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ON THE SCENE: Supporting Olympic dreams

December 27, 2013
By Naj Wikoff , Lake Placid News

Bob Zeman, of Rochester, was impressed.

"I don't think many hotels have four people on their staff with the potential of making the Olympic team," said Zeman, a timeshare owner at the Whiteface Lodge on Thursday, Dec. 19.

Zeman was one of several people learning what it took to be a luge, bobsled or skeleton athlete from people another day might be serving them breakfast.

Article Photos

Morgan Kelly, left, with Jonathan and Nicki Pratt (Photo by Naj Wikoff)

The Whiteface Lodge constantly makes state, national and international best resorts lists for their ambience, service, facilities and dining. It turns out that some who work there are every bit as elite, if not more so, such as World Cup silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and his three co-workers Katelyn Kelly, Annie O'Shea, and Morgan Tracy.

The hotel supports would-be Olympians by giving them a job, generally four to seven Olympians at any given time, and has been doing so for several years. "This year, we have four Olympic hopefuls working for us," said food and beverage manager Sean Foley. "We have a very good relationship with the Olympic Training Center. Our philosophy is to take good care of our people, and they will take good care of you, our guests. It's a win-win philosophy. Our supporting Olympic athletes is an extension of that philosophy, and it has worked out quite well, plus we find that their training-competition and our work schedules tend to be complementary. We typically host an annual event to support a local cause, such as the Lake Placid fire or ambulance departments, or the towns of Keene and Jay after Irene. This year, we decided to help our own staff go to Sochi and organized this benefit to support them."

Being an Olympic-caliber bobsled, luge or skeleton athlete is not cheap.

"This event provides recognition and awareness in the local community of the hard work and dedication of the many athletes who come through," said Caleb Smith, a former member of the U.S. Skeleton Team. "We are here to support their passion. The job opportunities provided by the Lodge helps them pursue their dreams. A skeleton sled costs from five to 10 thousand dollars. A runner costs about one thousand dollars, and they need six sets (12 runners), plus money for race fees, hotels, travel, and athletes tend to eat a lot. It requires a full-time job and then some to cover all that, and the Lodge's generosity and support is critical and greatly appreciated."

"I came by the sport of skeleton almost by accident," said Kyle Tress, a U.S. World Cup athlete. "I started late, when I was 21. I am doing well. I am ranked third in the country. I like almost everything about skeleton: the community and the competition. Most people don't realize it is a very technical sport."

"How to set up your sled, the choices you have to make, the knowledge you have to have of the track," interjected Caleb.

"How to steer the sled to make them do what you want to do," said Tress.

Mazdzer, who made the Olympic team, had a challenge of a different sort, navigating his way home with his silver medal. While going through the Salt Lake City airport, his tightly stuffed bags were selected for a TSA security check with the contents taken out, gone through, and then repacked before he was allowed to continue.

"The next day, Beverly called me from the luge office asking if I was missing anything," said Mazdzer. "She said that some guy called to say he had my second-place trophy. Evidently TSA searched his bags at the same time as mine, and my trophy ended being repacked by them into his luggage. It went to Colorado Springs with a guy named Carlos. He was able to call and learn who took silver in the race, and then track me down. Now I have a trophy in the mail that hopefully will not be inspected by the TSA."

Mazdzer went on to talk about Sochi, where he will be in February.

"I spent a month on the track last year," Mazdzer said. "It is completely different than the Placid track. Lake Placid is tight. The radius of the corners is short, and the weather here is a lot colder. In Sochi, the entrance to the corners is tight, but the exit is long. It is a gliding and very forgiving track. The start will be very important."

"People have been asking what it is like to be a skeleton athlete," said Annie O'Shea, who like the others had been showing a video of her sport that provides the viewer an athlete's perspective of whipping down the track. "You know, I have only gotten a chin burn once. It is always different. I have never had quite the same run twice. You have to be on top of your game. It's exhilarating. It never gets boring or old. It is a sport that draws you in and gets you hooked."

"I love bobsledding," said Katelyn Kelly. "I love the atmosphere, the people and the international aspect. It helps you feel that you are doing more than yourself. I have made Lake Placid my home. I travel so much it is now my base, the place I come home to. I really like the small-town atmosphere. I started as a brakeman and always wanted to drive. Once I tried it, I never wanted to go back. Initially it is a very visual sport. The more you do it, the more you realize it's the feeling that's really important. You feel it everywhere, in your hands, your arms, your torso, your legs. It is a full-body experience. Time does not slow down. Everything comes at you so fast."

"We really appreciate the turnout, the support of the community and the Lodge," said Morgan Tracy. "Lake Placid is a great town for an athlete."

"I want to look on TV in February and say I know that kid," said Joe Fusco attending the event with his wife, Corkey.

"It's cool to meet them, learn about them and their sports, and know that the Lodge is supporting them," said Debby Zeman. "Being in an Olympic town makes us feel more connected. I feel the jumps are the icon of the area. Morgan served us ice cream the other day. It's amazing."

"Morgan is a passionate person," said Nicki Pratt. "This is a life dream that is not easy to do. We are behind her and the others all the way."

"This event makes us invested in what happens to them," said Fusco. "The spirit here is pretty big."

"I started work at the Whiteface Lodge four years ago as a summer job," said Mazdzer. "The Whiteface Lodge treats all the athletes very well. To have them host this benefit in addition to everything else they do for us, I can't thank them enough. The Tri-Lakes has more athletes going to the Olympics per capita than any other community in the world and has been doing so since the first winter games. This level of excellence is a result of a mix of families, facilities and community support as exemplified by having the Whiteface Lodge behind us."



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