Childhood Olympic Dreams a Reality for Ainsworth Resident Wade Alberts
In 1984, 12-year-old Wade Alberts watched track and field star Carl Lewis win four gold medals at the Los Angeles Olympic games.
“I remember watching him and thinking, ‘I’m going to be an Olympian one day’,” Alberts said.
He finally got the chance to meet Lewis at the World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan, August 19th - 30th. And while Alberts didn’t grow up to be an Olympic athlete, he’s spent years working with them as a massage therapist, representing the United States at two Olympic games.
“I don’t get star struck,” Alberts said. “I mean, I see Michael Phelps and he’s like, ‘Hey, Wade,’ and I’m like, ‘Hey, Mike,’ but that experience really just brought everything full circle for me.”
Over the course of his 25-year career, Alberts has worked with nearly every sport, although now primarily focuses his time on swimming. He has not only been to two Olympics, but also countless national and world championships, conference meets and the Pan American Games. This trip to the World University Games was Alberts’ first.
The games are based on the Olympic model, with swimmers qualifying for the event based on their performance at a prior meet.
“It’s very stressful,” Alberts said about the qualifying race. “You can’t just be fast, you have to be fast on that day.”
The World University Games and the Olympics are also similar in the fact that they both have virtually the same sports and an athletes village.
About 37 percent of the Olympic swimmers who earned a medal at the Rio Olympics also attended the World University Games, so Alberts said it’s a great introduction to what the Olympics will be like.
“For a lot of swimmers, it’s their first taste of international competition,” Alberts said. “It was exciting to think that maybe one-third of the kids will be in Tokyo.”
Unlike at stateside competitions, the athletes and staff are completely at the mercy of the organizing committee for food, lodging and transportation.
Alberts said the long hours, strange food and general disruption of their routine can be highly stressful for the athletes. At these games, five medical staff members - one doctor, a chiropractor, an athletic trainer and two massage therapists - along with a nutritionist and other staff, looked after the athletes to make sure they stayed healthy and ready for competition.
“We just try to aid them in any way we can,” he said. “I get to be a small part of helping them reach their goals.”
From his first day on the job, Alberts has been helping some of the greatest athletes in the world reach their goals.
The first athlete to ever get on his massage table was swimmer Penny Hanes, who went on to win two gold medals at the 1996 Olympics. He also worked with Michael Phelps at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, China when Phelps won eight gold medals.
With Phelps swimming in backto-back finals for the 200-meter butterfly and 4x200-meter relay, Alberts had little time to get him ready for the next event, and didn’t realize until later that their entire interaction had been broadcast on live TV.
“I came back to my room to a cascade of emails from people who saw it on TV,” Alberts said.
That wasn’t the highlight of his Olympic experience, though. The opening ceremonies are arguably one of the most watched parts of the Olympics, and Alberts got to walk with the U.S. during the festivities.
“That’s the pinnacle of sport,” Alberts said. “I had the dream of being part of that and you’re around professional athletes like Duane Wade and he taps you on the shoulder and he’s like, ‘Hey, man, can you believe we’re here?’ and I was like, ‘No, man, I can’t.’”
Alberts said the crowd “went crazy” when the U.S. entered the coliseum.
“It was a surreal moment...who would have thought that a kid from the Sandhills would be at the opening ceremonies,” he said.
That dream nearly didn’t come true when Alberts was deciding whether to risk it all by moving to Dallas, TX after college.
“If I wanted to see how high ‘up’ was, I knew I needed to go to a city,” he said. “But I almost talked myself out of it.”
Even though he had “no idea” what he was doing, Alberts’ work ethic, combined with some fortunate timing, eventually led to a spot on the USA Swimming staff, kicking off a career that has pushed the boundaries of “up.”
“It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am,” he said. “I don’t ever take it for granted.”
Every year, the national team staff is picked by an anonymous committee from USA Swimming based on trip evaluations, skill and their interaction with the athletes.
“It’s really an honor to get chosen...there’s a ton of people and I’m in awe of many of them.” Alberts said. “It’s flattering.”
Are the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Alberts’ future plans?
“Who knows,” he said. “I’ve done two Olympics...that’s two more than most people who do what I do.”