- Short Track
'Can't Hold Us:' J.R. Celski and Macklemore team up
J.R. Celski looked down and saw the tip of the blade from his right skate firmly lodged in the quad of his left leg. He took the blade out and watched blood spout furiously onto the smooth, white ice.
“I thought I was going to die for a split second,” Celski said.
He almost did.
Celski, the 23-year-old American short track speed skater, crashed into the boards during the last day of Olympic trials around five months before the 2010 Games. With his parents in the stands, Celski’s right skate sliced his left leg open and he was rushed to a hospital. Celski bruised the femoral artery and came inches from severing it, which potentially could have killed him.
Instead, he got 60 stitches. Celski went on to recover in just five months and, thanks to having already qualified for the Olympics in every distance but the 500m before the injury, was able to skate in Vancouver. There, he won two bronze medals, one in the 1500m and one in the 5000m relay.
But the recovery period wasn’t easy, and Celski leaned on music during the tough times.
“Through my recovery process I came to music to really help me get through it mentally,” Celski said.
Embedded video_content_type: From the hospital to the hero: J.R. Celski
Celski, who resides in Seattle, is an avid hip-hop fan, and more specifically, a major fan of Pacific Northwest hip-hop. One of the local artists at the time had an interesting sound and message that appealed to J.R. That artist was named Macklemore.
“There’s actually a song of his (Macklemore) called "Otherside" where he talks about his drug addiction and the reality of it and we have to face our demons and jump through certain hoops to succeed,” Celski said. “And that message really resonated with me and helped me kind of have a clear conscience when I was going through my rehab.”
Macklemore, whose real name is Ben Haggerty, shot to the top of the charts recently with hits such as “Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us” and “Same Love.” But long before the super stardom, Macklemore and his producer, Ryan Lewis, were local artists Celski followed.
“He was working really hard and I saw it through his whole process with him going in the studio and Ryan Lewis and just what they did to try and build their fan base was incredible,” Celski said.
Celski was so inspired by Macklemore and Seattle’s eccentric music scene that he began to film a documentary titled, The Otherside, named for Macklemore’s track, after the 2010 Olympics.
The central theme of the project is supporting local artists and demonstrating that the region has a complex sound that features more than just grunge.
“I think it was just time for something else to come out of the area. The last popular groups, you know, obviously Pearl Jam and Nirvana and, you know, Sir-Mix-A-Lot and something else needed to blow from that area. There was so much talent and music going on,” Celski said.
Embedded video_content_type: American J.R. Celski strums the ukulele
The idea started from a failed charity show featuring hip hop acts that Celski helped organize. Despite the show not working out, Celski asked the different artists about the idea of filming a documentary.
“Initially it was a benefit concert but it didn’t work out timing wise, so I figured I wanted to make something of it, so I started filming their shows and touring the country with them,” Celski said. “I felt something was going to blow up and you know over the course of three years we captured a lot of footage and [now] Macklemore is a superstar.”
The Otherside started filming after the 2010 Olympics, and Celski’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The documentary’s filming and release coincided almost exactly with Macklemore’s ascension to the top of the music world.
“You know eventually it was bound to happen, but on this scale, no way did I ever think that would happen. The guy took over the music industry,” Celski said of his friend.
Celski served as an executive producer on the project and helped film it.
“Me, along with the director, Dan Torok, and my friend – my childhood friend Vinny Dom who helped me produce it - we were the spark plug in the whole thing happening,” Celski explained. “There are a lot of people involved in the project from the Northwest, you know other filmers, color, sound, editing all that good stuff.”
The documentary premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in May.
“We got really good reviews and we actually sold out both nights, 500 seats each night, and got a third night which wasn’t supposed to happen in the first place. The response that we got was huge. We wanted to do it for the Northwest and I think people were happy with it,” Celski said.
Celski has turned his attention to the World Cup season that gets underway in early October. He and his fans have high hopes for Sochi after an impressive run that includes placing first in the 500m and 1500m distances at the U.S. Single Distance Championships in August.
“You know going to Vancouver kind of solidified that in that my Olympic experience and I got the chance to see how it was and I think that experience is going to play a big role in helping me through Sochi,” Celski said.
It’s been a trying and rewarding few years for Celski, who is reaping the benefits of his diligence and focus. But come February, only one thing’s going to matter, and that’s bringing a medal back to Seattle, the place he loves so much.
Embedded owg_slideshow: J.R. Celski at the Seattle International Film Festival
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