Sharing the Olympic dream

At right, Olympian Ashley Farquharson pulls a string to help a young girl slide down the hill on a roller-luge sled on Thursday at the Olympic and Paralympic Day event at Mount Van Hoevenberg. (News photo — Parker O’Brien)

LAKE PLACID — More than a dozen Olympians and potential Olympic-level athletes were in attendance for Olympic and Paralympic Day at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid on Thursday, June 23.

Olympic and Paralympic Day, a day to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games, started its day of activities at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid before ending the day at the Olympic Sports Complex.

“To have a day that we can celebrate that and celebrate all of the stories within it, I think it’s great,” two-time luge Olympian and Saranac Lake native Emily Sweeney said.

At the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, Olympians met with attendees — who were mostly children — and showed them how to ride a luge sled. The day finished with an Olympic and Paralympic Day Run/Walk/Wheel.

“It’s always exciting to introduce kids to the sport of luge because one it’s in our backyard being in Lake Placid and it’s not in a lot of people’s backyards,” Sweeney said.

For many of the USA Luge national or junior national team members, it was a trip down memory lane as many of them were first introduced to the sport through the slider search program where scouts go around and find kids to try roller luge.

“It’s kind of our bloodline,” 2022 Olympian and Massena native Jonny Gustafson said. “We have to start luge when we are anywhere from 9 to 12 years old just because of how competitive it is and how long it takes to get used to actually sliding. So starting young and seeing kids interested in it and enjoying the sport is really cool.”

“We had people from all over who happened to be in town,” Sweeney said. “It’s really exciting to expose people to new things and for me, it changed the trajectory of my life so you never know who tried it today and who it kind of takes hold of and what their futures can be.”

Three-time Olympian Tucker West said that growing up he always dreamed of being an Olympian. Now, that he is able to give back and share his dream that he achieved with the children has been a great experience.

“The Olympics aren’t just the event themselves; they mean so much more,” West said. “They mean playing together, getting and being active and all of that. It’s exciting to see the community doing that and living by the Olympic values.”

Doubles luge athlete Zack DiGregorio, who made his first Olympics this year, said that he also grew up dreaming about being an Olympian. He added that he always looked up to Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn.

“This last year and going into these games was amazing,” DiGregorio said. “To come back and have Olympic Day with a bunch of my teammates is just great, and to see all the kids super excited about it in such an Olympic town like Lake Placid has been amazing.”