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Olympians make stop in LIC ahead of London Games

Citi employees wave flags at the company's Long Island City offices in support of the Olympians who visited last week. Photo by Rebecca Henely
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In anticipation of the 2012 Summer Olympics, two athletes visited the Citi building in Long Island City last week to share their stories as they prepare to go to the Games in London.

The financial services company Citi, which has offices at 1 Court Square, is one of the corporate sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee. As part of a countdown to the 2012 Olympics, which begin July 27, Citi sites across the country have been hosting Olympians and Paralympians to talk to employees as part of the Citi Team USA Flag Tour.

Long Island City invited Olympian Cullen Jones, who won a gold medal in the swimming freestyle relay in 2008 in Beijing, and Paralympian Kari Miller, who won the silver medal in 2008 in Beijing with her sitting volleyball team, for the tour’s sixth stop.

“We couldn’t be more excited at Citi to be helping these athletes on their journey,” said Vanessa Colella, managing director and head of consumer marketing at Citi North America.

Citi has also donated $500,000 to 13 athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics, including Jones and Miller. Fans can choose how much money goes to support a certain athlete by voting through Citi’s downloadable Facebook application Every Step of the Way.

Jones, who is 28 and from the Bronx, said his mother had him take swimming lessons after he almost drowned at a water park. He said in 2008, USA’s swimming team was not expected to win in the Beijing Olympics, but they walked away with multiple gold medals, especially with the help of now 16-time gold medal winning swimmer Michael Phelps.

“I really felt like a gladiator at the Coliseum,” Jones said of competing.

As a black athlete and as a near-victim of drowning, Jones takes part in the Make a Splash initiative to teach children how to swim. African-American children between 5 and 14 years old are three times more likely to fatally drown than their white counterparts, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Miller, a 35-year-old Washington, D.C., native, served in the U.S. Army in Bosnia, but soon after she began preparing to become a captain, the car she was riding in on a visit home was hit by a drunk driver. Miller survived, but lost the bottoms of both her legs in the crash.

Soon after the accident, she was invited to play wheelchair basketball and was beaten by a young boy in the match.

“That’s how I got into paralympic sports, watching this little kid spank my butt,” she said.

Miller was eventually tapped for sitting volleyball. She participates in the U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympic Military and Veterans Program, which helps injured veterans rebuild their life through paralympic sports.

During Jones and Miller’s visit, Citi representatives also said Michael Greenberg, an employee at Citi’s Manhattan headquarters, would be going to the Olympics for designing their pin, which shows the logos of Citi and the Olympics above cheering fans.

“I still can’t believe it,” Greenberg said.

Miller said despite the competition, athletes become friends at the Games and other countries look up to Team USA.

“When you walk in there, you walk in there with pride,” she said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Posted 9:02 pm, April 25, 2012
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