WASHINGTON (February 01, 2018)—Three athletes who call Maryland home are headed to the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Winter Olympians and Paralympian include women's ice hockey player Haley Skarupa, speedskater Thomas Hong and sled hockey player Noah Grove.
While they have yet to be acquainted, they're all fighting to bring gold medals back to Maryland.
The Olympics start Feb. 9 and the Paralympics begin March 8.
In the 2016 Summer Olympics, athletes with ties to Maryland dominated. With 18 gold medals, Maryland would have ranked tenth among all countries. Additionally, Maryland's 2016 Paralympians scored 13 gold medals, which would have placed them thirteenth among all nations competing.
Haley Skarupa, Montgomery County
Skarupa, 24, grew up in Rockville and started playing roller and street hockey because of her brother. When he made the switch to ice hockey, she convinced her parents to let her try it as well, and it stuck.
Although she had the opportunity to attend a prep or boarding high school, Skarupa stayed in Rockville to attend Wootton High School.
"It was a conversation I had with my parents, but we ultimately decided that if I can play with the (Washington) Pride and they're giving me just as good if not better opportunity to elevate my game, get better and stay at home, that's a no-brainer," she told Capital News Service in a telephone interview.
Skarupa said that playing for the Pride, a women's junior team based in Rockville, required plenty of travel and missed school time, "and my parents sacrificed a lot to drive me and fly all over."
That collective dedication paid off: Skarupa played Division I hockey at Boston College, where she graduated in 2016. She owns the second-highest scoring record in college history, male or female.
She also succeeded on the world stage, three-peating for gold at the 2015-2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championships.
Leading up to the 2018 Games, Skarupa played with the Boston Pride of the National Women's Hockey League. She said skating with fellow national team players, many of whom she became close with over the years, is rewarding.
"In a non-Olympic year, everyone's kind of separated throughout the country doing the same thing but in different spots, so I think what's different is we're able to (train) all together," she said.
In preparation for Pyeongchang, Team USA scrimmaged against both junior men's teams and the Canadian women's team.
Although Skarupa hasn't met the other Maryland athletes, she said she'd like to get to know them.
"There's definitely some pride there," she said. "So many great athletes come out of Maryland."
Thomas Hong, Howard County
Hong, 20, a lifelong Washington sports fan, was eyeing the 2018 Olympics back in 2014. He said that his life on the ice predated his own birth.
"My mom was actually…at my sisters' practice when she was pregnant with me, and she had to be rushed to the hospital during that practice," he explained in a telephone interview with CNS.
Hong was skating at age four, just after his family immigrated from South Korea to the United States. At the time, the Washington metropolitan area was a hotspot for aspiring skaters, and the region has increased in prominence since then.
Hong feels fortunate that he grew up in Howard County, and identifies strongly with his home state.
"You can pretty much ask anybody…I wear a (University of) Maryland cap every single day of my life," he said.
Hong attended the University of Maryland as a freshman during the 2015-2016 school year, but put his education on hold in pursuit of the 2018 Olympics. Following the games, he plans to return to the university for the 2018-2019 school year, according to U.S. Speedskating communications coordinator Austin Controulis.
Hong has spent the past months fine-tuning his approach to the upcoming races with the U.S. Speedskating coaches, with a focus on maintaining his health.
His performance at the Short Track World Junior Championships in January, where he won silver in the 500-meter race and bronze in the 3000-meter relay, was a big factor in his selection for Team USA.
Although Hong is a Marylander at heart, he is very excited that the Olympics will be hosted by his native country.
"Being able to go to a country where I'm familiar with, being that my family is able to be there and be comfortable with as well, it just means a lot," he said.
Noah Grove, Frederick County
Grove, 18, was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to have his leg amputated at five years old.
Once he learned to run on his prosthetic leg, he played soccer and was introduced to sled hockey through the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.
Like Skarupa, Grove frequently traveled the country for tournaments and camps, so he seldom played in Maryland.
While he expressed much love for his hometown of Frederick, Maryland, his personal feelings have taken a backseat to Team USA's overarching goal.
"Team USA has taken over my identity as an athlete," he said in an email to CNS.
Grove temporarily resides with his teammates at a house in Chicago, and they train together every day, which has been a new experience for him. But he said, "It's great playing against the best every day."
He hopes to exhibit that competitive mindset against international opponents.
Grove played on the 2017 men's Para Ice Hockey World Championship team that won silver. The loss is fueling the team's ambitions to perform better in March.
"We became closer and bonded over the same goal, winning a Paralympic gold medal. Since the loss, the motto of the team has become 'Team First,' which perfectly sums up where everyone's focus is at," Grove said.
Two athletes who were born in Maryland but listed home towns in other states will be in the Olympic Games as well: luger Summer Britcher, born in Baltimore, and freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell, born in Montgomery Village.
Also, two of the three alternate ice dancing pairs live and train in Montgomery County. Quinn Carpenter of Wheaton and Lorraine McNamara of Germantown are the second alternates, while sibling duo Michael and Rachel Parsons of Rockville are the third alternates.