Fresh off of an Olympic win, luge athlete Chris Mazdzer is already eyeing a second career in financial planning.
Mazdzer made history when he won a silver medal in the men's singles luge on Feb. 11, making him the first American to ever win a medal in the event.
"It's incredible," Mazdzer said of the win. "It was hard to believe until it was put around my neck."
Mazdzer said he sees the triumph as an opportunity to give back to the sport, including the 33 male athletes who shared his Olympic dreams.
"If you are a luge athlete, you give your entire life to this sport," Mazdzer said. "I can go to those 33 guys, to the organization, sponsors, everyone who has volunteered, given everything for this sport and be like, 'We did it.'"
Mazdzer, 29, is already thinking of other ways he can give back.
Mazdzer, a Massachusetts native, was first exposed to luge — which he describes as "ultimate sledding" — at 8 years old. He was drawn to luge over bobsledding because the line was shorter and you could get more runs in. "It was just the most fun I could have in the winter," Mazdzer said.
At 13 years old, he travelled to Europe on his own as part of the junior national team.
"I wasn't the strongest athlete. I wasn't the best luge athlete," Mazdzer said. "But if you told me to chop off my hand because I would go faster, I would do it. I was very passionate."
Traveling without his parents forced Mazdzer to "grow up pretty quickly." He had to keep up with his schooling remotely, which required discipline.
He was also exposed to another challenge: managing money.
"The U.S. Luge Association does a fantastic job providing the financial resources to make this feasible," Mazdzer said.
But to make that money stretch farther, there is a lot of economizing.
"We're not staying in nice accommodations, by any means," Mazdzer said. "We budget the whole time."
If the team can reduce expenses by $5 to $10 per person, and there are 10 to 15 people on the road for 60 days, that adds up to thousands of dollars in savings, he said.
"We're very budget conscious and that allows us to support athletes in Europe at a really good rate," Mazdzer said.
But because the schedule is so grueling, it is hard for the athletes to find time to work. Consequently, many of them face financial challenges.
"I have tons of stories of athletes trying to struggle and make the Olympic team, because that's the environment that I'm in," Mazdzer said.
Seeing those experiences has motivated Mazdzer to help.
Mazdzer, who has a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in finance from DeVry University, is now studying to become a certified financial planner. He plans to sit for the exam this fall.
"I would love to have the opportunity to make that difference in someone's life," Mazdzer said. "Money is a pretty serious part of everyone's life, whether we choose to accept it or not."
Mazdzer ultimately plans to combine financial planning with life coaching to help clients such as executives and athletes achieve their goals and give back to others.
He's also focused on another ambition: competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
"I feel that there's a lot more that I can give back to the sport as an athlete," Mazdzer said. "With luge we're at a pivotal time, with a lot of new extreme sports coming in.
"There's some positive changes that we can make, and I would love to be a part of this process of building this sport for the future."