S.P.O.R.T.S. The Relationship Conference Prepares for Colorado Springs

By Sherri Middleton

Colorado Springs skyline at night

As the date of the 2020 S.P.O.R.T.S. The Relationship Conference rapidly approaches, I’ve been thinking about all the moments leading up to this year’s event.

            We announced our host destination – Colorado Springs — at last year’s event in Panama City Beach. Our closing ceremony vibrated with the excitement of the official confirmation that we were traveling west during an Olympic year to Olympic City USA.

            Doesn’t it seem like we were all just there spending time on the beach in Panama City Beach with Chris O’Brien and his team?

            And then again it seems ages ago.

            The world has been knocked off-kilter.

            We’ve sheltered in place. We’ve donned masks and face shields. We’ve been furloughed, and many of our friends have lost jobs, switched occupations, or are still living on reduced pay as we try to understand a virus that is not understandable to this point.

            We wait for vaccines. We hope for normalcy. And we keep hoping recovery is not dashed again.

            It takes more than a year to plan a conference like S.P.O.R.T.S.

            The work starts well before the announcement at the closing ceremony. Sometimes the work begins years before with a prospective host city expressing interest and asking to be considered.

After numerous conversations, site visits, hotel stays, and round trips around the country with secretive meetings, the next possible location for this unique boutique conference is narrowed to a few hopefuls. We’ve heard that industry veterans try to predict our next location. We love that some of you make a game of this. (wink)

            And then the real work begins.

            Sometimes mother nature catches everyone off guard, as was the case with a major hurricane making landfall directly on top of our selected conference hotel and city. It has surprisingly happened twice in my tenure. Winston-Salem also faced the threat of an Atlantic Coast landfall that had many attendees heading for home. The rest of us, however, stayed and enjoyed a beautiful rainbow over Richard Childress Orchards and grounds as we stomped grapes, ate a wonderful meal, and played lawn games.

            And this year it is Coronavirus and Covid-19 with all the unpredictability of safety, health, and sentiment about willingness or unwillingness (or budgets) to travel.

            If I were an event planner, I’d say this must be a real nightmare come to life. Fortunately, I’m just the editor, and my role in the conference is in the background.

            As you might imagine, Carrie O’Connor and the team have been diligently working to create an event that considers all possibilities for safety, ability to travel and willingness to reconnect with industry partners in person or through virtual experiences, even a combination of the best of all worlds.

            We’ve always been dedicated to hosting the annual event in Colorado Springs this year. The dates are set. It is on, and it’s happening come hell, or high water or whatever Pike’s Peak can throw at us. Mark your calendars for September 28 through October 1. 

            Our host, Visit Colorado Springs, Cheryl McCullough, and her team are excited to welcome attendees both in-person and remotely, and we promise the experience will be memorable for all.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge starting line at Garden of the Gods.

            If you’ve never been to Colorado Springs before…you’re in for a treat. There is so much to see and do. And this town that is home to Olympic hopefuls, nature lovers and sports planners beckons us in the sports events business to pay attention.

Photo of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum courtesy of Bill Baum

            As I was thinking about writing this blog over the past few days, I remembered that the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum will be opening at the end of this month. Most of our team had a sneak peek last fall, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s inside.

            The New York Times listed Olympic City USA and the museum as a place to visit in 2020. And it was announced yesterday that the U.S. Olympic team for Moscow 1980 will be honored with a permanent tribute when the museum opens. USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote to athletes of the 1980 games: “It’s abundantly clear in hindsight that the decision to not send a team to Moscow had no impact on the global politics of the year and instead only harmed you.”

            The athletes did not compete because of a U.S.-led boycott of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan:

            Sixty-seven nations declined to participate, and there were 470 athletes on Team USA for those 1980 games. The Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 as a result.

            But our athletes who worked their young lives for one moment to become part of that elite Olympic history never had the chance to be recognized.

            Whether we choose to attend the event in person or from our own homes or offices through technology-driven remote devices, the opportunity to connect as we have done for the past 15 years is always a great experience.

            I was fortunate to have lived in the great state of Colorado for a while, and I had ample time to visit Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak and watch the Rocky Mountains change color as the sun rose and set across the land.

            I’m looking forward to returning and this time catching a glimpse of the place where athletes train.

            And with my home base in the south, I’m most grateful for the chance to head to a climate where humidity is less of a problem, and snow might be a wonderful treat in late September.

            Yeah, I’m dreaming. But I believe when my family and I moved to Colorado, it was late September, and by Halloween that year, we had a good snowfall. It could happen this year. I at least expect some snow in the mountains and less humid days than I’m suffering here this summer.

            Snow-capped mountain peaks. A morning chill in the air. Hot, arid days and a night by the campfire is the perfect way to bust through months of self-isolation.