John F. Russell: Olympic-sized sacrifices

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

Getting to the Olympics means making sacrifices.

But don't take my word for it. Instead, ask the hundreds of athletes who spend their weekday afternoons on the slopes of Howelsen Hill.

There you will find plenty of athletes who can describe the hard work that goes into summer training, or can tell you how demanding winter race schedules can be. Instead of hanging out in front of the TV, these kids have chosen to spend hours training as members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

When they do have free time, many of they spend it catching up on the schoolwork they missed so they could compete. In some cases, athletes put off their college education to chase their Olympic dreams after high school.

But the athletes on the hill are not the only ones who understand what it takes to pursue Olympic dreams.

After years of covering competitive skiing and snowboarding, I've discovered that behind every successful Olympic athlete are people who often go unnoticed. They also are at Howelsen Hill - they are the ones unloading their children's skis from the back of their SUVs in front of the lodge.

They also can be found watching gates at Alpine ski races, marking the distances at jumping competitions or keeping track of numbers at the finish line of cross-country races.

They will never race, jump or compete in the Olympics. But they are willing to go to work a little earlier or put in a few late hours so they can chauffer their children to training. They may give up a weekend getaway or a mid-winter vacation so they can travel with their children to a race or pay for a summer training camp.

It's easy to understand that parents are their children's biggest fans, but they also are the biggest supporters of winter sports in our town. Without them, there would be no skiing heritage in Ski Town USA.

I witnessed their dedication last winter after spending 12 hours on an airplane traveling to Italy to cover the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. When I arrived at the venues to cover the events, I was not alone. There, in the stands, were many of the same parents I've come to know from covering events in Steamboat Springs. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I couldn't help it. There I was, thousands of miles from the base of Howelsen Hill, but in a strangely familiar setting.

Mixed in the crowd were the people who had sacrificed their afternoons, the money in their saving accounts and hours of free time to support our town's Olympic tradition.

For them it wasn't a sacrifice, it was just part of being a parent.

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