Every four years, during the opening ceremony of the Olympics, athletes from nearly every country parade through the ceremony. They wave flags, they cheer, and many of them bring cameras to capture pictures and video of the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
One of those athletes with a camera at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia, was recent Bellingham transplant Anna Ringsred. The 30-year-old long-track speed skater will share her footage and experiences at the Olympics and in competing to get a spot on the United States championship team at 7 p.m. Monday, March 23, at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. The event costs $10 for general admission tickets, $4 for students and $4 for children 18 years old and under. Proceeds benefit the Whatcom Speed Skating Club.
Ringsred grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, playing a different sport every season. She came to speed skating after breaking her ankle trying ski jumping. Looking for a new winter sport, the 11-year-old Ringsred found an advertisement for the Duluth speed skating club that was having an all-comers race on a frozen soccer field they had flooded to make a short track.
“I put on my hockey skates and decided to try it,” she said in a phone interview. “I must have done well, because I remember everyone coming around telling me to join, so I said, ‘Why not?’”
A coach recognized her potential and pushed Ringsred’s parents to take her to the bigger competitions that were anywhere from three hours to states away.
“Before you knew it I was at nationals, and that was when I got to like it a lot,” Ringsred said. “I like pushing myself and seeing hard work come to fruition. I like going fast, too, on the ski hill or on ice skates. I really like going fast, being outside and pushing myself in something.”
Ringsred qualified for the U.S. National Team in 2006 and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, to train with the team. After an injury and feeling fatigued from over-training, she moved to Calgary, Canada, to train at a facility there. The Calgary facility had different levels of coaching, so Ringsred got placed with a group of skaters closer to her skill level where she wouldn’t be pushed as hard as the top athletes, like in Salt Lake City.
During that time she was participating in the world championships and gained enough experience to try out for the Olympic team.
“For 2010 I was in a good spot,” Ringsred said. “I was in the top three in my events. I put too much pressure on myself and you only have once race to prove yourself, and I kind of choked and was disappointed, so I took a year off.”
In that year she returned to Calgary to finish her college degree in chemical engineering, but that year stretched out to a year and a half.
In 2011 she started skating again and decided to give it another try.
“I was working full time for a company in Calgary, and I felt really passionate and inspired to try one more time,” Ringsred said. “I trained before and after work, early in the morning, and again for a few hours after work, so I was trying to fit six hours of training in before and after work, because no team would take me with those hours.”
Training alone for a year made her realize how much she still loved the sport, and Ringsred ended up doing well in competition even without a team or coach. The next year she reduced her work hours and got back into formal training with a team in Calgary, just one year before the Olympic trials.
“I went to nationals, and crushed it, and made the world cup team to everyone’s surprise,” she said. “They all thought I had retired. I came back and had a great year, so I got to go to Sochi for the world championships.”
Ringsred stopped working and returned to fulltime speed skating that next summer.
“This was my last chance,” she said. “I did everything I could and didn’t want to have any regrets.”
With a sports psychologist teaching her ways to relieve the pressure she felt the first time she was at the Olympic trials, Ringsred went into the trials just hoping for a spot on the team. She decided to try each of the speed skating races, even though she was doing better in the 1,500 meters and 1,000 meters. The five days of trials started with the 3,000, in which she qualified for one of the two spots.
“I didn’t expect to make it (in the 3,000) because not a lot of skaters qualify in that race,” she said. “There were three or four skaters who were generally better than me in that race and I assumed they would get it.”
After that first day, Ringsred fell ill and was unable to qualify in any other events, but she had still completed her goal of making it to the Olympics.
Ringsred didn’t put too much value in how she did at the Olympics, knowing she wasn’t one of the elite athletes in her event, so she focused on soaking up the experience while trying to just race the best she could — not worrying about her place.
While in Sochi, Ringsred met and socialized with other Olympic athletes like snowboarder Shaun White and hockey player Sidney Crosby.
After the Olympics, Ringsred suffered a concussion that put her out of training for a year. She relocated to Bellingham to try to use her degree for a renewable energy company and found out about the Whatcom Speed Skating Club. The club meets Tuesday nights, and will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, before switching to a spring schedule of meeting at 5:45 p.m. beginning Tuesday, March 31. The club meets at the Bellingham Sportsplex.
With a year away from the sport, Ringsred said she has gained new respect for speed skating and realized how much she misses it again. She was made an honorary member of the Whatcom Speed Skating Club, she said.
Though she still suffers some nagging headaches due to the concussion, Ringsred wants to start trying to train again to see what she can do. She’s not sure if that may lead to another push for the Olympics, or just skating for fun, but she’s not quite ready for the “retired” label yet.
“On the one hand, you have to give it up at some point,” she said, “but it’s so much fun, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”