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Olympic Dreams

I want to share my story, it might be long, and very typical of many athletes who have struggled in their younger years and then made a name for themselves and became famous. I hope I can achieve something like that, but I still have a lot of work to do.

21 Years ago, I was born into a family that could not keep me. With one child in the city of Dzershinsk- Nizhny Novgorod, Russia that was more than enough for a family to financially take care of. I was put in orphanage, and six months later I was on my way headed to Newark with my new family. When people ask me how old I was adopted, and I tell then as a baby, the automatic thought is, well, you have no knowledge of what life was really like there. Right, I have no knowledge of the family that is biologically related to me, that’s the tough part.

I can tell you right now, that I grew up with the best life as a kid. I played every sport, I wanted to do everything. But, I also never wanted to do what my friends did, it was too boring, soccer, softball, tennis. Those were never in my interest, but the first time I put on a pair of roller blades at home, or rental skates at Sugarland Ice and Sports Center, it changed my life. I knew I was meant to be on the ice.

Before my parents would have gotten a divorce, my brothers and I were always at the rink, (Oh, me and my two brothers who are also from Russia, and no we are not biologically related.) Summers were spent skating, in circles, for hours. Literally. It was great. Summer skating led me to my passion, hockey, even though I was already 9 ½ years old, a horrible right winger, and couldn’t figure out what an icing was to save my life I knew that hockey was the sport.

In 2007, a year after my first in-house hockey season a couple of parents were holding a scrimmage Saturday mornings as soon as the sun came up. I mean thinking about it now, there is no way in the world you could get college hockey girls to get up that early to skate. Trust me, I know. But, I was ready to go, sleeping in the same clothes as the day before, because all I wanted to do was skate. A few practices later, and noticing we only had one goalie, I was offered the gear that would change my life forever.
Hockey was my passion, but goaltending was and still is my love. A set of used Brian’s goalie equipment and Bauer hockey helmet I was ready to go. 10 years old, for most kids in the East Coast or Midwest is old. I swear kids start skating or playing hockey before they even know how to walk, but I was just getting started. I played goalie for the Houston HERricanes, and a couple of boy’s teams around Houston for two or three years before I told my Dad that I was committed, this was it. I never knew that hockey could take you to college or the Olympics, I just wanted to play, and I did.

The dreams were set. It was simple, I wanted to play at Boston College and I want to represent my country, the Russian Federation. I started my first travel season with the Alliance Bulldogs out of Dallas, Texas before everyone left the program to play AAA with the Dallas Elite. We were, let’s just say okay. It was great, I was making friends with girls who had the same ambition and goals as I did, I thought. A few seasons went by, I grew with these girls, some dropped off to pursues other life goals and moved on, but I still knew what I wanted. The trips to Dallas were by far the best time of my life, we had our small group of Houston girls who made the four-hour drives to practices on the weekends well worth it, Uncle Bobby, Amanda and Olivia.

The best parts where when we did our USA camps in Dallas, everyone always wanted to make it to the big leagues in St. Cloud, Minnesota where the USA National Camp was held. At the time it was relatively easy for goalies to make it to Rocky Mountain District camp, because there were only so many of us goalies out of Texas. District camps were held in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Olympic Oval, and sometimes I wonder if it was meant to be heading there all those years. Camp after Camp, trying your best to get the call for National Camp was a dream for any prospect. All the Division One coaches were there. My last time in Salt Lake City for District Camp was one to remember, walking away from the locker rooms in pain, because one, it was my last time there, and because I had just gotten a new pair of Bauer One60 skates and that was not a smart move. I connected with the coaches really well that last year, and weeks later I got a call and was asked if I wanted to take a spot at the 2013 National Development Camp, I was there.

It’s tough to include all of the details about my dream to have wanted to play for the Federation Hockey of Russia, because it was a difficult process, but I never gave up. 2012 I had the idea, well if I meet this person at this camp we could talk. Not if they speak Russian, but we could work something out. I went to Riga, Latvia that year and met and was taught by Vladislav Tretyak (The Soviet goaltedner in the 1980 games), and Sergei Naumov, two of the best goalie coaches in the world. I gave Mr. Tretyak goaltending video, and had one scout from the Federation Hockey of Russia come to watch and look out for any possibility I would be a good addition for the women’s program. Everything was looking good.

My last time in Dallas was with the Dallas Stars Elite 19U program, we were the very first group to get things going, but a lack of goaltending coaching and wins made it hard for Division One college coaches to recruit us. I really needed something more. In 2013 I was sixteen years old on my way to Cornwall, Ontario for my first year away at boarding school. It was an experience, not to mention I was heading to my third high school in three years. Nothing but success happened that year, I knew I was becoming a more skilled goaltender, I could feel it. I was working with my first permanent goaltending coach. Not at camp, but an actual coach who was with me for a year. Francois Lemay, I couldn’t give this guy enough credit and has been working on his own goaltending coaching career since day one meeting him in Dallas, Texas. Later that year, another opportunity came, Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minnesota, the Russian Federation of Hockey had their women’s Olympic team out practicing and touring the country playing college hockey teams before the 2014 Sochi Olympics. You bet I was there for that. Going on the ice, I knew I could handle the competition, I was one step closer and closer each year.
So, the real challenge came, when I realized I wasn’t exactly book smart and actually needed to get into college. Staying in Ontario there was opportunity, I could feel myself getting my name out there in the hockey world and I couldn’t have been able to do that without Giles and Kim Lascelle. As my knowledge for hockey politics evolved I knew there was no way I was going to play at Boston College, that was for the girls who made it to Team USA U18 team. But, I wasn’t giving up on my Division One dream.

I don’t know how it happened, but I made a phone call during a tournament in Lake Placid, New York to Harry Rosenholtz my college hockey advisor, and at the start of the new school year I was on repeat to the middle of Connecticut, at a real New England boarding school, where no matter what the temperature was outside, you had to wear a blazer. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I was entering my fourth high school in four years. Heading into that junior year again took a toll, it was tough academically, but I know I needed it more than anything. More of the time I was focused on my school work than hockey itself, I had never done that before in my life, but I learned to appreciate life in the sense that there was a lot more than just hockey.

I might have lost track of time, because I was entering my junior year without any commitment to a university hockey program. The one opportunity I had I blew because my academics weren’t strong enough to head to Dartmouth, and, well, the other schools just weren’t realistic financially after three years of boarding school to pay. I kept working, because I knew something was going to happen, and it did. Sitting in the college counseling office at Kent I received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. I opened the message and nearly had a heart attack. “Commitment” and “University of Wisconsin” in a text message? Not even an email. Forget Boston College, I was going to be a Badger, I had never even considered a team like the University of Wisconsin, because that was the ultimate college hockey team to be at and I never felt like I was good enough for an opportunity like that.

My connection with the Federation of Hockey was looking good, between my junior and senior year at the Kent School I was on my way back to Russia. For the first time since my adoption I was stepping into my home country, I had both my American and Russian passport in hand and it was quite a scary feeling going through customs as a dual citizen, with all the political controversy and social issues from the Sochi Olympic games, you never know what might happen. I knew the week was going to be interesting trip when I saw a body on the side of the road covered up from a bus accident. Aside from all of the scary stories, I gave it my all, Dinamo St. Petersburg was a possible team for me to be able to play after college. I knew I couldn’t leave for a professional team, it was against NCAA rules.

The experience left me with an opportunity, and I was on a good track. I was accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and had been to Russia with my name in the Federation Hockey of Russia, everything that I had been dreaming of since I was a young hockey player was coming true. I left Kent, Connecticut excited, and also drained because I had to start summer classes only weeks after graduation. Mind you there are no senior slides in boarding school, but I was ready. After and 18-hour drive to Madison I was there with my Dad and Step-mom, I settled into the dorms with all the other incoming freshman, and we all clicked. Eight-week summer school session was a go. We were working out every morning at 7:00 AM in the weight room at Camp Randall, running stadiums, or Bascoms. It was tough, but that was the best training I had ever had has a hockey player.

Going into the Fall year I knew where I stood as a goaltender, there was absolutely no way I was stepping foot onto the ice in front of 2,000+ fans, I wasn’t ready and had already discussed with the coaches that I was taking a red-shirt year. The goal of the year was to show up ready to develop, ready to become the best goaltender I could be, learning from Nikki and Ann-Rene every day. There was only one practice that Nikki and I would for sure remember the rest of our lives, when Ann took off one day and we were left to fend the crease for ourselves. I would never go into another practice without three goalies ever again. We were the team to beat, and fell short of a NCAA D1 National Championship at the end of the year. It was tough seeing how hard the girls had worked all year to come up short of the most important trophy there ever was to win.

What was also tough to see was the emotional level of stress and uncertainty going through my mind the whole year, going from having the opportunity to play and not ever getting to touch the puck in a game was hard. But I fought through it. I knew my second year I was going to get an opportunity, all I needed was one chance. After the fall of the Championship we finished off the rest of our semester, me relatively well from where I stood mentally. I knew I needed to make a phone call about my possible Russian hockey career, I was concerned that taking a year without playing was going to affect my opportunity. When I called Mikhail Manchik manager of the Dinamo St. Petersburg team he told me I needed to play my next season to have a shot. What I really needed a break from school and hockey.

One month later my class was entering summer session two, finally getting to live off campus I was ready for Sophomore year as a Badger, not thinking that this year was going to be the absolute worst year of my entire hockey career and life. I knew the competition was going to be tough, we had four goalies in this year, but I was going to continue to fight for my opportunity, like I said, one shot was all I needed. The summer training had gone well, but my mind was in hockey mode and my one class I was taking didn’t turn out exactly how I want it to go, but it counted as passing credits.

I was ready, the whole team was excited, it was comeback season, but I could slowly see the wheels turning back into what I had already went through. I was able to play one period of our exhibition game against the South Korean Women’s National Hockey team. Seeing a sports phycologist already the past season, I went back for a second. I can’t blame anyone for anything, that is not me, what has happened is done. I couldn’t stay on a team that wouldn’t give me more than a period of an exhibition game. That’s when I made the call to transfer. I reached out to five Division one University’s throwing out my entire hockey resume, which is what I have written in this GoFundMe and asked for an opportunity, or just a phone call. I couldn’t land one team, coming from one of the best teams in the country.

The worst of the worst news was yet to come, just two weeks after not having anywhere to go yet, just trying to get an email back from coaches, my mom calls me to tell me about Phil. Phil had been supporting me since day one of my hockey journey, and even had a jar of money he was saving up for the Olympics. Never in the years that I had been away at school had I needed to come home during a semester, but I did. I came home to be with my Mom. I finished the semester off severely dropping my GPA putting myself on probation with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and I was still without a commitment.

During the two years I had ended up taking a couple of Military Science courses and had thought about joining the ROTC program at Wisconsin. Without hockey I needed something, the two years between ROTC became complicated and I never contracted surprisingly, only because of my GPA. If only everything wasn’t so GPA focused. I was still committed though, then I thought of the obvious, I reached out to Norwich University, a Division 3 University in Vermont, and the coaches were immediately responsive to my email.

I was happy, something was finally looking up. I told the coaches that when I am committed to something I will do what it takes, and I drove to Vermont, from Wisconsin, to meet with them and discuss the next years situation. Heading back to Wisconsin it was done, I was ready, this was my something. Months later the opportunity wasn’t all there but it was all I had nearing April. I needed to find a team and I did, a school to go to and I did. I was going to try and finish my hockey career and become an officer in the military. I accepted the role, that was how my athletic career was going to end. The Russian dream was gone, and I would just have my last three years of eligibility.
What is so great about life, is just when you have things figured out, you have to learn that it’s not about what you want. Everything that I was working for military related, going through another round of college applications, just wasn’t in the plans.

One month of Spring classes left, it was the last week of April and my teammate Claudia Kepler mentions to everyone in house I was living with about speed skating, we ended up talking about life opportunities and what was going to happen to all of us. Baylee, Lauren, Claudia, and I were all heading off somewhere, we were all just trying to make our dreams happen. I realized I had nothing to lose, in all honesty, I said I’ll do it. One week later I was on the ice at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this time in speed skates trying not to fall.

This was my opportunity, I purposely sat on the team bench in LaBahn arena talking to Dave Cruikshank (4x Olympic Medalist) husband to Bonnie Blair (8x Olympic Medalist) about speed skating and feeling like I actually had a second shot at wanting to be an Olympian, no guarantees, but with everything I had been through, this was worth every risk and chance. Even if it meant I was on my own. I knew I wasn’t going to get the help I needed, with everything that had happened in hockey I don’t blame the person who supported me all those years. But, this was something I couldn’t let go. I needed to find help, somewhere to stay, a place to work and start making money so I could afford to get my skating career going.

I did.

Now I am here, in Greendale, Wisconsin asking for help, from the people that know me best and have been a part of my hockey journey, but also my life. Day in and day out I continue to strive at my job and find people, and sponsors that want to invest their time and money, because I can promise this for my friends in Houston, and all over the world whom I have meet through school and hockey, my family, Phil, and the sport of speed skating one thing, I will become and Olympian, and I will not give up until it happens.

I know the number is a lot, I understand that in today’s day in age it’s tough to make a living. I get that, as I am currently working retail, but every single cent would not go for my personal benefit, but for speed skating training and equipment itself. I would show every contributor exactly when and where their contribution would go, and keep everyone informed about my progress as a speed skater, every step of the way.

I appreciate you guys at TNQ for getting through to the end of this story. I know you have many to read, but, if possible a share of my story or GoFundMe on social media would mean the world to me. I appreciate all that you guys do.

Thank you, God bless,

Alyson Baldwin

https://www.gofundme.com/olympic-speed-skating-hopeful

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merch image I don't want cool swag.