Since I was feeling weird – every once in a while I felt the urge to be extremely anti-social and flake out of all social functions, including the Friendsgiving dinner hosted at his place the night before – Akash came to visit me. When I offered him a beer, he said: “I don’t drink that much. I’m a professional athlete, remember?”
So we made ginger tea and sat outside under our Christmas light. I realized that while Akash and I were in the same friend group and had lunch together almost every day for half a year, it was the first time we had ever talked one-on-one. I guess that’s the beauty of graduation. You no longer hang out with people just because everyone is hanging out, but because you want to get to know someone.
While I’d been sitting on my ass whining, Akash just came back from a month traveling: 2 weeks in Doha for the world championship, 1 week in Stuttgart for a German professional gymnastics league.
“But you aren’t German?”
“Each team is allowed to have 2 foreigners compete for them, so the Heilbronn team asked me to join.”
“So you are a gymnastic mercenary.”
“Did the travel affect your classes?”
“Oh, I’m taking a quarter off.”
Akash was doing what we called “slow-terming”: finishing the coterm (bachelor’s + master’s) in 6 years instead of 5. He has only 8 classes left but chose to spread them over a year.
“If I didn’t have gymnastics, I might have tried to do it in 4 years. But I’m practicing about 30 hours a week with a lot of travels.”
“I rushed through college and I saw no point in doing so. I don’t see how you managed your coursework while being a full time athlete.”
“Just trying to enjoy it, you know.”
“At what age do gymnasts usually retire?”
“For men, it’s around 26. So I have a few more years.”
“What’s your plan after that?”
“Getting a job,” laughed Akash. “I’m a bit worried since I have been so busy with gymnastics I haven’t done any internship.”
“I’m sure companies understand. If I had a resume from a candidate who was an Olympian I’d bend over backwards to interview that candidate. You also have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford.”
“I hope so. But I’m not an Olympian yet.”
Akash’s goal for this year is to make it to the Olympics 2020. He was an alternate at Rio 2016. He was part of the USA gymnastics team but didn’t compete. He was there as a replacement in case something bad happened to somebody in the main team. Somebody said it was the best deal — you got to travel and stay in nice hotels and meet athletic people without the actual pressure of competing. But Akash told me that it was the worse feeling. He trained his whole life for that moment, and he got so close.
Go Akash! If you make it to the Olympics this year, I’ll buy you the biggest Taco Bell’s meal you’ve ever had in your life. Side note: Akash loves Taco Bell. He once said on national television that he got to compete in the world championship because he ate Taco Bell every day.
Here’s Akash with his team at Doha2018. He’s the guy with the charming smile in the middle.