Back To The Future In Salt Lake (6/5/13)

BY SHANI DAVIS 

Ahhh, finally: Corned beef on sourdough from O’Hare
No, it's not a vagrant in the park, just a speedskater in training
Back at the site of the 2002 Olympic Trials!

My final days at home were coming to an end just as the cold Chicago days filled with cloudy skies and rainy afternoons were beginning to retreat as the sun returned from its long hibernation. It’s a bittersweet moment: I’m excited to start serious training, but I’m going to again miss the great Chicago early summer, when I can hit a few BBQs and – my all-time favorite – throw the football around down at the park. Catching the ball in stride and eating tasty BBQ will have to remain a dream for now since I can no longer press the snooze button on my training obligations.

While at home I managed to cross off just about everything on my to-do list: staying fit, physio, quality time with friends and family, and most importantly, rest! After one last errand – corned beef on sourdough from O’Hare Terminal C – I was off to my training base in Salt Lake City.

My first experience in Salt Lake was as an 18-year-old short-track skater. I vividly remember coming here for a high performance camp to prepare for the 2002 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Short Track. Everyone in Salt Lake seemed busy preparing for the Games, and people were excited to meet us knowing we could possibly be the athletes on center stage representing the home team and winning medals in February. We were ecstatic and a bit overwhelmed, having never experienced that level of attention. We also started realizing what was at stake: a limited number of spots on the U.S. Olympic Team! This heightened our competitiveness and made us train harder and skate faster than ever.

I was definitely not a favorite to make the 2002 Olympic team; other skaters had more experience or were simply stronger. Six spots were up for grabs (really only four since Apolo Ohno and Rusty Smith dominated back then). It didn't bother me that I wasn't most people’s pick to make the team. I relished being an underdog with nothing to lose. The previous 12 years of training and sacrifice came down to a single week of competition, and, ultimately, down to one single race that would be over in a matter of seconds. It was the ultimate pressure situation and I had never been tested like that before.

After leaving every ounce of energy and determination on the ice, I MADE IT! I claimed the last available position on the 2002 U.S. Olympic Short Track Speedskating Team. I remember how proud my family, friends and club coaches were when they got word about my accomplishment. I couldn't believe the voyage and the progress I had made since starting skating at age 6. Until it actually happened, no one could have convinced me that I would have been an Olympian in 2002. It was one big step of many that inspired me to push myself and make me believe that anything I work hard towards is possible.

Although I didn’t get the chance to race at the 2002 Games (I’d made the team as an alternate), I was on the bench taking it all in, dreaming that it was me who the home crowd was cheering for, me who was standing on the podium. Even then I knew deep down in my heart that not only would I be an Olympian, I would someday be an Olympic medalist or – just maybe – an Olympic champion.

Since the 2002 Olympics, my goals have changed. But I couldn't be happier traveling on the Road to Sochi 2014. I’m back in the same city where I first walked into the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony and where I first witnessed athletes making their dreams come true and making Olympic history.

Hopefully next winter history will repeat itself – again!