finish)
  • 2018 Winter Cup: Pommel Horse Champion, Parallel Bars Silver
  • 2018 Doha World Cup Bronze Medalist
  • 5-time Big Ten Silver medalist (All around, Pommel Horse, Parallel Bars)
  • 2-time Big Ten Gold medalist (Pommel Horse)
  • 2-time Big Ten All-Around Silver medalist
  • 2018 NCAA All-Around Bronze medalist
  • 2016 & 2017 Member of the Big Ten Ohio State Winning Team
  • National Team Member (2013-2015 and 2017-2019/present)
  • 2014 Youth Olympic All-Around Bronze medalist
  • 2014 Pacific Rim Championships All-Around Silver medalist

BACKGROUND

Alec got his start in gymnastics like many others, at the age of four in “mommy and me” classes to channel his energy in a positive way. He fell in love with the sport and quickly showed potential.

Starting his elite career in 2013, Alec qualified to be a member of the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team where he began competing internationally. Between 2013 and 2014 he had won a multitude of international medals and was chosen by the United States Olympic Committee to represent the USA at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, where he returned home with an All-Around Bronze medal.

In 2015, Alec qualified to the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team, in which he is still a current member. The U.S. Men’s National Team came home with a 4th place finish at the 2018 World Championships, the highest finish since 2014.

Receiving a full ride scholarship from the Ohio State University in 2015, Alec has been a rock-solid member of their team throughout his college career. A shoulder injury sidelined him in 2016, also causing him to miss out the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. He credits his injury to teaching him patience and persistence and reminding him of his love for the sport of gymnastics.

Most recently, Alec has completed his extremely successful NCAA career and competed in 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as the individual specialist on Pommel Horse.

Outside of the gym, Alec is passionate about his faith and family. His family includes his Mom, Dad, older brother, and younger sister. Alec loves traveling, experiencing new cultures and collecting mementos along the way.  

Laurie Hernandez- Gymnast

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • NBC and Peacock Contributor for Tokyo 2020ne Olympic Games 
  • 2-Time New York Times Best Selling Author
  • 2020 Roberto Clemente Award for Sports Excellence (Unidos)
  • 2020 Rose Bowl Parade Grand Marshall
  • 2019 New Jersey Hall of Fame Inductee
  • “Dancing with the Stars” Tour
  • Season 23 Dancing With the Stars Champion
  • 2017 Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Favorite Newcomer
  • 2016 Olympic Silver Medalist (Individual Beam)
  • 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist (Team)
  • 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials: All-Around Silver; Beam Gold; Floor Bronze
  • 2016 National Championships: All-Around Bronze; Floor Bronze; Beam Bronze; Uneven Bar Bronze
  • 2016 Pac Rim Championships: Team Gold; All-Around Bronze
  • 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy: Team Gold; All-Around Bronze; Beam Gold; Vault Silver
  • 2015 Junior National Champion
  • 2015 U.S. Classic Champion
  • 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy: Junior All-Around Champion; Uneven Bar Gold; Floor Gold
  • 2015 International Junior Japan Meet: All-Around Champion, Vault Gold, Floor Exercise Gold, Uneven Bar Silver, Beam Silver

BACKGROUND 

Laurie is known for her dazzling floor exercise routine where she has been nicknamed the “human emoji” for her outgoing facial expressions and for her grace and artistry on the balance beam.

Since bringing home the Gold and Silver medals at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Laurie has gone on to win the coveted Mirror ball trophy on “Dancing with the Stars” Season 23 and her first book titled “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond” chronicling her journey thus far was published in 2017, hitting the New York Times Best Sellers list. In 2018, she released a children’s picture book “She’s Got This” with Harper Collins Children’s Books, also a New York Times Best Seller, while serving as a Literacy Champion to promote readership as a path to leadership, and Mattel created a Laurie Hernandez “Shero” Barbie to honor her.

She is a second generation American, as her grandparents are from Puerto Rico, making her the first U.S. born Latina to make the U.S. team since 1984. After an injury prevented her from competing in the 2021 Olympic Trials, Laurie leaped to pursue one of her other passions – acting – as an analyst for Peacock and NBC. 

When not in the gym, Laurie enjoys spending time with her family. Having done cameos, voiceovers, and co-hosted American Ninja Warrior Junior, Laurie hopes to go to college in the coming years to hone her artistic abilities.   She travels the country speaking to the next generation about following your dreams and embracing who you are. She is also a fierce advocate for the importance of Mental Health and has partnered with multiple philanthropic campaigns and initiatives to encourage awareness. 

Order Laurie’s book here: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062677310/i-got-this