Former Olympic ski racer Marco Schafferer, who works for Goldman Sachs, told us that his sport helped him prepare for the high demands of working on Wall Street.
“One of the biggest things is it’s never going to be as hard as some of the things I had to do ski racing,” Schafferer explained. “I don’t even say just the Olympics, just to do well in ski racing.”
In addition to hitting the slopes, part of Schafferer’s ski training involved running up hills and sprinting up stairs over and over until he felt sick.
“I wanted to quit and everything. Really, it was pushing my buttons. I was going to my limits every single time. I feel like it’s the same now in the finance world,” he said.
Ski racing taught him how be patient and never give up when learning new things. Now, on Wall Street, his training is a major advantage. Some of his peers haven’t been challenged like he was, and it makes it easier for him to deal with criticism.
“When somebody tells me, ‘You didn’t do well on this’ then I’m not going to go, ‘Oh my god, you just destroyed my day!’ I’ll be able to take that criticism back and say ‘OK, why do you think that? I can work on that’ and that makes me better.”
In late January 2006, Schafferer received the news that he would be skiing in Turin, Italy for the Bosnia team. He said he made the team as a “wild card.”
“I had a really good season in 2005 and my coaches and everyone was like, “Yeah, you should shoot for the 2010 Olympic Games because you need like for more years.” I was more or less, ‘No, I want to try now because I don’t know what’s going to happen in four years.’
Their concerns weren’t completely out of place. He was only 21 years-old at the time and competing on the junior level. He wasn’t even a member of the national team.
From November 2005 until January 2006, Schafferer skied in about 30 races. That’s about a race every other day.
“I made it to the Olympic Games literally on the deadline, like January 29th. That was the last race and I happened to win those last two races,” he said.
An Austrian native, Schafferer grew up in a small town in the Austrian Alps with a population of 400 people. He started skiing when he was three years old and began racing when he was only six.
In fact, skiing was a way of life there. That’s pretty much what everyone did growing up in addition to hiking and playing soccer in the summer months.
His mother is from Bosnia, so he made a decision when he was 16 to switch nationalities.
“At the time, I didn’t really have a preference as long as I was able to ski. I just wanted to ski. I didn’t really think of anything else. That was my goal was to be successful in ski racing. I always wanted to be an Olympian,” he told us.
Walking into the stadium for the opening ceremony with thousands of people cheering and millions watching on TV was a dream for Schafferer.
“It’s a great experience because everything I worked for all the time I spent in the gym, running up the hill and feeling sick afterward it was like, ‘OK, that’s why I did it.’ It was awesome. That was the main goal — just to walk into the stadium and have the flag in my hand. I think that’s everyone’s dream.”
During the Giant Slalom — an event that features a course where skiers race through sets of blue and red gates — Schafferer said that he was “very nervous” at the start.
The Giant Slalom course in Torino was very difficult with an icy, steep course with many changes and rolls, he explained.
“Ski racing is about making it very difficult and icy for the athletes,” he explained. The course is supposed to be as difficult as possible to challenge what should be the best athletes in the world.
During one of the runs, Schafferer slipped on an icy section and crashed. He didn’t give up, though. He hiked back up the slope to catch the gate. (You can’t miss gates in Giant Slalom or else you’ll get disqualified).
“I hiked back up to get the gate and finished the race just to prove a point that I can finish it.”
The onlookers at the bottom of the hill seemed to appreciate his effort, though.
“When I came into the finish, people were cheering. They really appreciated the fact that I hiked back up. It was a really cool experience.”
The Slalom event — a race that involves skiing (more like zigzagging) through gates (or poles) that are much closer together — was much more successful for Schafferer.
“It was good that I crashed in Giant Slalom because Slalom was the last event. I was not nervous at all. I was like, ‘OK, I got my crash out of the way. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
He finished 30th overall for Slalom.
Following the Olympics, Schafferer said that he was planning to ski professionally. He was nominated to Bosnia’s national team after the games.
However, it turned out that the Bosnia ski team ran out of money to fund him. It costs about $US150,000 per athlete to fund their skiing. That money goes toward travelling, coaching, equipment, etc.
That’s when he decided to look for other options. He applied for a scholarship to ski for a college in the U.S.
He ended accepting an offer from Western State Colorado University.
During a race at Breckenridge Ski Resort his freshman year, he hyper extended his knee and broke his leg. That ended his ski season. He was on crutches for five months and had three surgeries.
“I was never really able to come back even though I tried. I always skied with pain.”
Western State ended up cutting their ski program and he transferred to Westminster College in Utah.
Going To Goldman
Since he wasn’t ski racing, Schafferer focused on his finance degree. A professor encouraged him to pursue a career at Goldman Sachs.
He began his career in operations division in Salt Lake. He spent the first few months in New York before the team was moved to Salt Lake, the location of the 2002 Olympics.
There’s plenty of great skiing in Salt Lake. A lot of folks in the Goldman office hit the slopes after work, he explained.
“It’s a very young and active office…everyone does some kind of sport out there,” Schafferer said. It helps everyone in the office bond when they ski together on nights and weekends.
Instead of racing, Schafferer has been doing more backcountry, powder skiing and jumping cliffs.
A year ago, he got an offer to join Goldman’s Investment Management Division in Chicago. Now he makes weekend trips to ski in Colorado or Utah. He also skis when he visits Austria.
As for the upcoming games, he’s cheering for the Bosnian athletes as well as Austrian and U.S. skiers.
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