What does one do after becoming an Olympic gold medal winner and ski legend, while in the midst of a budding television career? Go back to school of course! At least that was the case for 2007 Cal alumnus, Jonny Moseley. Most people will recall the Nor Cal native’s success in the 1998 Winter Olympics, winning a gold medal in ski moguls for the United States. From there, Jonny went on to host Saturday Night Live, which helped launch his career as a television host. He has since hosted several programs: Real World vs. Road Rules Challenges, Battle of the Sexes, and American Ninja Warrior, just to name a few.
Jonny always wanted to get his college degree and took classes at UC Davis and UCLA. But with the momentum of his success leading up to and following the ’98 Olympics, he was offered more and more exciting career opportunities. By 2002, Jonny felt ready to finish his degree and was inspired to come to UC Berkeley after speaking to students on campus. For his 10th Reunion, we were fortunate enough to sit down and speak with the man himself to learn how his decision to pursue his degree at Cal impacted his career.
What made you want to go back to school? Did you always know that you wanted to go to Cal?
“I was always torn between school and skiing. School was interesting and competitive, but at the same time, I was deep into skiing. I had two goals that were not compatible with each other. During my training for the ‘98 Olympics, I was taking some classes at UC Davis. I got a call from my coach one day and he asks me, ‘What are you doing!? You need to drop out immediately.’ In 2002 I knew that I was quitting skiing for good, and I planned on going back to school. During this time, the Cal Alumni Association invited me to give a speech at commencement. As a resident of Marin, the commencement planted the idea of going to UC Berkeley and staying local. I applied and was blessed enough to get in. While I was there for commencement I enjoyed my time on campus - it was a no brainer.”
Was it clear during your ski career that you would someday make the jump to television?
“When you are skiing at 15 and 16, you start to understand the marketing aspect of things. There wasn’t much money in skiing, so you needed sponsorships. I started to understand the value of exposure. You are linked to the marketing arms of the companies that you work with closely. As I became more experienced, being on TV was helpful towards both my goals and the companies that I worked for. I knew I had to create some consistent exposure outside of just skiing.
Right after the SNL wrapped, the next morning we got a call from one of the talent people at MTV. I went and auditioned and ended up getting hired for the Road Rules vs. Real World challenges. At that point, I still did not consider myself a TV guy, and I knew I still wanted to go back to school.”
Before you got to Cal, had you already come to a decision on what kind of degree you would pursue? Did your career in television factor into your decision?
“I truly believed that I was going to find a divergent path when I went to Cal. I thought television was behind me so I started pursuing some different interests. But at the same time, I knew I would continue to take the television opportunities as much as they presented themselves.”
After exploring his options and looking into degrees in the fields of business, engineering, and architecture, Moseley was unsure of which would be his best fit. It wasn’t until he met his mentor in the American Studies department, Kathleen Moran, when he realized that is was possible to create his own curriculum.
“I felt like the classes I was taking were relevant to my career. It was at that point that I realized I didn’t need to pull the chute on my career, and I could hone in on my professional skills. I was finally able to get formal training in the things I had been learning on the job and making up as I went along. Also, it forced me to work on my greatest weakness: writing.”
Were there skills or traits that you picked up during your skiing and television careers that you were able to apply to your time at Cal?
“You have to dig in and accept responsibility for your actions. When you are a young athlete you want to blame everyone but yourself, and you are only concerned with winning. Over time, skiing taught me discipline, it taught me how to be honest with myself, and how to figure out where my weaknesses were so I could work on them. Skiing also taught me a way to organize my life without all of the distraction. I needed all of these tools to be successful Cal, and I still apply those lessons to my life now.”
Do you have any advice that you give to a current undergraduate or young person pursuing a career in skiing?
“It is tough when you are younger; there is a lot of the noise around you with your friends. Socializing is not as important as it may seem at the moment. Keep your head down and don’t worry about the things you will be missing out on. Prioritize what matters to you and figure out how to keep improving your skills. Everything else will work itself out in the end. “
What are some of your upcoming projects that you want people to know about?
“I’ve been getting more involved with organizations and causes I believe in. I’ve been giving my time to two organizations; Water Keeper and High Fives. Water Keeper is important to me as a skier and resident of a coastal city. They focus on addressing the issue of climate change and sea level rise. High Fives works with mountain sports athletes and veterans that suffer from traumatic brain injuries.”