Siblings from Wheaton are among the many Chicago area athletes competing this week in Milwaukee to earn coveted spots on the U.S. Olympic Long Track Speedskating Team, but they have someone extra special rooting them on.
Jeffrey Swider-Peltz, 28, is aiming to make his first Olympic team. His older sister Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. is a 2010 Olympian looking for one more shot at an Olympic appearance.
Both athletes are coached by their mother, Nancy Swider-Peltz Sr., a four-time Olympic speedskater. When Nancy Sr. competed in the 1988 Calgary Games, she was the first American to make four Olympic teams.
Nancy Jr. was about a year old at the time.
“I was the lady with the baby, and little Nancy drew a lot of attention,” said Nancy Sr.
Both Jeffrey and Nancy Jr. said they followed their mom, who was also coaching local speedskaters, to the local rink.
“I was on the ice when I was 2 years old,” said Jeffrey. “(Mom) would put some skates on my feet and I would skate as many laps as I could.”
Jeffrey said his journey to the Olympic Games is different from most speedskaters. He grew up playing a number of different sports, including football at Wheaton College during this freshman year.
“I just made a crazy decision that I never gave speed skating a shot,” said Jeffrey.
After his second year in college, Jeffrey decided to pursue speedskating full-time. This season, he was part of the U.S. Long Track Speedskating World Cup Team.
“I’ve put a lot of work into my sport, especially as a 28-year-old not having made the Olympics,” said Jeffrey. “You don’t see many athletes staying around that long.”
Despite his family’s impressive accomplishments – his father is a long-time football coach at Wheaton College and his younger brother is also a skilled football and baseball player – Jeffrey said he doesn’t feel the pressure.
“We’re not really a competitive family with each other. We push each other to be our best,” said Jeffrey.
Nancy Jr.’s professional skating career started early.
At 14, she competed in her first Olympic Trials. She was the youngest competitor, and her mom was the oldest at 45.
“We get to the line, and she comes over and kisses me on the cheek! I’m like, ‘What? No. This is not fair play!’” said Nancy Jr.
Her road to the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games has been filled with injuries and disappointment.
Nancy Jr. said she had one of her greatest accomplishments during the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“My goal was top 10 and I took 9th,” said Nancy Jr. “It was one of the best races of my life. I didn’t feel much pain which is very unusual.”
Post-2010, Nancy Jr. said she hurt her back, putting her in excruciating pain when she was on the ice.
“This journey and the obstacles I’ve overcome, making the Olympic team would be a dream,” said Nancy. Jr.
For mom Nancy Sr., she admits coaching her children comes with its challenges.
“You don’t know where to draw the line between, ‘I’m the coach. I’m the parent. They are the skater, and they are the kid,’” said Nancy. Sr. “We cross it all the time.”
But for both Nancy Jr. and Jeffrey, the pressure of making an Olympic team has given them perspective.
“If I haven’t shown people around me in that rink, who I’m skating with, who I’m talking to…if they don’t find something to look up to you on the ice, then I failed as an athlete,” said Jeffrey.
“It’s thanking the community that has poured into us to have gotten to where we have gotten,” said Nancy Jr.
The U.S. Olympic Long Track Trials begin at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee on Jan. 2 and run through Jan. 7. Team USA has qualified spots for up to eight men and eight women. The team is expected to be announced after trials are complete.
Along with the Swider-Peltz siblings, other local athletes hoping for an Olympic spot include Brian Hansen of Glenview, Shani Davis of Chicago and Emery Lehman of Oak Park.