Shining a spotlight on celebrities and athletes who love to travel. Created and developed by Stacy Steponate Greenberg.
Sports and Science: who would have thought those two could ever come together as seamlessly as, say, chocolate and peanut butter? One man did, and his name is John Brenkus. The creator of the popular Sports Science features on ESPN, Brenkus has captured audiences across the country and beyond by relating scientific facts to sports in an informative and entertaining way. Brenkus can do more than just talk about sports, he has also competed in numerous Ironman Triathlons around the world, allowing him a first hand understanding of what it takes to be an elite athlete. Now, his latest endeavor, “The Brink of Midnight Podcast with John Brenkus,” will explore the moment his guests credit with changing their lives forever. The Overhead Compartment was glad to visit John in his laboratory to learn more about sports and life through the eyes of a unique broadcasting talent.
The Overhead Compartment with John Brenkus starts now…
OC: You’re the creator of the highly popular Sports Science features, where you take the scientific angle of how world class athletes do what they do. What sport does science prove has the most gifted athletes?
JB: It depends on how we’re defining “gifted”. Elite athletes in every sport are truly “gifted” in that they have the talent, focus, desire and coaching to allow them to excel. If we’re talking about the traditional definition of “gifted athlete” where we factor in strength, speed, coordination, agility, etc. then I would say the NBA has the highest percentage of “gifted athletes”. However, that doesn’t mean the NFL, NHL, MLS, MLB don’t have the same kind of athletes. The NBA just has a higher percentage.
OC: What is the most common misconception about the athleticism of today’s players?
JB: The most common misconception is that elite athletes simply roll out of bed and are just awesome. The truth is, the difference between good and great comes down to desire…the willingness to work harder and to be smarter than everyone else. At the elite level, all the athletes are amazing, but the best of the best simply work harder and understand the game better.
OC: Could science tell us who is better, Lebron James or Michael Jordan?
JB: They are two totally different players. Lebron is more versatile (he can literally play all 5 positions on the court), but everything MJ touched in the basketball world turned to gold…he had that intangible factor of always making everyone around him better and breaking new ground in what we thought was athletically possible. When it’s all said and done, I’m sure we will be putting both on an equal pedestal.
OC: Which findings you’ve made over the years have come as the biggest surprise to you?
JB: The biggest surprise is how many truly elite athletes are my size (or right around my size). I’m 5’9’’ (average weight) and there are a ton of athletes in the NFL who play receiver, running back, and DB…there are even some QBs who are right around my size. In the NBA, Isaiah Thomas is dominating- and he and I literally look eye to eye at each other. MLB, MLS are full of athletes whose frames are almost identical to mine (except they are much stronger)! Everyone always says “Man, those athletes in the lab are total freaks).” I like to comeback and say, “You’d be shocked how many are just average in size (like me). Those are the athletes who impress me the most.”
OC: Over the many athlete interviews you have done, which was the most memorable?
JB: We are now in season 10 and have done around 1,500 segments for ESPN alone, so it’s always hard to pick one. The truth is, we have the world’s greatest athletes doing crazy, cool experiments that illustrate how amazing they are. All of them are incredible!
OC: What is your favorite sport to watch?
JB: I watch the NFL and NBA the most…but I have to be a consumer of all of them:) I was born in the DC area in 1971, so I grew up with 3 Super Bowls with the Redskins, an NBA Championship with the Bullets and even a World Series with the Orioles! So I was a HUGE sports fan growing up…and it’s never left me.
OC: You are now launching a podcast called The Brink of Midnight Podcast with John Brenkus, which explores the moments a guest might credit with changing their life forever. What was your Brink of Midnight?
JB: I was traveling with a business associate from Aspen to LA, and we had to change planes in Denver. There was a ticket mix up, so on the leg from Denver to LA we got separated. On that plane, I sat next to the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen (Lizzie). It was literally like God was shining a light on her! It was a classic love at first sight, and fortunately for us, we had to get off the plane because of a mechanical problem and, when we were exiting the plane, I went up to the person I was traveling with and said, “I’ll give you $100 to stay away from me ‘cause I just met the woman I’m going to marry.” Lizzie and I spent the next 5 hours in the Denver airport…and it felt like we had known each other our whole lives. When we landed in LA and exchanged information, it turned out that we lived 2 blocks away from each other on the same street in Brentwood! Lizzie called her parents and told them she just met the guy she was going to marry (even though she and I were dating other people at the time)! We got married a few months later in The Vatican and, needless to say, we’ve been together ever since with two beautiful children. Sometimes, God throws you a softball:)
OC: What is the hardest thing about interviewing famous people?
JB: I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had to interview “famous people” my whole professional career. The one lesson that I learned early on is to treat everyone with the same amount of respect. That way, when you interact with someone who is “famous”, they can feel that you’re not changing your behavior. They (the “famous” people), just want to have real interactions and be treated like a normal human being.
OC: Who would be the number one dream guest for the The Brink of Midnight Podcast with John Brenkus?
JB: Two dream guests would be President Obama and President Trump. They BOTH created a “Brink of Midnight” moment for our country and I’d love to hear their own personal stories regarding the moments that fundamentally changed the course of their lives.
OC: You’re an athlete yourself and have competed in many Ironman triathlons. Is there a science behind people who can do that type of extreme activity?
JB: Yes. They are very stubborn…in the best way possible:)
OC: Those triathlons took you all over the world, what was your favorite place to visit?
JB: I did my first Ironman in Taupo, New Zealand in 1998 and the experience was truly magical. The Ironman event wasn’t nearly as common and commercial as it is today, so there was this very pioneering feeling about the whole thing. The people in New Zealand were incredible and the scenery is among the most beautiful in the world!
OC: First thing you do when arriving at a hotel in your room?
JB: Throw my suitcase on the bed and race to the bathroom. It’s become pavlovian at this point: walk into hotel room, race to the bathroom. They go hand in hand.
OC: Complete the following sentence: I never leave home without:
JB: Being grateful for the incredible life Lizzie and I have been able to create together. I also never travel without my prayer book. My mother gave it to me when I was 7, and I’ve always packed it ever since!
John Brenkus, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!
Stacy Steponate Greenberg brings over 15 years of travel and marketing experience to Pursuitist. With her column, The Overhead Compartment, Stacy interviews celebrities and athletes bringing an insight into their lives and travel habits. Stacy spent 11 years at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide in various capacities, serving stints as Director of Marketing for the St. Regis and Sheraton brands, and Senior Director for Starwood Residences. Prior to Starwood, Stacy worked as Manager of Marketing for Hyatt Hotels. A native of Chicago, Stacy resides New York City with her husband and two kids, who like to “rate” the various hotels on their travels with their mom. Reach Stacy via Twitter twitter.com/StacyGSG.