While we were watching the Olympics, one student was living the dream.
Juan Maegli wants do what no other Guatemalan has done: medal in the Olympics.
The sophomore sailor took a crack at it last summer, competing in the 2008 Olympic Games a few weeks before reporting to his first college classes. And though he didn't medal, Maegli gained valuable international experience in a racing class he had only dabbled in.
After winning a gold medal in the 2007 Pan-American games sailing aboard a catamaran, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father – a three-time Olympian from Guatemala – and train for the 2008 Olympics in China.
There was only one problem: The Olympics didn't include catamarans. So Maegli switched to sailing the Laser, a one-man dingy that requires much more strength and stamina. "It's a very physical boat," Maegli says of the craft, which doesn't have a trapeze, or harness, to support its sailor, who is often hanging out over the water supported only by his legs.
Maegli took a year off to train, and in February 2008, the Guatemala City native qualified for the Olympics by claiming the last available spot in the men's one-person dingy competition.
Anticipating faint winds in China and the need for a light craft, Maegli lost 30 pounds over the course of six months through "a lot of running, and a lot of time on my bike and not eating chocolate."
In August, his father and coach accompanied him to Qingdao – a city of seven million people on the Yellow Sea and the site of the Olympic sailing competitions. He raced in 10 heats and, hampered by penalties, finished 33rd out of 43 racers.
"We were hoping for a top-20 finish," says Maegli. "I was very new in the class and I guess I was just nervous."
Still, the experience was extremely rewarding, and Chinese Olympics enthusiasts in Qingdao asked Maegli for his autograph when they spied him in his team uniform.
At the Olympics' opening ceremony in Beijing, however, it was harder to stand out. "There, all the big stars had their autographs taken," Maegli says with a laugh, "not me." He met American basketball players Lebron James and Jason Kidd, chatted with Spanish tennis superstar Rafael Nadal and caught a glimpse of American swimmer Michael Phelps.
Maegli is looking forward to sailing for the College this semester and plans to take a break from his studies after his sophomore year to train for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
When an Olympic medal is at stake, he believes that you can't prepare enough. "You have to go full out," Maegli says, "or not go out at all."