With the world’s eyes no longer focused on Beijing for the Summer Olympics, a few lawyers are remembering their own past brushes with Olympic glory. For some, it meant trading jury trials for team tryouts and for others, ditching the briefcase for the Olympic torch.
But for Barley Snyder‘s Whitney Metzler Krosse, it meant going for gold.
At the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Krosse competed with the U.S. women’s swim team. U.S. swimming took home 26 medals that year, including 13 gold. Although Krosse herself did not leave wearing a medal, she finished eighth in the world in the women’s 400-meter individual medley.
She was 18 at the time.
Since the 1996 games, Krosse has transitioned from swimmer to litigator. She graduated from the University of Florida, where she swam for two years before a shoulder surgery ended her career in the pool. In 2000, she embarked on a new career, entering Pace University School of Law in White Plains, N.Y.
According to Krosse, now an associate in Barley Snyder’s litigation department, her law career has been a long time coming.
“I knew back when I was 18 that I probably wanted to be an attorney,” Krosse said. At the time, however, Olympic preparations demanded her full attention.
Thomas More Holland, a Philadelphia trial lawyer, understands the dedication needed to make an Olympic team. In 1980, he competed for a spot on the men’s freestyle wrestling squad at the final-round tournament in Madison, Wis. Holland said he was literally within arm’s reach of making the U.S. team.
“I made it to the final tournament, but I didn’t make it to the closed-door trials of eight to 10 people,” he explained.
As global politics would have it, even if Holland had made the 1980 team, he still would have missed the games. By the time trials were held, President Jimmy Carter had already announced that the United States would not send any athletes to the Moscow-hosted Olympics.
Like Krosse, even as an Olympic-hopeful, Holland was already a lawyer-hopeful. He recalled meeting a law student at the 1980 trials, which he said he found inspirational.
“It really increased my confidence levels,” he said.
Holland also said the Olympic-level competition was good training for his own law career.
“It was a competitive environment, so I think that was somewhat of a preparation,” he said of the trials. “Having gone through testing yourself in pressure conditions, it makes you more capable of tolerating a stressful environment.”
“I think my experience as an athlete helped me in college, helped me in law school and helps me now,” she said. “When I went to college, it was going to college and training, but still being expected to keep good grades. But all that has prepared me for what I do now. You don’t find many lawyers who work nine-to-five.”
As for handling multiple cases, Krosse said the challenge was nothing new.
“I’ve been juggling multiple things since I was 15 years old,” she said.
Krosse’s competitive swim career began locally, at the YMCA in Hanover, Pa. That changed when she earned a spot with the prestigious North Baltimore Aquatic Club, which has produced numerous gold medalists, including fan favorite (and Beijing gold medal record-setter) Michael Phelps.
“It was always a national powerhouse team. You had to try out to get on it,” Krosse said of the opportunity the team provided. That opportunity was so great, in fact, that she moved to Baltimore to swim with the club.
Krosse said the move, along with the rest of her training, required sacrifices from herself and her family. Ultimately, though, it led her to the Olympics — which, in 1996, weren’t too long a drive from Baltimore.
Krosse said many people assume she is disappointed she did not go abroad for the Olympics. However, she thinks competing in the United States actually boosted the team’s morale.
“It was wonderful to do it when you were in the United States,” Krosse said of the Atlanta Games. “There’s definitely something to be said about the home team advantage, especially in a sport like swimming where you can see the audience.”
America’s spirit of ’96 also affected Eric Ashton, associate director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice‘s nonprofit leadership program. Ashton, then a lawyer in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Philadelphia office, was selected to carry the Olympic torch on the Philadelphia leg of its 1996 road to Atlanta.
“Every country that hosts the Olympics has their own Olympic torch relay,” Ashton explained. In 1996, he said, the United States decided to include community representatives in the relay. Ashton was nominated and selected for his work in the HIV/AIDS community. He was one of a handful of lawyers in the state to receive the nod.
Ashton fondly remembers running with the torch along Philadelphia streets Kelly Drive and West River Drive, up the steps of the Art Museum, then past Independence Hall.
“The streets were packed with people,” Ashton said. “The cheering and the lightbulbs flashing — it gave people here a chance to feel that excitement.
“It seemed like when I was running, there were lines of people,” he continued. “There were some police, but they weren’t holding people back. There were no barriers.”
“It was as close as I’ll get to my Olympic glory,” he said.
Although Krosse did not join the U.S. swim team in the 2008 quest for Olympic glory, she said she still followed the team, especially old acquaintances like Phelps, fellow University of Florida graduates Dara Torres and Ryan Lochte and 1996 teammate Amanda Beard.
Regardless of how the team did in Beijing, Krosse said she was always ready to give support — and possibly legal aid.
Although she has not yet provided legal services to swimmers, she said she would be more than willing to work through Barley Snyder to use her new vocation to help her old one.
“If they needed my counsel as a sports agent, or with their sports agent, they know that all they have to do is ask,” Krosse said of her former teammates.
“I would absolutely welcome taking on anything I could help with.”