Local Olympic hopefuls try to make it a ‘Reality’

Paul Valencia
Paul Valencia

They took a week out of their lives to compete against each other for the chance to be U.S. Olympians.

They learned new skills and were pushed to the brink.They were scrutinized and judged.

Cameras were everywhere, to zoom in on that emotional moment, to capture every single detail.

They struggled. They prevailed. They agonized. They celebrated.

An ultimate sports story, right?

Only, this sports story comes without any results. Oh, they know who won. They know who lost. They just cannot tell you.

That is the nature of reality TV. Want to know who won? Watch.

There is local incentive to watch Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful, a two-hour reality sports show to be broadcast on NBC Sports Network on Aug. 25.

Erin Russell, left, Amanda Alvarez, center, and Gabi Dixson all had heard of each other when they competed years ago at neighboring high school. Now, after spending a week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, they are friends. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson
Erin Russell, left, Amanda Alvarez, center, and Gabi Dixson all had heard of each other when they competed years ago at neighboring high school. Now, after spending a week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, they are friends. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson

Of the 91 athletes invited to compete, three went to high school in Clark County.

Amanda Alvarez, a 2009 Columbia River High School graduate, Gabi Dixson, a 2009 Battle Ground graduate, and Erin Russell, a 2012 Prairie graduate, all earned invitations and spent a week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“I felt like we were the first people on American Idol,” Dixson said. “Made a thousand friends. A freakin’ unique experience.”

“It was one of the best weeks ever,” Russell added.

“Everyone was about cheering people on,” Alvarez recalled, noting the competition was intense but not overwhelming. “Everyone there is a crazy great athlete, too.”

Three athletes from Clark County competed in a reality show with the goal of becoming an Olympic athlete. Find out who won when NBC Sports Network broadcasts the show on Aug. 25. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson
Three athletes from Clark County competed in a reality show with the goal of becoming an Olympic athlete. Find out who won when NBC Sports Network broadcasts the show on Aug. 25. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson

Most of them were getting into something they had little to no experience in as athletes.

The purpose of the event — other than to make a reality TV program — was to seek out potential Olympians in sports that perhaps some athletes never had an opportunity to try. A strong athlete in track and field, for example, just might be good enough to compete in the bobsled.

In Scouting Camp, put on by the U.S. Olympic Committee and partner 24-Hour Fitness, organizers were looking for athletes to try rugby, cycling, bobsled, and skeleton. The eight winners of the competition — one male and one female in each event — would be invited to join the national team camps and be eligible for financial aid and medical support as they trained. The competition was held in July. The TV show will premier at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 on NBCSN.

Russell has her own interesting story as an athlete. She was a cross country runner and ran distance in track and field in high school and early in her college career. She has since made an incredible transformation into the world of Crossfit and powerlifting. She is now a thrower at Colorado State-Pueblo.

After she tried out for Scouting Camp, she was placed in the rugby competition.

Gabi Dixson, a former Battle Ground High School standout who now works in Vancouver, tried out for bobsled at Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful. The reality TV show will be broadcast Aug. 25. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson
Gabi Dixson, a former Battle Ground High School standout who now works in Vancouver, tried out for bobsled at Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful. The reality TV show will be broadcast Aug. 25. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson

“I didn’t know what the ball looked like. I didn’t know what the field looked like. I had no idea,” Russell said.

She and the rest of the rugby athletes got a crash course on the sport. Now, she loves it.

“Everything about it is so cool,” Russell said.

Dixson shined in high school and then at Concordia University in Portland as a thrower in track and field. Now working for Child Protective Services in Vancouver, she was intrigued when she received an e-mail regarding Scouting Camp.

“Why am I getting an e-mail about the Olympics?” she wondered.

She tested for the event because she had not done anything competitive in a while and wanted to see where she stood.

“Hey, I’m still kind of an athlete,” she said after her testing phase.

Then she got word that yes, she had made it. She could come to compete in bobsled.

Had she even watched bobsled?

“Not on purpose,” Dixson said. “Maybe while waiting for the Ice Capades.”

Dixson knows it is not the Ice Capades in the Winter Olympics. It is figure skating. Still, her description gives one a hint that winter sports are not exactly in Dixson’s wheelhouse.

“Bobsledding never was on my radar,” Dixson said. “I watched ‘Cool Runnings’ before I left.”

That movie did not give her expert advice on the sport, but at least she knew what it was.

“Honestly, it was quite terrifying. What if I win?” she asked herself.

Did she really want to win, to try get in a sled and travel down an icy track at unworldly speeds?

“For the Olympic rings, I’d do it,” she convinced herself.

It turned out, she enjoyed the training. Because this event took place in the middle of summer, the athletes were asked to push a simulated sled with weight.

“You feel so powerful,” Dixson said.

Alvarez, a personal trainer now living in the Seattle area, said her boss pleaded with her to give it a shot. She said she never figured she would be selected. Soon after her test, she received an invitation.

“I read it four times to make sure it was real,” Alvarez said.

Gabi Dixson, along with her new friends (not pictured) Erin Russell and Amanda Alvarez, loved their time competing in a reality show in search of the next Olympic hopeful. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson
Gabi Dixson, along with her new friends (not pictured) Erin Russell and Amanda Alvarez, loved their time competing in a reality show in search of the next Olympic hopeful. Photo courtesy of Gabi Dixson

She wanted to try out for rugby but the committee put her in skeleton and bobsled competitions. As a former three-sport athlete in high school, she could adjust to whatever.

“I knew what bobsled was. I didn’t know what skeleton was,” Alvarez said.

(Skeleton is riding while laying face down on a sled while maneuvering an icy track. You know, because riding in a bobsled is not scary enough.)

All three Clark County athletes left the training center impressed with the entire operation.

“It was awesome,’’ Alvarez said. “I expected people to be fighting like cats in a bathtub. It wasn’t. I loved making friends.”

“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Dixson said. “It was like a summer camp that can’t be replicated.”

The friendships can last, though.

The three Clark County athletes, who all excelled growing up at neighboring schools, had only heard of each other but never met until that week in Colorado Springs. Now, they stay in touch.

Perhaps they will see each other again one day in an official capacity, training for Team USA.

Or maybe this was just a one-time thing.

They know, but they cannot say.

The Next Olympic Hopeful will let the rest of us know when it is broadcast Aug. 25.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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