September 23, 2014

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Olympic speedskater, Lorain native Kelly Gunther honored in hometown

Kelly Gunther, an Olympic speed skater, shakes Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer’s hand Saturday during an event at the Italian Americans Veterans Home. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICE

Kelly Gunther, an Olympic speed skater, shakes Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer’s hand Saturday during an event at the Italian Americans Veterans Home. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICE

LORAIN — U.S. Olympic speedskater and Lorain native Kelly Gunther returned home Saturday night to thank the people who helped make her dream a reality.

Gunther greeted friends, family members and supporters at a dinner at the Italian American Veterans Home.

“I wanted to thank all of the people in Lorain who have been so supportive of Kelly,” said Julie Sprague, Gunther’s mother and the organizer of the event. “The people who financially supported us along the way, many of them complete strangers, made it possible for myself, my sons and Kelly’s inline skating coach to go to Sochi (Russia) and be part of her Olympic experience.”

Gunther, who now makes her home in Utah, where she trains year-round, was also honored with proclamations from Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain.

Ritenauer told Gunther she represents “the spirit of the city of Lorain and the tenacity and work ethic of its citizens.”

Since returning from the Olympics, Gunther said she has gone snowmobiling in Utah, spent time unwinding with family and is in the process of adopting a black lab puppy, which she will name Sochi.

“The best part of the Olympic experience was the Opening Ceremonies,” she said. “I really felt like I was living a dream. It was everything I expected it to be and more. When we were lining up to enter the stadium and the entire Olympic team is there chanting ‘USA!, USA!’ … it was the most incredible feeling ever. I want to experience that again.”

Gunther has also spoken to school children about her experiences and earlier this week had the chance to meet President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama when the U.S. Olympic team was honored at the White House.

While Gunther did not have a chance to speak to Obama, she said she was able to have a brief conversation with Michelle Obama.

“I told her I want to be a spokesperson for special education children because I was in special education classes as a child, and she said she wanted to see the videos I have made and help me in my cause,” Gunther said.

Despite the stories of substandard facilities in Sochi, Gunther said the athletes had top-notch accommodations.

“The athlete village was remarkable,” she said. “The month I lived there was really cool. Our rooms were really big, and we were right on the Black Sea. It was really gorgeous.”

Gunther plans to spend the next few months in Lorain before beginning training in hopes of making the U.S. team for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

“Sochi was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live my dream,” Gunther said. “Now, to be back in my hometown and to be able to thank everyone here for supporting me, following my journey and to share my experience with them feels good.”

Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.