Magazine Feature / People

Gerlach stays busy to keep happy

Joel Gerlach rarely relaxes.

“I’m not happy unless I’m really busy,” says Gerlach, a new intern for DU’s diversity and community relations department. “I really don’t like idle time.”

He says it’s a characteristic born from tragedy. When Joel was a small boy, his dad, a cab driver, was murdered — robbed and killed for a few dollars. 

“Growing up I was busy all the time helping my mom and my sister,” he says. 

Busy indeed. He has wasted little time accomplishing much in his first 25 years of life. 

He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2004 with a BS in business management. He started four consecutive years for the U.S. Air Force Academy basketball team. Gerlach also helped lead the basketball team to a Mountain West Conference championship in the 2003–04 season (and made an NCAA tournament appearance versus University of North Carolina).

In 2004, Gerlach became a commissioned U.S. Air Force officer. He coached the U.S. Air Force men’s basketball at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School. He spent 30 months as a contracting officer at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. and worked six months in Iraq contracting good and services to support the Iraq War.

Tony Daniels, associate athletic director of diversity and community relations and Gerlach’s boss, calls Gerlach “very talented and passionate.” 

“He’s an extremely bright young man of very high moral character and resolve to get things done,” Daniels says.

Gerlach says the Air Force Academy taught him “some serious time management.” And his advice on managing time: “Don’t try to do everything perfectly, just do everything well, really well, and you’ll do fine.” 

During his internship at DU, which he started on Labor Day this year, Gerlach is shadowing athletics department members with a career goal to be an athletic director for a university. 

“This is a great opportunity because I’m getting to learn all the pieces and how they fit together,” he says.  

Gerlach says he’s always been athletic but that his entry into basketball was based on a concession. 

“I wanted to play football and my mom wanted me to play tennis. We were standing in line to sign up for tennis lessons and we compromised on basketball,” he says with a laugh.

He says basketball taught him a lot about life. 

“Teamwork mostly, but also our coach was a big believer in everyone on the team knowing how to shoot, pass and dribble and that taught me how to feel comfortable and competent in situations where I need to perform.”

And what’s on tap after his internship? Gerlach says, “The sky’s the limit.”

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