After the Glory
They train for years and sometimes decades for that one chance to perform at an Olympics. But what happens after they finally get there, and then the moment has passed? We catch up with several Olympic athletes living in the Bethesda area.
Whitewater Slalom Canoe, 1992
Whitewater Slalom Kayak, 1992, 1996
Compared with some of Thierry Humeau’s more recent assignments, shooting down whitewater rapids in a toothpick-shaped boat must’ve felt like child’s play.
Humeau, who has lived in Bethesda for about eight years and resided in Kensington for about 12 years before that, competed in whitewater slalom at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But his post-athletic career as the owner/director of photography of Télécam Films, a small TV/video production company based in Washington, D.C., has put him in far greater danger.
In the fall of 2009, Humeau spent six weeks filming a unit of about 40 Marines at Camp Leatherneck, a large U.S. Marine base in Afghanistan, for the National Geographic Channel. The unit’s mission: Stabilize the country’s volatile Helmand province.
There were a lot of close calls. During one patrol, a vehicle in Humeau’s convoy hit an improvised explosive device, critically injuring one Marine. A day after Humeau filmed Camp Leatherneck’s truck screening area, a suicide bomber attacked, killing a British soldier and injuring scores of other troops. And on Humeau’s last night there, an Afghan rebel attack sent missiles within 100 yards of his bunk.
“After that trip, I realized if I did that 24/7, I probably wouldn’t survive it,” says Humeau, a French native who is now 50. “I like to experience these things for real to get my own opinion. But I’m not a daredevil cameraman—especially not with two children and a beautiful wife.”
Humeau’s wife, 48-year-old Dana Chladek, is also a former Olympian and was born in what is now the Czech Republic. The couple met at a race in Italy in 1986 and married in 1989. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Humeau competed for France and finished 18th in single canoe, while Chladek earned the bronze for the U.S. in single kayak. In the 1996 Atlanta Games, Chladek won silver.
The Olympic experience, Chladek says, is all about “getting through the mental demons to perform at your best under that kind of pressure.”
These days, she and Humeau take their 11- and 14-year-old daughters out for recreational paddling. Chladek also trains kayakers of all skill levels on the Potomac River as the coach and race director for the Potomac Whitewater Racing Center. Her goal is to get her junior team athletes (boys and girls ages 13 to 18) into the pipeline for the U.S. national team.
Chladek’s workday is considerably different than her globe-trotting husband’s.
“It’s not always fun stuff, but it’s real,”
Humeau says of his job. “It’s a lot of conflict zones, a lot of war zones. There are a lot of things we need to improve in that part of the world.”