Going the distance: Eddy Alvarez endured painful knee surgery to chase Olympic speedskating glory

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 6:15 p.m. MST

Eddy Alvarez is looking to make the 2014 Olympic speed skating team after just missing back in 2008. After moving to Salt Lake City over four years ago Alvarez also played shortstop on the Salt Lake Community College baseball team.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

KEARNS — Unable to move from the floor of his parents' Miami home, Eddy Alvarez could no longer see the dreams he’d chased all his life.

“I went from this all-star player in baseball and skating into nothing,” the 24-year-old said. “It was really bad for me. I was ready to quit.”

A college baseball player with Olympic aspirations in short track speedskating, Alvarez was plagued by knee pain. After missing the 2010 Olympic Games, he basically quit skating to focus on baseball. He walked on at Salt Lake Community College in 2011 and became the team’s starting shortstop.

He enjoyed an outstanding season, finishing with a .303 batting average and a .900 fielding percentage.

“I had a blowout season," he said. “It was the best I ever played. They turned me into a switch hitter; I led the conference in doubles, was all-conference.”

And for the first time, the Miami native felt at home in snowy Utah.

“I loved being a Bruin,” he said of SLCC. “It was kind of like being taken in by a family. ... I created relationships I still have with guys.”

But his knee pain persisted.

“It was getting progressively worse,” he said. “I thought going to baseball would give my knees a break. ... I would come home and take my pants off and my knees were swollen like softballs.”

An ultrasound revealed 12 tears between both knees, and he decided to fix both at the same time.

“It was brutal,” he said, the smile that usually lights up his face gone. “I thought I’d made a mistake for sure. It was awful. It was definitely the lowest point in my life.”

Alvarez had the surgery in his hometown of Miami and his mother made him a bed on a mat on the floor of their living room.

“I was bedridden for four weeks,” he said. “I couldn’t move; I couldn’t walk by myself for two months.”

His companion became a guitar, which he became pretty good at playing.

“I thought, ‘This is pointless,'” he said. “I had no motivation, no drive. I wasn’t willing to come back whatsoever. I kept telling my parents that. I kept crying to them.”

Doctors weren’t sure he’d ever skate at an elite level again, and baseball was a maybe. Alvarez said his mother cried with him, cried for him.

But his father refused to follow his son into the dark place he’d gone.

“My dad actually kept the dream alive, in a way,” said Alvareaz as he apologizes for the tears that come when he recalls how his father handled his darkest time. “Without him, I definitely wouldn’t have come back.”

Walter Alvarez simply refused to believe the despair would keep his son from accomplishing what he’d worked for all his life.

“He’s the most stubborn guy I know,” Alvarez said, the smile returning to his face. “I would say, ‘I’m done. I quit. That’s it.’ And he would just say, ‘Let’s wait it out. Let’s see what happens.’”

What happened was that six weeks after the double knee repair, Alvarez went to physical therapy. It was difficult, frustrating and painful. But he was moving.

“I had nothing else to do,” he said. “Therapy was mobility.” And for a young man known as “Eddy the Jet,” mobility was hope.

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