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Skating of Another Kind for Pelchat

February 3, 1998

NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ Marc Pelchat always dreamed of skating in the Olympics. He just expected to be on hockey skates, not speed skates.

``I never even thought about speedskating,″ said Pelchat, a native of Chelmsford, Mass., who will skate the 500-meter long-track event in Nagano. ``Maybe I was a little naive, but I always felt like I would play hockey the rest of my life.″

That part of his life ended in 1992. Even though he was a superior stickhandler and skater, the NHL had no use for the 5-foot-9, 175-pound defenseman after he finished his college career.

Pelchat continued to play in a Massachusetts pro-am league, earning an invitation to try out for the U.S. Olympic team before the Albertville Games. Three days before the camp began, his father suffered a stroke and Pelchat decided to be with his family.

The elder Pelchat recovered, but his son injured an ankle playing hockey later in that Olympic year. It was to be the first step toward putting down his stick and get on with the rest of life.

Pelchat took up short-track speedskating intending to rehabilitate his bum ankle and perhaps pick up an extra step that would help him on the hockey rink. He found the new sport to be much more rewarding.

``I’m a very competitive person and I was probably the worst skater out there,″ he said, able to laugh about it now. ``The older ladies and young kids were all beating me. It got to the point where I said to myself, `I can’t let this happen.‴

Besides, his hockey career wasn’t going anywhere. Within two years, Pelchat was a top-level short-track skater at the national level, affording him the chance to compete in some international meets.

``I got my feet wet and my butt kicked,″ he recalled.

Pelchat decided to switch to long-track because his stocky frame tends to build up too much muscle mass for the tight confines of the shorter track.

``In short track, you’ve got to be small and light,″ he said. ``I was fighting my size, so I came to long track. I could train as much as I wanted to and not miss any workouts.″

In January, at age 30, Pelchat’s dream finally came true at the U.S. Olympic trials in Wisconsin when he qualified in the 500.

``I always knew I could do it,″ he said. ``When I first started speedskating, people were telling me not to get my hopes up. You don’t come in at 25 and make the Olympic team. That takes 10 or 15 years and by then, you’ll be too old anyway.

``Well, those people don’t know me.″

Even though he is an Olympic rookie, Pelchat is the oldest member of the 16-person U.S. long-track team. Even before arriving in Nagano, he already was getting questions about his future.

Pelchat knows he won’t win a medal in Japan and he realizes that he’ll be 34 by the time the next Winter Olympics are held in Salt Lake City. But the remarkable progress he has made over the past five years is downright addictive.

``I figure if I leave now, how happy will I be working a full-time job somewhere?″ he asked. ``I don’t feel like I’ve reached my full potential. There’s a fire still burning in me to be active at this level. I’m not going let it go yet.″

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