This year will be the first time in almost 20 that Darcie Sharapova, 20, of Petoskey, watches the Olympics. (July 20, 2012)
The Petoskey resident said she would see snippets here and there on the Internet in years past, but for a long time she and her husband, Anton, did not have television.
But there's a twist. The last Olympics Sharapova watched was in person. She was in France in 1992, competing for the United States.
Back when she was 10 and Darcie Dohnal, Sharapova began to speed skate. It was family sport, one that she and her three brothers and one sister could participate in together near their hometown of Wauwatosa, Wis.
"It was a really great fit for our family," she noted, because it meant all five could go to the same practice, at the same place, at the same time.
"It was a really fun sport for young kids because it was not serious at all," she recalled.
There were about 20 competitions a season, and Sharapova remembers as a kid, that racing at those was almost secondary to hanging out with friends.
But something shifted when at age 16, she was invited to train with Dianne Holum. Holum was a former Olympian and medal winner several times over.
"She was a mentor for me. She took me seriously, so I started taking myself serious at that point," Sharapova said.
It was a couple years later, after graduating high school, that Sharapova went to Marquette to train at the then-newly developed short track center there.
Short track speed skating is when a group of people take off at once, skating laps.
Marquette is normally open to the top six males and females in speed skating, Sharapova said she showed promise and was able to train with the elite group. She spent four months there, working her way to fourth place ranking and earning a spot on the Olympic team.
Up until this point, short track speed skating had been a demonstration sport — a nonmedaling sport — at the Olympics. It became an official part of the program in 1992.
So January of that year, at age 19, Sharapova was in Albertville, France, the home of the games that year.
She said she's likened the experience to a wedding day, when months or years of planning finally come together.
"It's so hard to explain, because now I'm 40, and then I was 19. At 19 everything is so vivid," she noted. " ... It's slow motion and fast forward at the same time."
But one of the more impacting behind-the-scenes experiences was living in the "athlete's village." Sharapova said it was a town not unlike Petoskey, which was emptied. The stores remained open, and lodging was built for the athletes; in her specific village lived figure skaters, speed skaters, ski jumpers and bobsledders. Surrounding it was a fence, and only athletes were allowed through.
"I think that's surreal, to be in a place with all Olympic athletes," she recalled.
Often they would meet at meals, in a French restaurant open 24 hours to fuel the participants.
Sharapova noted that time not spent training and resting was devoted to traveling to different sites to take in the games. Unlike some other games, the speed skating events were at the end of the 30-day experience.
And after the 3,000-meter short track relay, Sharapova and her teammates stood on the platform, silver medals around their necks.
Sharapova returned home and continued her training.
She went on to place second on the World Team in 1992 and third in 1993. The first year of splitting Olympics into summer and winter games was in 1994, and she recalled thinking it was foolish to stop then.
But at training one day in December 1993, she severely injured a tendon and removed herself from the sport.
"When I was 21, I was ready to go to college. I was ready to go into medicine," she noted.
So she enrolled and began her undergrad at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in January 1994. She moved on to Memorial University of Newfoundland Medical School in Newfoundland, Canada, for medical school and residency.
It was there she met her husband, Anton Sharapov, who had moved from Russia to attend school there.
Newly settled in Petoskey after a couple years each in Ottawa, Canada; Eau Claire, Wis.; and Kalamazoo, Mich., Sharapova recently began work as a family doctor at Little Traverse Primary Care, and her husband as a general and vascular surgeon at Petoskey Surgeons PC.
Sharapova said she hasn't really kept up on speed skating, but relaced her skates in recent years.
She spent a year coaching a newly formed team in Kalamazoo, and it's an activity she now does with her husband and their three children, Alek, 11, Nadia, 10, and Evelyn, 4. Her first competition, as a participant, was in March at the Michigan State Championships in Muskegon.
"My kids kind of dragged me to do it," she said with a laugh.
The Petoskey Speed Skating Club was also an extra point for the Petoskey area when they decided to move, in addition the region's other recreation opportunities.
"We're not planning on going anywhere else. That's enough moving," she said.