Fresh off a plane from his first time as an Olympic coach in Rio, Durham business owner Nunzio Esposto talks about going for gold in diving and in business.
Discovering His Passion
There isn’t much for a kid to do in Butler, Pennsylvania. Just 2.5 square miles make up the small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. “I would just hang out at the Y,” said Nunzio Esposto. Most days after school you would find 10-year-old Nunzio in the pool at the Butler YMCA. “They had a diving board. I used to go do flips and things. Just goofing off.” One day the staff took notice of Nunzio and encouraged him to join the dive team. He was good. So good that at 18, a diving scholarship took Nunzio from that small town to the University of North Carolina. There he competed at the NCAA and national level.
Taking the Plunge
After earning a degree in radiation therapy, Nunzio began a career in healthcare, but he never stopped diving. In 1998, he returned to his alma mater, this time as UNC’s head diving coach. During his time at UNC, he also ran a club diving program. Things came full circle when he began coaching Nick McCrory, a kid about the same age as Nunzio was when he started out in the Butler YMCA pool. McCrory would go on to win bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. “It was really cool to watch and help a kid develop like that. It’s really satisfying,” said Nunzio.
That’s when he knew he didn’t want to just train top collegiate athletes. He wanted to make diving accessible to young people of all ages and skill levels. For the past four years, Nunzio has served as head diving coach for Duke University and is also the owner of Duke Diving. It’s a club diving program that caters to young people from age 7 to 18, from beginners to competitors.
Building the Team
Nunzio can relate to other entrepreneurs juggling their business and their full-time job. “I’m still very involved. I teach certain classes. But I can’t do it all,” said Nunzio. He says the ideal situation is having people working for you who you can groom and trust. Duke Diving has a team of instructors led by program director Katie Hazelton. When hiring managers, Nunzio says it’s important to make sure they don’t have just the hard skills, but some universal soft skills all leaders need to have. “Katie is a great diving coach,” said Nunzio. “But she has to do so much more than that. She has to communicate with parents, manage the staff, create spreadsheets to track student’s progress.”
Spreading the Word
Part of Hazelton’s job is also to oversee advertising. While the program is well-known to students who already plan to dive competitively, Nunzio wants to reach youth who may not even know about diving as a sport. To do that, Duke Diving frequently offers deals on websites like Groupon and Living Social. “Diving can help get kids into the college of their choice and it can get them scholarship money,” said Nunzio. “We just had two kids in the program graduate high school and they’ve been offered full rides.”
Making a Splash
Duke Diving’s reputation has made it a USA Diving School of Excellence and one of the top diving clubs in the country. This was on display for the world to see this summer at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Six of Nunzio’s students competed in the Olympic trials. Abby Johnston qualified and went to Rio with Coach Nunzio by her side. In his first time as a coach on the US Olympic diving team, Nunzio coached Johnston to a top-12 finish. “It’s something you can’t imagine until you experience it,” said Nunzio. “It’s a dream come true for a coach to compete at this highest level.”
Padgett’s 3 Wise Questions:
- If you could bake a success pie, what would the ingredients be?
A lot of the same things I learned as an athlete have helped me be successful in business. Hard work, dedication, resilience.
- If you could go back in time to the beginning, would you do anything differently?
I think in the beginning we underestimated the importance of the Internet. Making our website more attractive and easy to navigate has been key to our success.
- If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Hillary Clinton. I’m not much of a political person, but I’ve taken more interest than ever this year.
For more information, visit www.DukeDiving.com