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Olympian Allison Baver facing one of the biggest challenges of her life and career - part one
"My mother and father worked very hard. They would go above and beyond to make sure that we could pursue our dreams." - Allison Baver
Role models are individuals who believe in themselves and in other people. Baver's life story inspires, not just because of what she continues to accomplish, but also because of how her example encourages others to pursue their own dreams.
Baver competed at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games. She won the Bronze Medal, for short track speed skating, at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
She is the current American short track speedskating record holder in the 1500 meter and 3000 meter events and was the former short track speedskating 1000 meter record holder.
Miracle on ice
The Olympic year of 1980 is most famously remembered for the USA hockey team winning the Gold medal in men's ice hockey.
In August of that year, Baver was born in Reading, Pa. She has fond memories of growing up in that area, which is one hour West of Philadelphia. Baver credits her parents with teaching her sportsmanship.
"My mother (Dixie) and father (Brad) worked very hard. They would go above and beyond to make sure that my brother, sister and I could pursue our dreams."
She credits her mother with teaching her how to behave as a champion and her Dad for instilling a mental perspective that included being fearless. Her parents never pressured her to compete, but allowed her interests to evolve naturally.
Baver's first experience with skating came when she was three years old and her parents bought her a pair of Fisher Price roller skates that she attached to her sneakers. It was love at first sight.
"My parents would be a little mad when I skated in the house. I was into gymnastics and dancing, so I thought I could get better at cartwheels by doing them on my roller skates. I was always practicing doing things perfectly."
Evolution of a dream
Baver's mother kept a letter that her daughter had written when she was eight years old. This was, of course, before young Allison had made the transition to ice skating.
"I wrote a letter to my Mom and Dad that said I wanted to be in the Summer Olympics. I must have thought that roller, or inline, skating was going to be an Olympic sport."
Rollerskating was popular when she was in the fourth grade.
Her coach, Jeff Foster, was a World Champion skater.
"He was the best in the world and I wanted to be the best in the world. I ended up joining the speedskating team."
Shawn Walb was an Assistant Coach on the Roller/Inline skating team that she was on.
"Shawn learned how to sharpen skates, saw my potential and mentored me."
Walb was the person who first suggested that Baver try ice skating. Milo Smith, who was from nearby Harrisburg, Pa., was another roller and inline skating coach who also encouraged Baver to make that transition.
"Competition teaches principals. It teaches you how to lose and how to win."
Baver was a trailblazer, because people weren't making that type of transition to ice skating at that time in the 1990s. Today, there is a program that is specifically designed to help inline skaters make the switch. The move allowed her to progress from beating her friends at recess races, to participating in and winning organized competitions.
At the age of 11, Baver competed in the National Roller Skating Championships in Philadelphia, Pa. Walb was a coach on her team that went to Lincoln, Neb., in that same year. It was there that she broke an American record and won her first gold medal.
"Once you get a taste of victory you just want to keep doing it."
It was during this time in her life that Baver got her first glimpse of an Olympic Training Center. It was located in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I admired that athletes were representing their country on an International setting. I aspired to do the same thing."
Reassess and reevaluate
Skating was something that Baver often excelled at. But, there were times when she didn't always finish first.
There was an event in Lincoln, Neb., where she finished third in a 1994 competition. Immediately after the event she went to reassess and analyze what had happened while riding on stationary bike. After everyone had left the building, her mother and father approached her.
"My Mom and Dad told me that I was being too hard on myself.
"I was racing girls who were older than me, but was analyzing the race in regards to what I did wrong and why I didn't win.
"My Mom, Dad and siblings were taking turns coming in and out of the warm-up room encouraging me. They said that I had skated awesomely, just had to make some changes for the next time and that the girls I had raced against were older than I was. They suggested that I put the race behind me and be happy with my performance."
There was also a time where Baver and one of her teammates had made a mistake during a particular race, but their team still performed well overall.
Baver was hard on herself, because everyone had trained very hard and were expected to be gold medalists.
"Later that evening we went to dinner. As a joke, my family offered me a gift. It was a magnet that had a mouse on it that was eating cheese. The magnet said, 'I was so far behind that I thought I was in first place.' My family was always there to guide me, but also allowed me to find my own place."
Onto the ice
Baver did not begin speed skating until she was in her junior year at Wilson High School.
"When I first started ice skating, I cut my face severely and had to have three layers of stitches. My Dad told me that I could get hurt doing anything and that there were going to be certain risks in life.
"The mental aspect is the name of the game."
Through continuing family support and her own inner drive, Baver eventually became the first female skater to switch from inline to ice skating.
She qualified for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Four years later, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, she placed seventh in the women's 500 meter event and fourth in the 3000 meter relay.
Along with her world class skating accomplishments, Baver also earned a Bachelor's degree in Marketing and Management from Penn State University and a MBA from the New York Institute of Technology.
She went on to win a medal in every World Cup event leading up to the 2009 World Cup games.
Baver, who had more World Cup medals than any female short track skater in history, was considered to be a Gold Medal contender as the 2010 Winter Olympics were approaching. But, while she was competing at the highest level that she ever had in her life, she crashed.
To learn more, read Part 2 of my exclusive interview Yahoo Sports interview with Allison Baver.
I became an Olympic fan in 1980, when the United States hockey team performed it's 'Miracle on Ice'. I have written professionally since 1990. Follow me on Twitter @ SeanyOB
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