Czechs & Sports

Czechs embrace sports for fun & medals

By Emma Palova
EW Emmas Writings Journal

Since I am living an international life with most of the family embedded in the USA, while the rest is scattered in France and Czech Republic, the Sochi Olympic Games,  embody a true spirit of cooperation high above their competing foundation.
“Who do you root for?” a cashier once asked me at a local grocery store after he detected a slight accent.
Most of our family members, except for our son Jake, have a recognizable accent, some more than others. Often that becomes the center of all jokes. It can be anywhere from amusing to annoying.
“Well of course I go for the best one,” I laughed. “I don’t care about the nationality.”
The Czechs both in the old country and expatriates around the world have a great passion for sports. That is for medals, trophies, but most of all for fun.
Apart from hockey, Czechs became known for their figure skating legends Ondrej Nepela and Hana Maskova, who won bronze medal behind Peggy Fleming of the United States in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble. She was the only Czech woman to win an Olympic medal in figure skating.
Slovak Ondrej Nepela won the 1972 gold medal in men’s figure skating at the Olympics in Sapporo. His fellow countryman Jozef Sabovcik won the bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, at a time when the country was still intact as Czechoslovakia.

Ondrej Nepela
Ondrej Nepela

In my memoir “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West,” I write about the family and the country’s involvement in sports, both amateur and professional.
My dad Vaclav Konecny, former Ferris State University professor, won several swimming competitions during his studies at the University of Jana Evangelisty Purkyne in Brno. Dad taught me how to swim at an early age, and ever since swimming has become my favorite sport, if only for fun. Each year, during my March writing retreat in Venice, Florida, I swim with the dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.
But, other than swimming, I haven’t been endowed in sports unlike my husband Ludek Pala and my children Dr. Emma & Jake. I tinkered around a bit with softball and basketball at the Hawkins Junior High School, TX in the seventies. Ludek played soccer on a team in Stipa, Czechoslovakia and coached soccer for the YMCA & Lowell Area Schools, Michigan in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Jake was on his soccer team. Daughter Emma wanted to be a figure skater, but she didn’t have enough drive, practice or coaching. Maybe it was just something on a whim like little girls who want to be ballerinas. Although as always Emma seemed pretty determined.
When Ludek built a skating rink 50 by 60 feet on a tarp one foot deep complete with barriers in our garden around the year 2000, my hopes were high up that Jake would some day be on the élite Czech Olympic hockey team or on NHL along with Alexander Ovechkin.

Jake Pala
Jake Pala

At the time, Jake was a student at the Lowell High School. He skated strategically well under Ludek’s training, but he didn’t take it any further. He was growing into his teens and had other interests.
“I did it for fun,” said Jake, regional distributor for Faygo.”It was phenomenal as a hobby. I used dad’s ice rink to the max.”
For Jake sports have always been a good motivator and a springboard into real life, but he never considered becoming a professional. He practiced hockey with his puck up to three hours a day. Quite often neighbor Bailey Haefner would join him for a friendly match.
“I started being really good at it” Jake said. “It came at a great time. I miss it and I’d like to perfect the skill.”
So, the hockey rink became sort of a neighborhood skating plaza for all. Winters were alsmost as hard as the winter of 2014, so it held up for months.
“I’ve always wanted to have a skating rink in my backyard,” said Ludek.
Ludek, an innovator in every sense, is very project oriented. He took the time to gather the scrap wood boards and
numbered them to create the barriers around the perimeter of the rink. He put tarp on the bottom and maintained the
surface on daily basis to keep it smooth for skating.
I don’t think I’ve ever skated on it. Then one year in February the rink melted and turned into a large puddle. Moreover, the neighborhood kids were growing up just like Jake did, so Ludek stopped building the ice rink. I asked him to build a covered swimming pool instead, but that hasn’t happened yet.

To be continued with “All my skiers.”

Copyright (c) 2014 story and photo by Emma Palova, other photos courtesy of Wikipedia, Internet

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