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MMA Submission: Heath Herring’s Development

July 10, 2010

By Ryan Hockensmith (original article)

He took that loss to Lesnar pretty hard, but an overseas tour helped him out.

He's been in 43 MMA fights. He's won most (28) of them. He's had a few brutal losses. But Heath Herring took his August loss to Brock Lesnar harder than any other. From the opening minute of the 15-minute bout, Lesnar controlled Herring. Everybody knew Lesnar had a big advantage on the ground, but nobody thought he could work in so many strikes on Herring.


Ambassadors of Hollywood Tour Southwest Asia

October 18, 2009

Story by Lakia Clarke-Brown (original article)

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – Five television and film stars completed a Pro Sports MVP Ambassadors of Hollywood support tour in Southwest Asia at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, Oct. 18. Vanessa Branch, Kelly Carlson, Greg Germann, D.W. Moffett and DeAnna Pappas traveled to military installations in the Middle East to show their appreciation for deployed sevice members.


Nixon Gets Better Grasp Of War in Trip to Iraq

October 14, 2009

By Chuck Carree (original article)

When Trot Nixon informed people he was going to Iraq in September, they were suspicious. They sheepishly asked if he were enlisting. He politely replied no. Instead, Nixon, the former New Hanover High School and ex-Major League Baseball outfielder, went into the war zone during a trip organized by Pro Sports MVP, a sports and entertainment marketing firm. He and former major league pitchers Jeff Nelson and Andy Ashby spent 12 days touring the U.S. troops. The players were dubbed “Heroes of the Diamond,” on a tour of numerous bases in Iraq and Kuwait.


The Need to Be Flexible

October 1, 2009

When recruiting celebrities for your events, creative thinking can lead to a perfect match

As anybody who works in the sports-event industry knows, there are many times the old adage, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” comes into play. But how much better is it to take the same situation and apply the old familiar saw “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” instead? Whether it's in marketing, event management or the world of celebrity relations, being prepared and on top of things also means being flexible, adaptable and creative when new and better opportunities present themselves. And this strategy includes the times when you're combining all three— such as the marketing of your sports event by incorporating a celebrity appearance into it. Here are some key points for event organizers looking to incorporate a celebrity into their sport event, tour or program...


Camp Taji Stomps the Stigma

September 12, 2009

By Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr (original article)

Led by actors Joe Pantoliano and Lisa Jay, and Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Irvin, service members from across Camp Taji, Iraq, gathered together Sept. 4 to stomp out the stigma attached to mental illness. The trio came to Camp Taji as part of "Stomp the Stigma," a 12-day tour of American bases in Iraq designed to erase the social stigma attached to mental illnesses such as depression and PTSD by discussing them opening, thus making it easier for service members to seek help.


Golf Tour for Goodwill – Local teaching pro takes game to U.S. military bases in Iraq

October 7, 2007

By Jesse Smithey

To Suzanne Strudwick, Iraq was one big dusty driving range.

And from the moment she stepped onto the foreign land, she knew she wouldn’t have the plushy grass comforts she has enjoyed as a teaching professional at Fairways & Greens Learning Facility in West Knoxville.

"We could just set up anywhere," she said. "Any piece of dirt. We took in clubs, mats. Callaway donated golf balls for us. We would just set up outside and start hitting balls.

"They just loved it, absolutely loved it."

"They" were the U.S. military service men and women at some 15 bases with whom Strudwick, PGA Tour players Carl Paulson and Jim Carter and Futures Tour player Molly Fankhauser visited over a 10-day stretch in September. They introduced and instructed golf to those who had never swung a club to those who played regularly when home — taking the soldiers’ minds off their jobs for a few hours. Pro Sports MVP, through its contract with the military, organized the goodwill tour just as it previously did with NBA and NFL players, NASCAR drivers and even professional wrestlers.

"They felt it would be good to have somebody that had played the Tour to have some name recognition," said Strudwick, the 1993 LPGA Tour rookie of the year, "but who was now a teacher, so they could do the clinics and exhibitions over there. I jumped at the chance and thought it would be absolutely fantastic to go over there."

Most celebrities visit just two, maybe three, of the larger military bases, but Strudwick’s group went grassroots, traveling to the four corners of Iraq to smaller, more remote bases that hadn’t seen outsiders in two or more years. They discovered utmost patriotism each stop.

"It was very inspiring to go to the smaller bases and entertain them for three or four hours, interacting with them and giving them lessons," said Strudwick, a native of England. "The guys over there, the men and women service people, were incredible and 100 percent very professional, couldn’t have been nicer, just totally dedicated to what they’re doing.

"They believe in what they’re doing. I didn’t speak to one service person that was angry or upset or didn’t fully understand what was at stake and what they’re doing.

"They all said, ‘If we weren’t here, we’d be fighting this war on American soil.’ None of them wanted that."

Behind the camo, hand salutes and love of country also were some pretty decent golf swings — and some not-so-good ones. That was to be expected, though; some hadn’t hit a ball in more than a year.

"There was a big mixture (of talent)," said Strudwick. "It was great how everybody participated whether they had played or not. … It was fun to introduce golf to those who had never played. Because when they go home, they said golf is so cheap for them because of the military discount and lot of them were like, ‘I want to take this up when I get home.’ "

Strudwick said the servicemen’s 12-month tour of duty recently was increased to 15 months, so their homes will continue to be cargo containers, the kind you see being trucked down I-40. Most house five or six soldiers. All have air conditioning units in them but not much privacy.

"Everyone sleeps in the same cargo containers over there," she said. "If you’re lucky, there’s only two of you in there, two or three. It’s very basic, but they’re most protected. They got concrete walls around them everywhere.

"There’s nothing pretty out there at all. It’s all concrete walls and dust."

Strudwick would know. She aerially saw the entire country from a few hundred feet up, short-iron shot distance. The group was flown to every base by Blackhawk helicopters, equipped with a gunner on each side.

"When you’re traveling around the country, you get a really good idea of what it looks like," she said. "I’d say about 80 percent of Iraq is desert and mud huts and sheepherders. They probably live the same way they did 2,000 years ago."

Strudwick said she left the United States on Sept. 15 and that nothing was released to the public or media about the trip.

"Nothing at all," she said. "It was kept very quiet because of where we were going.

"We could have been targets."

Turned out, they were. Once.

The day they left Baghdad for the last time, they were fired upon. The shot fell some 15,000 feet short of their C-130 transport plane, but to Strudwick, a golfer, that discrepancy was equivalent to a lip-out.

"It was very noisy, very loud," she said. "Kaboom! And then there were lots of lights and the pilot took it into evasive action: he went sideways and made the plane a smaller target and sent off a bunch of flares to detect the other (fires) on their way up.

"That was a little scary for a couple of minutes. I must admit, I though, ‘OK. This is it.’ But they knew what they were doing, so we were fine."

Strudwick brought back with her more indelible images, memories and lingo — she called mess halls ‘D-Facs,’ military code for dining facilities. She visited Tikrit, the birthplace and burial place of Saddam Hussein, and she saw the Olympic training soccer field where Saddam’s son Uday had the soccer team executed.

She met Gen. David Petraeus and stayed at Camp Victory, where President Bush stays when in Iraq. She also learned of how the Baskin Robbins ice cream truck coming in from Turkey was the most protected convoy because of the morale boost the ice cream generated.

She said she won’t forget the soldier they visited in the Baghdad hospital who had just come out of surgery after being hit with shrapnel and couldn’t remember what happened to him or his fallen friend. Nor could she forget the lack of privacy she experienced for 10 days, dining with thousands, going to the bathroom with armed bodyguards or entering a cargo container filled with 12 AT&T telephone stations that were all occupied.

And she’d do it all again, anything to encourage those who sacrifice the cushy life to protect her freedom.

"I think we’ll be going back again next year," she said. "I think we’ll be, hopefully, taking more LPGA Tour players who are a little bit better known. I’d love to take somebody like Natalie Gulbis who can put on a little bit more of a show.

"They’re used to more famous people coming in. … It would be fun to take in somebody they recognize more but to also have that interaction. But we all said we’d love to go back — absolutely."

Super Sunday Tour – Featuring Former Redskin Mark Moseley

February 3, 2004

By Ivana Avramovic (original article)

Local Company Brings Celebrities to U.S. Troops

July 1, 2003

By Paul Beebe

A Colorado Springs sports and entertainment marketing firm is embarking on a troop-supporting tour of U.S. bases overseas to celebrate the military’s victories in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition to military tours, Pro Sports Marketing Ventures and Promotions handles publicity for sports greats such as Alfonso Soriano.

Celebrities on the tour include "Joe Millionaire" Evan Marriott, former "Baywatch" TV star Gena Lee Nolin, NASCAR racing legend Bobby Allison, Miller Light "cat-fighting girls" Kitana Baker and Tanya Ballinger and Fox Sports Net anchor Lisa Guerrero. The stars hobnob with peacekeepers stationed abroad.

Pro Sports MVP organized the three-day event with financing from the Defense Department, company president David Chavez said Monday.

"It’s a stellar line-up. It’s going to appeal to everybody there, one way or another," Chavez said.

The tour begins tonight, after the cast arrives from several parts of the globe. They’ll split into two groups: Catfighters Baker and Ballinger and NASCAR’s Allison will visit soldiers at camps in one region and "Millionaire" Marriott, Nolin and sportscaster Guerrero will chat up soldiers at another location.

"It’s up to the installation what they want them to do," Chavez said. "It’s primarily to meet and greet, sign autographs, pose for photos. There will be some question-and-answer session. They’ll walk around, talk, and attend picnics or celebrations."

Pro Sports MVP has done numerous tours for all branches of the military since the company was established in 1998 by Chavez and brothers Jim and Mark Morley, real estate developers in the Springs.

The company is privately held, so it does not have to report revenues. "Let’s say over the past 4½ years we’ve generated several million in gross revenue," Chavez said. "It’s steadily growing."

"David has incredible access to the sports and entertainment world and is willing to make any call to any celebrity or sports figure to ask any question for service that you could possibly dream up," a special events and entertainment coordinator for the U.S. Navy. She added “He actually called (Microsoft founder) Bill Gates’ folks and (golf ace) Tiger Woods’ folks on our behalf last year."

The firm has had success in more than arranging overseas tours.

In April, Pro Sports MVP was hired to manage the marketing and promotional rights for New York Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano hit .300 with 39 home runs, 102 runs batted in and 41 stolen bases last year. Less than halfway through this season, Soriano is hitting .292. He’s racked up 21 home runs, 48 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.

Chavez, 42, originally from Tucson, Ariz., came to sports marketing through the back door. He worked for 15 years as a clubhouse manager for minor league teams in Des Moines, Iowa; Denver and Tucson, hoping eventually to reach the major leagues.

He met the Morleys in the late 1980s when the two were starting a senior league for former major league players.

Chavez worked for the Morleys’ baseball team in St. Petersburg, Fla., until the league folded in 1990. He moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked for now-defunct International Sports Marketing in the 1990s. "I’d be involved in player negotiations, which is where I got involved with Larry Bird, Gordie Howe, George Brett and Bart Starr," Chavez said.

"When a deal would come in, I’d call the players, handle the negotiations, and convince the personalities to participate in the project, " he said. "I’d cut the deal and sell the contract to the celebrity."

In 1998, he agreed to set up Pro Sports MVP with the Morleys. The company creates sports and celebrity-themed promotions and events. In November, Chavez will stage a convention in San Francisco for the National Association of Realtors. "The Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson and former baseball great Bill Walton may be the headliners.

"We’ve got over 1,000 celebrities we’ve worked with or discussed opportunities with," Chavez said. "With the majority, we have marketing service agreements, not exclusive, but it gives us the opportunity to utilize their name and likeness in an effort to bring them opportunities."

In marketing, the ability to communicate is a key asset, and Chavez has it in abundance, said Daniel Seifried, president of M-Pact Partners Inc. in Hawaii, a marketing firm. Chavez "is an over-communicator, which is great. It makes you comfortable," Seifried said.

Taking Shows to Troops Abroad a Tradition

In World War I soldiers are offered a taste of home by the YMCA, which provides recreation, music, fellowship and canteens.

During World War II, Bob Hope does radio broadcasts as part of his "Pepsodent Show." He takes the show on the road in 1941. At Christmas 1948, a tradition — "Camp Shows" — is born when he gathers entertainers and Hollywood notables and takes Christmas to the troops in Germany as part of the Berlin Airlift.

Along for the shows are Al Jolson, Mickey Rooney, Jack Benny, Errol Flynn and Danny Kay.

The USO’s Camp Shows Inc. picks up the Hope tradition and produces 5,400 shows throughout Korea during the conflict. There are 126 entertainment units producing at least one show per day somewhere in the country.

Celebrities who served as morale raisers included many of those from Hope’s World War II tours as well as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Debbie Reynolds, Jennifer Jones and Rory Calhoun.

Hope goes "On the Road to Vietnam" as the USO re-establishes the camp show tradition. Ann-Margret and other glitterati entertain as Hope does eight consecutive Christmas shows. Celebrities are there for 5,600 shows between 1965 and 1972.

Celebrities and entertainers go to the troops worldwide as conflicts break out. At least two dozen annual tours are sponsored by the USO. Rock groups, comedians, models, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and country music stars are everywhere from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War to Somalia, Hungary, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the South Pacific and the coast of Lebanon. Steve Martin and Jay Leno are there, as is Bob Hope, whose final tour is a visit to the Persian Gulf in 1991. In 2001, Wayne Newton takes over as chairman of USO celebrity tours and makes holiday visits to Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Local Firm Organizes World Freedom Tour

June 4, 2002

By Becky Hurley

The World Freedom Tour will soon bring some of the country’s hottest celebrities to Army troops stationed overseas thanks to David Chavez and Colorado Springs-based Pro Sports MVP.

This Fourth of July provides an ideal an timely event launch, says Chavez, president and co-owner of the presenting firm. The chief exec and four of his company’s tour directors left Tuesday, July 1 and will visit numerous military installations overseas- all during the Independence holiday weekend.

Headquartered in the Pikes Peak region, Pro Sports MVP develops and implements sports and entertainment themed marketing programs and provides marketing services for over one thousand Hollywood and celebrity personalities. Now in its fifth year, the company has worked with the United States military on a number of projects. Chavez says he was set to kick off the World Freedom Tour two years ago when 9/11 and tension in the Middle East dramatically shifted the military’s focus and budget.

In the meantime, he continued to book and promote in-country special sports and charity fundraising events featuring some of the top name in racing, baseball, football, and hockey- and even an occasional Hollywood star. In an interview in spring 2002 with the Colorado Springs Business Journal (April 19, 2002, vol. 14, no. 5), the young entrepreneur indicated that he had already met his revenue projections for the year and business looked good. But his dream to mount a show-stopping event for the U.S. military hung in the back of his mind.

“I stay in regular contact with members of the armed services and in May 2003 received an inquiry from the United States Military. They were interested in a possible July entertainment program for the troops stationed in abroad,” says Chavez, “and indicated that they wanted a line-up to really sizzle.”

At this point, the owner put together a knock-out roster of big names he would pursue, subject to availability. “I had sent out more that 150 inquiries a year ago on another project,” he adds, “and knew that I could quickly touch base with the individuals who had expressed interest.”

The Pro Sports MVP exec immediately sent back an e-mail offering details on the World Freedom Tour. “We have the ideal program featuring sports and Hollywood celebrities,” he wrote back the next day, “and can have the entire line-up ready to bring it to life. Let’s do it to honor the military for its dedication and perseverance in difficult times.”

Within the week, Chavez got confirmation that his proposed tour budget was approved and immediately sent out 250 inquiries to popular celebrities. “It takes many calls to get five or six ‘yes’ responses,” he notes. In less than three weeks, Pro Sports MVP secured contracts with its celebrities, arranged to print thousands of autograph cards, got the necessary Social Security checks and clearances, and booked travel reservations.

Company co-owner Mark Morley never doubted that David Chavez would get the program up and running- even on a tight deadline. In fact, Morley sees his Pro Sports MVP colleague as a talented professional who injects considerable passion into all that he does. “I knew that David would succeed. He is very thorough and organized in everything he does- and he really does understand the professional athlete and the celebrity psyche.”

Chavez has received high praise from his military clients as well. Recently, a U.S. Navy special event and entertainment coordinator, sent a letter to the company, thanking them for their efforts. “David has incredible access to the sports and entertainment world and is willing to make any call to any celebrity or sports figure to ask any question… He actually called Bill Gates’ and Tiger Woods’ folks on our behalf last year… he has never said ‘no’ to a single request we have made. I don’t believe that work exists in his vocabulary,” she writes.

This year’s tour features an all-star cast of celebrities including Joe Millionaire’s Evan Marriott, former Baywatch star Gena Lee Nolin, NASCAR racing legend Bobby Allison, the Miller Lite cat-fighting girls, Kitana Baker and Tanya Ballinger, and former Fox Sports Net Best Damn Sports Show Period update anchor Lisa Guerrero.

During the tour, the celebrities will participate in Q&A sessions, meet and greet receptions, sign autographs, and pose for photos.

Because Chavez first conceived of the World Freedom Tour in the 1990’s as a sports promoter, he had already trademarked the concept and owned all the rights to the use of the name. “Suddenly,” he notes, “a great idea that had sat on the shelf for twelve years is ready to become a reality. It’s very exciting, but in this business, when things happen, they happen fast.

“Originally, I envisioned most sports fugues accepting our invitation, “ he says. “My background as a director for the Senior Professional Baseball League and as a sports marketing consultant gave me access to a lot of greats in fields from autoacing to baseball, football and even Billy Blanks with Tae-Bo.”

NASCAR’s Bobby Allison was the first person to say “yes”. Allison has set course records and has won races such as the Daytona 500 and the Winston Cup Series. “Bobby and his crew have earned the nickname ‘The Alabama Gang,’” says Chavez, “and Bobby has been inducted in more than one Hall of Fame. He is truly a legend in racing circles.”

But much to the promoter’s surprise, the next two celebrities to confirm were Evan Marriott and Gena Lee Nolin. Shortly thereafter, he heard from the Miller Lite cat-fighting girls and Lisa Guerrero.

According to Chavez, Guerrero is currently considered to be sports’ hottest journalist/ broadcaster, having been in the national spotlight the last two years as the update anchor on Fox’s popular The Best Damn Sports Show Period. “Her participation is especially timely because she was just named a Monday Night Football commentator next season for Fox”.

“Mark McGuire was considering fitting in an appearance, but his wife is expecting a baby so the timing didn’t work,” he adds.

“This entire World Freedom Tour is really exciting for two reasons,” Chavez reflects. “Not only is it great to be able to do something special for those who serve our country, but personally, it is very cool for me to diversify more into the Hollywood arena. The soldiers won’t be the only star-stuck fans this time,” he admits.

In the Spotlight – Pro Sports MVP Winning Through Corporate Sports and Entertainment

April 19, 2002

By Becky Hurley

David Chavez loves his work. You can tell by the dozens of autographed photos, baseballs, hockey sticks, basketballs, and caps on his office shelves and walls. Olympic gold medallist Rulon Gardner; Billy Blanks of Tae-Bo fame; the NFL’s Jamal Anderson; and NASCAR great Bobby Allison share one thing in common: they’ve all contracted to appear for events and promotions through Pro Sports MVP- and they know and like Chavez.

Starting at the age of 15 as a batboy for a minor league baseball team, Chavez eventually earned his bachelors degree at the University of Arizona in Public Administration with a major in Federal Law Enforcement. His real love, however, continued to be the game of baseball. “I was hoping to get on as an equipment manager with a major league team, “ he said, noting that he ended up running into Jim Morley (a former professional baseball player) who invited him to work for his new baseball league- the Senior Professional Baseball Association in Florida.

When the League suspended operations, Chavez eventually was recruited in 1990 by a national sports marketing firm based in Pittsburgh. They hired David to travel to Japan and Europe to represent the company at Old Timers’ games and special retired player appearances. The firm also valued his solid athletic relationships. “We all wanted David to strike out on his own” said Morley, acknowledging that it took a few years for David to decide to start his own company. “All of us knew he would succeed. He is very thorough and organized in everything he does.”

The four-year old company, started by Chavez, Colorado Springs’ Jim and Mark Morley and one other partner in 1998, is already a serious contender for the top spot among national celebrity promotions companies. According to Jim Morley, the success of the company in large part reflects Chavez’s enthusiasm and deep understanding of the athletic and more recently, the Hollywood psyche. “It’s David’s talent for excellent customer service that make Pro Sports MVP such a great company,” Morley said. On top of all that, it is profitable.

Pro Sports MVP (an acronym for Marketing Ventures & Promotions) provides celebrity guests and keynote speakers for events ranging from corporate sales meetings and trade shows to fundraisers, retail appearances and award functions. Founded in 1998 by David Chavez with Jim and Mark Morley as principal investors, the company has already booked enough business in the first quarter 2002 to make budget projections for the entire year. “More than 90 percent of our business is repeat business,” Chavez said in an interview with the Colorado Springs Business Journal. “We have lost maybe three or four clients in over four years in business- and one of those went out of business.”

From lists of sports and Hollywood celebrities to his well-packaged promotional materials and busy phones, a visitor immediately picks up the sense of urgency that drives Chavez. One moment he finds out that Melissa Joan Hart, TV’s “Sabrina” may have to cancel an appearance for a U.S. Air Force event- and the next, he has compiled a list of 31 possible back-up sports and TV/movie celebrities for Air Force’s review. These challenges are all in a day’s work for Chavez who was once the equipment manager for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball League in Florida- as well as with the Iowa Cubs (Triple A club for the Chicago Cubs) and several other minor league teams after his graduation in 1982. “David had such a great way with the players,” said Morley. “They like and respected him- he’d bend over backwards for them.”

Aside from all the glitz of daily operations (which is as much hard work as it is glamorous), Chavez spends much of his time building relationships with prospective clients’ companies and with the Armed Forces. The latter has been especially appreciative of Pro Sports MVP’s programs and resources.

Last October, on the heels of the terrorist attack in New York, the Stars and Stripes military newspaper published a story on a goodwill tour overseas featuring Billy Blanks. “Two hundred men and women packed into a tent at Camp Comanche last week to spend the evening with world-famous Tae-Bo creator, Billy Blanks," the article begins. The same report goes on to say, “even after three hours of non-stop time with the troops, Blanks showed no sign of tiring. Some fans requested photos with Blanks performing a high kick or action. He complied with all of them.” That’s the part of the business that keeps Chavez motivated.

One of Pro Sports MVP’s especially successful corporate promotions included a Coors Brewing Company distributors meeting in Lake Tahoe last year. Coors was looking for a way to impress its audience and Chavez came through with a special appearances and a keynote address by Mike Eruzione, 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Captain who scored the winning goal in the USA’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union. In addition, the Pro Sports team had customized hockey sticks and pucks made commemorating the event, which were all signed by Eruzione.

While working back east, Chavez was involved in what was considered a landmark national consumer promotion for Nabisco in the early 90’s. The two-year mail-in promotion was created in which purchasers of specially marked cookies and crackers would get an autographed baseball card, signed by the actual player. Chavez added that Jim Palmer, Ernie Banks and the late Don Drysdale and Willie Stargell all agreed to participate. “Any promotion that Pro Sports MVP does has to bring value to the customer and set itself apart from other special events in the marketplace,” he adds.

“It was an All-Star Rockies game in the summer of 1998 that I met with Jim and Mark Morley,” Chavez recalls. “They’d been talking to me for years, but I hadn’t been ready to take on the challenge of running my own company. But here I was with a wife and baby- it was time to get serious and make a good living.” Initially, Chavez and the Morleys planned to bring in outside investors. In the end, the decision was made; the Morley brothers funded the start-up with Chavez as president of the new company.

So far, all parties are pleased with the company’s performance. “This isn’t like running a dry-cleaning or plumbing business,” said Chavez. “Sports and celebrity promotions are not a necessity in anyone’s life. You have to keep people excited or you’ll lose your momentum.” If the last four years are any indication, Pro Sports MVP is on its way to major league success. One thing is sure. David Chavez will never take his own success, the successes of his celebrity colleagues, or his clients for granted.

Gardner does Persian Gulf Tour of Duty for Navy

December 7, 2000

Rulon Gardner, gold medal winner in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2000 Olympics, recently returned from a U.S. Navy goodwill tour of the Persian Gulf. Gardner is from Afton, Wyoming. He wrestled in the 286-pound heavyweight class in Sydney. In the final, he won 1-0 in overtime against Russia’s Alexander Karelin, a three-time Olympic champion who’d never lost an international match. Gardner has been making numerous TV and personal appearances, but he accepted the Navy’s invitation to visit sailors on ships in the Gulf and the U.S. Navy installation in Bahrain. “In light of the USS Cole tragedy (17 sailors killed and 39 wounded in a bombing), the Navy asked if we could put anything together really quick,” says David Chavez, president of Pro Sports MVP, a marketing firm. “Rulon was thrilled. He said anything for the troops.” Gardner and his wife, Stacy, made the trip. They flew to Amsterdam and then to Bahrain. His two-day account begins with his landing in a navy plane on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier in the Abraham Lincoln Battle Group.

Monday, Nov. 27

We awoke in Bahrain and flew out to the USS Lincoln around 10 this morning in a twin-engine plane. The pilot said “Get ready, We’re in line.” Then all of a sudden, wham, the tailhook hit. It slows you down from like 110mph to zero within seconds. So we officially got hooked. I’m like, “Yeah, let’s do that again!”

The reception we received was amazing. We met Rear Adm. Phillip Balisle (commander of the battle group) and all the ship’s officers and the entire crew, and they treated us as if we were kings. They said, “We’re big fans of yours. We’ve been watching your match. We’ve shown that film probably a thousand times.” I’m sure they were exaggerating, but they did have a tape of the match, and they’ve watched it over and over. When I was signing autographs, they were playing the tape. They said, “Your tape’s on right now, man.” Everybody was just so gung-ho and happy. A few of them wrestled in high school. Some had their old high school wrestling shoes with them. One had his headgear. They said, “You beat the Russian!”

We got an opportunity to watch the planes land and take off. We were on the flight deck. We put on safety jacks. You see the pilots get in those planes, and then all of a sudden they’re shooting off like rockets. They’re gone. That was awesome.

Then we took a Huey helicopter over to the USS Shiloh (A missile cruiser). It was about a half-hour ride. We had the door open and it was just incredible.

We met everybody there. The Shiloh people had never seen my whole match, but they’d seen the highlights on ESPN and read about it. We ate with the sailors and went up and had dessert up in the captain’s quarters. Good food. They really took care of us.

We spent the night on the Shiloh. Incredible quarters. It was a little, tiny living room and a little, tiny bedroom, but it was a lot bigger than what anybody else had.

I was kind of tired that night. We broke off about 7 o’clock and went to bed, but I woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning. They said if you want you can come up and see the stars. You can actually see Jupiter’s moons and all that. I went out and got a tour of the ship at night. They have a lot of offshore oil drilling, and you can see the stacks where they’re just basically burning off the excess.

Tuesday, Nov. 28

We woke up at about 6 in the morning and had a breakfast. They had this little, tiny room where they had exercise equipment, treadmills, and exercise bikes. I got a pretty good workout.

Then I went down and signed autographs for about an hour and 15 minutes, non-stop. I had a little bit of trouble getting around the Shiloh. We had to go through basically holes in the deck. If I went down with my arms at my side, it was squeaky tight. But I made it through. I met all the people in the engine room. They had these big engines, and I actually got an opportunity to start one. I met with all the pilots going out on helicopter patrols and had some great conversations.

Then we went by helicopter to the U.S. naval installation in Bahrain. We had an autograph session, which was attended by approximately 750 people. In addition to the permanent personnel, there were more people on the base because there was a ship in port (the USS Tarawa). A lot of them came up and said “Hey, we watched your match” or “We haven’t seen it yet, but we’ve heard about it. You made us proud.”

I told them that seeing what they go through, they are the ones who make America proud. Everybody looks at me as a hero, but I told them, “You are the true heroes… I am honored to be here. You folks are the ones who deserve medals for what you do.”

When I got the call about the trip and they asked if I was interested, I said there was no way I was not going because these people put their lives on the line every day to protect us.

We later went to the mall in Bahrain and saw all the little shops. That night we left to begin the 36-hour trip home. After being in the Gulf, I have a new perspective on what freedom truly means. What a thrill! This was clearly the most rewarding thing I’ve done since the Olympics.


June 27, 2000

New Orleans running back Ricky Williams concludes a tour of military bases in Europe this week. He’s participating in a program called Extreme Summer 2000, which focuses on children 13-18 and tries to steer them to positive activities- volunteer work, reading and writing. Williams earned his degree at the University of Texas in elementary education. The wee-long swing, organized by Pro Sports MVP of Colorado Springs, swept Williams through Great Britain, Germany and Turkey.

Over There

May 21, 1999

Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson is usually linked to a potent ground attack, but he spent a week checking our U.S. Air Forces bases overseas. Anderson, who set an NFL record with 410 carries last year, visited bases in London, German and Turkey. The tour was implement by Colorado-based sports and entertainment marketing firm, Pro Sports MVP.

“Given the current conflicts all over the world, you get to see the people who are protecting our back, allowing us to have the opportunity to sleep at night,” he said. “To hang out with the troops is awesome.”

Anderson took a teammate, defensive tackle Travis Hall. In addition to meeting with military personnel, they also spent time with young adults ages 13-18 as part of Air Force Entertainment’s Extreme Summer program of academic, fitness, and community activities.

“What Travis and I try to stress is that it may seem glamorous to look up to professional athletes, but only a very, very small percentage make it to the elite level. Always have something else that is driving your life whether you want to be a doctor, lawyer, dentist, architect, whatever,” Anderson said.