15 Utahns prove that pursuing an Olympic dream takes unparalleled determination, resilience and desire

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2 2014 10:05 a.m. MST

Olivia Nobs of Switzerland, right, Helene Olafsen of Norway, center and Faye Gulini of the USA, left race during the ladies snowboardcross quarter final at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010.

Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

Eddy Alvarez found an abandoned corner of the U.S. speedskating locker room before succumbing to the emotion of realizing a dream.

Kate Hansen made her way through the crowd of well-wishers at Utah Olympic Park and into the embrace of her sister and parents celebrating what felt more like relief than elation that first night.

Heather Richardson couldn’t stop smiling as she dedicated her Olympic trials performance to the cancer patients with whom her mother works.

And Devin Logan politely navigated media interviews before escaping into the arms of the man who’s been cheering her ski career since she was a toddler.

Making an Olympic team is a feat so monumental, so overwhelming, most athletes can’t describe it, even as they celebrate the accomplishment.

“I don’t even have words for it,” said short-track speedskater Kyle Carr. “For me, this is something I’ve worked for for eight-plus years, and I don’t know, complete elation, relief, happiness, excitement, everything rolled up into one. I’m just excited that I get to go represent my country on the highest platform.”

It’s often a dream born in childhood naïvete and nurtured through injuries, doubts and rejection.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve wrapped my head around it yet,” said Jessica Jerome, who will compete for the first U.S. women’s Olympic ski jump team. “It’s just, it sounds cliché, but it is a dream come true. I can’t wait to go and represent my country. It’s definitely a feel-good story with a happy ending.”

Just earning the right to be called an Olympian requires the kind of dedication and sacrifice that very few can maintain. It isn’t just about athletic skill. Chasing an Olympic dream requires more than a commitment to training and competing. It requires a mental toughness that even eludes some professional athletes.

And it’s a prize so unique that even the most successful in their athletic endeavors yearn simply for the opportunity to be included.

Detroit Red Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson will compete for his home country of Sweden for a fifth time in Sochi, and he said — win or lose — it’s unlike any other athletic competition.

“It’s an unbelievable experience,” he said.

The games are so enticing that athletes will sacrifice just about anything for a chance at an Olympic moment.

Snowboarder Justin Reiter actually retired after missing out on the 2006 Olympics by one spot and then injuring his knee before the 2010 Games. For two years, he wrestled with regret and unfulfilled promise. Last summer, the 32-year-old decided he had to give his 20-year-old dream one more chance.

Like most winter sports athletes, he lived on a ridiculously tight budget, even opting to live out of his truck while he trained in Park City this summer. His perseverance paid off when he found out last weekend that he’d been selected as a member of the Alpine snowboarding team.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Reiter said. “But that’s kind of how everything in my life has been. It’s always been kind of a drive. It’s never been easy.”

Among those athletes trying to make history competing in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are 15 of Utah’s own. While the USOC’s official count of Utahns in the Winter Games is 15, there are also dozens of other athletes competing with ties to Utah. Many moved here to train in the facilities built for the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

Only four states are sending more native residents to the games than Utah — California (20), Colorado (19), Minnesota (19) and New York (19). Wisconsin, like Utah, is sending 15.

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