SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Erin Kennedy looks out from the balcony of the Swissotel, a hotel in Singapore. The Jim Thorpe native has been selected as Team USA Young Ambassador to the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, to be held in Singapore in August.
While attending Jim Thorpe Area High School, Erin Kennedy represented her school's sports teams, nicknamed the Olympians, on the athletic field.
Kennedy is now getting the chance to be involved with Olympians on the world stage.
The 25 year-old Kennedy, who resides outside of Boulder, Colo., is the Youth Development Manager for USA Rugby and has been selected as the Young Ambassador to represent Team USA at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
Kennedy will be a part of the U.S. delegation for the Games, to be held Aug. 14-26.
"I take this as a big source of pride," said Kennedy. "I've been an 'Olympian' my entire life, and while I'm not an Olympic athlete, this shows people you can take something you love and do something incredible with it."
Before taking her rugby position, Kennedy worked with the USOC coaching education department as well as serving as a youth basketball and soccer coach in the Denver community. She received her bachelor's degree in clinical psychology and also majored in Spanish at Marywood University and earned her master's in sport and performance psychology from the University of Denver.
Kennedy was selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee in January after completing an application and interview process. The position was open to current employees of the USOC, a U.S. Sport National Governing Body, or U.S. Olympic Training Site, who were between the ages of 18 and 25. The application included an essay, nomination form and writing samples.
For the initial Youth Olympic Games, young athletes age 14-18 will compete in 26 sports and take part in a Culture and Education Program (CEP). Approximately 5,000 athletes and officials from around the world will participate.
As Young Ambassador for Team USA, Kennedy has the responsibility of encouraging U.S athletes to participate in the cultural and educational activities that will be part of the Games, as well as supporting the U.S. Chef de Mission.
As a new initiative developed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Young Ambassadors will also participate in the IOC's youth sports forums and reporting on the activities for the IOC and USOC.
"These are actual Games where the athletes will compete, but with an educational aspect," explained Kennedy. "The program incorporates activities to help the athletes develop holistically and culturally. As Young Ambassadors, we work with the athletes and help them develop in other aspects.
"Most Olympic athletes are in their 20s, so we want to introduce these concepts earlier to the young athletes, so that they can develop their principles at an earlier age."
Some of those values include teamwork, leadership and cultural awareness, she noted.
The Games are based on the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect, and there are 50 activities in seven different formats that are being offered. There are five educational areas being covered, including Olympism, skill development, well-being and healthy lifestyle, social responsibility and expression.
Erin, who is the daughter of Tim and Diane Kennedy, traveled to Singapore in March for five days with other Young Ambassadors from National Olympic Committees around the world to participate in a Cultural and Educational Program (CEP) Seminar. That gave her the opportunity to participate in a variety of cultural experiences, from outdoor adventure challenges to environmental exploration to trying various local foods, in preparation for her role at next month's Youth Games.
As she sampled the culture of Singapore, Kennedy noticed similarities to her own.
"My first impression (of Singapore) is that it is incredibly westernized," said Kennedy. "I could see it as being in the USA. Everyone speaks and understands English, and the culture is much like over here.
"With the Games coming up, their energy and excitement is contagious. They are so passionate about it."
Kennedy is a 2003 graduate of Jim Thorpe High, where she ran cross country and played basketball and softball.
One person who isn't surprised that she has been selected for her Young Ambassador position is Drew Benyo, her former cross country coach.
"She is an amazing young lady," said Benyo. "She is one of the finest kids I ever coached, not so much for her running ability (she was on the all-Schuylkill League team as a freshman), but for her leadership, dedication and commitment.
"She is the kind of dedicated person who sets goals and knows what she wants to do, and she has taken advantage of the opportunities that have come to her. It is a tremendous honor and responsibility for someone from Jim Thorpe to be involved with the Youth Olympics."
While she competed in sports at Jim Thorpe, one activity that wasn't on the curriculum was rugby.
"I don't know if it was the last thing I expected her to do, but it was close," remarked Benyo.
"When I completed my bachelor's degree, I never thought in my life that in three-four years I'd be doing what I'm doing now," admitted Erin. "I played softball in college, and when I got into sports psychology, I was not sure about it as a career choice, but when I go back to the sports I did in high school, with all the things those sports encompass, it's a good fit for me."
After she completed her master's degree in June, 2009, Kennedy landed a part-time position with the USOC. It was then that she found out about an opening with USA Rugby. She applied and got the job as youth development manager last August.
Kennedy admitted she didn't know much about rugby before taking the job
"I hadn't played rugby before, but I think that was appealing to them," she said. "They were looking for someone who had a background on the youth development side and who would bring a new perspective into it."
Erin has since played some rugby with the Boulder Babes, a women's team.
"Starting to play rugby has given me ideas about how to promote it," she stated, noting that she works with state rugby directors and educators, as well as youth being introduced to the sport.
As for the Young Ambassador position, Kennedy said that her CEO, Nigel Melville, received an e-mail about the opening and forwarded it to his staff, and she took the ball and ran with it.
"It's a great opportunity," she mentioned. "It really aligned with my position."
Since March, Erin has been promoting the games, doing interviews and blogging, as well as through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. She has had some calls from other Young Ambassadors and has spoken with the IOC. A handbook is being prepared for athletes and coaches attending the Youth Games with information on Singapore, and Erin wrote an article on the cultural and education program.
She has also been busy with her USA Rugby duties, attending an international tournament in Harrison, N.J. and organizing youth activities outside the arena in a fan zone area such as skill stations to spark interest.
Erin will be leaving for Singapore on Aug. 9 and return home on Aug. 28. During the Youth Games she will be keeping a blog(http://kennedyerin.blogspot.com/) as well as doing updates on the social network sites.
As she does her part at the Youth Olympics, she can reflect on her journey, including a special moment at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
"The first time I toured the training center, I saw the bronze bust of Jim Thorpe with his Olympic medals in there," she remarked. "I don't know if I considered it irony or a sign of things to come."