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50-year-old speed skater achieves Olympic dream

By Irinna Danielson and Deanie Wimmer  |  Posted Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:58pm

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WEST VALLEY CITY — A glistening trail of glitter in the halls of a West Valley hotel is the proof of sparkling remnants of an Olympic dream 30 years in the making.

The glitter stops in front of the room where Jacki Munzel and her family are inside preparing to head to Utah's Olympic Oval. The mother of three from Long Beach, New York lived out of this hotel room for three months, preparing for the U.S. Speedskating trials in Kearns. Now, her family is with her, glittery signs in hand, to cheer her on at the rink.

Munzel qualified to race in all five long track distances of the speed skating trials — the 500 meter, the 1000 meter, the 1500 meter, the 3000 meter and the 5,000 meters.

"It's kind of amazing and a miracle in and of itself because I'm 50 years old," Munzel said.

That's right. Fifty years old and skating against the top talent in the nation.

"I think it's pretty amazing," said Jacki's husband, Michael Munzel. "Being a hockey player I put it in terms of saying that I would now have a tryout for an NHL team at 53 and that's basically what it is."

Besides the fact that Jacki Munzel is 50, her "tryout" for Sochi is even more impressive considering she just took up the sport four years ago after watching the Olympics with her daughter.

"We looked up at the TV and speed skating was on… and she said, ‘Look, you could try speed skating.' And something inside of me, that fire from within, it grew and I was like, ‘Yeah, I could do that'".

That fire within is something Jacki Munzel has felt before. In the 1980s, Jacki Munzel was one of the brightest stars in U.S. Figure Skating. She started skating at age 6 and skating was her life. But, Jacki hid a dark secret.

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"There wasn't a moment, a minute in the day that I wasn't consumed with weight and food, you know, body image," Jacki Munzel said.

She lived with a debilitating eating disorder. The desire to look like a dainty figure skater further fueled her illness.

At Nationals, leading up to the '84 Olympic Games, Jacki Munzel did something that could have killed her.

"I took 30 laxatives right before I stepped on the ice to do a long program," Jacki Munzel said.

She missed out on the Olympics. And, her eating disorder continued to spiral out of control. Jacki Munzel said she knew she had hit rock bottom after a frightening incident with her sister.

"I was in the car driving with my sister one day and I had taken, at this point, I had taken 60 laxatives," she said. "And I had wrapped myself like a diaper with towels and I was driving and as I was driving, my body seized up, cramped up so bad that I actually lost my vision".

Jacki said her sister had to jump across the seat of the car to stop the vehicle and push her out the door.

"I lost all control of myself on the ground and I realized, 'No, I can't do this anymore," Jacki Munzel said.

In order to get better, she turned her back on figure skating. Jacki got treatment and after 15 years, she said she ‘sobered up'.

She got her life back and had three children. She started teaching power skating to hockey players. And, she devoted her life to faith and family. But, that day, back in 2010, when she was watching the Olympics with her daughter, a conversation would turn Jacki's life upside down.

Dreams do come true. They really do. And, they come true in a grander way than you can ever imagine.

–Jacki Munzel

"She said, ‘You know Mom, you've really changed your life. You've done a great job, you should be really proud of yourself. You know when you die and you go before God, you know all the things He's given you, you've really given everything you can for it. And I said, ‘No, I haven't'. I said, well no, cause God gives us gifts and talents and I took one and buried it in the sand."

Jacki felt as if she had quit. And, she didn't feel like she had a good excuse. In order to make things right, she said she needed to finish the Olympic dream that she had started 30 years ago.

After feeling that stirring that speedskating would be her avenue to complete that dream, Jacki learned how to speedskate. She got so good that she started competing internationally and set her eyes on Sochi.

"There became a purpose in the house, not just focused on me, but just everything in general," Jacki Munzel said. "I had a better purpose and (the children) saw that ‘Wow, Mom is not giving up on dreams''.

But, as Jacki put in the work, setbacks threatened to crush her comeback. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated her hometown of Long Beach, New York. With so much loss around her, chasing that Olympic dream seemed to grow and less and less important. Jacki wanted to quit. But, then, as she witnessed the clean-up in her community, she learned an important lesson.

"If they can rebuild, so can I. I'm going to keep doing it. And, it's life. You constantly pull up your pants and say, ‘I'm going to rebuild,' " Jacki said. "And that was the attitude I started taking from that moment forward."

It's that attitude that propelled Jacki forward as the setbacks continued. The biggest happened a day before Jacki came to Utah for the trials. She crashed on a bike, breaking some ribs and suffering a concussion.

But, the very next day, Jacki boarded the plane for Salt Lake City to finish what she had started. With broken ribs and a concussion, she skated. In all five distances that she qualified for, she raced.

She finished Nationals in the top 10 — remarkable considering her many challenges. She didn't make it to Sochi, but that doesn't mean her Olympic dream didn't come true.

For Jacki, it was all about the journey. Of the trials in Utah she said, "These are my Olympics and not only are they my Olympics, I am able to stop and enjoy every single moment."

Her resilience, courage, and commitment has been an inspiration to the thousands around the world who have followed her story. The Olympic journey she started as a 6-year-old figure skater ended as a 50-year-old speed skater. And, she said she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Dreams do come true. They really do. And, they come true in a grander way than you can ever imagine."


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