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Q&A with J.R. Celski

JR Celski
2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Q&A with J.R. Celski

Short track skater J.R. Celski on his family, most grueling workout and why short track isn't all luck.

What's your family like?

My father is from St. Paul, Minnesota and my mother is from Seattle, Washington. They met in high school in Federal Way, WA when they were 17 years old after both families relocated to that area. My father attended West Point and joined the Army as an officer. They married after my father finished university. They then traveled around a bunch while he was in the Army, along the way having three sons all born in three different parts of the country/world. My brother Chris works at Nordstrom at their flagship store and sells suits for a living. He owns over 40 suits. He is married to Megan and they have a son named Ethan who turns 1 in April of 2017. My brother David is an officer in the Army and has been serving since 2007. He has been on 3 tours to the Middle East. He is married to Brit and they have a daughter named Quinn. She turns 2 this May.

Are you a first-generation American and where does your family come from?

My mother is first generation as her family moved here from the Philippines. My father's family has roots in Poland and Ireland.

How influential were your parents in your athletic career and in what ways?

My parents have had the biggest influence on my skating career. From getting me involved in the sport at 4 years old, taking me around the country to compete at regional and national levels, and finding me the right situations and coaches to help me along the way. 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.

Are you from a military family?

My father was a Major in the Army and my brother is currently a captain in the Army. 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 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, so I didn't get to experience moving around a ton.

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What are 5 must-do locations in your hometown?

My favorite spot to eat in Federal Way is Ichi Teriyaki. I go every time I make it back home. I spent a lot of time up the road in Seattle growing up and my favorite spots there are Fremont/Ballard, Alki and Capitol Hill. Paseo, Japonessa, Shiro's, and Ba Bar are my favorite restaurants.

How much time do you spend training each day?

6 - 8 hours a day is typical during our most intense periods. 6 is the average.

What’s your typical training day/schedule?

I wake up at 6:45, eat breakfast, drive to the rink around 7:15 and arrive at 7:40. I spend 20 minutes with my athletic trainer to make sure my body is aligned properly and work on any problem areas from previous training sessions. I then warm up for an hour starting at 8. Then I get on the ice at 9 and train until around 11. After ice, we have a dryland (skating exercises off the ice) or a cardio session that typically goes for a half hour to an hour. Do some recovery stuff and then eat lunch around noon and rest until our second training session which is either another ice session, weight session or cardio session. That typically lasts an hour or two. After that, I’ll head home, eat dinner, recover, and get ready to do it all over the next day.

How do you work to achieve your daily goals?

At different points in the season we work on different areas of fitness, technique and strength to improve our ability on the ice. Most of my time is spent planning, training, studying nutrition, studying film, recovering, or doing something that helps contribute to my success in my sport. I transformed a lot over the years in order to make sure my body is able to compete at the highest levels. After several injuries, I now have to pay attention and do all the right things in order to train on a daily basis and compete when I need to.

What is your favorite workout or fitness trend?

I really enjoy cycling. This is my favorite thing to do besides skate. I spend hours on the bike a week as this is one of the main facets of training that contributes to my fitness on the ice.

What’s the most grueling work out you’ve ever done?

Running park loops in Los Angeles at Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area. Each loop takes around 15 minutes and we run a total of 4 loops at max effort. I reach my max heart rate during this workout of 204 bpm.

What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?

There is a lot of downtime and rest that goes into the daily routine of being an athlete. Recovery is just as important if not more important than training, especially the older you get, so a lot of time is spent taking care of small injuries, or nuisances that potentially could take you out of training.

Have you ever been seriously injured? What did it take for you to come back from that injury?

Injury has been a big part of my journey in my sport. I have been injured several times during my career and I would say a couple of them define who I am as an athlete. The cut to my leg before the Olympics in 2010 was single handedly the hardest situation I've ever been through, physically and mentally. It took a whole team of dedicated supporters (doctors, trainers, family, friends, coaches, teammates) to help lift me up off the ground and get me back to competing at a high level again. It took hours and hours in the rehab room, pool, and on the ice as a part of my recovery. A couple of my injuries occurred right in the middle of my season which took me out of very important competitions, a lot of discouragement comes from injuring yourself at important times, so the biggest part of my fight has been mental, trying to overcome the obstacles in my mind before I tackle them physically.

What does a typical day of eating look like during training?

I eat pretty normal. No frills. My philosophy is eating food that comes from the earth and that's all natural. I tend to stay away from processed foods until I reach the off season or I want to indulge after a hard week of training.

If you are to indulge, what's your go-to snack?

Ice cream is my vice along with chocolate cream pie and Oreos.

What is your earliest memory of doing or seeing skating?

My earliest memory was at age 3, walking around with my fisher price plastic skates on, accompanied by my mom and dad. 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. This is a strange concept to anyone that skates. Pushing sideways in order to go straight is one that I still feel like I haven't mastered. This is why I keep going. To try and perfect what I do every single day and lap I skate.

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What's your earliest or favorite memory of watching the Olympics?

My earliest memory was watching Michael Johnson win Gold in both the 200m and 400m in Atlanta 96. It stuck out to me because of the Gold shoes he wore and the single hoop gold earring. He was a beast.

Was there a specific “breakthough” moment/competition when you finally realized you could compete in your sport at a high enough level to reach the Olympics?

The 2009 World Championships in Vienna was my breakthrough competition. I was consistent in my results, winning several medals and placing 2nd overall to a field that was my main competition during the Olympics the next season. This gave me a lot of confidence that I was on the right track.

What's something cool, weird intense about your sport that people don't normally see? What’s the hardest part of your sport?

Everyone has their own routines before the race so it's pretty funny watching people do the same thing over and over, either in the heat box or in warm up. The hardest part is losing. We spend every day trying to be the best we can be and when we come up short, it's hard to accept right away.

Are there any misconceptions about your sport that you would like to clear up?

Short track although there is a lot of luck involved, skill definitely overtakes luck when it comes to winning 9 times out of 10. You can't say that people win in this sport because of luck. A lot of times it's about being in the right place at the right time and putting yourself in a position to win.

Who is your coach? How long have you been working together and what’s your relationship like?

Anthony Barthell and Alex Izykowski. I've been working with these guys on and off for the past few years. We grew up in similar times in the sport as they both competed before coaching. I consider them friends before coaches. They help push me to work harder every day.

Who do you socialize with most within your sport or any sport?

Definitely my teammates. We are out there on the ice and in training grinding it out wanting to achieve the same thing so there's a lot of respect for the amount of effort we put into it. Having people out there to push you and make you better in the same time helping each other reach goals is a beautiful thing.

Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist? If so, how did it help you?

Yes. Sports psychology is a very important element in my game. Although I might not have the physical capability I once had due to injury and age, working on my mind is where I can bridge the gap. There are several areas to improve mentally in order to give myself an edge over my competition. A lot of it is repetition and when there's new circumstances, being able to adapt and not let emotions get in the way.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My dad always used to tell me "If you want it bad enough, you'll find a way. If you don't, you'll find an excuse."

What's a big obstacle that you've overcome in your life?

Growing up, I was always interested in a lot of different things. Whether it is music, film, food, I always wanted to try different things and exercise my creative mind. This affected my focus in skating sometimes. I wasn't always completely dedicated to the sport, and found myself a lot of the times wanting to experience something different. I quit a couple times because of this. It wasn't until recent times that I was able to give skating my 100% focus. This was definitely a big obstacle.

What is your biggest fear when competing?

That I won't have what it takes to achieve my goals.

Who is your Olympic role model?

The men's Paralympic sled hockey team. I had a chance to meet a bunch of these guys and every one of their stories resonates with me. The obstacles they've had to overcome in their lives not only to play their sport, but just to survive and live is something that everyone needs to hear.

Within your sport, who has been your greatest influence and why?

Wilma Boomstra, my coach from the time I was 14. She has always been there for me, through thick and thin. She raised me in the sport and continues to work with me to this day. She's seen me in my lowest points and still knows I have what it takes to succeed.

What athlete in any sport has been your greatest source of inspiration?

Manny Pacquiao. He stays humble through victory and defeat. He electrifies the crowd and makes his fans proud of what he does in the ring.

What advice would you give to a young child just starting out in short track?

Hard work and dedication are only a couple qualities you need to have in order to reach your goals. Patience, consistency, and and understanding that things aren't going to happen overnight will ultimately get you where you want to go. Growing in skating means growing in life, they both go hand in hand, and experience in each will contribute to your success on and off the ice.

Who is your biggest rival? Is it friendly or contentious?

There are a handful of people from different countries. I don't really have "beef" with anyone; it's mostly cordial as we race each other so many times. I definitely have a couple people on my radar going into the next season.

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Have you become close friends with any competitiors from other countries? Any from South Korea?

I'm pretty close to a couple skaters I grew up with in the sport. Victor Knoch and Jack Whelbourne. We started on the International scene around the same time and stay in touch. I also grew up racing Lee Jung-su and Kwak Yoon-gy, and they are definitely some of my favorite people to race.

What was the best part of living in the Athletes’ Village during the Games?

The Athletes' Village in Vancouver was ridiculously nice: million-dollar condos that we inhabited for a couple weeks before they were sold after the Olympics. There was a barn type building with pool tables and video games. Cool for the social aspect as you ran into several different athletes in different sports and got to make friends.

Are you a fan of any professional sports teams?

My favorite sport is football. I'm a Seahawks fan until I'm in the grave, have been since I was born. I also enjoy watching and playing golf. Relaxing and challenging all at the same time.

Do you play any other sports?


Which Summer Olympic/Paralympic event would you like to try?

Ski jumping.

Who was the most influential in helping you achieve your dreams?

My parents were the most influential people in my life when it came to pursuing my sport. They provided me with everything I needed to succeed. Drove me to practice, competitions, bought the equipment, paid for ice time, travel, and everything else you could think of. They also allowed me to move to California when I was 14 years old in order to get the training I needed to succeed.

Did anyone ever tell you that you wouldn’t be able to succeed in your sport? How were you able to overcome that?

No, no one has ever told me I couldn't do anything in my life. I have been surrounded with the best family and friends one could ever ask for and all are completely supportive of what I do.

Where do you keep your Olympic medals?

My mom and dad hold on to my medals. They love showing people and telling the stories of how they came about.

What is your favorite perk of being an elite Olympic athlete?

Being able to train every day. It's such a good lifestyle. I'm able to stay healthy, eat pretty much what I want, and workout for a living. What more could you ask for? Also, traveling is pretty good. We get to go to a lot of cool places around the world and see things I definitely wouldn't have made it out to on my own.

What are your pre-competition rituals?

I have to get a haircut before I travel anywhere. I bring along the same foods and supplements that I eat at home. I always put my left skate on first.

Do you have a nickname?

Celskeet from my friends down in Long Beach, CA. This was my gamer tag when we played counterstrike back in high school. Nasty, from my friends in Salt Lake. I'd prefer not to share the story on this one. Mowgli from my coach Wilma. She thinks I look like him and act the same way.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Juggling, playing guitar.

Do you have any tattoos?

A chest tattoo of the Filipino Sun and Stars surrounding the Polish Eagle. I got this along with my two brothers to show respect to our ancestry.

Do you collect anything?

I used to collect coins when I was a kid. Now I collect beer bottle caps. I enjoy drinking beer from around the world, not in volume of course. My favorite being Belgian Trappist ales.

What is your favorite animal?


What charities do you support? How did you become involved?

I am part of Classroom Champions. I got a call from Steve Mesler one day to talk about the organization and I really liked the idea of it. It wasn't until a couple years after that I got set up through a friend to be a part of it.

If you were not an athlete, what would you be doing?

Film production.

When you have time off, what would constitute a perfect day for you?

Sleep in until 10 am. Get my backpacking supplies ready along with my fiancée and a couple friends. Drive out to a spot, hike in, set up camp. Fish and cook some food. Chill out and listen to some tunes. Make a fire, eat some more, makes s'mores and post up around the fire.

How do you unwind after a competition?

I typically just like to do something different for a while, especially during the offseason. I really enjoy traveling, so I tend to do that a bunch. Road trips are always nice. Seeing family and friends I'm not able to see is a plus. And sleeping in always feels good for more than 1 day in a row.

Do you have any fears?

Cockroaches. Don't do it.

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Do you like to travel?  What has been the most special place you have traveled to and why?

My favorite country to travel to is Belgium. They have it figured out there, great food, drinks and people are friendly. I also really like Japan. It's cleanliness, and food are on point.

What's something quirky about yourself that people would be amused to learn?

I have a thing for house plants.

What's your personal motto?

Everybody is going to face challenges, what defines you is how you overcome them.

What are some of your hobbies?

Bouldering: I climb with my friends at the local gym at least twice a week. I got into it pretty recently but I love the challenge of it and the social aspect.

Golf: I learned from my Grandpa before he passed. I love this game because of the mental aspect. You really have to calm your mind in order to play well.

Backpacking: I go during the spring and summer along with some friends. We usually go around Utah, the High Uintas. I like it because it's a true escape from the daily routine.

Cinematography: I love film, enjoy watching it and enjoy the feeling you can derive from it.

What is your music of choice while training?

Hip hop. It's always changing but my favorite artists currently are Isaiah Rashad, Anderson .Paak, Kaytranada, SiR, and Kendrick Lamar.

Do you have any celebrity crushes?

Kate Mara.

Outside of training for your sport, what physical routine makes you feel your best?

Bouldering at the gym and playing golf. Both help me work on my mental game for relaxation and challenge.

What are five must-have items you always keep in your gym bag?

Headphones, charger for headphones, water, protein bar, protein drink

Have you been to South Korea before? What are you most looking forward to about the Games being hosted in South Korea? Anything you want to see or do?

Yes, I love South Korea. The landscape, food and culture are great. I look forward to my sport as South Koreans love short track and I know it's going to be the most exciting sport in the Games. I'm looking forward to the food and energy of the Games.

Do you like kimchi or any other Korean foods?

Everything about Korean food. Sundubu-Jjigae, Galbi, Bulgogi, Japchae, Bibimbap are a few favorites.

Have you ever done karaoke? What’s your go-to karaoke song?

Yes, anything R. Kelly or Outkast is my go to.

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What will success look like for you in PyeongChang? What are your goals?

Olympic gold.

Short Track

Read more Q&A's with the U.S. short track team:

J.R. Celski | Katherine Reutter-Adamek | John-Henry Krueger | Jessica Kooreman | Keith Carroll Jr

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