SOCHI, Russia – Here's why journalists love the Olympics, at least when they're not being locked in their hotel bathrooms or fashioning shower curtains out of towels and tape:
Because they get to talk to young women like U.S. hockey Olympian Anne Schleper, a St. Cloud, Minn., native and University of Minnesota product, who lights up a room with her presence and treats media attention like a blessing rather than a drudgery.
Our pro athletes pummel us with clichés and misdirected anger – (ital.)nobody picked us to win this game! Nobody!(endital) – but women such as Schleper, who plies her trade in relative anonymity through most of the four-year Olympic cycle, appreciate and enjoy the attention.
"Every day, I'm reminded how blessed I am,'' said Schleper, who became a deeply committed Christian her sophomore year at Minnesota. "God's given me this platform as an elite athlete and now as an Olympic athlete. It's just an awesome daily reminder, the life he's given me to live. And the teammates I've been given to go on this journey with? Like, are you kidding me?
"I'm often asked, `When will this sink in?' I thought it would sink in while I was here, but I'm starting to think, it may not sink in until years down the road – like, what an experience that truly was.''
For Schleper and the gold-medal favorite U.S. hockey team, this is a chance for them to be introduced to the biggest audience they've ever known.
And they deserve it.
This may be her first Olympics – she's one of 10 first-timers on the U.S. team – but her resume is already quite impressive. The 2012 Minnesota graduate has won three world championship medals (gold in 2011 and 2013) and silver (2012), was a 2008 U-18 champ and a 2012 national champion at the University of Minnesota.
Schleper isn't the captain of the U.S. team, but she is one of the unquestioned leaders on a team with eyes on a massive prize in these Games. She is a stay-at-home defenseman, although she showed great poise in moving the puck up to her speedy forwards during Saturday's 3-1 victory over Finland. She had an assist.
"They call me `Steady Eddie,' '' she said after her team prepared for Monday's game against underdog Switzerland.
Asked about leadership, she gave a perfect definition:
"Leadership is you know the way, you show the way and you go the way,'' she said. "Leadership is not just you leading all the others and having them follow you all the time. It's about making leaders out of them, empowering them. That's what it is to me.''
Said U.S. women's coach Katey Stone: "Anne's just a solid person, such a high-character kid, and she prepares herself so well. We never have to worry about her preparation or her readiness. She's a big, strong defenseman – great reach, skates well, big shot.''
Schleper's inspiration, besides her faith, comes from her older brother, Adam, a CPA in Dallas who is four years her senior.
"He's nothing famous, but he's such an inspiration to me because of his hard work and determination in life and how he lives his life,'' Schleper said. "He's always so serving and giving, just an awesome person. All the way up, growing up, he's always been that inspiration and light for me.''
Her parents, Jim and Deb, already are here in Sochi, and Adam, who is in his busiest time of the year (tax season), will arrive next Saturday in time for the medal round.
There were none.
How often do you get to see your daughter – or your sister – compete in the Olympic Games?
The Schlepers got here got here with help from the St. Cloud community. The St. Cloud Youth Hockey Association raised almost $750 with a raffle, and the Schlepers earned more money toward their trip here from T-shirt sales.
"It's so important for me to share this journey with the people who mean the most to me,'' Anne said.
Kravitz writes for the Indianapolis Star.