A teacher, once an Olympic hopeful, is on the fast track
September 27, 2016
Like many who enter the field of teaching, a career in the classroom is something Micaela Damas knew she wanted from an early age.
Even back then, she recognized the freedom teaching would give her. No day would be quite the same as the one before it. Every group of students would be different, too. Teaching, she said, was simply something she knew she would be happy to do for the rest of her life.
"It was always something I thought I could wake up every day and do," she said. "I wanted to wake up and get to go to school and do something that I really like. And teaching was that answer for me."
Now, years after her passion for teaching was first sparked, Damas is in her first year as a full-time teacher at Park City High School. She is teaching sophomore world civilization classes and a 12th-grade government course. A month in, it's been everything she'd hoped when she decided to devote her life to the profession.
But her path to PCHS was anything but typical.
Damas was a soccer star in college at Northern Illinois University, then played a year in Sydney, Australia, after graduation. Her athletic career, though, was thrown into flux the following year when the league she had returned to the United States to play in shut down.
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All of a sudden, she was staring down an intimidating prospect: growing up, confronting real life and beginning her teaching career.
"I didn't have anywhere to go," she said, "and I wasn't ready to leave 'Never Neverland,' as I used to call it, and use my actual degree."
It was then that her brother reminded her of something he'd told her a few years before. Her brother was a track athlete at the University of Nebraska and had gotten to know Curt Tomasevicz, a former football player for the Cornhuskers who became an Olympic gold medalist as a bobsledder.
Damas' brother had encouraged her to follow Tomasevicz's footsteps. He urged her to try out for the U.S. bobsled team. When he mentioned it again, it seemed obvious.
"I was like, 'Oh yeah,'" she said. "I sent an email and it just kind of took off."
Immediately, Damas began devoting her life to pursuing her new sport. She worked two jobs and spent nearly every hour of her spare time training. Bobsled was new to her, but her ability as a first-class athlete eventually shone through. She made the team, and in 2012 was given the choice of moving to Lake Placid, New York, or to Park City.
She chose the Utah mountains.
"I sold my apartment and all my belongings, put everything in my car and drove to Park City, Utah," she said. "I remember telling my girlfriends I was moving to Utah, and asked if they would come visit me. They were like, 'Absolutely not.' I was like, 'Oh, OK, so I'm going to be all alone.'"
The leap of faith soon paid off. Damas made it to Olympic training week in Sochi, Russia, four months before the 2014 Games. A pusher, her job was to help the bobsled's drivers become comfortable with the track. She was later cut from the team, but when the U.S. women won silver and gold medals in Sochi, she knew she had played an important role.
"It was kind of surreal," she said. "I was just really happy to be able to help out the U.S. team."
After the Olympics, Damas returned to Park City. She had fallen in love with the town and was ready to become a full-time teacher. It wasn't long until she found a full-time job, teaching social studies at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights.
But still, she wanted to be in Park City. Last year, she got her chance, joining the Park City School District part time. Then in August, she began her first year as a full-time teacher at the high school.
"I had been trying to get into this district for four years," she said. "It is not easy. When I was bobsledding, I was working at the Riverhorse on Main as a waitress and would sub (teaching) during the day because I was trying to get my name out there."
As much as making the U.S. bobsled team had been, joining the district was a dream come true. She had known for years that she wanted to teach, but it was in high school that she decided which subject. She recalled how her sophomore social studies teacher brought history to life, connected it to current events and made her understand why studying it was important.
Now, she has a chance to do the same for her students.
"He did history differently," she said. "Everyone is used to history, sitting in a class with a (lecture) or having to memorize these facts, and I could never understand why it mattered. 'Why do I need to know what year this war started or when it ended?' He … made it more applicable to our lives. He basically answered, 'Why do I care?'"
Damas acknowledges that many her students, like her in high school, couldn't care less about history when they enter her class. But already, she said, she has begun to shift their perceptions. And she is imagining what she can do in 10 years, or 20. After chasing her athletic aspirations for so long, putting off her teaching career, she is happy to be in Park City, embarking on another kind of dream.
"It's nice to have roots," she said. "I kind of lived out of a suitcase for four years. I've done all the crazy things I wanted to do. So every day I come to the classroom, and this is exactly where I want to be. I don't want to be anywhere else."
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