Laura Spector's Olympic debut
Two years ago we cheered on swimmer Dara Torres, fencer Sada Jacobson, marathoner Deena Kastor, and pole Vaulter Jillian Schwartz at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. This year, only one Jewish American woman is competing in the Vancouver Olympic games, and in one of the more interesting events. Laura Spector made her Olympic debut in Vancouver, competing in the women's biathlon, a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.
Laura Spector hails from Western Massachusetts. Her path to the Olympics has been as atypical as her sport. Her mother, Patty Spector, a former state champion in squash and a U.S. national champion in canoeing and a world champion in dragon boat racing, encouraged Laura to get involved in athletics. According to an article in the Berkshire Eagle, Laura Spector was an "indoors" kid, prefering books and television to athletic activities.
Her parents continued to push her, and in the eighth grade, she finally consented to try cross-country skiing. She soon discovered biathlon at a sports camp when she was 14. In an email to JWeeky, Spector wrote, “It was my first experience with shooting a gun, but I loved combining two sports — cross-country skiing and marksmanship — to make each a little more challenging.” In 2005 she qualified for her first Junior World Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland. Five years later, she became an Olympian.
To date, an American has never won a medal in the biathlon, which was originally developed in Norway as a training exercise for the military. It became an Olympic sport in 1960 and was opened to women in 1992. At 22, Laura Spector is the youngest member of the U.S. team and also one of the shortest. Spector placed 77th in the 7.5km sprint on February 13, and 65th in the 15km individual on February 18. (You can read more about her experience at her blog.) She did not expect to medal in her first Olympics; she has her sights set on the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. In addition to her athletic training, Spector studies biological sciences, genetics and Jewish studies at Dartmouth College and is on track to graduate this year.
I love Laura Spector's story for many reasons, but also because I identify strongly with her experience. I was also an "indoor" kid from Western Massachusetts, and my parents dragged me, kicking and screaming, all over New England on cross-country skis. I did eventually grow to enjoy cross-country skiing and a few other athletic activities, but I'm no Laura Spector. Still, I have come a long way from the kid who faked sprained ankles to get out of gym class, and that's something!
Laura Spector's story has a lot of important lessons and inspirational messages. But one in particular carries powerful resonance for me: Even an "indoor" kid can become an Olympic athlete.
Congratulations on your Olympic debut, Laura, and I can't wait to see you in action in 2014!
Be sure to visit JWA.org for more stories of Jewish women in the Olympic games.