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Bremerton's Bree Schaaf Olympics-bound as women's bobsled team member
It was 5 a.m., and the clang of a cowbell resonated through the Schaaf household.
Husband and wife Ken and Terri Schaaf are neither nocturnal nor in the business of ranching. Ken is a stockbroker and Terri is a teacher.
But when they learned their daughter Bree Schaaf had qualified for the 2010 Winter Olympics, there was no containing the proud parent in both of them.
“We were running around the house at 5 a.m., making a lot of noise,” Terri said, describing that early morning scene when it became official Bree had earned a spot to the Winter Games. “I kept waiting for the giddiness to kick in, but I think it had been such a long haul, and all that hype of being an ‘Olympic hopeful,’ when it finally happened it was just sort of this feeling of being numb or sort of overwhelmed.”
The journey to the world’s grandest stage is grueling on athletes, whether it’s the Winter or Summer Games, but it’s also trying for family members.
There was a day when the Schaaf’s knew little about the sport of bobsledding. Hard to believe, considering Bree is now one of six American women who will represent the country in the women’s bobsled competition at the Games Feb. 23-24.
Now the Schaafs could tell you most there is to know about the high-speed, adrenaline-pumping sport — including the fact the cowbell is the noisemaker of choice for fans.
Above the entrance of their East Bremerton home, tucked away at the bottom of a steep, winding hill in a gated community, hangs a flowing U.S. bobsled flag.
Inside, a collection of medals and trophies and plaques line the desk of a small computer room.
A few feet away, the living room television is wired with taped broadcasts and bobsledding highlights and Bree interviews.
Two parents are sharing a dream with the newest member of Bremerton’s family of Olympians, which includes Nathrian Adrian and the Kirk sisters.
“I’m still waiting for it to kick in because it doesn’t seem like a reality,” Terri said.
If the magnitude of Bree’s accomplishments haven’t kicked in for Ken and Terri, it will when they arrive to the Whistler ice track to watch their daughter compete.
The parents will be present for the two-day women’s bobsledding competition, a rare opportunity to watch Bree compete in person.
Ken and Terri watched their daughter race at the track in Park City, Utah, and they’ve also been to the Whistler track. But many of the bobsled competitions are overseas — Austria, Germany and Italy — so the opportunities to watch live action are limited.
“I think the first time I watched a skeleton sled go by, I cried,” Terri said, referring to the sport in which Bree competed prior to taking up bobsled. The sight of watching her daughter fly by on a skimpy contraption left her unsettled.
But for two parents who remember going to nearly all of the basketball games and piano recitals and theatre performances when Bree was younger, missing out on the action still isn’t easy.
Ken said the tickets he and Terri have to the Olympics will allow them to get as close as 8 feet away from the track. They have general admission-type tickets, meaning they can walk around and position themselves at different areas on the track.
The crowds are expected to be large, in the thousands.
“I don’t like crowds a lot, but I’m really looking forward to this crowd,” Ken said. “When you’re actually there, it’s like, ‘Holy moly.’”
When the Schaaf’s arrive to Canada, it will be the culmination of a dizzying journey.
Watching Bree race to the Olympics was a blessing, they agreed, but behind the scenes they also dealt with the logistics of booking tickets, lodging and budgeting for travel expenses, all the while not knowing whether Bree would qualify.
Terri said that scenario equated to an unspoken understanding between Bree and the family. Bree’s job was to focus on herself and qualifying, while Ken and Terri quietly made travel plans.
“You don’t talk to your athlete about it,”Terri said.
Justin Adrian, the older brother of Olympic swimmer and 2006 Bremerton High School grad Nathan Adrian, experienced a similar situation when Nathan was vying for a spot to the 2008 Summer Olympics.
He remembers watching Nathan compete at the qualifying races in Omaha, Neb., and the usually laid-back Nathan was a nervous wreck.
In a situation like that, Justin Adrian said, the best thing a family can do is steer clear and let the athlete focus on their goal.
“It’s a head game at that point,” he said.
But Justin Adrian said his parents, particularly mother Cecilia, went through the same edge-of-your-seat, hope-for-the-best process the Schaaf’s did during Bree’s qualifying races.
“If she wasn’t working, she was glued to a computer,” Justin said of Cecilia.
For the Schaaf’s, that process is over.
No more what-ifs. No more uncertainties. Just the reward — a trip to the Olympics and more cowbell.
“How do you even become a bobsled driver from Bremerton?” Terri said.