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Out of Office: This World-Class Athlete and Coke Employee's Happy Place is in the Pool

By:  Unbottled Staff Feb 7, 2014
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World-Class Swimmer and Coca-Cola Employee Annamaria Gazda

This #OutofOffice monthly series highlights many of our Coca-Cola employees who agreed to share what makes them happy when they're away from the desk. This series was brought to life through our Coca-Cola Europe team who was sharing these stories internally. One story was sent to us, the Journey team, and we knew we had to open these up to the world. The stories are inspiring, fun and thought-provoking.

Today we're featuring Annamaria Gazda from Hungary. By day, she is Coca-Cola's Global Marketing Asset Manager. At other times, she is a world-class competitive swimmer, winning international gold medals and national records in her native country Hungary.

We caught up with Annamaria to hear all about her passion for swimming and how she combines the skills she’s learned in the pool with her career at Coca-Cola.

When did your love of swimming begin?

NC State Swim Team Poster

Annamaria moved to the U.S. from Hungary after receiving a swimming scholarship to NC State University.

My parents enrolled me in swimming lessons at the age of five, because I was terrified of water! What started as a way to counter my screaming at the pool-side turned into a life-long love of the sport.

After high school, I was offered the opportunity to study in the US via a swimming scholarship at the North Carolina State University, so I packed my bags! Being an athlete in the US was an amazing experience and really boosted my swimming career. I was exposed to a different culture which was very rewarding, on a personal and a competitive level. Following my bachelors degree, I completed my masters studies in international business at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta  – just across the street from Coca-Cola’s HQ.

Talk us through some of your top swimming achievements to date.

2010 World Champs

Annamaria swam in the 2010 World Championships.

During my bachelor studies from 2000 – 2004 I was swimming for the university team, where I won several titles, which was a great experience. Once completing my master’s studies in Atlanta, I started playing water polo, which was a lot of fun. In 2008, when I moved back to Hungary I needed a new challenge, so I set my sights on the 2009 Hungarian Masters National Championships. At this competition I won eight gold medals and set five Hungarian national records, qualifying for the 2010 Masters World Championships. This event really motivated me to compete seriously again.

Masters Olympics Ceremony

She left the 2013 Masters Olympics with 5 gold medals.

Since then, I have competed at the 2010 and the 2012 Masters Swimming World Championships. In 2010, which was in Sweden, I won two gold medals (100m and 200m backstroke) and placed 4th in two other events; while in 2012, in Italy, I placed fifth, sixth and ninth.  

As I had 2 World Championships behind me, I knew that ‘only’ an Olympics is missing from my list of competitions. Italy was hosting the 2013 Masters Olympics, which I decided to train for. The training was full with challenges and obstacles, but I am happy to say that it was all worth it: the Masters Olympics proved to be the highlight of my swimming career. After winning my first gold medal, I did not think I could get any happier than that. Well, I was wrong… I end up winning all events I entered in, so I returned home with 5 gold medals. 

Tell us about your role at Coke.

FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour in Kenya

Annamaria works on the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour team. Here she is (far right) with the trophy.

Right after I completed my post-graduate degree in 2007 I started working for Coca-Cola in Atlanta as a project manager for the Worldwide Media and Marketing Communications team. I moved back to Hungary in 2008 but kept working for the Company and as a Powerade Brand Manager in the CSE BU. The highlight of my work on Powerade was in 2012 when I was leading the development and execution of the Powerade field of play activation during UEFA EURO 2012™. This project has helped me to get closer to my dream and I am very fortunate to say that now my dream has been fulfilled: I am working in the Global Alliances and Ventures team in Atlanta where I am a project manager of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola.

How do you strike a balance between your work for Coke and swimming?

When I am home, an average day for me begins at 4:45. I head straight for the pool doing laps until 7:30 and am at my desk by 8:30. Being physically active first thing in the morning gives me a lot of energy for my working day.

Since I am traveling with the FIFA World Cup Trophy it is quite challenging to find the time and a big enough swimming pool to swim in. However, I am making a very conscious effort to stay physically active and even if I cannot swim on a daily basis, I do work out very regularly.

Being an athlete has definitely helped me at work. It has taught me how to be organized and goal-oriented. I’ve learned early on how to manage my time, to set challenging yet achievable goals and work very hard to reach those…  and to dream big, because nothing is sweeter then to fulfill those dreams.

Annamaria Living Positively

Annamaria representing what "Live Positively" means to her: Giving back to the community.

As far as work-life balance goes my family would say I need to work on it! It’s sometimes hard to drag me away from my desk, or out of the pool!

What does Live Positively mean to you?

Optimism, positivity and lots of energy! I think I put Live Positively into action by taking care of myself physically and mentally. Feeling fit and having a balanced, active lifestyle are important parts of this.   

I think it also means giving this positive energy back to the community and the people close to you. My current role is all about this and I am the happiest I’ve ever been. We are truly making a difference everywhere we take the FIFA World Cup Trophy and we bring people together to see and celebrate football’s most desired prize. It is amazing to experience how the power of football unites people around the world.

Did you catch any of the latest global sporting events?

Annamaria at EURO 2012

Annamaria at EURO 2012

2012 was a huge year for Europe, as both Olympics and EURO were hosted that summer. I had a chance to see two football games: one in Poland and one in Ukraine which were absolutely fantastic. It was amazing to be a part of it via Powerade and see the execution up close.

As for London 2012, my brother surprised me with tickets to the first day of swimming competitions, and I spent four days at the Olympic village with my family, watching any events we could get tickets for.

2012 London Olympics

Having a little fun at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

As the 2014 FIFA World Cup is months away I am very excited to see all the Coca-Cola plans coming to life. I cannot wait for the championship to start, because Brazil is a mecca of football, so I am sure that the atmosphere and excitement for the games will be unbelievable.

Seeing our brand's presence at these global events is incredible. There is no other brand that can activate gigantic events like the EUROs, Olympics, and FIFA World Cups in the way we do ― these moments always remind me how proud I am to work for this company! When I was a teenager I actually started dreaming about what it would be like to work for Coca-Cola that is so involved in world-class sporting events. It has been great to be living this dream, not just as an athlete but working behind the scenes.

Do you have a story to tell when you get off work? We've started a campaign to share everyone's happy hobbies when they're #outofoffice. We'd love to hear yours: Share your story here.