Thomas "T.C." Dantzler is like most successful, hard-working business owners. With one big exception: In August, he will put his company on hold, head to Beijing, and compete in the Olympics.
Entrepreneurs of all stripes face daily challenges in their quest to reach the top. But rarely do the solutions involve hoisting a competitor over their heads and tossing them to the ground.
Meet Thomas "T.C." Dantzler, the Greco-Roman-wrestling, small-business-owning, Beijing-bound-Olympian. Greco-Roman, which is defined by the use of the wrestler's upper body only, goes back to the ancient Egyptian games in 708 B.C., and was part of the modern era that began in Athens in 1896. A wrestler's prime is considered the mid-to-late 20s, but at the ripe old age of 37, Dantzler will be making his first trip to the Olympics in August, competing in the 74 kgs. (163 lb.) weight division. Sure, he has an 18-year-old teammate, but don't worry about his physical condition. "I'm as strong as battery acid," says Dantzler, founder of TC logiQ, a $4 million software-development company that specializes in background screening.
From George Foreman to Venus Williams, many past and present Olympians embark on second careers as entrepreneurs. But Dantzler is something of a unique breed -- a successful business owner who is now turning his attention to chasing a gold medal.
His day begins at 4:48 a.m., so he can hit snooze once before rousing himself to his office in Colorado Springs, Colo. TC logiQ has 29 employees and more than 75 clients, which include USA Swimming, Track & Field, and Wrestling, the state of Colorado, and Garda, a large international and investigations security company that provides armored trucks in the United States. "Dantzler's company helps as our first line of defense," says Terrance House, director of pre-employment screening at Garda. "They do probably 600 screenings a month, which includes sending runners to get court records because we don't rely on databanks."
Dantzler's first taste of entrepreneurship came as a kid, when his father would force he and his brothers to put on blazers and fancy shoes every Saturday morning and help file documents at the family's Harvey, Ill., insurance company. In wrestling, he got his start as a member of the Harvey Twisters youth wrestling program. Today, the combination of his two loves serves as the foundation of TC logiQ. "Youth athletics have the least amount of resources and are most vulnerable" to predators, Dantzler says. To that end, employees receive bonuses for catching applicants who turn out to be registered sex offenders.
Training for a gold medal is serious business, so Dantzler checks out from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for practice, working in between and after hours. He admits to occasionally popping in a DVD of an opponent at the office, but for the most part, "I keep it… separate but equal," he says. "Working actually keeps my passion to stay hungry for wrestling because I'm not sleeping, eating, and drinking it all the time."
Dantzler got heavily involved in Greco-Roman after a torn ACL ended his career as a tailback at Northern Illinois University. After college, he took it upon himself to study the sport and train. His quest led him to success at an open invitational tournament in the mid-1990s and an invite from the U.S. national team. A combination of injuries, bad luck, and youthful obstinacy kept him from the Olympic team. "I learned it late in the game, but in sports and business, you have to be a sponge," says Dantzler, who admits he constantly picks the brains of his foreign Greco-Roman competitors. "Know-it-alls will never win."
It's been a long haul in both instances. Dantzler recalls a job he had as a night auditor at a Days Inn that ended shortly before the 8 a.m. practice began. He kept after it, though, all the while working for a number of other companies like FedEx, until he finally decided to go out on his own in 2004.
Steve Fraser, coach of the USA Greco-Roman team, says he is amazed by Dantzler's drive. "I spent 10 years in operations at Domino's Pizza running 60 corporate stores, so I know what it takes to run a business, and I know what it takes to become a world-class athlete," says Fraser, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. "Both are full-time jobs."
If not for a recent rule change, Dantzler might never have received the opportunity he has in Beijing. After the beginning of the match, wrestlers now start from a "reverse lock" position (one grappler on all fours) and not both on their feet. "It plays to his strengths of lifting people off the mat and throwing them on their backs," Fraser says. "He can beat anybody in the world from that position."
Or, as Dantzler puts it, "When the rule change went into effect, it felt like I was cheating." The proof is in the singlet -- he's beaten three world champions in the past seven months.
As the 2008 Olympics drew closer, Dantzler admits that TC logiQ put growth on hold and didn't "actively" seek new clients. But as many entrepreneurs know, putting things on hold is rarely possible -- during this interview, Dantzler received a text message, alerting him that USA Water Polo had just signed on with his company.
His personal life also remains busy -- he and his wife Tanya welcomed their third child (and first daughter) into the world in July.
Needless to say, these are amazing times for Dantzler, but he's still thinking ahead -- in business and in sports. He has plans to start franchising in six months, with the goal of an IPO down the line, and if his body will cooperate, he isn't ruling out the 2012 Olympics.
And then there's that career-defining dream that just may come true on Aug. 13. "You can expect a gold medal," Dantzler says. "I always knew I would win one in the Olympics, I just didn't know when and wasn't always sure how."