J.R. Celski is no stranger to competition.
The three-time Olympian has become the face of American speed skating in the last few years and, now, as he gets ready to take to the ice in PyeongChang, Celski is hoping that he’ll be bringing home a bit of hardware. Of course, Celski will have his own cheering section, both in South Korea and stateside, a tight-knit group of family who have been with him every step of the way.
Here’s everything you need to know about the group and Celski’s life on and off the track:
1. Celski Grew Up in a Military Family
Celski’s parents – Sue and Robert – first met when they were just 17 years old after their families both moved to Federal Way, Washington. The pair started dating in high school and Robert went on to attend West Point, tying the knot just after he graduated.
The Celskis traveled all over the world while Robert was still in the Army and all three sons were born in different cities. Celski described the influence the military had on his family while he was growing up, telling NBC Olympics:
The military has had a huge impact on my family. My parents moved around to several places in their lifetimes because of it. My father was stationed in Kansas when they had [my brothers] Chris, Germany when they had David, and California when they had me. When I was born, it was at the tail end of my Dad’s career in the Army.
Robert rose to the rank of Major in the Army and, now, Celski’s older brother David currently serves as a Captain.
2. He Started Skating at Three Years Old & Moved to California to Train
Celski has been skating for as long as he can remember.
“My earliest memory was at age 3, walking around with my Fisher-Price plastic skates on,” he told NBC Olympics. “This brought a lot of joy to me early on. I really enjoyed the feeling on my skates. Creating pressure into either the pavement, wood or ice in order to create speed.”
As with many of his fellow speed skaters, Celski got his start in inline skating, but was inspired to switch to short track at 11 years old after watching Apolo Ohno at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. It was a decision that changed his entire life.
Celski turned his attention, full-time, to speed skating, and, by the time he was 14, was showing so much promise that he moved to Southern California to train. He lived with his older brother, Chris, while he trained for four years, but it wasn’t always easy and Celski is the first to admit that he was homesick.
It all paid off in the end, however. Celski is set to compete in his third Olympics at PyeongChang and, in addition to his medals, boasts a World Record in the 500-meter, becoming the first person to skate under 40 seconds in the distane.
3. Celski Has Two Older Brothers
Celski might be the youngest of three, but he’s incredibly close to both of his brothers – David and Chris. And his parents helped make sure that all three remained close, no matter what. In fact, it was Celski’s parents who first suggested he live with Chris when he decided to up his training. He told NBC Olympics:
I had a dream of competing in the Olympics and my parents never held me back from that. I wanted to move to Southern California in order to get the right training when I was 14. They sent me there along with my brother Chris. Everything they did was in order to provide and set me up for success in the sport and in life. I owe everything to my parents for keeping my dream alive and continuing to support me to this day.
The Celski brothers are still each other’s biggest source of support and all three have matching tattoos on their chest, a large depiction of Filipino sun and stars surrounding the Polish eagle. “I got this along with my two brothers to show respect to our ancestry,” Celski explained. His mother is from the Philippines and his father is partly Polish.”
4. His Fiancé, Andrea Do-Duc, Is a Former Speed Skater
When he isn’t racking up medals or setting records, Celski is happy to simply relax with his fiancé, Andrew Du Doc, who knows a little bit about competing as well.
The former Canadian short track star grew up in Montreal and actively raced through the 2012-13 season. She placed 10th overall in the 2012 fall World Cup and notched an 11-place finish in the final Canadian overall season rankings.
The couple now live in Salt Lake City, Utah – where Celski trains – and are devoted fans of the Seattle Seahawks and all things outdoors. Celski and Du Doc can frequently be found spending days on their because because, as he put it, cycling is “my favorite thing to do besides skate.”
5. Celski Credits His Family for His Mindset On & Off the Track
Celski is as close as ever to his family – even when his schedule takes him all over the world. And that relationship, not mention that support, has influenced the way Celski acts whether he’s on skates or not. In fact, Celski credits his family for sparking his interest in giving back and the Olympian’s charity work has become one of his most defining characteristics.
Over the last few years Celski has worked closely with Classroom Champions, teaming up to mentor students in Concord, California. Although he can’t always be in the school itself, Celski regularly video chats with students, giving them a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a world-class athlete.
“We discussed in the classroom how people who are famous start out as common people just as we are,” Concord teach Lisa Brown told the East Bay Times. “That can be you also, one day, on the screen.”
Celski may not have much free time, but the support he received from his family throughout his career has helped define him and, now, he’s determined to do the same for kids who may not otherwise have the opportunity.