CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Feb. 13, 2006ᾰThe start of the Winter Olympics 2006 on Friday in Turino, Italy, conjures up images of professional skiers zipping down mountain slopes at speeds of 70 miles per hour. Dr. Ed Leoni, professor in the department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation at Southeast Missouri State University, and an avid skier, understands the dedication needed to become an Olympic champion.
“Like any other sport, the Olympics require dedication from athletes,” Leoni said. “An Olympic skier has dedicated his or her entire life to the sport, usually starting at age three, and continuing past their college career. This dedication usually eliminates a lot of the social interaction most Southeast students experience on campus.”
The time and dedication it takes to become a professional skier are traits to which Leoni likes to expose his students. For the past 26 years, Leoni has traveled out West with a group of 12 or more Southeast students and two instructors during the winter or spring break to teach them how to ski. By taking students to the slopes, Leoni says he hopes to expose them to a culture and a way of life he could never bring into a classroom.
“Learning is more than just teaching in front of a classroom full of students,” he said. “It means exposing these students to other cultures and the majesty of the mountains as a means to help them understand the paradigm between the mind and the body. This especially holds true for the international students who go on these trips.”
Leoni says the trips help provide his students a new dimension in the classroom.
“I can see a difference in how the students interact with me and with each other because of the cohesion they develop through the intense physical and mental challenges of these trips,” he said. “There is a healthier environment because students are not afraid to ask questions or approach me outside of the classroom.”
The same cohesion and dedication Leoni sees in the students he takes on the ski trips is the same type athletes have, whether it is at the collegiate or Olympic level.
“Olympic trainees in college must possess the drive to succeed in the sport,” Leoni explained. “It is a person’s drive that provides them the ability to balance their training responsibilities with their educational obligations and I see this in our student athletes here on campus.”
Olympic athletes at the college level experience a different side of higher education. Leoni says college students training for the Olympics are not allowed to participate in intercollegiate athletics because of their involvement in a professional sport. He also says Olympic athletes have to move to locations where they can train every day of the year, whether it is spring, summer or winter.
“Becoming a professional skier not only means an individual must sacrifice their social calendar, but it also means changing one’s lifestyle,” Leoni said.