Glenview speedskater Gehring's Olympic journey challenging and inspiring
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea --
When Glenview native and short-track speedskater Lana Gehring earned a bronze medal from the 3,000-meter relay at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she couldn't wait to add to her collection in Sochi in 2014. Ranked third in the world, she was inspired to get a tattoo on the side of her head with a large crown over her initials.
A deep rift in the American speedskating world, however, distracted her from qualifying for the 2014 Winter Games.
In 2012, 14 skaters boycotted the U.S. team, claiming mental and physical abuse by her coach at the time, Jae Su Chun. As a result, Chun was forced to leave the U.S. Speedskating National Racing Program. And Gehring, who continued to train with Chun, was left with no choice but to follow.
"With the politics and things, I wasn't motivated. And for short-track you always have to be ready so I knew I needed a break," Gehring said.
Gehring, who had been training in Salt Lake City, continued to live there and became a full-time personal fitness trainer at a local gym.
"I still wanted to be in the fitness area so I decided to become a personal trainer and help people achieve their goals because I went through the stages too," she said.
After a year off the ice, Gehring set her focus on the 2018 Olympics and began workouts while keeping her full-time job as a trainer. Three years later, the 27-year-old Gehring placed first place in the women's 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter trials in December.
As a personal trainer, Gehring proved that she didn't have to be an Olympian to inspire people. One student, Patricia Hoopes, says Gehring helped her to work harder and overcome depression.
"I'm a stay-home mom, but Lana motivated me to get back out there," Hoopes said. "Watching her have this confidence and achieve her goals has made me say I want to do more."
On top of training with Gehring three times a week at the gym, Hoopes has used that motivation to start her own online blog to talk about skin care and her struggles with depression and anxiety.
"It makes me feel so good that I can motivate someone to make even the smallest change in their life, or even just for that day," Gehring said. "I'm so happy I can make my clients come up along with me in life -- it's not a solo journey at all, the other people around me are in it as well."
Gehring also has inspired Hoopes' 15-year-old son Patrick, who is an elite gymnast. Witnessing Gehring build herself back up and focus on qualifying for the Olympics has propelled Hoopes and her son to never lose sight of their goals.
"She ignored all the drama and politics around her devastation, and came back to achieve her goals," Hoopes said. "That has gone a long way for me and my son because I tell him every time he's stressed: look, you need to think about yourself and your goals. Things are going to happen that you can't control, but the thing you can control is you."
As a friend, Hoopes wanted to give back to Gehring. Since personal training is Gehring's full-time job, Hoopes learned that she would have no source of income during the month away training and competing at the Olympics in Pyeongchang.
"She still has bills and mortgage to pay off while she's gone, but she told me she would rather pull her eyeballs out than ask people for money," Hoopes said.
So Hoopes did the job for her, and set up a GoFundMe page that has currently received $1,545 to help Gehring make up for the month she's away from work.
"She has so many supporters and I knew that people would give knowing she's putting in so much to represent our country," Hoopes said.
Gehring will compete in the 1,500-meter race on Saturday and the 1,000-meet on Tuesday. And this time, rather than planning ahead for the next Olympiad, she's looking forward to getting back to help her clients.
"I get back on the 26th and I told Patricia I'm going to be there for her on the 27th," Gehring said.
While Hoopes will not be present in the audience during her races in Pyeongchang, she will be watching and cheering on her friend and trainer.
"We always joke together how no one ever watches the Winter Olympics, but I really just wish more people would care about her great journey," Hoopes said. "She's an amazing woman and a great athlete."
And if you have trouble spotting her on the ice, just look for the skater with the crown tattoo -- a small reminder of the individual she is.
• Anna Kook, a graduate student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, is covering Illinois athletes at the 2018 Winter Games for the Daily Herald, Follow her on Twitter @ annakook.