BEIJING — It began with those McDonald’s scratch-off cards, the ones where each time the United States won a medal in the Olympics you were guaranteed something on the menu.
A bronze earned you a soda, a silver got you some fries and a gold, a Big Mac.
Rick Baird ate a lot of free food in 1984, a 10-year-old whose dream of competing for his country was shaped between yellow arches.
Question: What in the world is in the water those master trainers are drinking at the Agassi 24-Hour Fitness in Summerlin?
The health club’s national office sent some of its best trainers here to assist U.S. Olympic Committee coaches and athletes during the Games. More than 4,500 applications were submitted, and 21 trainers were chosen. The Summerlin club received two spots.
Baird arrived this week, following a stay by fellow Agassi facility trainer Will Campbell Jr. Their duties here are more to assist than train, to inquire what LeBron James might need before his workout than overseeing it inside the High Performance Training Center at Beijing Normal University.
For someone such as Baird, it is the ultimate moment of a training career.
He grew up in Las Vegas, attended Bonanza High School and competed in football and track and field at Utah State. He also never forgot those winter TV images of Sarajevo in 1984, so the kid from the desert took up the bobsled in his mid-20s and made a run at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
He didn’t qualify but never lost the desire to be part of the Olympic spirit. He knows the feeling now.
"I thought my dream was over when I didn’t make it (in ’02)," said Baird, an assistant track coach at UNLV from 2003-05. "But to get this opportunity to be around the athletes and feel like you are part of the team behind the team, it’s incredible. It’s a pretty cool accomplishment."
Baird and Campbell earned this opportunity in large part to testimonials written by clients, from the high school baseball player preparing for college to the television reporter needing to stay fit to the 60-year-old hoping to drop weight.
Instruction might not be a major part of what the trainers offer here (although Baird’s first assignment was to take U.S. boxers through an abdominal workout), but that doesn’t mean each won’t have returned to Las Vegas wiser for the chance to observe elite coaches and athletes in a gym.
"I can definitely pick up a lot of things here and there that I can bring back and incorporate with my clients," Baird said. "A lot of people I train on a daily basis back home want to look like certain athletes. They can’t commit the same amount of time to train each day, but it can be done."
The first thing they should do is drink the water.
Ed Graney is the Review-Journal’s sports columnist. Contact him 702-383-4618 or email@example.com.