Nigel Talton likely imagined himself breaking the tape at a championship track meet, or even the Rio Olympics, but he probably didn’t imagine himself winning a sprint at SunTrust Park…between innings at Atlanta Braves games…in a teal-colored spandex suit with big blue goggles.

But when you’re an aspiring track star, you do what you must to pay the bills.

Working two jobs in order to afford to keep training in track, the 26-year-old from Fort Valley, Georgia had a moment on Friday, June 9, 2017 that most people or companies can only dream of – a video that goes viral.

Talton’s job is to play a superhero-like character called The Freeze, who races from the left field pole at SunTrust Park, around the warning track in front of the outfield fence to a finish line in right center field, against a fan who has a 200-foot head start. The Freeze almost always wins, but in this particular case, the fan celebrated just before reaching the finish line, only to be passed by The Freeze. The fan’s shock and subsequent face plant made the video must-see viewing, and made The Freeze a star.

According to track blog, FloTrack, while Talton is employed part-time by the Atlanta Braves as a ground keeper and The Freeze, he is a legitimate sprinter, with solid personal bests, including 10.47 in the 100 meters and 21.66 in the 200. But as FloTrack explained, world-class track is a highly competitive world. “Talton came out of college as an accomplished athlete, but in the cutthroat world of track and field, his times were not good enough to secure a sponsorship.”

And yet, Talton loves to run and does not want to give up on his dreams. In fact, he aims to make the 2018 World Indoors. “I just want to make a team before I’m done,” said Talton. “My route to that path was detoured, and this came upon me, so right now I’m just continuing to train… just training and saving up for next year.”

Nigel Talton and his alter ego The Freeze
Nigel Talton and his alter ego The Freeze
Except for the elite, most of those who have finished with college and the support it provides for track and field athletes have to enter the rat race. People like Talton have to scrape by to continue the dream.

“I just want to have the opportunity to train as a professional track runner,” Talton said in FloTrack. “I wish there was a program for us athletes. It’s so hard for us athletes that don’t have sponsors that have potential. It’s very hard, that’s why I work two jobs. I’m going to continue to keep my faith and continue working for the indoor season… It’s not about me, I’m just doing it to inspire others and to entertain.”

There’s no doubt that RaceTrac, the company that operates convenience stores throughout the southern part of the US, and sponsors this between-inning activity for the Atlanta Braves, has lucked into a marketing bonanza in promoting a frozen drink called “Numbskull.” The question is, can Talton leverage his 15-minutes of fame into sponsorship, and make it a little easier for this world-class sprinter to take his game to the next level.

“I never know what’ll happen out of this ‘Beat The Freeze’ contest,” Talton said in this Washington Post article. “I’m just blessed and waiting, waiting for whatever opportunity come across my way.”

peter-vidmar-silver-medal-horizontal-bars-1984
Peter Vidmar takes silver in the all arounds at the 1984 Olympics. Koji Gushiken of Japan took gold

Until 1984, the USA men’s gymnastics team had never won team gold at an Olympics. That breakthrough in Los Angeles was due to the efforts of team members Bart Conner, Timothy Daggett, Mitchell Gaylord, James Hartung, Scott Johnson and Peter Vidmar. Vidmar in particular shined, also garnering a gold in the pommel horse and a silver in the Individual all-around.

Vidmar is a popular motivational speaker and talks often about how he learned a lesson in Budapest, Hungary, about the importance of not only taking risk, but committing to taking risk. Those who do, often end up champions. But Vidmar, like many champions, learned this lesson the hard way. By falling.

It was 1983 and Vidmar was with his coach, Makoto Sakamoto, competing at the World Championships in Hungary. Vidmar was getting ready for his horizontal bar routine, a discipline of strength for Vidmar. But for some reason, he was having difficulty with his differentiating move, a risky set of maneuvers that would give him invaluable points for difficulty: As he explained in the book, Awaken the Olympian Within, “it called for me to swing around the bar, then let go, fly straight up over the bar into a half-turn, straddle my legs, come back down and catch the bar. Trust me, it’s hard.”

Concerned that he was not able to execute the moves during his warm up just prior to the finals, Vidmar allowed fear and indecision to creep in. He talked to his coach, who gave him straightforward advice on technique, but Vidmar was not feeling confident. He decided to drop the maneuver and forgo the potential 0.2 points. “Why not? I’d lose the two-tenths of a point for risk, but I could still score as high as a 9.8. That would put me on the winner’s rostrum for sure. That would mean a medal, maybe even a silver.” But he also realized just as quickly that dropping the move would mean losing the World Championship. After all, champions go for it, and someone else would.

This was the mental state of Vidmar as he stepped up to the horizontal bar and started his routine. And after his back flip with half-turn in the pike position he reached for the bar. And as Vidmar says, “the bar was not there.” He fell three meters to the floor, face down in the mat. He got back up, finished the routine, and ended up eighth of eight.

As his coach, Sakamoto tells it, Vidmar was not a happy camper.

During the medal presentation, I innocently asked,  “Pete, what happened?”  “What happened?” Peter responded, face red with abject disappointment.  “I’ll tell you what happened!” he continued angrily.  “I reached out to catch the bar, but the bar wasn’t there. That’s it!” He picked up his bag and stormed out of the arena in a fit of rage.  I had never seen Peter behave this way. 

Later at the hotel, Vidmar had cooled down. Sakamoto caught up with him and according to Vidmar, said this. “This is not the end. Everything is valuable experience, even competition. What you did tonight can be a valuable learning experience. You can benefit from this.”

Vidmar credits that moment as crystalizing an important learning moment for him in his road to becoming a champion. “I didn’t want to hear it but I knew he was right. That fall taught me something that I somehow hadn’t completely learned until that night: Never, ever take anything for granted. Especially don’t take risks for granted.”

Vidmar learned a lesson in committing to risk, to working hard to mastering the challenge so that the work and potential for failure is far outweighed by the reward. “I realized,” Vidmar says, “that I had made the decision to take the risk, but I had forgotten to really prepare myself for taking it! Knowing how important that particular skill was…that I couldn’t leave out that trick and still win the title, I should have been better prepared. I was certain to have to take the same risk at the Olympics and no matter how the skill might feel in warm-up, I had to commit now to taking it there as well.”

And the rest is history. Vidmar worked on that routine, overcoming fear and doubt, and stuck a perfect 10 in the horizontal bars en route to a silver medal in the All Arounds at the Los Angeles Games.

GYMNASTICS USA TEAM CELEBRATE
31 JUL 1984: THE UNITED STATES TEAM CELEBRATE AFTER RECEIVING THEIR GOLD MEDALS FOR THEIR VICTORY IN THE MENS TEAM GYMNASTICS COMPETITION AT THE 1984 LOS ANGELES OLYMPICS. THE USA TEAM COMPRISES PETER VIDMAR, BART CONNER, MITCHELL GAYLORD, TIMOTHY DAGGETT, JAMES HARTUNG AND SCOTT JOHNSON.