The Road to the Gold
Over the years, Tabor has helped shape many aspiring and future Olympians, nurturing the bodies and minds of fierce competitors in rowing, sailing, and ice hockey. Alumni have left the Academy and gone on to claim gold, silver, and bronze medals in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nagano, Sydney, Athens, and Beijing, contributing to a rich legacy that continues with current students and recent graduates.
While each has their own unique story, they all enjoy certain commonalities including a dedication to their sport and a conviction that the road to the Olympics is a singular experience that, through victory or defeat, never loses its allure. Charlie Ogletree ’85 is well-acquainted with the thrill of Olympic competition. A sailor and member of Tabor’s Athletic Hall of Fame (inducted in 2018), Ogletree competed in four Olympics— Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004, and Beijing in 2008—as a member of the men’s US Sailing Team in the Tornado class. At the 2004 games in Athens, he served as team captain and brought home a silver medal.
Ogletree looks back on the games with great fondness. “It’s hard to ignore the thrill of winning a medal I spent 20 years of my life pursuing,” he confesses. “Competing with the best in the world at a high level was incredibly rewarding.” And Ogletree credits Tabor, in part, for his success. “Toby Baker, my sailing coach, helped this boy from a small North Carolina town find a sport I could embrace. He taught me about sailing, and about life.”
Ogletree continues to race to this day, acting as a project manager and tactician sailing J-class yachts for Svea Racing and serving as a team member for Jason Carroll’s MOD70 trimaran Argo. He says the key to his success, at the Olympics and beyond, is perseverance. “You have to have a single-minded focus on the goal at hand,” he observes, “particularly in the US, where programs are open, and some contestants are maintaining jobs and families at the same time they’re pursuing their Olympic dreams.”
Charlie Clapp ’76 knows the many challenges associated with training for the Olympics while simultaneously continuing life as an everyday citizen. After serving as a member of the 1981 men’s US Rowing Team that took bronze in the World Rowing Championships in Munich, Germany, Clapp departed for graduate school at what is now Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.
While in Arizona, Clapp continued to train by himself, returning to Wisconsin for the national team’s summer training camp in 1982. A year later, he finished graduate school and returned to rowing in numerous regattas and that year’s world championships. He was rewarded for his efforts, earning a seat in the US team’s 8-oared boat for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. “I was the only guy from the ’81 team who was also in the ’84 boat,” he notes.
The team was strong and logged many wins in the months leading up to the Olympics, giving rise to hopes for gold. Unfortunately, a gold medal eluded their grasp. The Americans claimed silver, losing the race for gold to the Canadians by three-tenths of a second. It was a disappointing conclusion to an exciting run, Clapp concedes, but he harbors no regrets. “I made many terrific friendships and traveled the world and I continue to race today.”
His Olympic journey imparted many lessons, Clapp continues, not the least of which is the importance of setting a goal and pursuing it tirelessly. “I know I can go in a straight line with a repetitive motion for a long time,” he quips, “and some of life is like that—sometimes you’ve just got to grind it out.” Making it to the Olympics requires a mix of hard work and good luck, he notes. “You can have hope, but it’s a step-by- step process. And certain things broke my way—you have to be conscious of forks in the road and make decisions carefully.” Unfortunately, says Clapp, a lot of people defeat themselves. “It’s hard enough as it is—it does no good to beat yourself up— and there’s a lot of pride in trying, even if your efforts don’t end in a medal.”
Thad Lettsome ’20 fervently hopes that his dreams will end in an Olympic medal, but the first order of business is making the team. The gifted young sailor and Tulane University student is currently working to qualify for this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo, representing the British Virgin Islands in the men’s Laser class. “I’ve got my eye on the 2024 Olympics as well,” he quickly adds.
For now, however, Lettsome is consumed with the task at hand. His days are structured to match the pace of race days. He’s up every day at 8 a.m. for a short run and stretch before breakfast, attends a pre-sail briefing, spends three to four hours on the water, then returns to shore to watch films, discuss strategies, eat dinner, and retire in preparation for the next day of training.
Asked what guidance he might seek from a seasoned Olympian like Charlie Ogletree, Lettsome doesn’t hesitate. “On the sailing side, I would love to know what his routine was like leading up to his event, for example, in what stages would he like to work on specific things, and what things would he like to work on? And practically speaking, I would love to hear about how he handled his campaigns.”
Olympic ice hockey hopeful Kelly Browne ’18 is similarly consumed with the race to qualify. The Boston College junior has her sights set on the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. The road to that goal, however, is a protracted one. Browne was invited to attend the Olympic tryouts in early June and hopes to qualify for residency in October to continue her quest. And even if she makes it through these phases, she explains, she could still be cut before the Games.“ The coaches can change the composition of the team right up to the Olympics.”
Browne certainly has raw talent and experience on her side. While at Tabor, she was recognized as the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Division I Player of the Year and named to the ALL NEPSAC First Team. She was also named Most Valuable Player in the Independent School League and played on the U-18 Women’s National Team that took gold at the 2018 Women’s World Championship in Dmitrov, Russia.
She would love to test her mettle on the Olympic stage but remains focused on the basics. “I’m doing everything I can to prepare myself, but at the same time, I want to remember why I started playing, and it was to have fun. When I’m tired or discouraged, I remind myself that I love playing and that it should never be a chore.”
Preparation is key, confirms Tabor Athletic Hall of Fame member (inducted in 2016) and Olympic gold medalist Colleen Coyne ’89. "That’s the thing that quells the nerves.” Coyne speaks from experience; she was a member of the famed team that defeated Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, winning the first gold medal given in women’s ice hockey.
The win was yet another stepping-stone in Coyne’s athletic journey. “Hockey has driven me to most of the interesting things in my life,” she observes. "It seems like opportunities have continuously rolled out ahead of me over the years.” Indeed, Coyne says, the sport led her to Tabor.
“I grew up in Falmouth playing hockey with the boys because at the time there weren’t many girls teams around,” she explains. “But at 13 years old, I was small, even for a girl, and the boys were getting bigger and rougher.” In the spring of 1986, Coyne’s parents heard that Tabor was starting a girls’ ice hockey team. “By the fall of 1986, I was enrolled,” she says. That move made all the difference, Coyne continues. “Tabor had its own rink, so I could skate five to six days a week, which allowed me to strengthen my skills and become more competitive for college scholarships.” And she did. Coyne ultimately landed a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, which in turn opened the first of many doors that eventually led to the ’98 Olympics.
In the years since winning gold, Coyne has continued her involvement with the sport. In 1999, she was named to the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame and from 2005 to 2011 served as Athletic Director on USA Hockey’s Board of Directors. And in late April of 2021, she was named president of the National Women’s Hockey League’s (NWHL) Boston Pride.
“It wasn’t lost on me how lucky I was to attend Tabor—the beauty of the school, the dedication of the faculty, the ability to play hockey regularly—it made a tremendous difference in my life,” she observes. The opportunity to compete in world championships and the Olympics was also formative. “Teams were composed of 20 people who held different values, perspectives, and approaches to preparation,” she explains. “Playing with individuals from so many different backgrounds taught me that there are many ways to achieve the same goal. As you move through life, you realize the same dynamics apply.”
Talking to this collection of Olympic medalists and hopefuls, it’s clear that despite their different sports and varied journeys, the passion and quest for Olympic immortality runs deep. It’s also obvious that the qualities that pushed them to the front of the pack—determination, grit, a belief in self, and an appreciation for the importance of relationships—have served them well, at the Games and beyond.