The Incredible Legs Of JR Celski

February 23, 2010

JR CelskiHow does a guy who has had the quadriceps on his left leg accidentally sliced through manage to win an Olympic speed skating medal? How does he do it only five months after they were sundered? A person who can accomplish that has a pretty amazing leg, or perhaps an incredible drive to succeed. The person at the 2010 Winter Olympics who had such a miracle leg was American short track speedskater J.R. Celski, and the evidence that he and his injured leg are really special is that he won the bronze medal in the 1500m event.

On September 12th, 2009, at the sport’s U.S. Olympic Trials, JR Celski was skating in the semifinals of the 500m when he crashed into the protective wall on the last lap. He hit it hard and at an angle that thrust the blade of his right skate into his left thigh. The stabbing was 6″ wide and 2″ deep, cutting to the bone and missing his femoral artery by only an inch. Not knowing what else to do, Celski pulled the embedded blade out his leg himself, and he felt it.

With the blade out, Celski was overwhelmed by what he saw. He described the interior of wound as being a rainbow of colors. “It was blue, purple, yellow, red, white. I could see my femur.”

Celski cried out.

The situation became worse as Celski was taken to a hospital. He was taken in an ambulance that for whatever reason was driven at a regular pace, without a siren, and even stopping at lights. At the hospital, there were no surgeons on duty. At a least one moment during the night, Celski believed that he was going to die.

Eventually Celski was operated on, with his muscles sewn back together. The opening in the flesh was closed with some 60 stitches. But to Celski, it seemed that his skating career was over.

However, Celski knew that he had qualified for the U.S. team – he just needed to get better. So he and his father went to Park City, Utah, to meet with Dr. Eric Heiden, the five-time gold medalist and team orthopedist for U.S. Speedskating. Heiden evaluated the injury and helped put together a treatment plan. After that Celski went to the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to start the program. The plan would be overseen by staff doctor Bill Moreau. Moreau tried to be realistic, telling Celski, “J.R., I don’t know if you can do this.”

Celski was undeterred and began the rehabilitation program with gusto. He started with things like riding a stationary bike, walking, and doing hydro-therapy. Celski was increasingly pushed by his therapists and he pushed himself harder.

Celski’s training regimen consisted of 3 or 4 hours on the ice and then the same amount of time running, biking, weight training, doing coordination drills and stretching. He would do it six days a week. Relaxation would come with time spent in the sauna.

By October, Celski was able to stop using crutches and by the middle of November he was back on the ice. He was able to skate, but only very slowly. It was eight weeks until the Olympics.

With great determination and grit Celski persevered and miraculously brought himself back to a competitive level in the remaining two months. He would fall and even crash in practice, but his inner strength proved to be invincible. He conquered both the physical injury and the mental challenge that comes with such a devastating injury.

For Celski, the 6″ scar on his leg has become a reminder of just how far he has come. He wants to keep it gruesome so he won’t forget. He said, “People keep telling me to put vitamin E on it. I’m not going to do anything to it. I want to be reminded of what I overcame.”

Celski made it to Vancouver and there he made sure everyone else knew about the injury and the scar, and could see what he had dealt with. On his cell phone he would show anyone that would look a photo of the open wound before he was operated on.

There in Vancouver, Celski created another Olympic “Miracle on Ice”, winning the bronze medal in the 1500m. Where for some it would be a success to walk again or to be able to get back on skates again, for Celski the only worthy goal was to get an Olympic medal. Fortunately, he had that pair of incredible legs that could recover from such a horrendous injury in such an amazingly short time. Of course, it also helped that those legs were part of an incredible person with a spirit that wouldn’t let terrible adversity prevent him from realizing his dream.


JR Celski Tattoo Is Both Philippine And Polish

February 21, 2010

JR Celski shirtlessAfter his disqualification in the semifinals of the 1000m short track speedskating event at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, JR Celski unzipped his suit and revealed a large tattoo on his upper left chest. Filipinos and Filipino-Americans were quick to note that the basic design was that of the sun and star combination from the flag of the Philippines. What wasn’t so widely noted was that within the sun pattern is the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland.

JR Celski is a Filipino-American (or “Fil-Am”) through his mother, Sue. However, he’s also a Polish-American (as his last name clearly suggests) through his father, Robert. JR wanted to show both sides of his ethnic heritage by merging together in one tattoo the emblems of both of his ancestral homelands. He had the tattoo done several months before the Olympics and it took about three hours to apply.

Link to more about JR Celski.

JR Celski shirtless

J.R. Celski tattoo close-up

On the Philippine flag, in the white triange, is a sun with eight primary rays (composed of three rays each), and three five pointed stars arrayed around it. The eight primary rays represent the eight provinces that initiated the fight against Spanish colonialism in the 1896 Revolution: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, and Batangas. The three stars represent the three major geographical divisions of the country: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.

The Polish coat of arms is a crowned white eagle, armed and displayed, on a field of red. The white eagle emblem originated when Poland’s legendary founder Lech saw a white eagle’s nest. The rays of the setting sun made the eagle’s wings appear to be tipped with gold. Lech was so enamored of the sight that he decided to place the image of the eagle on his emblem. The coat of arms appears on the Polish flag in one of the two official variations of it.

Philippine flagPolish eagle

Flag of the Philippines and Polish coat of arms

Besides the cultural significance of the tattoo, it also made some viewers of the scene on television to widen their eyes, as they saw that the cute little guy with the big smile had also become a hot young man. It looks like if he wants to, Celski can be going places other than in a circle on the ice. His talent and looks and charisma can be starting points for being a star like his teammate Apolo Anton Ohno has been before him. We will see more.


2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony

February 17, 2010

Thomas SaulgrainMy favorite aspect of the Olympics Opening Ceremony 2010 was the video projections. David Atkins, the executive producer of the show, used 70 video projectors and 38 still picture projectors to create vivid images on the floor of BC Place stadium, on hanging fabric used with the images to create the appearance of objects and structures, and on the audience themselves, who were clothed in white ponchos to make them part of the electronic canvas.

One of the notable uses of the video displayed on the floor was a segment within the “Landscape of Dreams” showcase of the regions and people of Canada. It was the salute to the prairie areas, and it featured National Circus School (√ącole nationale de cirque) student and aerialist Thomas Saulgrain (above) flying over projected images of fields of wheat. It was inspired by W.O. Mitchell’s “Who Has Seen The Wind”, from which Donald Sutherland spoke the introductory narrative.

During Saulgrain’s performance, the music that was played was Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, which is a song I really like. The expressiveness of the melody and the emotion of the lyrics were a great fit for this particular aerial ballet.

As much I liked the projections, which I must say I liked as well as the floor screen used in Beijing, I think its usage was too restrained during this segment. It didn’t need a lot more, but just a little more oomph would have been nice. Of course, with the TV coverage focused mainly on Thomas Saulgrain flying overhead, there might have been more that was seen by the audience at the stadium that was not seen by the TV audience. An instance of where the full potential of the system was shown was when the entire floor became one huge field of wheat (or was it prairie grass?)

Thomas Saulgrain

Another noteworthy example of the technology was a displayed image of whales swimming across the floor. It added some 3-D to the 2-D image with real spouting up in the air from the whales (below).

Olympics Opening Ceremony


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