Olympian Mark Henderson, Head of Athletes’ Council, Outlines an Ambitious Agenda

By Phillip Whitten

PHOENIX, Arizona, June 30. RECENTLY, Mark Henderson, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and world record-setter in the 400 meter medley relay, was elected Chairman of the Athletes' Advisory Council (AAC) to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC).

In his new role as head of the AAC, Mark becomes the leading athlete advocate in the USA, and he has proven to be both thoughtful, forceful and resourceful.

Recently we sat down to talk with Mark about his work on the AAC. Here's how the interview went:

Swimming World: Mark, how many people are on the Athletes' Advisory Commission?

Mark Henderson: The AAC is composed of one representative from each Olympic and Pan American sport (including alternates who must be of the opposite sex for those sports that include both sexes), plus two representatives from the Paralympics (1 winter/1 summer), plus six "At Large" members elected by the AAC. These are the leadership positions. The representative must qualify as an "athlete" as defined by AAC bylaws*).

SW: Does the AAC represent all athletes or primarily those at the National Team level?

Henderson: The Athletes' Advisory Council represents the interests and protects the rights of Olympic sport athletes at all levels.

SW: What is the purpose of the AAC?

Henderson: To broaden communication between the USOC and the athletes; to advocate the interests of the athletes in all areas of USOC influence and governance; and to protect the rights of athletes pursuant to the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.

SW: How has it worked in the past?

Henderson: That's a hard question to answer, Phil. The best person to ask is John Ruger (Athletes' Ombudsman and former AAC Chair).

SW: What are your plans and goals?

Henderson: My personal goal would be to walk away from my position four years from now confident that we made a large difference for the athletes on several fronts. I also want to set a new precedent of how the AAC should be run – which includes the creation of a more "proactive" atmosphere, better awareness and involvement from the current athletes and a more powerful structure politically.

Some of the goals I'd like to accomplish include:

1. Adapt to the new setup of the USOC by creating a more streamlined and effectively run AAC by changing how we conduct AAC meetings, interactions with USOC and interactions with current athletes. This will be accomplished by creating a more business-like entity with accountability and more involvement among the current members.

2. Delve more into philanthropic areas – thus creating a more well rounded athlete.

3. Create a more powerful AAC – politically.

4. Work closer with the multisport organizations – the NCAA, National Federation of High School Associations, Special Olympics, YMCA, Armed Forces sports, etc.

5. Work closer with the Olympic Alumni Association. (Willie Banks is the new Chair/President).

6. Increase awareness through our website, politics, word of mouth, showing up to more sporting events, more communication between NGBs and athletes, more communication with other athlete groups, both domestically and internationally.

7. Create a positive working relationship with the current USOC BoD and NGB council.

8. Finally, do our best to ensure the optimal conditions for U.S. athletes to compete at their optimal levels.

SW: That's a mighty large agenda. How do you plan to achieve these goals?

Henderson: I'm not being cocky, but I don't "plan" to achieve these goals. I will achieve these goals. Our strategy was finalized at our leadership retreat a while back.

SW: Do you want to see the AAC develop more muscle, perhaps having voting membership on the USOC Board of Directors?

Henderson: Currently, we have two "athletes" on the USOC BoD, one of whom is a former At-Large member of the AAC.

SW: Thanks, Mark. We wish you all the best and look forward to working with you in achieving your goals.

Henderson: Thank you, Phil.

* More detail can be found at: http://www.usoc.org/aac_bylaws.pdf

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