ISHPEMING - Nick Baumgartner's favorite part of being an Olympian isn't the fame or the accolades. It's having the opportunity to talk to a younger generation about the meaning of success.
Baumgartner - an Iron River native and X-Games gold medalist who also raced snowboard cross as a member of the 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic teams - made a visit to Aspen Ridge middle and elementary school in Ishpeming Tuesday morning, where he had a simple message for students: that the key to success lies in working hard and being kind.
"When people ask me what the coolest part of going to the Olympics is, and I tell them the fact that kids will listen to me and they'll take some advice from me and hopefully I can push them in the right way, it truly is," Baumgartner said. "It's super cool to go in and be able to talk to a kid and push them in the right direction, because they just need a little help sometimes."
In separate assemblies, Baumgartner spoke to middle school kids and then the kindergarten through fifth graders about how, when you figure out what it is you want to do, you can achieve it if you work hard enough - despite naysayers and considerable odds to be overcome. He talked about how grateful he is that he gets to have fun and do what he loves, and said that success as an adult largely means finding your passion and pursuing it no matter what.
"To get the opportunity to have a native of the Upper Peninsula, somebody from a small town like where we live, to come and speak, it's such a great opportunity," said Aspen Ridge principal Chris Marana. "The kids can really relate to him, and they see that person that's just a small town, hometown person that had big dreams and was able to make it to the top. So it's pretty neat."
Baumgartner also addressed bullying, saying that he was bullied as a kid but also that he probably has also bullied others before.
"I'm not perfect, I've made mistakes, but if you guys have made a mistake, you were mean to somebody at some point - say you were mean to someone yesterday and now you feel bad for them? Apologize to them," he said. "Try to be nice to them next time. Don't be mean.
"I promise you guys, if you're nice to your friends and everyone around you, good things will happen to you."
For Baumgartner, teaching kids to be kind to one another is essential.
"They all want to be good," he said. "We just gotta help them be good.
"The sooner you can get it to them and show them, the more it'll help them in life. And I'm a 100 percent firm believer that good things happen to good people and if you do good things to people it'll come back to you. I haven't always done that, but through lessons in life I've learned that it's the only way to go."