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Wolowiec makes Olympic team

Adia Waldburger of the Record staff

For some, it takes years and years to realize their Olympic dreams. It took Park City’s Monika Wolowiec two.

In less than a week, Wolowiec will travel to Turin to represent her native country of Poland as their first-ever female skeleton athlete.

She never thought she would be headed to the largest sports spectacle in the world when she first began sliding four years ago. Wolowiec had moved to area with a friend from Poland to try bobsledding after the 2002 Games. The friend had a change of heart and Monika’s shifted her focus away from the track but not for long. Soon, her neighbor, Tom Rattie, suggested she try skeleton.

"I thought, "Why not? That seems like a fun sport,’" Wolowiec said.

A few runs on the track at the Utah Olympic Park and Wolowiec’s career took off. Wolowiec has a master’s degree in physical education and competed in track as a collegian, so her ability to excel as a slider came naturally. She also enjoyed the speed and freedom of the sled.

"You can go as fast as you want," Wolowiec said, "There are no police."

Last winter, she made the decision to train and compete seriously. She competed in Park City, Lake Placid and Calgary on the America’s Cup circuit, and in the Challenge Cup, which earned her a spot at the World Championships in Calgary. There, she placed 21st overall.

She continued to train in the off-season with coaches Steve Revelli, Ryan Geertsen and Chad Omweg and qualified for this year’s America’s Cup. She also competed in the Europa Cup in Konigsee, Germany.

Two weeks ago, she returned to Konigsee for the Challenge Cup and something incredible happened. She tied for second place and qualified for the Olympics.

"I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t," Wolowiec said. "I think maybe I’m dreaming."

Wolowiec had a hunch that she might perform well and had contacted the Polish Olympic Committee to become accredited and receive support to attend the Challenge Cup. So once she qualified for the Olympics at that competition, she was on her way sort of.

None of her coach’s or advisors are of Polish descent and with the Games just a week away, there is barely time to clear the red tape.

Right now, she is vigorously pursuing clearance from the International Bobsled & Skeleton Federation (FIBT) for Jean Riendeau, a Canadian that coaches his wife, Demet, in skeleton and works with Wolowiec in competition, but that is it for "Team Monika." She will have no mangers, no team advisors, trainers or nutritionists traveling with her.

She will also attend the Games without family. She has had trouble securing clearance to have contact with her father during competiton in Turin. There is also little time to secure accommodations in Italy and he is not interested in staying alone. He will likely stay home with the rest of the Wolowiec family in Poland and watch Monika compete on television.

One break for Wolowiec is on the financial side of things. She will go to Poland next week to receive official clearance from the Polish Olympic Committee. They are reimbursing her ticket and will pay for all of her needs from there until the end of the Games.

This is a big change for the athlete who worked six jobs in Park City to be able to live and train in the area. At any given time, she can be found working at Photoworks, maintaining spas and hot tubs, serving at the Grub Steak, clerking at the Main Street liquor store or serving at banquets for Deer Valley and the Canyons. Finding time to train on the track was a challenge.

"I had to work to be able to go," Wolowiec said.

Luckily, some of these jobs have allowed her to find community support for her endeavors. Brad and Samantha Thein, owners of Photoworks, and their family have pitched in to provide and raise funds for Wolowiec. They have posted pictures of Wolowiec sliding in competition and collected donations for her. Samantha’s father also made T-shirts to sell at the store. Roxanne Fillerup, a customer Wolowiec served at the Grub Steak, held a fundraising party at her home in Salt Lake over the summer to help support Wolowiec’s skeleton dreams. Randy Barker of Salt Lake made her runners and sled and is always helping Wolowiec out when she is in need.

Now that Wolowiec is an official Olympian, she becoming a bit of a celebrity. Newspapers and broadcast media in both Park City and Poland have been contacting her non-stop since she made the team. A polish anchor from Eurosport TV has already contacted her to do a story about her once she arrives in Turin.

"So many people are coming and people are happy for me," Wolowiec said. Even with all of the distractions, once Wolowiec arrives in town, she plans to be all about the business of skeleton. She has only slid on the Turin track once before and will only have three days and six runs to get familiar with it.

Olympic skeleton competition begins on Feb. 16, so Wolowiec is trying to train as much as possible. There will be only two runs in the official event and Wolowiec wants to make the most of the opportunity.

"One run, one mistake you can lose it," Wolowiec said.

To keep the pressure off somewhat, Wolowiec says that she hopes that is the first of many appearances in the Olympic Games. She hopes to receive more support from her country for her training and also needs to find another Polish slider in order to be eligible for World Cup competitions, but she is confident that, like her dreams to make these Olympics, everything will work out.

"Heart was my way to get to the Olympics and I think that’s a great story," Wolowiec said.

"No one believed I could make it to the Olympics in two years," Wolowiec said. " but I believed."

To pledge support to Monika’s ongoing skeleton endeavors, visit Photoworks on located 1890 Bonanza Drive.


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