Bill Schmidt's life has been a series of unimaginable opportunities -- how many other people can say they coordinated a $14 million deal with Michael Jordan? But perhaps most incredibly of all is that it began with an 8-foot-long javelin.
Schmidt didn't have a javelin coach; instead, he learned by watching videos and his competitors. He did, however, have a high school track coach who was determined to get him into college. That opportunity came at North Texas, where his throw improved by 80 feet over four years. He won two of the three major meets across the country and was named track team captain in 1970.
North Texas also provided a social education. Schmidt joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, which taught him how to carry himself, dress for all occasions and prepare for nearly anything. He took these rewarding lessons with him to job interviews and later to some of the most intimidating boardrooms in business.
"When I attended UNT, it defined me and my life," he says.
Schmidt was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Champion in the javelin, finishing second in the event at the NCAA championships in 1970. He was inducted into the North Texas Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988.
In 1972, Schmidt competed for the United States in the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. At the time, he was the second North Texas alumnus to compete in the Olympics (after pole vaulter Dave Clark) and the first to medal. Although, he came close to missing his opportunity to compete.
The morning of the qualifying round, Schmidt rose early to be at warmup by 9 a.m. He went down to the basement transportation area only to find no one was there to pick him up. Two U.S. sprinters had already been disqualified for arriving late to their race -- Schmidt didn't want to suffer the same fate. So, in a moment of panic, he decided to run the three or four miles to the stadium.
It was well into his one-hour warmup time when he arrived but still 40 minutes ahead of the qualifying round. However, two security guards stopped him at the gate and wouldn't let him in. In a split-second decision, he made a "jailbreak," knocking both guards down and running for it. He found Group 1 as they were finishing their warmup and being led to the waiting room.
"The moment entering the stadium with over 90,000 spectators cheering was one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime," he says.
Schmidt finished 10th in qualifying and would compete in the finals. He arrived extra early the following morning, focused and ready. This time, he paid no attention to the crowd or how he measured up to his competitors. He just threw the javelin.
And on that special day, after six extraordinary throws, he found himself on the Olympic podium with a bronze medal around his neck. No American has medaled in the men's javelin competition since.