With the excitement of the holidays in the rearview mirror and hopes for the Packers on life support, this is the part of winter that drives the stake of seasonal affective disorder deep into us.
While fair-weather snowbirds(like my parents) flock to the south for warmer temps, the rest of us are left to fend off waves of polar vortexes. Winter sports, however, serve as a breath of life in an otherwise isolating landscape. Skiiing, hockey, skating, snowshoeing are all some of the hobbies that us northerners take up to pass time and keep our sunshine induced vitamin D levels at acceptable numbers.
There are a bunch of great books about these winter sports that should be read and should have a place in all libraries. Much like the winter sports themselves, many of these books are quietly hidden gems looking to get discovered. I'm going to spend some time this month highlighting winter sports books that not only give you a window seat to the action of these winter sports, but also will get to the heart of what drives these athletes.
My first suggestions relate to speed skating. Wisconsin is lucky to have a rich history with speed skating that has much to do with housing the Pettit National Ice Center, a U.S. Olympic speed skating training facility that has been home to the likes of Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair. Even here, sadly, these greats remain fairly anonymous despite their success. Let's hope that these titles rekindle some feeling for the athletes, their accomplishments, and the obstacles they overcame to achieve greatness.
No Stone Unturned by Jesse Garcia is the story of Casey FitzRandolph, who won an Olympic gold medal in speedskating in 2002 and his sister, Jessi, who was diagnosed eight years later with stage Iv breast cancer. The FitzRandolphs brought glory to the United States in the form of gold, yet left their home country in search of alternative medical treatments. The story is heart-wrenching and thought-provoking, following the family through their journey. Told from the perspective of all involved, it offers insight into the heart of a modern American household dealing with two extreme emotions-elation and despair. I've watched Jesse Garcia for years in television news and she has a fantastic knack for mining things that truly matter in a sports story. This book is a must for any fan of life. As with Dan Jansen's story, it's a book about when sport and life collide, and how tragedy can be fought with courage. This would be a great family read.
Full Circle by Dan Jansen. If you could turn your memory back to the 1994 Winter Olympics, few stories would resonate like that of Dan Jansen and his skate for gold. Jansen skated in Calgary in 1988 on the infamous day when his sister Jane died of leukemia--and we all cried as he fell in the 500-meter race. With a lot of hard work, and fortitude--he had a world-record-breaking skate in the 1,000 meters in Lillehammer and we all cried again--this time tears of joy. A classic story of triumph over adversity, I don't think you'll find a better story of love and redemption involving a sincere, all-American guy. Jansen was "one of us" in Wisconsin. When tragedy hit him, it was tough to believe something so bad could happen to such a nice guy. But he fought back and conquered, which makes it a sweet story!
Zero Regrets by Apolo Ohno. While most speed skaters are not household names, Apolo Ohno might just be the one ringing the most bells with people today. Probably the most decorated Winter Olympian, Ohno recounts his life, starting as a rebellious teen with a supportive single father. After a period of introspection Ohno decides to train seriously, and he goes on to have a brilliant Olympic career. The book covers competition, training, controversies, and even his experience on "Dancing With the Stars." Ohno brought "cool" to the sport when nobody thought it was "cool." It was funny watching high school kids roll into class after watching his Olympic triumphs talking like they had known short track skating forever! That's the power Ohno had, however, and aside from winning, his story and everything that went with it allowed the sport to step out into the limelight.