Other marquee Champions for Peace athletes attending the 2017 Peace and Sport International Forum in Monaco this week include distance running greats Paula Radcliffe, Wilson Kipketer, and Tegla Loroupe, Swedish skier Pernilla Wiberg, Hungarian kickboxer Zsolt Moradi and French taekwondo star Pascal Gentil. Although not in Monaco, South African rugby union legend Francois Pienaar is the latest high profile athlete to become a ‘Champion for Peace.’
Mesler, who founded the non-profit organization Classroom Champions in 2010 shortly after winning a gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, delivered an insightful, animated and humorous presentation to the diverse group of delegates attending the 10th Peace and Sport International Forum in Monaco this week.
The primary goal of Mesler’s Classroom Champions is to connect students in under-served schools with athletes who can become resources for teaching goal setting, perseverance and dreaming big. Technology is key to the program’s success and longevity.
“There is this draw to athletes and there always has been, but now all of sudden our kids are getting to know them better through a digital nature,” said the U.S. bobsledder and three-time Olympian.
Mesler emphasizes that unlike many athlete and student engagements, Classroom Champions is not a one-time deal. Athletes mentor and build relationships over an extended period of time through Skype, social media and other correspondence with the children.
“Companies pay athletes tens of thousands of dollars to speak to their executives and our kids get an athlete assigned to them for the whole year, and they’re getting that a dozen or 15 times during the years and so are the teachers, so that is the neatest part of the journey,” Mesler said.
“We’re using video, Skype, social media and every electronic means necessary and you’ll see athletes like Elana Meyers Taylor, who might be in Korea and she has 10 classrooms that she is connecting with back in the U.S. and she does this throughout the entire school year,” Mesler said of his fellow U.S. bobsledder.
U.S. basketball star Sue Byrd and Olympic hurdling medalist David Oliver were among the first Classroom Champion participants in 2011, mentoring some 625 students. Numerous National Football League players, including members of the Buffalo Bills, are now involved with the program.
Classroom Champions reached two milestones in 2017 as the total number of students mentored rose above 25,000 and the 100th athlete became affiliated with the program.
Peace and Sport founder Joel Bouzou praised the Champions for Peace athletes for their cooperation and dedication over the ten years that Peace and Sport has been in existence. Approximately 40 Champions for Peace are attending the 2017 Forum, highlighted by Ivory Coast soccer legend Didier Drogba.
“The athletes are role models, they can inspire and drive kids to join sport,” Bouzou said, speaking to a roundtable of reporters at the Monaco Forum.
“It is important to say that champions are very pragmatic and they are big dreamers,” Bouzou said. “They are pragmatic and very realistic to achieve their goals as champions. But they are also like that in life so to motivate a champion you cannot make them only dream about peace, you have to show that if they are involved, there will be results and once the results start they get more motivation.
“Didier is a perfect example – if I come to the Ivory Coast with Didier Drogba a lot of the kids in the country will be inspired (to play sport),” said the French Peace and Sport leader. “He is a world star. I had a dream to have Didier Drogba join the organization, but I didn’t call him, he joined us by himself.”
Bouzou noted that all Champions for Peace athletes must sign an ethics agreement and none has ever been sanctioned for a doping violation.
Referring to the entire group of Champions for Peace Bouzou said: “They are very important and useful within Peace and Sport, because growing their number and growing their caliber – and I’m not ranking them by notoriety – but altogether we have a fantastic mix which produces a lot of good results.”