Zdeno Chara, renaissance man, serving as Slovakia's flag bearer
Slovakian captain Zdeno Chara has always stood out in the NHL when he’s played for the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and, since 2006, for the Boston Bruins.
Besides being the largest player in NHL history at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Chara is also probably the League’s elite shutdown defenseman, with his overwhelming physical strength and Pterodactyl-like reach having frustrated hockey’s top forwards for over a decade.
At the 2014 Olympics, Chara, age 36, will stand out quite simply because he was an NHL player who actually marched in the Opening Ceremony, with other NHL Olympians not being freed from their club teams to travel to Sochi until the NHL’s Olympic Break began after League games on February 8.
Embedded video_content_type: Sochi 2014 hockey preview
The reason that Chara was allowed to leave for Sochi early is because he was chosen as Slovakia’s flag bearer, which is an honor prestigious enough for his NHL team, the Boston Bruins, to agree to allow him to miss the team’s final pre-Olympic game against the Ottawa Senators in order to carry out.
As impressive as it is for Chara to get chosen to bear his country’s flag, to have won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman (2009) and to have captained the Bruins to a Stanley Cup (2011), perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he speaks seven languages – Slovak, English, German, Czech, Polish, Swedish and Russian.
Also impressive, though, are Chara’s unique methods of off-ice training.
To remain in tip-top shape, Chara has been known to do bushel loads of pull-ups on his father’s backyard apple trees in Slovakia, and to run mini marathon-like distances through Slovakia’s sweltering Váh River valley on a near daily basis in the off season.
But, even still, these activities don’t come close to being Chara’s most unique off-ice training methods.
Here are three of Chara’s most unique off-ice training methods, in no particular order.
Which one do you think is most unique, and most impressive?
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
As the largest player in NHL history, Zdeno Chara is often considered to be a mountain of a man.
So, when he climbs a mountain, it isn’t just any mountain.
He climbs Mount Kilimanjaro, which at 19,341 feet above sea level is the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
“I was doing some stuff with Right to Play,” says Chara of his work with the organization that attempts to use the power of sports to improve the quality of life for children in difficult situations.
“It was in my mind to go in Africa and visit some locations where we could help improve qualities of life for families and children. While we were there, I kind of thought it would be a good idea to combine that project with something we could do as a team.”
So, over one week with a small team of mountain climbers, Chara scaled Kilamanjaro, the African mountain that only 1/3 of would-be climbers actually reach the top of.
“It started as really hot (outside),” says Chara.
“We went through a tropical forest, and then as you go higher, it gets drier and colder. Obviously, on top, there are glaciers and it’s below freezing temperatures.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
Every summer, Chara is trained as a Greco-Roman wrestler by his father, Zdeněk, who is a former elite-level Greco-Roman wrestler who once represented Czechoslovakia in the Olympics.
“It’s strength, conditioning, quickness, and agility combined in one sport,” says Chara. “It improves your balance and your ability to stand strong.”
“He trains with the wrestlers in the summer,” adds Marian Hossa, a 2014 Slovakian Olympic teammate who lives near Chara in Trenčín, Slovakia in the summer. “I tried it with him once.
“But, after that experience, I quit!
“I had a couple trainings with him. After I said that I would try it, he grabbed me and I was just spinning around. And then I was laying on the floor.
“That was a bad experience for me.”
“It’s a really unique sport,” comments Chara, with a smile.
Riding in the Tour de France
When Chara’s Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler father, Zdeněk, retired from wrestling, he became a physiotherapist trainer for a special sports school in Slovakia.
As a teacher, Zdeněk Chara would regularly incorporate bike riding into his training methods, to which his son, Zdeno, took a shining to, himself.
But, since Zdeno Chara is Zdeno Chara, he isn’t just content to leisurely ride his bike around or merely participate in local bike races.
He rides in the Tour de France.
“I went to a few Tour de Frances, and a few Giro d'Italias,” says Chara. “I basically picked a week where I could spend quality time in either the Alps or Pyrenees. I rode those tough, up-hill climbs. It’s the famous mountains (in the race).
“When you’re on the bike, you can’t go for a change – it’s not like a team sport. You can’t ask for a time-out.
“You just have to continue to pedal and go through some phases where you’re having tough times, and when your legs are really burning. You have to train your mental game to be strong that way. It’s a very special sport in terms of endurance.
“But, I never went through the ‘whole’ Tour de France.”
Never went through the “whole”, 2,000-plus mile Tour de France?
At least this proves Chara is human, after all.
Embedded video_content_type: Olympic thrill remains for NHL stars