Olympic spirits lives on
October 22, 2009
Hidden on the last line of what is otherwise an ordinary bio of a not so ordinary person are seven words that often go unnoticed but tell an interesting story.
A member of the 1984 Olympics team, Brig. Gen. Camille M. Nichols, commander of the Expeditionary Contracting Command, Fort Belvoir, Va., added that trinket of information to her bio recently for a few reasons.
"I had been to many different ceremonies and seen bios, so I thought I would put that tagline on my bio, so I could see if I would get questions to see if people actually read it. I was surprised because it does catch their interest," said Nichols who served as a manager and assistant coach for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Women's Handball Team. "I actually just started putting that on about five years ago; it was related to my moving around a lot, I was taking plaques out of boxes and I found my 1984 Olympic Certificate, and I realized I was really proud of it and it is a part of who I am today and that I should show that off."
As a West Point freshman, Nichols injured her knee so her aspirations of playing on the women's basketball team were no longer obtainable. Looking around for something to keep herself involved in sports, she wandered into a gym and saw women playing an interesting looking game she wasn't familiar with. It was women's handball.
Nichols' involvement increased the more time she spent around the sport. She went from playing to managing when the US Team Handball Federation asked her to manage the men and women National handball teams. The major challenge of serving as the manager was geographical. Nichols was stationed in Kentucky and the teams were located in New Jersey.
Interested in the opportunity, Nichols approached her leadership, not expecting much, and asked if she could considered for a reassignment to Fort Dix, N.J. to work with the teams. Because of the limited positions for female engineers at Fort Knox, the Army thought the transfer would be best for her career, so off she went to New Jersey.
Reassigned to a position in the Garden State, Nichols found her evenings pretty busy coaching the federation's men and women teams after her duty day. A year later, the federation asked her to manage the women's national team and be the third assistant coach.
Nichols believed she was offered the position because of her leadership skills, ability to gain respect and maintain order, as well as her insight into the game. As manager, she would spend the next six months travelling with the team. That meant through training camp and the Olympics.
"It was first the time women's handball was in the Olympics. The team won one game of out of six," said Nichols who spent her time with the team as part of the Army's Elite Athletes Program. "To be fair, that's better than we expected because it was a very young sport in the United States."
Being around world class athletes, Nichols began noticing similarities between the athletes and her fellow Soldiers.
"Elite athletes are just phenomenal. Their focus on everything from routines during the day, how much sleep they get, their food intake, their technical skills and going the extra mile to keep that competitive spirit.
"It's the kind of drive I see in our Soldiers. Like those Olympic athletes, Soldiers are constantly working hard to hone their skills, both technically and as a Warfighter," she said.
This year marked the team's 25th anniversary and they celebrated with a reunion. Unable to attend physically, Nichols placed a call to connect with those she spent time with in 1984 pursuing a dream.
"It's something I will cherish forever. Sports, especially for women, help you grow in your individuality as well as into your confidence to do things," she said.