Red Bull might not actually give you wings, but it has given three UCF students the opportunity to travel the world, all expenses paid.
On April 12, 16 three-man teams from the United States will join another 149 groups in a seven-day race across Europe. Three of the 495 college students just happen to be from UCF. Seniors Steven Yalowitz, Miladin "Misha" Balos and Gilbert "Zack" Pierola decided to form Team Red, White and Bull for their chance to win Red Bull's Contiki Travel Ambassadors title.
“I’m not gonna try and rush through Europe,” Yalowitz said. “I’ve never been to Europe before, so I think this is a great opportunity with no currency and two of your best friends. This is an adventure of a lifetime.”
They plan to use wit, charm, a paper map and a 24-pack of Red Bull to survive a race that will begin in an undisclosed location in Western Europe and end somewhere in Eastern Europe.
“Getting that phone call that we made it, I was still in shock,” Balos said. “It’s been an adventure already. We have met people across the world we have connected to, and it has made me realize that Red Bull isn’t just an energy drink that everyone really hates or really likes. What it is, is an opportunity in life. They put you in certain positions in life to give you a journey and adventure, to really push yourself to someone who could be more.”
Yalowitz, an advertising and public relations major originally from Long Island, New York, is an “ambassador for positivity” and always makes sure he and his team are in the best possible position to succeed.
“I believe we can do this,” Yalowitz said. “We got so much support. Within a week and a half, we got almost 4,000 votes. It’s an incredible feeling to know this many people support you.”
Balos, an Ohio-native, is a radio-television major. He's been friends with Pierola since the two were boys.
“Zack and I have been friends since fifth grade,” Balos said. “We grew up together and graduated from the same high school and we are part of the same professional fraternity. That’s where we met Steven.”
Gilbert is a human communications major who has “an irresistible itch for adventure." He said spontaneity and radiating good vibes while increasing his knowledge and understanding of what this world has to offer is what keeps him going every day.
“It’s still surreal,” Pierola said. “I don’t think it will hit us until we are flying to our destination we find out. I’ve always wanted to do a Euro-trip, and this is going to be something special. To travel without money, cell phones and only cans of Red Bull to barter with, it will be a lifetime memory. I don’t think this was just a PR stunt. They wanted to make people’s lives change.”
In Red Bull’s “Can You Make It” campaign, the three had to battle it out in two separate rounds to be chosen to travel to Europe. The first objective was creating a video that described who each member was. For three Nicholson students, it was the kind of project they'd had been doing since they arrived in the college.
“The culture is something I am really interested in learning about,” Pierola said. “Being an American and growing up in Florida, it is difficult to learn about culture other than just reading about it. It helps you understand the world better when you travel and people can tell when other people travel. You can feel it when you talk to them. I think seeing all these countries will be a milestone in my life and I think it will help me grow mentally.”
From there, they had to do whatever they could to get enough votes from students and people around the Orlando area. The top 16 teams from each region of the country with the highest amount of votes would then move on and, from there, a panel of Red Bull judges would determine the fates of each team for who would get to travel to Europe.
“I was at my internship and I all of a sudden saw we had dropped to 19th place from seventh,” Yalowitz said. “My teammates were in Tampa at the time because one of Zack’s family members passed away and they were at a funeral, so I personally went up to every single person in the library after leaving my internship and tried to get them to vote for us. We got back up to eighth place.
“On the second to last day, we were at eighth place. The next day, voting ended at 11 a.m. and I woke up at 9 a.m. and we were at 19th place again. I called my internship and said I was gonna be a little late and I went to the Student Union and gave my sales pitch and got us back to eighth place again.”
While the three completed the first set of challenges by getting the good news of being selected, the real journey awaits them as they leave for Europe on April 12 to put their skills to the test. You can watch the team and others travel across the continent with footage of the events on Red Bull TV.
Evan Abramson is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Abramson and email him at EvanA@centralfloridafuture.com.