New trustees drawn in by personal Olympic connections, unifying power of sport
by Devin Lowe
Karl and Dian Zeile pose for a family photo with their children (from left to right: Kendall, 20; Caleb, 10; Nate, 22; Erin, 13).
Karl and Dian Zeile’s ties to the Olympic Movement weren’t forged at the Games. Instead, the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation trustees found themselves at what they believe to be the right place at the right time several months before any Team USA athlete stood atop the podium.
With the Beijing 2008 Games fast approaching, USA Water Polo converged on the Zeiles’ community of Westlake Village, California, to train. The organization sought out families in the area to house some of their players and coaches – and the pair excitedly volunteered.
“That’s when we kind of opened up our eyes to how deep the engagement needs to be over a prolonged period of time for these athletes to be successful,” said Karl. “That, to me, planted the seed of this idea that Olympic athletes aren’t just identified two months before the Games, and then [they] go participate in the Olympics, win their medals and go home.
“There is this extensive period of time where they need to put in an incredible amount of time and effort in order to be successful and build out a team.”
The Zeiles’ journey started when they were contacted by fellow Westlake Village resident Terry Schroeder, the head coach of the U.S. Olympic Water Polo team in Beijing. Schroeder paired them with assistant coach Ryan Brown, who then lived with the family for about a year in the lead-up to the Games. The team went on to earn a silver medal in Beijing – much to the delight of the Zeile family.
“It was great having him live with us because we got to know [Ryan] really well, and he got to know our family really well,” Karl said. “We went to a lot of exhibition games, and it was just really neat to be cheering on people who we knew personally.”
Beyond their personal connection to the Movement, Karl and Dian both noted that sport has the uniquely powerful ability to bring people together.
They’ve seen it reflected in their children, each of whom grew up playing sports. Nate, 22, is a triathlete, and Kendall, 19, ran cross country in high school. Erin, 13, plays soccer, and their youngest, 10-year-old Caleb, whom they adopted from Ethiopia, is a budding golfer and baseball player.
“When you’re cheering for one team, it just kind of unites people in a positive overall feeling for your community,” Dian said. “Whether it’s your kid’s team, your kid’s school, your high school team, your college team, and then, on an even bigger scale, your Olympic team, I feel like it just helps unite us all as one nation, which I think is so important.”
In fact, they’ve seen sport radically transform Erin’s life. When she was 18 months old, she was adopted by the Zeiles from China, where she was malnourished and underdeveloped.
Now, Erin has been chosen to play within the U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy, which just kicked off its inaugural season, 10 years after the founding of the boys’ program.
“It’s really cool to think that somebody who was born in China who couldn’t even stand on her own two feet when she was 2 years old is now playing on this team and representing the U.S.,” Dian said.
The Zeiles’ experiences with USA Water Polo, as well as the ways they’ve watched their children grow through sport, inspired them to take the next step in their support of the USOPF and the Olympic Movement. They were recently inducted as trustees during the USOPF’s Annual Meeting in Park City, Utah, and Karl and Nate will be attending the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, with the USOPF.
In their new role, the Zeiles will have the opportunity to help advocate for Team USA and its myriad national governing bodies, like U.S. Soccer and USA Water Polo.
Karl, in particular, is interested in giving more children the kind of opportunities Erin has, whether that’s in a sport as mainstream as soccer or a lesser known discipline, like biathlon.
“I love kids and I love thinking about the opportunities the governing bodies have to help encourage kids and young adults to get involved in sports and have something to look forward to,” Karl said. “They can have this dream. They can be challenged to achieve.”
What won Dian over was how transcendent sport can be – across boundaries, beliefs and nations.
“Athletics and sports really bring people together,” Dian said. “That’s worth it. You can’t really put a price on that.”