"When I watch it on TV, I still find it hard to believe that I was there," said Bowdoin Women's Ice Hockey Coach Stacy Wilson of the Olympics. "It's sort of surreal."
Wilson was captain of Canada's 1998 Women's Ice Hockey Team, which took silver that year—the first year women's ice hockey was part of the Olympics.
Wilson's is one of several connections in the Bowdoin community to the world's foremost athletic contest.
Molly Burke '13 is in Vancouver, British Columbia now with father Brian Burke, General Manager of Team USA's Men's Ice Hockey Team.
Aaron O'Callahan '12 is a defenseman for Bowdoin men's hockey, just as his father Jack—a friend of Brian Burke—was a defenseman for the underdog "Miracle on Ice" USA Men's Ice Hockey Team that defeated the Soviet team and went on to win gold in 1980.
Senior Walt Shepard—at 27 the oldest in his class—took the year off to train for the Olympic biathlon but failed to qualify.
"That was always my biggest goal and focus," said Shepard, "but not everybody gets to go to the Olympics."
Wilson began playing ice hockey at age eight, in her hometown of Salisbury, New Brunswick. "I just asked my parents one day if I could play hockey because all the boys in the neighborhood were playing," Wilson said. "One girl among all boys."
In her second year at Acadia University, Wilson and a few friends started a women's team. From there, she went on to play for New Brunswick and then, after being invited to Team Canada's first-ever women's hockey tryouts, for her country.
In 1992, the International Olympic Committee voted to approve women's ice hockey as an Olympic sport.
"Before that, the goal was always to play with Team Canada," said Wilson. "Once that was announced, it became a huge dream."
While, in retrospect, earning the silver medal is a sterling accomplishment, at the time it felt more like losing the gold. Canada lost the final game to the United States, 3-1.
"At the time, it was disappointing, in the sense that we were going for gold," said Wilson. "It's a very different sensation when you've just lost a game. You know you can win it, and you know they can win it."
"After pouring everything into something for so long, it was disappointing to know that there wasn't going to be one more day to train with my teammates, one more chance to stand on the blue line and hear the Canadian National Anthem while wearing the Canadian jersey," said Wilson. "The Dream, the journey, was over."
Still, Wilson has no regrets.
"Looking back, I wouldn't trade any of it for anything," said Wilson. "I think you do learn that you're the same person, regardless of the color of the medal."
"It's certainly opened a lot of doors for me," said Wilson. "Just working toward something like that for so long... it's probably had more of an impact than I even understand."
Walt Shepard has been skiing with his family since age two, and discovered the biathlon at age 12.
"The most interesting thing about biathlon is that it pairs two really opposite disciplines, where you have the huge cardiovascular demands of skiing, and combine that with the precision of shooting, which as you can imagine is really difficult when your heart is pounding at 180 beats per minute."
After high school, Shepard spent five years training and competing, including a failed bid to qualify for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin. He matriculated in September 2006 at age 23.
Head Nordic Ski Coach Nathan Alsobrook coached Shepard for the past two years and has continued to advise him this year.
"He's obviously a really good guy, very friendly, very personable," said Alsobrook. "He's a very driven, hard-working athlete, who's very focused on the sport, without really letting that interfere."
"I had always had the intention of taking this year off," said Shepard, "so I've sort of re-engaged with my club, and I've been traveling all over the U.S. and Canada training."
He advanced to the second and final qualifying round of competition, "had a couple crazy races," and didn't end up making the team.
"But that's how it goes," said Shepard.
"After a fairly narrow miss in the qualifying, he's basically just looking to finish up this season with as many good races as he can," said Alsobrook.
Shepard will compete in the American Birkebeiner next week, which Alsobrook described as "the biggest, most prestigious race in the country."
"The competition will be really phenomenal," said Alsobrook. "For him it's a great opportunity, even though he didn't make his ultimate goal of the Olympics."
"A lot of people look at it as the Olympics for non-Olympic qualifiers," said Shepard.
Next on the horizon are the North American Biathlon Championship and the U.S. National Championships. This will be Shepard's last year racing biathlon, just as he planned. He will return for his final year of college in the fall.
"I was able to do everything in my career except go to the Olympics. Especially in this country, the Olympics is the place to be, the ultimate goal for any athlete, I think. So that's disappointing not to qualify."
"It's hard to give up this lifestyle, to have such a clean break, but I feel like I'm in a really good place about what I've done racing, and now I'm looking for the next challenge—which I guess at this point should really be gainful employment."
Molly & Brian Burke
"I have a lot of respect for [the Olympics] because they are able to bring people together in a way that even the most powerful governments can't," wrote Molly Burke in an e-mail to the Orient.
"Watching the top athletes in the world compete in events they have been training so hard for never gets old."
"For my dad, it's one area of hockey that he hasn't been a part of yet," said Molly Burke. "He has a Calder Cup ring from when he played and a Stanley Cup ring as GM. with the Ducks, but he has never had a chance at a medal before."
"He was so honored when USA Hockey asked him to serve as GM. He's an old-school guy and the opportunity to represent his country is very humbling for him and something he takes very seriously," she wrote.
Aaron & Jack O'Callahan
Aaron O'Callahan is well-accustomed to balancing his understanding of the view of Jack O'Callahan as a hockey hero with his own view of his father as, most essentially, a good dad.
"The way I always answer it—'What's it like, your dad's really popular, he did this, he did that'—is that he's always made it about me, when everybody else is making it about him," said Aaron O'Callahan.
"It's definitely a big shadow to fill," said Aaron O'Callahan, "but I don't think about that. I've always been able to have the option to do whatever I want."
While the 1980 Olympics "opened a lot of doors" for both his father and for him, there also have been downsides, said Aaron O'Callahan.
"I've had coaches when I was younger that didn't treat me fairly because of who my dad was," said Aaron O'Callahan.
He has also received e-mails, Facebook messages, and text messages from individuals just interested in getting his father's phone number.
Once deemed the greatest sports moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the U.S. game against the Soviet team was documented in a popular 2004 movie, "Miracle." Aaron O'Callahan credited the movie with popularizing the event among the younger generation, including many of his friends.
Aaron O'Callahan attended the premiere, calling it "one of the cooler experiences I've had."
Aaron O'Callahan recalls meeting actor Kurt Russell, who played coach Herb Brooks in the film, and his wife, actress Goldie Hawn.
"That was one of the biggest perks; that's what I'm most thankful for," joked Aaron O'Callahan. "Because my dad has a gold medal, I got to hang out with Goldie Hawn."
"He's always said to me that he was just playing hockey," Aaron O'Callahan said. "He wasn't thinking about everything else. It really was just a bunch of college kids, just like us."
"The coolest part for me," said Aaron O'Callahan, "is when an older person says, 'I remember where I was, who I was with, on that day.'"
"Every sport has its own world championships, but when you bring those together it makes for a very unique and festive atmosphere," said Wilson.
Shepard agreed that the Olympics are a step beyond even the world championships.
"Being an Olympian is almost like receiving a higher degree, like I'd be Dr. Shepard for the rest of my life," he said.
"I think when you are there, when you're sitting there during the opening ceremonies and the closing ceremonies, you do get a sense of togetherness," said Wilson, "not just about sports but beyond."
"It has to be helpful in some way. Any large group from all over the world coming together has to be helpful," said Wilson. "How could it not be, when there are so many smiles, and people get to see how people are all the same at the same time?"
"The values the Olympics promote—integrity, hard work, sportsmanship and teamwork—are important in every aspect of life, in every country," said Molly Burke. "They serve as a good reminder that language barriers and distance are superficial and that beneath them, people all over are driven by the same goals and wants."