The month of March is winding down but we still have a couple more Women’s History Month interviews to feature right here on DoubleGSports.com. Today we are honored to feature a world class athlete, Team USA Speed Skater, Allison Baver. If classy, determined, and genuine athletes interest you, you should be a fan of Allison. Allison also have a terrific charitable foundation that we discussed with her below as well as some thoughts about her career and sports in general.
Allison, you played soccer and participated in cheerleading as a kid, how important do you think it is for young children, boys and girls, to take part in sports?
There is proven research that demonstrates when children playing some sort of sport or participate in an active activity that they are more healthy and successful in life.
How did your interest in speed skating develop?
I started skating on roller skates when I was probably around four years old. Doing cartwheels in a straight line practicing my gymnastics. Later, I started inline skating competitively. Then was introduced to short track speed skating when I was in high school and in college decided to pursue the Olympics. The rest is history! I credit my starting ice skating to a coach Shawn Walb.
Typically, winter sports are more popular in states like Utah and Colorado. You grew up in Pennsylvania, went to Penn State and also the New York Institute of Technology. Was it difficult to find places to practice and develope in speed skating?
It was extremely difficult and we had to travel hours just to skate a speed skating practice. Traveling to DE, NJ, NY and other parts of PA.
When did you realize you had exceptional talent in the sport and the ability to take it as far as you have?
It really wasn’t until I broke my leg one year before the 2010 Olympics while contending for the World Cup title. I flew from Bulgaria back to the US and it was the moment I saw my parents reaction to me being in a wheel chair and coming home when I was supposed to be going to Germany. That’s when I realized that I was a gold medal contender and one of the best in the world. Deep down I always knew that I could reach my goals. “I” was a gold medal contender when I broke my leg. That little girl doing cartwheels on skates (wink!). Working so hard with my chin down for so many years and too over critical of myself to be cocky about winning.
Your first appearance in the Olympic games came here in the United States during the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. What did that mean to you?
Qualifying for the 2002 Olympics was historic and one of the best experiences of my life. I wish I could share with everyone that moment in time. Truly amazing. For me it was a realization that I achieved my “dream”. A magical moment to say the least. Also realized that the Olympic games is a lot more than just sporting events, it brings the world together. A goal attained and realization I had to set another to strive for.
Was there anyone in particular you used as a role model or inspiration as you began your career in speed skating?
Not really. I gathered inspiration from many different people. Although I did have Jackie Joyner Kersey on my wall and a quote that said, “The track is endless. The only end is my own endurance. It takes all you’ve got to go the distance and a little more to go for the gold.” I was probably ten years old and had it taped to my wall above my bunk bed I shared with my sister. I had many quotes that taught me how to be a champion in life and sports and I hope to include a few of them in the book I am writing. I remember another was about “Hedonism” and liking what feels good. The feeling of pain and winning! And why we like it so much. We like what feels good. A little hard to grasp as a child, but a lesson as it relates to training. Good stuff!
For fans, the turns are probably the most exciting part of a speed skating event. Is it the same for the skaters? What goes through your mind at that point?
Hah! I don’t think of the corners like that. Most likely I am thinking about something totally different such as whatever is going on in the race or a small technical skill. You can’t go into a corner with hesitation, most often you have to go into it with no fear which is a feeling that most people probably don’t test out often.
Speaking specifically about speed skating, is the women’s portion as respected as the men’s? If not, how can we change that?
At the 2010 Olympics the women’s field Short Track had the ability to bring equal medals than that of the guys and unfortunately we did not get equal television time and less prime time coverage. There is certainly still gender discrimination in sports. I suspect talking to the president of the USOC and their respective departments as well as NBC Olympics producers would be a start. I’ve already said something to the appropriate parties, but it takes more than one person to make change!
There are many “hottest female athletes” lists out there and you appear on most of them. It’s well deserved, but how does that make you feel? Is that something you take pride in or do you tend to ignore them?
It makes me laugh a bit, especially when my publicist forwards me the google alert and I’m in my PJ’s while the article has me in #1 “sexiest legs in sports.” I giggle as my legs are sore from training, but also I am very honored. There’s a lot of pretty women out there and great female athletes. To be one of them is something to thank God for and appreciate whomever choose me!
You have a charity called, Off The Ice Foundation, tell us about that.
Off The Ice Foundation, was inspired when my grandmother Alice passed away after the 2006 Olympics from lung cancer. Wanting to donate to lung cancer I asked myself why I didn’t smoke? It was because sports led me down a path to a healthy lifestyle and success. I wanted to prevent smoking, crime, and obesity by using what I do and realized that I started skating on the street and what I learned on the ice has created success “off the ice.” My goal is to create a “little league” in a sense and a legacy. I believe my talent has a bigger purpose other than my own personal success. I have set out to have skating of some sort in every single school in the US. Rollerblade has a Skate in School program that we are looking to partner with, donating inline skates to gym classes to start. We have aimed to bring our program, that will naturally take some time and donations to fully develop, to parts of the world such as Haiti, and the Haitian Sports Foundation in the near future as well as five other countries and three different languages. We use skating as a tool to create character values, goal development and healthy lifestyles in children by donating skates, equipment, and facilities to communities throughout the world.
Looking back on your career so far, is there one single moment that stands out to you?
One year before the 2010 Olympics I shattered my right leg while contending for the World Cup title in the 1500m. I am the American record holder in this distance. That was a turning point in my career for sure. It taught me what being a champion really meant among other things.
What are you currently doing as far as training or competitions go?
Well, what’s that saying, “Champions tain when no one is looking.” There’s a lot that I need to catch up on and right now I have been doing a lot of workouts on my own as well as others with some NFL guys that are working on speed and agility in their off-season. For the first time in my career I actually had to take a step backwards in hopes to take a giant leap forward. I had to completely stop skating in the middle of the season, which seems crazy and it is! The US Speed Skating Organization and the USOC has made it very difficult for me to return from my second surgery by not providing the level of medical treatment or national level training necessary for my full recovery to podium. I am in discussion with them and hope to have their support for 2014. But, everything is going in a positive direction as I am planning and creating what I like to call my “tribe” and support team for 2014. Can’t wait to step on the ice ready to go, just know I will be going for the gold in 2014! Impossible is nothing!
Thank you all for being a part of my “tribe”!!