Champions inspire us, amaze us and sometimes leave us speechless.
In his quest to join TeamUSA at the WorldSkills Competition in the fall of 2007, Chance Pollo had to travel in March to the Irish Invitational Welding Contest in Cork City. To test his skills, Pollo competed alongside United Kingdom contestants as well as contenders for Ireland’s international team.
“They invited a guy from the U.S., one from the UK and three Irishmen,” he remembers. “I caught food poisoning on the plane over there. It was horrible. I couldn’t keep food or water down for three days. I was pretty sick. I was trying not to puke in my hood.”
Despite his condition, Pollo finished the competition — and actually scored the highest. His tenacity is remarkable.
“I work about a nine-hour day and then spend four or five hours after hours at the shop where I work,” he says. “Everybody else leaves, and I drag out all my stuff for the competition and do a little practicing.”
It’s been a long journey, in more ways than one. The Wyoming native joined SkillsUSA in high school, won his state Welding competition in 2002, then placed in the top five at the SkillsUSA Championships. In 2003, he earned a national silver medal. In 2004, back as a freshman in college, he placed fourth, and in 2005 he took the national college/postsecondary bronze medal. That same year, he was invited to U.S. welding trials in Dallas.
“I competed against five other U.S. competitors,” Pollo says. “I didn’t do very well. My vessel leaked. You have to weld a pressure vessel, and mine sprung a leak. That leak put me out of that competition.”
However, because he had made it that far, Pollo was asked to compete again, this time at the American Welding Society’s trials in Atlanta.
“In October of 2006, we went to Atlanta for a pre-trials weld-off,” he says. “I won Atlanta and they narrowed the field down from six competitors to three, but they had a tie for third, so four competitors moved on.
“We started sending in projects every month, from January until May. Every month … plates, pipe, a pressure vessel, stainless and aluminum … a whole set of each, every month for five months.”
The projects were sent to competition sponsors who graded them. Judges hydro-tested the vessels, X-rayed and bent the plates, then scored them accordingly. In the midst of working full time and completing these projects, he was invited to the Irish competition.
Reaching the U.S. finals
In June 2007, Pollo learned he was headed to the welding finals to compete against one other U.S. competitor. As with the event in Ireland, team representatives from several other countries were also invited to the trials, which were held in conjunction with the SkillsUSA Championships in Kansas City, Mo. And as you might have guessed by now, he won.
After several years of perseverance, learning, practicing and competing, the 22-year-old welder is finally headed to the WorldSkills Competition, which will be held in Shizuoka City, Japan, in November.
Pollo’s reasons for not giving up are valid.
“For this [internationals], well, I want to go back to school, and there’s a $40,000 scholarship involved. One of my main goals is to go back to school,” he says.
To reach this point, Pollo attended Douglas (Wyo.) High School and Eastern Wyoming College in Casper. He has an associate’s degree in welding and joining technology, and he’d like to pursue a bachelor’s in engineering. That four-year scholarship he’s earned is from the American Welding Society (AWS) Foundation and sponsored by Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
Pollo says he’s also motivated by new experiences.
“Going to Ireland and having the opportunity to sit around and talk to all these other guys from different countries, talking to sponsors and past competitors, well, I’ve learned so much.”
On a break from school right now, Pollo is employed by XL Hardbanding in Casper, Wyo., a company that works on oil drilling equipment. He’s grateful that his employer allows him time off when needed, plus the shop time to practice for the upcoming competition.
Pollo attributes his success to the support of his family, with whom he lives in Glenrock, Wyo., and to his SkillsUSA advisors, Leland Vetter and Russell Pontrolo.
In the home stretch
In August, Pollo began training for the internationals, two weeks at a time, at these contest sponsor locations: Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in Pascagoula, Miss.; Lincoln Electric in Lithia Springs, Ga.; and Miller Electric Mfg. Co. in Appleton, Wis.
A lot of work and sacrifice goes into being a TeamUSA competitor. Pollo readily accepts the commitment.
“Perseverance makes you a better person,” he says. “And, you have got to think about your future. If you don’t have anything now, what are you going to have in 20 years? I have a personal goal to be retired by the time I’m 45 so that I can do whatever I want.
“And, I want to be a good welder. There is just no end to welding. It’s a field that’s always growing. They’re creating new processes as I speak. You can never be good enough. There is always something you can improve on.”