At 50, Jacki Munzel keeps skating
Many of Jacki Munzel's fellow speedskaters at the U.S. long track trials in Kearns, Utah, didn't realize how old she was until she completed a training lap and they heard her coach shouting something that sounded like, "Take that, Arp!"
Arp? What's Arp?
Not Arp. AARP. Yes, as in the American Association for Retired Persons, the national organization for people who are age 50 and older.
"You're 50?" one of the other skaters asked incredulously.
Yes, she is. As Munzel blogged on the organization's website she has been competing for an Olympic team spot despite her age, despite having a daughter older than some of the other skaters and despite having abandoned other Olympic dreams some three decades earlier.
Munzel was a figure skater, with international experience and realistic aspirations of competing in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. In an effort to maintain a trim figure -- she weighed 110 pounds despite her 5-foot-7 frame -- she developed a severe eating disorder. When she realized she wasn't going to make the 1984 Olympic team and would have to shoot instead for the 1988 Games, she gave up on that Olympic goal.
"I quit, I couldn't do it again," she said. "I was at the worst of my worst. I was done. I knew I couldn't survive another five years."
Munzel's eating disorder was so severe, it took more than a decade before she finally overcame it through counseling and the support of her sister. Although she still skated recreationally and now is a power skating instructor for NHL, IHL and college hockey players, those Olympic figure skating dreams had changed to regrets.
In February 2010, Munzel and her daughter, Sara, were talking about life while the 2010 Olympics were being televised from Vancouver. Munzel talked about how struggles and regrets are part of life, and one of those regrets was how her figure skating career ended.
"God gave me a talent, He gave me a gift -- my skating -- and I didn't do the right thing about it," Munzel said. "I buried it in the sand."
Sara, now 26, told her mother she could always go back to figure skating, but Munzel shook her head. Competitive figure skating at her age? Please. That was not going to happen. So Sara pointed at the TV screen, where Olympic speedskating was being televised. "You've always been fast," Sara said. "Why don't you go back and do that?"
"It was just something that was right. I knew it was right," Munzel recalled in a phone call from Kearns this week. "Something bubbled inside me and I said, 'Yeah, I can definitely do that. Absolutely! I can make the Olympic team!'"
Well, making the Olympic team at age 50 in a discipline you have never competed in before is a pretty ambitious goal, especially when you're a working mother in Long Beach, N.Y., a town that is a very long way from the nearest long track facility. But after much training and sacrifice and overcoming everything from an injured hip labrum to a concussion (as well as substantial damage to her home from Hurricane Sandy), Munzel qualified to at least compete at the U.S. Olympic trials.
She finished 13th out of 20 in the 3,000-meter race last week with a personal best time of 4:23.54 seconds, then finished 19th in the 1,000 and 16th in the 1,500. She was set to compete in the 5,000 on Wednesday.
If Munzel doesn't make the team Wednesday, she can take considerable pride in having competed at the trials, which is inspiring enough. Plus, there is always 2018. Munzel isn't the only AARP candidate at the trials. Bruce Conner, the brother of Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Bart Conner, is also competing. He's a 57-year-old grandfather.
"It's such a dream come true," Munzel said of being able to compete in the trials. "I am thrilled like a kid. I am nervous as I was as a teenager. But I am enjoying more of the moments of it. I am experiencing everything you do as a youngster. You want to perform your best, you want to make sure everything you've given and sacrificed for happens in that one moment.
"But if it doesn't, you know you're going home and life goes on. So your dreams aren't as shattered, because you know you can always regroup and make new dreams. That's what we as parents don't tell our kids enough. We put so much emphasis on the here and now."
That's something that comes with age. The wisdom that there is always something else.
"There is! There is so much more," Munzel said. "And everything you learn in life and every part of life can be brought into your next step or your next breath."