Team Celski: From Marquette to Sochi

Team Celski

Speedskating Olympian J.R. Celski’s family members pose for a photo with Celski’s picture on the side of a vehicle.

By Bob Celski

This blog is written to keep the proud people of Federal Way informed about one of the city’s sons, short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the experience of his parents, Bob and Sue, during the Olympics.
When Sue and I were driving on Interstate 5 somewhere north of Seattle on our way to the Vancouver Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, we were really only concerned about two things. First, was J.R. going to be allowed to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, and second, how would he perform against the best in the world after recovering from one of the most serious injuries his sport has ever seen. He hadn’t competed in more than five months since the Olympic Trials in mid-September 2009, and only started training back on the ice after Thanksgiving 2009, just more than two months before the opening ceremonies.
With the Opening Ceremonies scheduled for the next night (Friday, Feb. 12, 2010), and his first event, the 1,500 meter scheduled for the following Saturday evening, the coaches were pressing the skaters hard to remain in their rooms to rest instead of participating.
Well, J.R. would have none of that, and eventually after several negotiations (and calling dad for advice on how to deal with the coaches), reason prevailed. The athletes were allowed to walk and then would leave early. We found out the night before the Opening Ceremonies that he would participate, answering our concern about whether he would be allowed to walk in the Opening Ceremonies. There was no way he would come this far and miss a lifetime milestone like this. First concern taken care of – check.
J.R. went on to win the bronze medal in the 1,500-meter race and was the first medalist in the Olympics for the U.S. team, along with teammate Apolo Ohno. Two weeks later, the men’s short track team would earn a medal in the 5,000-meter relay – J.R.’s second medal. J.R. was a proud member of the record-breaking 2010 U.S. Winter Olympic team that earned 37 total medals, breaking the previous record of 36. He was personally part of two of those 37 total medals. His amazing performance in the Olympics answered our second concern.
We called our 17-day trip to Vancouver “our experience of a lifetime.” The city, its people, the hospitality, were all amazing. If it were up to us, Vancouver would host every Winter Olympics!
Moving on to Sochi, a huge contrast between Vancouver and Sochi starts with the Olympic Trials. In the September 2009 Olympic short track trials for Vancouver, we had about 20 or so of J.R.’s supporters present in Marquette, Mich. In the January 2014 trials in Salt Lake City, there were at least 60 family members and close friends present. However, the tides turn in the Olympics. While about 50 family members and friends showed up in Vancouver to watch J.R. compete or to be with us, there will be only seven in Sochi.
J.R.’s experience going to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is different. J.R. is healthy, he is ready. He has competed against the best in the world several times in the past six months. Unlike in Vancouver, he is more hardened, more experienced, more focused. He’s now a 23-year-old team leader; in Vancouver he was a 19-year-old Olympic rookie.
Our experience in Sochi will be much different than Vancouver. First, location. In 2010, we drove to Vancouver about three hours up I-5 in the same time zone. For Sochi, we will fly about 24 hours to a place that is 12 time zones away – exactly half way around the world. Vancouver: English. Sochi: Russian. Vancouver – a single ticket to get into an event. Sochi – three layers of security to get through the security labyrinth and into an event: a park pass, a spectator pass and a ticket. Oh yes, a Russian visa in addition to the passport just to enter the country.
It goes further. In Vancouver, we stayed with friends. In Sochi, we paid for a hotel long ago that we didn’t even know would be built!
Vancouver: a friendly, large, world-class city that was open and largely free of security concerns or serious threats. Sochi: a small unknown town in a very unstable region of the world with tension, controversy, serious security threats, computer hacking fears and far less infrastructure.
So, while going into Vancouver we were only concerned about those two things discussed above, Sochi is filled with uncertainty. Despite this, our mantra throughout this whole process so far is this: We believe! We believe that everything will normalize and that it will be a great trip, well worth taking to the other side of the world so we can watch our son do what he’s done since he just turned 3 years old! And we can’t wait to get started on this journey Saturday morning. We have already labeled this trip “our adventure of a lifetime.”
Some side notes and fun fact contrasts to finish this first week’s edition. J.R. has always been a huge Seahawks fan. The season leading up to the 2010 Olympics, the Seahawks record was 5–11 and no playoffs. This season, leading up to the 2014 Olympics, the Seahawks record was 13–3 and they won the Super Bowl. Leading up to the 2010 Olympics, J.R. was a follower of an unknown Seattle hip-hop band called Macklemore. Leading up to the 2014 Olympics, J.R. and his production team produced a successful documentary on Seattle hip-hop featuring a world-renowned hip-hop band called Macklemore, who went on to win four Grammys in January 2014.
More to come next week …

Bob Celski is the father of speedskating Olympian J.R. Celski and a Federal Way City Council member.


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