For one rower, his sweet tooth helped him achieve his sweet Olympic dreams.
Achieving success at the international level in rowing requires year-round training, but the athletes still have to find some way to make a living.
“A lot of foreign teams are funded by their governments at a much higher level than us,” said Will Newell, a rower who trains at the Oklahoma City High Performance Center in the Devon Boathouse and Olympic qualifier. “So we need some way to support ourselves.”
The Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation sponsors athletes and assists them with finding housing and employment while training on the Oklahoma River. Newell and Robin Prendes, members of the men’s four lightweight crew that has qualified for the Olympic Games, work part-time for Devon Energy.
However, teammate Nick LaCava has the most interesting job of the crew. He is a chocolate maker. He is the Willy Wonka of rowing.
After LaCava graduated from Columbia University in 2009, he was rowing for the U.S. National Team and looking for a way to earn money.
LaCava and two of his friends then started an online chocolate company called Chocomize, www.chocomize.com.
“It was sort of a way for me to supplement rowing,” LaCava said
The company custom-designs chocolate bars for customers. From a list of more than 100 ingredients on its website, Chocomize will mix whatever a customer wants in a chocolate bar.
“We developed a business plan, raised money, bought the chocolate machines (from Italy) and started a factory in New Jersey,” LaCava said. “We import the chocolate from Belgium. They are kind of like little chocolate chips. We heat it to specific temperatures, pour it in bowls and add ingredients.
“We had absolutely no prior experience in chocolate. We just had this idea that we thought would really work. It’s been really successful.”
Chocomize gets most of its orders around Christmas and Valentine’s Day, LaCava said.
Chocomize will add ingredients to chocolate such as nuts, banana chips, hot curry powder, gummi bears, roasted sunflower seeds, sour patch kids, pretzels and even bacon. Customers can choose as many as five ingredients.
“Basically anything you can think of, we will put in your chocolate,” he said.