By Marisa Petrich, Northwest GuardianFebruary 24, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Feb. 24, 2011 -- The thought of standing in the middle of a packed stadium and listening to the roar of cheering fans is not an uncommon fantasy. Maj. Mike Mai, commander of the 9th Financial Management Company at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has actually been there.
It was at the 2009 International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Berlin. Mai, a hammer thrower, stepped into the circle moments after a German competitor had hit the automatic qualifier for the finals. The crowd hadn't yet settled down as he prepared for his turn.
"That, I would say, was one of the moments I can definitely remember," Mai said. "When you've got 50- to 60,000 people cheering and you're getting in there - and you're getting ready for your throw."
Mai fell short of finals, but the cheers led him to his best throw that day. Being at the World Championships in Berlin is not only story-worthy sports accomplishment, however, and hopes are high that it won't be his last.
On Saturday, he's competing in the 2011 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, and in April he's moving to San Jose, Calif. for his third tour in the Army World Class Athlete Program to train for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
Mai's been in the program to train for trials twice before.
"We're hoping the third time's the charm," WCAP Sports Specialist Mark Dunivan said.
The World Class Athlete Program allows Soldiers who are also elite athletes to train for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Based in Fort Carson, Colo., the program currently has 60 Soldier-athletes training in 14 different sports.
"We're not going to take the average runner, the average boxer or wrestler," Dunivan said.
To even qualify for the program contenders must demonstrate that they have a pretty good shot at the Olympics already. But if assigned to WCAP, the Soldier's main mission becomes athletic training.
"The biggest benefit for a Soldier-athlete is time," Dunivan said. "It's hard to work at a job during the daytime and only train part time."
Time is something that Mai doesn't seem to have a lot of.
In addition to his duties as commander, he's been competing in the indoor weight throw (as opposed to the outdoor hammer throw). He trains during physical training and on weekends, and any other time he can spare. He also competes around the country, getting feedback by sending video clips to his coach, Dave Swan, in San Jose.
As if that weren't enough, his fiancee, women's high jumper Deirdre Mullen, lives in New Jersey.
The constant traveling can definitely take a toll, Mai said, but it's a bit easier to cope with the schedule when you've been doing it as long as he has. He started as a sophomore at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 2000. He's been working with Swan for nearly a decade now.
"You know, over the years you get into rhythm that you've kind of established all these neural patterns and you know which ones you need to break, and form new ones. And that's what you just work on over time," Mai said. "But yeah, I just work long hours and go home and eat and go to sleep and do it again the next day, and then on the weekends I get my long (training) sessions in."
It's a level of dedication that he's known for. If anything, he can be too driven.
"You always look at your athletes, and some need to be pushed and some need to be guarded against themselves," Swan said.
Mai is the kind that needs to be told to take a break once in a while.
After last year's Nationals he took about a month and a half off due to tendonitis. Once he got back to training he focused on strength training. Now Mai thinks he's as strong as he's been since 2006.
He's also been doing some more indoor meets this year.
"Even though the weight throw indoors is a little bit different than outdoors, the hammer, it'll still benefit me," Mai said.
At this point in the season, Mai's winding down his of his training so he can rest up and focus on the quality of his throws. After nationals, he'll be honing in on a different goal - the 2012 Olympics.