Speedskating program closure affects athletes

Barry Winslow

Just a few months ago, it became official that the United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC), located on NMU’s campus, would be closing its short track speedskating program due to financial issues.

What many Wildcats don’t know about this campus is that it was home to one of four Olympic Training Centers in the United States, and the only one located on a college campus that required its athletes to continue to pursue an academic career.

Since the USOEC’s development in 1985, Marquette has been able to host some amazing athletic events, house thousands of potential Olympic athletes and help bring home some Olympic medals.

I first came to Marquette in the summer of 2003, long before I became a Wildcat. The occasion was a one-week short track speedskating training camp located at the USOEC.

I was one of the little kids walking through Meyland Hall with my skates in hand, staring at all these U.S. Olympic athletes in total admiration.

My dream to become an Olympian began in the halls of Meyland.

I was fortunate to grow up in Midland, Mi. where I was surrounded by a helpful community that is home to one of the largest speedskating clubs in the nation.

I started my career with the Midland Speed Skating Club at the age of seven and continued to skate there until I moved to Marquette at the age of 16 to be a part of the USOEC program.

I made a good name for myself skating for Midland, and I was a recognized North American athlete.

At the age of 13, I competed against Apolo Anton Ohno. He beat me pretty soundly, yet I felt honored to qualify for an event and measure myself against his talent.

With a resume built up of solid performances and fast times in all distances, I was accepted into the USOEC’s short track speedskating program in June 2006.

Being accepted at such a young age was an honor, and to this day saying that I was a USOEC resident athlete for five years is something of which I am very proud of.

It breaks my heart to know that I was part of the last batch of speedskaters to ever go through the USOEC program.

I would still be going after my Olympic dreams today if the speed skating program was still in existence.

Not having the USOEC program has forced me to retire from speedskating two years before the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and has left the question lying over my head: what if the USOEC had kept my program?

I don’t want other athletes to ask themselves these kinds of questions because of financial issues.

It is truly sad to know that I will not be able to represent my country doing something that I love.

After receiving a full scholarship, it is disappointing that I won’t be able to train for the Olympics and that no other athletes will have the opportunities I enjoyed.

It felt really good saying that I trained full time in Marquette when someone would ask me where I’m from. There is something special about it up here, something about the people, and the lake and the small-town comfort that this area brings.

The speedskating program brought some of the greatest athletes in the USA together, and we were able to form a family of friends.

Now, many of the sports that trained at the USOEC, such as boxing, women’s freestyle wrestling, women’s weightlifting and speedskating have moved to different training centers, such as the centers in Colorado Springs, Colo. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Although these training centers have plenty to offer, it was amazing that Marquette was our home.

It is a small town doing a big city’s job—and doing it even better.

I only hope that Marquette and NMU can get other USOEC programs up and running again so that future generations can light that Olympic fire and fuel the dream right in our own backyard.