by Allen Schauffler
Riding along through life with Roberto Carcelen is never a predictable and boring ride; I know, I’ve been on Carcelen roller-coaster for more than a decade.
We met back in 2008 when I was working as a reporter and news anchor for KING in Seattle and was prepping for the upcoming 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, BC.
Somebody sent me an article about a Seattle guy who was trying to become the first-ever Winter Olympian to represent Peru.
The story was local, quirky and the person involved had only a small chance of actually making it to the Olympics and no chance at all of winning a medal, which meant that Bob Costas and the rest of NBC Sports, the Olympics broadcasting 800-pound gorilla, would have no interest in him whatsoever.
It was perfect; just the kind of story we were into, just the kind of athlete I loved introducing to the viewers.
So a few nights later I end up in the Carcelen’s basement in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood, watching Roberto scrape and wax his various pairs of skis and hearing him talk about this dream of skiing for Peru in the Vancouver Games.
Frankly, as I nodded and smile and interview, inside I’m rolling my eyes and wondering whether this is anything but a weird Olympic fantasy.
He was pushing 40 years old after all and had taken up skiing just a few years earlier. I thought he was just a little crazy. But I also couldn’t help liking the guy. There was no questioning the sincerity of his wish to wave the flag.
He and his family were a delight, his and Kate’s story of international online love and an instant connection was a delicious and personal sidebar and their daughter Frankie (Francesca, for the record) was as adorable as a two-year-old could possibly be and lit up a video camera with her personality.
Vancouver Olympics 2010
So we shoot and edit the story, put it on the air, then cross our fingers knowing it could be the last we see of Peru’s only competitive cross-country skier.
But he qualifies. Waves the flag, too, carries it in the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games. I remember him coming by the KING5 studios at some point before the Olympics started, sporting a red down jacket with “PERU” on the back, giving us a preview of the first-ever piece of Peruvian Winter Olympic gear. He was beaming.
My job in Vancouver kept me mostly downtown in the city chasing hockey players and short-track speedskaters, and I never had a chance to connect with Roberto and family up in Whistler.
I heard about his disappointing race. He had a nasty crash and finished second-to-last. There’s that roller-coaster thing; wave the flag and march with the world’s best athletes one night, go on your nose and barely make it across the finish line the next — sort of standard Carcelen action.
I was a bit stunned when I heard he was going to try again. Stunned at first anyway, then I realized it was just Roberto being Roberto.
Sochi Olympics 2014
By the time Sochi came around, he would be PAST 40, four years older and four years creakier, so why even think about it? But no, I remember him telling me, “I’ll be better, I’ve learned so much, I’m just starting to know this sport”. Remember, he’d never been on skis until Kate dragged him up to Snoqualmie Pass one winter day a few years before we met. So, of course, he stuck with it, and of course he qualified and of course, the thrill-ride just had to have a Carcelen show-stopper element.
He called from Europe to tell me about his training crash and the two cracked ribs. Have you ever had broken ribs? It hurts to breathe. It hurts to walk. It hurts to lift your arms. It hurt me just to listen to him on the phone. And as soon as I get done saying how sorry I am that the dream is over, of course, he tells me I’m wrong; it’s not over.
He plans to ski the race, against the doctor’s recommendations, just to show people what’s possible. Again, I think he’s a bit crazy but at this point have absolutely no doubt that he’s serious and is going to do it.
He does, of course, becomes “The Man Who Won by Losing” and a true symbol of a pure Olympic spirit.
He’s hailed as a hero back home in Peru and immediately starts planning how he can use the newfound fame to help others. That’s just Roberto being Roberto, too…
And now? Roberto diagnosed with Parkinson’s? It’s another stomach-churning plunge on the Carcelen roller-coaster and of course, it’s a plunge followed by an inspiring upswing.
This is just another opportunity, a chance to use his own experiences with an implacable neurodegenerative disease to educate others about the condition, raise awareness about it and raise funds to fight it, and show others with Parkinson’s that “Todo es possible”…
Yes, I’m still on-board, still following the ups and downs, still hanging on for dear life. It has been a real treat for more than ten years and will continue to be so because of the nature of that wild ride.
He’s a friend by now, a good friend, not just a story subject; he stopped being that years ago. I’ll help any way I can and will chime in to support his blogging when possible.