Olympian Stephanie Trafton Connects Winning the Gold with Project ManagementWhen she won the gold medal for her discus throw of 212 feet and five inches in Beijing earlier this year, American Stephanie Trafton proclaimed, “We did it!” As reported by The Sacramento Bee, Trafton publicly acknowledged relying on “an extensive support network to prepare for the Beijing Games: a trainer, a massage therapist, a biomechanist, two former Olympic throwers, an understanding husband and a flexible employer.”

What few people know is that Trafton, a member of MPUG, works part-time as a project manager using Microsoft Project for her employer, Sycamore Environmental Consultants Inc. in Sacramento, doing computer-assisted and GPS mapping. Those project management skills, as she explains in the following interview, give her an edge in her training regimen.

Recently named along with decathlon gold medal winner Bryan Clay, as winner of the 2008 Jesse Owens Award, USA Track & Field, Trafton took time out from training and work to answer questions fromMPUG editor Dian Schaffhauser about the role project management plays in her achievements.

Your current work title is GIS analyst. What do you do in that capacity?

One of my roles at the company is to collaborate with the biologists to locate and illustrate waters, wetlands, and natural resources on maps which are attached to technical reports created for our clients.

What kinds of things are you using Microsoft Project for — and which version are you working on?

We have somewhere between 75 and 150 active projects at any given time and each project has a unique set of deliverables and schedule to follow. We use MS Project to help our clients understand the environmental clearance process and to keep our high priority projects on track. Currently I am implementing SharePoint Technologies at our company. MOSS will help the project managers see the status of every project in our system by integrating project information with our extensive data library.

How do you fit your training regimen in with your work?

Sycamore is very flexible and allows me to leave work during the day to practice and work out. They offer me the option to work from home when necessary as well as time off when I need to travel for competitions. They have a great deal to do with the success I have had this year because they were confident in my abilities as a professional as well as an athlete.

Do you approach your training the way you do your work — do you plan out training goals the same way you approach planning out a work project?

My success this year had just as much to do with excellent planning as it had to do with implementation. Every year I start out with a plan of action including short term and long term goals, issues, risks. I create a plan that takes into consideration the constraints of funding, skilled labor, and macro/micro schedules. I have a team that includes my physical therapist/performance trainer, massage therapist, technical coach, mental coach. It has taken me a while to gather a team that seems to fit so perfectly together. The result speaks for itself.

Olympian Stephanie Trafton Connects Winning the Gold with Project ManagementDo you find that most elite athletes you come into contact with are goal driven and natural project managers — or would they be better served if they were?

The majority of athletes would benefit so much from project management training and more specifically project scheduling. Many athletes can envision success but most do not take into consideration the little steps along the way that must be carefully planned and skillfully executed.

Are you already planning for London in 2012?

I intend to compete for the next four years in my event. The next World Championship competition is in Berlin next August. I will be traveling around the US and Europe for meets next year leading up to the 2009 Worlds. Every year there are exciting events in my sport, but unfortunately the attention span of the media only lasts for a few months every four years when the Olympics comes around.