Catherine Raney is living the dream
When you get three-time Olympic speedskater Catherine Raney-Norman's voicemail, her brother Richard does a pretty good job summing up his sister's life.
"Hi, you've reached Catherine's phone," the message says. "She can't come to the phone right now because she's out living the dream. So leave a message and she'll call you back."
Some people hate it and some people love it.
She's keeping it.
"Yep, I am living the dream, I am," she said on a recent Sunday evening, the only time she has free in her busy life.
Her mornings begin at the top of Mount Aire, located about nine miles east of Salt Lake City. Together with husband, Marc, Raney lives among the moose, deer and elk with the closest human neighbor living about 1.5 miles away in the winter.
"It's kind of like 'Northern Exposure,' " said Raney-Norman, comparing her animal neighbors to life on the 1990s television series. "You've just got to wait for them to move. It's their turf, it's their town."
Getting to work from the top of Mt. Aire depends on the season. In the winter when the roads aren't plowed, Raney-Norman has to take a snowmobile most of the way-a task that can take as long as two hours, although she said the weather has been bad enough that she's had to walk before.
In the spring when the snow is melting a bit, it gets a bit more complicated.
"Snowmobile to four-wheeler to car right now," she said. "Half of the road right now is plowed, half isn't."
That process takes about an hour. At its best it's still approximately a 45-minute commute.
"Quite ridiculous when you think I'm probably only about nine miles away from the actual city," Raney-Norman said.
When Raney-Norman gets into Salt Lake City, that's where her other life starts.
A three-time Olympian who is preparing for a possible fourth trip at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in February, Raney-Norman, 28, is training about two or three times per day this summer. Up until early May, Raney-Norman was also mixing in two business courses at the University of Utah-something that now takes a hiatus until after the Olympics. She trains in Salt Lake City with coach Derek Parra, an Olympic gold and silver medalist at the 2002 Games.
But what really gets the excitement in Raney-Norman's voice is talk of her two-day a week commitment as a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run. The non-profit organization teaches girls around the nation by promoting healthy lifestyles and positive self-esteem through running.
"So we teach them all sorts of different things from what are they are thankful for to healthy eating habits, to setting goals, sportsmanship, what to do about gossip," Raney-Norman said.
She got involved with the group when she was looking for an organization to donate some of her Nike products that she receives via her sponsorship.
"It started out with me meeting with the director and finding more about this organization," she said. "Then I jumped in head first because I was so impressed with the organization and fell in love with the cause."
Since the beginning of March, Raney-Norman has spent about two and a half hours every Tuesday and Thursday she was available with the mostly 9- and 10-year-old girls she is coaching.
The school where Raney-Norman coaches has 18 girls involved in Girls on the Run, and there are about 115 participating in the five schools around Salt Lake City. Most of the girls in the program come from rough neighborhoods and live below the poverty line, Raney-Norman said, so this program offers a real escape for many of them.
"It's been a big eye opener for me," Raney-Norman said. "I've never really done anything like this before, and it's fun. It's fun to go see the girls and hear their stories that they tell me from school. It's almost like a nice break for me from my training to be with these girls. These girls are great and are so thankful for the program."
One of the reasons that Raney-Norman is so thrilled about the program is that it gives her an opportunity to give back.
"Something that I've been trying to get across is that a lot of us athletes are extremely fortunate that we've had people help us out along the way," Raney-Norman said, citing Chris Witty, a five-time Olympian (four in speedskating, one in cycling), with helping Raney-Norman early in her career. "I feel like it's really important to do that for other people. So many people have helped me out in my career that this is my chance to give back to the others."
So far Raney-Norman has donated shorts and shoes to all the Girls on the Run in Salt Lake City. She is still working to bring awareness to the program and to help bring in new donors and sponsors.
"Whatever we can do to make it successful," she said.
On May 30, at the end of the program, Raney-Norman and the other coaches are setting up a 5K for the girls to run at a local park.
Originally from Elm Grove, Wis., Raney-Norman has competed in the past three Olympics-the first, in Nagano in 1998 when she was only 17-and is hoping to be in Vancouver racing in the 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters and team pursuit events. She is keeping the door open to possibly trying out in the 1,500 meters as well. A four-time U.S. All-Around champion, Raney-Norman's best Olympic finish was fifth place in the team pursuit in the 2006 Games in Torino.
"It just depends on how I feel that day," she said.
She is going to wait and see how she feels after Vancouver before making any decisions about her competitive future.
But for now she is just happy living her dream.
"I am," Raney-Norman said. "I won't lie. I'm living on top of a mountain. I get to go do what I want every day, work with kids, and then come home to a great husband and a dog."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Chrös McDougall is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.