In early June, Garden City USD 457 Virtual Academy senior Diego Arguello quit his job and cut back time with his friends and family to dedicate his summer to skeleton, a bobsled-like sport he had never tried before.
Two months later, standing among 89 other star athletes from across the country, he would put his physical crash course in the sport to the test, and try out for the Olympics.
Arguello’s try out was a whirlwind Olympic scouting camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the tailend of July, where coaches would judge a narrowed down pool of athletes in a series of physical challenges, ultimately selecting eight winners, one for each tested sport, to advance to the U.S. Olympic teams.
This weekend, the experience will be broadcasted nationwide through the documentary “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful,” premiering on NBC Sports at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Arguello, 18, didn’t entirely believe it when he was accepted to the program. About 4,000 athletes originally submitted applications, and 600 fulfilled initial requirements, said Michael Dionne, director of athlete development at Lake Placid Olympic Center. Arguello had made it to the top 90 finalists. From the moment he received his email, he began researching, eating better and training.
The athlete focused on skeleton because he thought his lightweight frame was best suited for it out of the other sports. Working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, he trained at the Garden City Family YMCA, Tally Trail and Holcomb Wellness Center, weighing down and pushing a sled for 40, 80 yards, sometimes across the Garden City High School football field at night, again and again until he couldn’t do it anymore.
“There were summer sports there and I didn’t want them to be like all eyes on me…” Arguello said about practicing at the GCHS stadium. “I mean, I had a lot of people ask me ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ And coaches asked me. The only thing I said was ‘I’m on a mission.’”
Athletics precedes most things in Arguello’s life. As a kid playing soccer, football, track or his first sport, basketball, no matter what the sport, and regardless of whether he was good, he said he was always the first one down the court or field.
“Honestly I’ve always really been an athlete since I was born…” Arguello said. “I’ve always been the fastest kid in every sport, and a lot of kids didn’t like me because of that reason … Basketball really just taught me that ‘Hey I’m really fast. What else can I do with running?’”
From seventh grade on, track has been Arguello’s key sport. It’s what helped him stay in line, make good decisions and follow positive influences, he said. In high school, he joined the USD 457 Virtual Academy so he could better focus on both academics and athletics and tune his schedule to training. As his father, Salvador Arguello said, he’s “starting to be the best.”
“I could bump up my grades and get really good grades, and then after all that is done, I could just start training for whatever might happen in the future,” Arguello said. “I’ve always been training, I’ve just never known what I’m training for.”
The format offers more flexibility, but less structure, and less opportunities for athletic competition, Arguello said. The scouting camp, he said, gave him a chance to prove himself.
Most athletes at the camp weren’t like Arguello. The group’s median age was 24 and 39 were collegiate athletes, according to the “Scouting Camp” website. Arguello said he was one of the youngest athletes and possibly the only high schooler competing for skeleton — high school competitors were not the norm.
The scouting camps, now in their second year, are meant to track down talented athletes for more obscure sports, Dionne said. Athletes may train their entire lives to compete in Olympic-level soccer or skiing or swimming, but less mainstream sports have a more difficult task in finding contenders, he said.
For former D1 athletes with nowhere to go after college or other athletes fueled by optimism and ambition, the camps offered an attainable pathway to Olympic competition.
Arguello noticed the difference when he arrived at the camp, but he wasn’t intimidated. He said he felt up to the challenge.
Jason Hillquist, a fellow finalist and track and cross country senior at California State University, Fullerton, was less sure in the early hours of the camp, wary, somewhat, of the competition. He and Arguello hit it off quickly, and he was impressed that the high schooler could match his pace in squatting.
“He seemed very confident, especially for his age,” Hillquist said. “He was up against some guys that were over ten years older than him. I thought it was really cool that these high schoolers, they had the confidence to compete against someone like me, who’s been in college, been a college athlete for over four years ... It shows that they still have a lot of potential, just in the next couple years.”
The environment was “like a business trip,” Arguello said. Everyone, from greenhorns to collegiate athletes to past Olympic competitors, would eat, train, sleep repeat, he said, focused on the task at hand while still being open and kind, never leaving anyone out.
Garden City felt like a barrier in itself sometimes, Arguello said; he had a hard time finding athletic opportunities, which could make it hard to build a national reputation. The scouting camp was not only the rare chance to “get known,” but also it was his kind of place: “full of sports and nothing else.”
“Just seeing kids that come from nothing and come to one of the best facilities in the whole country for sports … You never thought you had the chance, but look at where I’m at now, you know?” Arguello said. “That’s really how I felt because I’m not from a rich family or anything. I’m from basically, like, the projects … It helped me put my name out in the other national governing bodies (of the Olympics) … so that they know that I’m out here in the middle of nowhere doing something.”
At the end of the camp, Arguello wasn’t one of the eight winners. He came back home, looking forward to other prospective futures, like his dream to run track for a D1 university. He was honored that his community was so supportive throughout his summer training process, and proud that he did the best he could at the camp, though next time he planned to push himself farther.
And he wanted younger kids, maybe kids like him, to feel motivated to chase the careers they wanted, be it through academics or athletics.
“I really feel like if I could go and talk to some kids at some schools … I could hopefully spark something in their head, their mind, their heart that will make them chase and pursue what they want to do in life, not what someone else wants to do,” Arguello said.
“I just want kids to know that it’s not where you come from or what you have, it’s the amount of dedication and patience that you have toward something that will get you to what you want to achieve.”
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.