By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
We’re kicking off a new series about swimmers entering the workforce, young entrepreneurs starting new businesses, and professional swimmers or ex-swimmers in the labor pool. We start it off with Bobby Savulich, who co-founded “Athlete Approved.”
In 2011, Bobby Savulich was training for the Olympic Trials as a post-graduate swimmer when he and Michigan head coach Mike Bottom came up with an idea: What if they started a company that could give back to swimmers? A company where other swimmers could learn about certain products that have actually been used by elite swimmers? A platform where athletes could use the exact same products as Olympic gold medalists?
So, Savulich and Bottom formulated “Athlete Approved.” The company has a website that lists supplements, equipment, and even training trips for swimmers looking to get insider information about the vast array of products available. From their website, the mission statement is clear and obvious: “Athlete Approved is a business that was created to support Olympic hopeful athletes. We accomplish this by promoting fantastic products that are time tested and approved by the best athletes in the world.”
“If you’re looking for a protein bar, come to Athlete Approved,” Savulich says. “We have a protein bar that says ‘Tested By Our Athletes.’ This is what we believe in. This is what our company is. This bar is Athlete Approved.”
And he makes sure all products Athlete Approved supports are safe for all athletes. He wouldn’t endorse a product if there was even a slight chance it wasn’t safe.
“What we put out there from a supplement standard, if it’s Athlete Approved, you won’t have to worry about it being compliant with WADA or USADA,” Savulich says. “We wouldn’t put things up there that wouldn’t pass regulations. We take [compliancy] very seriously.”
Savulich, who grew up in New Jersey and went to school at Michigan (where he met Bottom), now works for FINIS in Oakland, California. Through his connections in the sport of swimming, Savulich has signed up numerous elite swimmers from around the community, including Anthony Ervin and Peter Vanderkaay. They also upload training tips and “virtual coaching” where swimmers can have their strokes critiqued by elite level swimmers and coaches after uploading a video online.
“We do stuff with videos and technique, mental training, how Olympic level gold medal athletes train mentally to accomplish their goals,” Savulich says. “It’s not all selling products, but it’s also the ideas and mentalities as well.”
As we enter a world where there are more post-graduate swimmers than ever, there are more businesses started and created by swimmers. “Athlete Approved” is one of those businesses designed to give back to swimmers – created by swimmers and for swimmers. Savulich hopes to one day be successful enough to fully support swimmers training for the Olympics.
“I’d like to see Athlete Approved really push swimming forward, but also just make a difference in the world and be able to support athletes in need,” Savulich says.
As for Savulich himself, he’s learned many lessons how to be successful in business through his journey as a competitive swimmer. As an age grouper in New Jersey, then at the University of Michigan, Savulich trained alongside swimmers like Michael Phelps, Klete Keller and Peter Vanderkaay. He quickly learned that being successful takes hard work. You have to be dedicated. You have to believe in yourself. Savulich says that if you can wake up early in the morning and complete some of the hardest swimming sets, you can enter the real professional world of business and do almost anything.
“If you’re a swimmer, and you’re waking up at 6am, going to practice, and you’re committed, don’t be intimidated not to follow your dream or not to start something,” Savulich says. “I didn’t have a very businesslike background. I didn’t go to business school or law school. But if you’re able to excel in the sport of swimming, you can excel in anything you want to do.”
Savulich still swims. He tests out products for the company he works for, FINIS, and occasionally splashes around in the pool. He looks back at his Olympic Trials experience thinking he couldn’t have done anything more. He remembers looking around before the semi-final of the 100 freestyle, where he eventually placed 14th, and seeing the likes of Anthony Ervin, Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian and just thinking, “I belong here.”
“I felt like they were my peers as opposed to being Gods.”
For now, Savulich is using his swimming experiences to support the athletes he once trained alongside. He wants to grow Athlete Approved beyond swimming and Olympic sports, and perhaps grow to all sports, as long as products and relationships meet the Athlete Approved standard. He wants the company to be successful enough to financially give back to these athletes that give the rest of us swim fans so much to cheer about. It’s a journey for Savulich that is on-going.
“The lessons that swimming teaches you are going to translate into the real world. Don’t let all the small little details intimidate you,” Savulich says. “They figure themselves out along the journey.”
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.