April 9, 2014
The 2014 NCAA Nissen-Emery Award winner will be announced on Wednesday night (April 9), and Sam Mikulak looks to become the second Wolverine to capture the prestigious honor and join Justin Toman as a legendary U-M gymnast. Toman, a 2002 graduate of the University of Michigan and 2002 NCAA Nissen Emery Award winner, recently took time to answer a few questions prior to the 2014 presentation, which will take place Wednesday (April 9) inside U-M's Jack Roth Club. Toman now serves as the Director of Pepsi Sports Marketing, which is housed in New York City.
How did winning the Nissen-Emery Award help you in your career at Pepsi?
"First of all, it was a huge honor to be nominated for the award and then to win it. It was 2002 when I won it, so that was a while ago now. It was a huge honor to get that award, and if you look at the list of past winners, they're just great guys, great gymnasts and great student-athletes, so I'm very proud to be a part of that legacy and to have my name on that roster. Hopefully, with Sam [Mikulak], I'd love to see another Michigan guy get it, so hopefully he does, but it just speaks to the larger impact that gymnastics and more specifically Michigan, made on me. Being a student-athlete and representing Michigan and just learning the values, and it might sound a little cheesy, but just the values that Kurt [Golder] and the team have, you kind of pick up on that as a young person in a very formative stage of your life in college. I learned lot of life lessons from being part of a great team, and having some great friends, some life-long friends, still from my days on the team. Having Kurt and the other coaches as mentors to help you through that process and to be part of a great team; that was really something special in my life. To win the Nissen-Emery Award, my fifth year I believe it was, coming back from some injuries in my senior year where I had to redshirt and to being voted by old coaches around the country as well as teams. It was an incredible honor, and I am very happy to have done it."
With the sport so tight knit, what is it like giving back to the sport?
"Gymnastics is a very small community, so everybody kind of knows everybody, and I was very fortunate as a student-athlete to be the beneficiary of a lot of great advice and great interactions with other former alumni. You look at folks like Bart Connor, who's won the award, he was a great Olympian for the U.S. National Team, the U.S. Olympic Team in the 80s, and he was a Nissen-Emery Award winner from Oklahoma. And just to be a part of that and being able to talk to him when I was growing up as a student-athlete and gaining little bits of advice about gymnastics and a post-gymnastics career, because you can't be an athlete forever in our sport, unfortunately, and just having those guys to look up to. They transitioned really successful athletic careers into really successful business careers afterwards. That gave me examples to look up to, and I was very fortunate to be able to be part of that network that gymnastics is, and both current and alumni gymnasts have a close network."
Following your career, you remained at Michigan and worked in the athletic department. What type of insight towards the sport did that give you?
"I was really fortunate to have been given the opportunity at the time by Bruce Madej to work in sports information. Then I went on to the sports marketing side and actually did a stint in the NCAA Compliance office as well. It was really interesting, different work on the other side of the curb. Having been an athlete all my life and having competed for Michigan and the U.S. National Team and figuring out what was next, that was when it dawned on me that I can actually have a career in sports, not necessarily as an athlete, but on the other side of the curtain doing the business side, or in my case now, the marketing side of sports. So it was a really eye-opening experience. You look at it as an athlete your whole life, and then almost in a split-second you're on the other side, and you're seeing it from the business side and from the fan perspective. And it's interesting; it certainly gives you a different perspective of the sport and of athletics in general. At the time I was in college athletics, and now I work more in pro sports in baseball soccer, and hockey. So it was interesting; that was the moment that I realized that I can be in sports my whole life, not necessarily as an athlete, but I can make this a pretty cool job."
Michigan is set to host the NCAA Championships starting Thursday and running through Saturday (April 10-12) at Crisler Center. Tickets are still available.