Moments after speed skater Eric Flaim took to the ice for his first Olympic competition in Calgary in 1988, he saw the results he had dreamed of since he was a child.
As he looked at the clock following the 1500 meter long track race, Flaim says he remembers thinking to himself, "'Oh, my goodness, I've just skated faster than anyone else ever in history at this distance.'"
Flaim's time in that race was eclipsed by a fellow competitor minutes later, earning him a silver medal for his skate. But after competing in a total of four Olympic Games and winning two silver medals, Flaim says that those minutes after he beat that record still stay with him today.
"It's pretty special," Flaim says. "I will always be able to say that for about 12 minutes I went faster than anyone, because I was beaten by 6/100ths by an East German [Andre Hoffmann] about two races later."
Today, Flaim, the two-time Olympic silver medalist, is established as a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial team Flaim, Chace & Associates based out of Portsmouth, N.H. Flaim began his career as an advisor in 2002 following a stint as a color analyst with NBC that brought him to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games earlier that same year.
That transition to another profession is one that most Olympic competitors face following their athletic careers. Like all athletes, it puts pressure on them to make the most of any wealth that they attain when their physical talents are at their peak. For a select few, like Flaim, it serves as inspiration to become a financial advisor and help other athletes and clients find their financial footing.
This year's summer Olympic games in London is expected to draw a total of 10,500 athletes in 26 different sports including basketball, soccer, gymnastics, swimming, diving and tennis, just to name a few.
Like the previous 47 Olympic Games that came before this year's event, the stories of athletic triumph and failure will dominate the headlines. But the athletes' stories of wealth will play out quietly behind the scenes, from how they fund their Olympic dreams to how they ultimately find a second career.
While growing up in southeastern Massachusetts, Flaim says he was an avid hockey and soccer player who got involved in speed skating by chance. His motivation came while watching speed skater Eric Heiden win five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Flaim was 12-years-old at that time, and watching Heiden's victory immediately convinced him that that's what he wanted to do. Two years later, Flaim moved away from home and his family at the age of 14 to train with a coach in Milwaukee, Wis. Flaim remembers that those early training days were not easy.
"The first year I got out there I got creamed. I was so bad I think I only beat one person," Flaim says. The experience tempted him to quit, but he decided not to give up on his dream that easily.
Two years later, when Flaim was 16, he made the national team as a junior, which Flaim says is one of the happiest moments in his entire competitive life. Nabbing the slot was an accomplishment because there were only three juniors on the team. The achievement meant that Flaim could attend a two-week training camp in Colorado, where he worked with Heiden's coach Dianne Holum, and go to Europe that fall for early season training.
The accomplishment also helped set Flaim's path to the Olympic Games. He was 20-years-old when he competed in the Calgary games, where he won that first silver medal and came in fourth in three other races. He won a second silver medal at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, for speed skating the 5000 meter short track relay. His last time competing at the Olympics came in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, where he carried the American flag in the opening ceremonies.
Flaim built financial support for his speedskating career along the way. When he was first starting out, Flaim says he was lucky his parents could afford to pay for boarding and coaching in Wisconsin. But that also meant plenty of effort on Flaim's part. He regularly made his own lunches. Then, he would walk from the house of the family he was staying with to practice, then to school, then back to practice and finally home in the bitter winter cold. That rigorous schedule helped Flaim develop his work ethic, he says.
Later on when Flaim was in college, he attracted his first sponsor with the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, in part because his father was born in Italy. Other sponsors he had along the way included business owners and brands like Rollerblade and Oakley.
"It became a lot easier once I won a medal in the Olympics to find sponsors," Flaim says.
Having had that experience puts Flaim in a unique position to understand those of his clients who are athletes, he says, which mostly include hockey players and speed skaters.
"The main thing is to think long term," Flaim says. "Even more with athletes, we tend to be very results driven, and we're very much focused in the moment. Trying to get them to think more long term and big picture is key, especially with younger folks."
Flaim decided to become a financial advisor after seeing parallels between the preparation he had to do as an athlete and the financial planning requirements for clients. He still draws from his athletic background, where he visualized positive outcomes for each race.
"You realized how much mentally what you say to yourself becomes what happens to you in life," Flaim says. "It really forces you to be positive. And in this business, what we do, we always should be feeling it's our job to be positive."
The Endurance Connection
When John Stollmeyer was playing on the U.S. soccer team during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, he recalls feeling like it was one more game amid a whirlwind of competitions; instead of the monumental event that it was.
"It's one of those things that as you get older and look back on it, it's more important," says Stollmeyer, now a vice president of investments at Raymond James & Associates based in Indianapolis. The U.S. soccer team in that Olympics lost to the Soviet Union, which ultimately took the gold, followed by Brazil, which earned a silver medal, and West Germany with the bronze.
Stollmeyer began playing soccer while he was growing up in Northern Virginia, where he says the sport was popular at the time. His father was from Trinidad, where soccer is king.
Stollmeyer continued to play soccer through college at Indiana University and later for the Major Indoor Soccer League and the American Professional Soccer League. The experience took him all over the world to 24 different countries. That included the 1981 Youth World Cup in Australia, followed by the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea and ultimately the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.
Stollmeyer then briefly served as an assistant coach at the University of Notre Dame, and went on to work with local Indianapolis companies on fundraising. That was when he met a Smith Barney regional director, who persuaded Stollmeyer to join the firm in 1984. He stayed with that firm until two years ago, when he moved his one-person advisory practice to Raymond James.
While Stollmeyer is not currently working with athlete-clients, he says it is important for advisors to be able to say no to them when necessary and steer them in the right direction.
"One of the things about athletes, even the best ones; deep down they don't really want to be pampered," Stollmeyer says. "They want to be pushed, and I think that if you tell them and teach them the right things, they'll ultimately do it."
Playing soccer taught Stollmeyer to push himself personally, which has helped him in his financial advisory career that he says also requires endurance to be successful.
"When you're training as an athlete, there's a lot of monotonous running, kind of what I call lonely time, where you're on your own," Stollmeyer says. "It's very similar in this business [where] you have to do a lot of little things that don't seem to get a big bump right away, but over time that's when everything starts clicking."
Creating Stepping Stones
"When you play as a professional, there's certain people who root for the New Jersey Devils, and some people that like the Flyers and some people that like the Rangers. But when you're in the Olympics you have everybody in the United States rooting for you," says David Emma, a former ice hockey player.
Now managing director and partner at Naples, Fla.-based practice Masterson, Emma & Associates at HighTower, Emma played in seven leagues and for 14 teams during his hockey career. But he remembers playing for the United States in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France as a different experience altogether.
Emma's Olympic dreams began in 1980 when he was 11-years-old and watched the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team captained by Mike Eruzione win the gold medal in Lake Placid, New York. Emma attended his first Olympic camp when he was 15, and went on to the Junior Olympics, the world championships and other camps where he competed against other top amateurs.
Emma played for Boston College while he was a student there, and for National Hockey League teams including the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers. It was as a professional when Emma first started giving financial advice to younger players and found that he really enjoyed it. Once he retired from hockey in 2001 after 11 years, Emma went on to become a financial advisor full time.
The rigorous training that comes from being a professional athlete has carried over into Emma's career as an advisor. That includes his work ethic, accountability and trustworthiness, he says.
"I never come into this office thinking that there's a bad day," Emma says. "Even when you've had a bad game or an off day, you know you need to show up the next day and forget about it and start over."
Emma considers himself lucky to have experienced his hockey career at a time when it was still possible for amateurs to compete in the Olympics. Today, those Olympic teams for hockey, basketball and baseball consist of the dream teams of handpicked top players from the professional ranks. "The dynamics have changed, the money's changed, the level of wealth has changed, so certainly the advice has changed," Emma says of today's players.
When the Florida Panthers invited Emma to speak to the top 36 prospects from rookie training camp in July, he says he imparted advice on them that was never given to him as a player. He told them to become educated, understand that they need to have ownership of their wealth and that any financial advisor they work with should show them both the possible positive and negative outcomes of an investment decision.
"I want their career to be a stepping stone to bigger and better things in life," Emma says of his athlete-clients, who also include golfers in addition to hockey players. "It's important for guys to understand that they really need to take care of the money they earn, protect it, and that their career outside of their sport is going to be far greater than their career inside their sport."
Coaching the Coaches
Helping an athlete-client through a second career was exactly what John McCardell, senior vice president of wealth management and senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, set out to do when he that learned basketball star turned coach Dawn Staley was moving to his area.
Staley was already a three-time Olympic gold medalist when she accepted a new position coaching for the University of South Carolina's women's basketball team. She came to that position in 2008 from her coaching position at Temple University in Philadelphia.
It was then that McCardell and his Columbia, S.C.-based team, and his team, Ellison Kibler & Associates, began wooing Staley and ultimately landed her as a client. Her position at Temple, together with some National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearances, had boosted her profile as a coach and helped land her new position. Together, McCardell and Staley set out to work together to secure the longevity of her wealth.
The difference has been life changing, says Staley, who came from a humble financial background growing up. The most notable difference is having the ability to go to one source to view all of her income, she says. Working with McCardell's team also opened her eyes to all of the financial opportunities available to her.
"The way I look at it is I know basketball, not finance," Staley says. "I realized sooner or later that I needed the assistance of an expert in finance so that I could reap the benefits of my basketball success later in life."
Working with coaches presents some unique challenges for McCardell's practice, he says. Often coaches earn a salary plus supplemental consulting agreements, which enables universities to pay them large sums of money, and is a pay structure advisors must take into consideration. Compared to the Wall Street executives McCardell's team also works with, coaches rely much more on them for financial information. But like those executives, their stakes are also high.
"The thing about it is you're the hero one day, and the next day you walk in with a pink slip," McCardell says. Both Staley and her advisors have worked together to create a sense of financial security. McCardell and his team have provided Staley with conservative growth without taking a lot of market risk, while Staley has put aside what she promised to save. "The way I've seen her portfolio change is she's putting herself in that position to be financially independent at an earlier age than originally anticipated," McCardell says.
Athletes who are Olympic hopefuls also need help finding their way financially, something that Van Pearcy, president of Van Pearcy's Wealth Services Team at Raymond James Financial Services, knows well.
Pearcy, whose office is based in Midland, Texas, provides pro bono services to a couple of track and field athletes who took part in the Olympic trials this summer. One of those athletes made it to the finals, but neither were able to place in the top three. That leaves them with a choice, Pearcy says; as both are young enough to continue on to try again in four years.
But the athletes' schedules are often grueling. Many work an eight-hour day to provide for themselves financially, fitting in practice around their work hours. Pearcy, who was a track and field athlete through college, says he remembers when he had to rely on donations to attend national events. He tries to help athletes now by providing encouragement, some financial donations and introductions to the right people who may also provide financial assistance. "Somebody did it for me, and so I feel like it's something that you need to do to give back to somebody that has that opportunity," Pearcy says.
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