Speed skater traded skates for scripts
September 2, 2011
Nate Di Palma’s story is a little out of sync with the standard script. No, he didn’t move here to ski. He came to skate fast. His arrival in 2000 with his fiancée, Michele, coincided with the completion of the Olympic Oval ice rink in Salt Lake City. It opened the final chapter of his Olympic dream, to represent the United States as a speed skater at the 2002 Games. Though there were disappointments along the way, the old adage about doors held true: "When one door closes, another opens."
Di Palma was born and grew up in Albuquerque, N. M. He was student-body president in high school and a self-confessed "theatre kid," starring in just about every high school musical at La Cueva High. "I went to school with some neat folks like Neil Patrick Harris (a.k.a. Doogie Howser) and Freddie Prinze Jr. (the teen heartthrob)," he recalls.
At age 18, he traded scripts for skates — inline, that is (not much ice in Albuquerque). "I’d always wanted to try sports, but never had the time before," he shrugs. A natural, obviously gifted, athlete, Di Palma exploded onto the professional skating circuit in a matter of months. Within two years he’d set inline skate world records in both the 5K and 10K (the 10K record still stands).
After high school, Di Palma moved to Chicago and enrolled at DePaul University to study advertising law. Professional inline skating paid the bills at college, but he soon traded concrete for ice. "Someone said I should try ice skating, so I did. I was so bad at it I vowed to master the sport," he explains.
A desire for mastery seems to be in Di Palma’s DNA, not only in sports but also in business. "I love the process of striving for something that’s beyond your perceivable reach," he says. That drive, which propelled him to the top of his sport and a shot at the Olympics, is evident today in his two successful Park City-based marketing companies, Concept Marketing and "Leave-Me-On Hold."
Di Palma transferred from DePaul to nearby Marquette, in Milwaukee, to continue college while skating at the city’s Olympic training facility. He met Michele on a blind date. "She wasn’t actually my date," says Di Palma. I was the ‘fifth wheel’ on a double date. We went to a comedy club and Michele and I hit it off while her date was at the bar. We’ve been together ever since and married for nine years."
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After college, Di Palma took a job in advertising sales at a Milwaukee radio station. It gave him a start in advertising and the flexibility to continue training for the Olympics. While at the station, Di Palma also launched his own business, Concept Marketing. When he didn’t make the 1998 U.S. Olympic speed-skating team, Di Palma set his sights on the ’02 Winter Olympics in Utah. He and Michele made the move to Utah in 2000. Though they lived apart (she in Sugar House and he in a Pinebrook condo), the pair spent most of their scant spare time in Park City.
Di Palma brought his fledgling company and a few clients with him and divided his time between work and the Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City. Sadly, his Olympic dream faded when he did not make the ’02 team. "I came close, but I just didn’t peak at the right time," he laments. "It was a big disappointment, but I shut that door pretty quickly and threw myself into my work.
"Business, not personal hobbies, are my primary passion now, I’m almost embarrassed to say." he confesses. "Helping our customers grow their businesses, giving them a unique representation of their corporate image, always improving our service, that’s what I really love to do."
One door closed, another opened. Di Palma’s almost obsessive passion for excellence has paid off with dividends. He’s grown his companies into two of most successful business ventures in Summit County.
From his home high on Pinebrook Ridge, Di Palma reflects on his journey. "Since high school I’ve always wanted to be in a leadership position and to reach my greatest potential. I think I’m doing that."
Though he admits he finds Park City winters a bit too long, he says Park City summers are "perfect." He’s an avid runner, hiker and bicyclist and enjoys outdoor concerts and dining out. "Michele and I were having dinner at Talisker on Main Street the other night and she said, ‘I think we’ve found our home.’ I agreed with her."
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at email@example.com
Favorite things to do: golf, ski, hike, road bike, run
Favorite foods: cheeseburgers, Chicago dogs, soft-serve vanilla ice-cream cones
Favorite authors: Eckhart Tolle
Favorite performers: "White guys singing reggae — they make me laugh."
Bucket List: sky dive, bungee jump
Animal companions: Oliver, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, age five. "Oliver and I have been champion 5K ‘Bark in the Park’ runners the last two years. He wears his medals around the house all the time."