For the past few years, whenever people would ask Alyson Dudek if she missed short track speedskating, she’d answer honestly. No. She didn’t.
The two-time Olympian was enjoying life outside the bubble of world-class competitive sports and living as Aly Dudek the person rather than Aly Dudek the athlete. Even now, some six weeks into her comeback, Dudek still says she didn’t miss speedskating.
She’s just really excited to do it on her own terms this time.
“I’m going about this Olympics with a completely different mindset and perspective, and it’s fresh. It’s exciting,” said Dudek, 26, who is training for a spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. “I’m having fun with it. I’m doing this for me, but also I really want to be back with my teammates and really see Team USA get back on the podium and make an impact out there.”
Dudek earned an Olympic bronze medal in the women’s 3,000-meter relay in 2010, but 2014 was a disappointing year for Team USA. Between short and long track, the only medal Team USA brought home was in short track, a silver in the men’s 5,000 relay.
Following the world championships a month after the Sochi Games, Dudek hung up her skates. She took a few different jobs, including one with an active travel company that sent her from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Eastern Europe, to the Caribbean. She fell head over heels in love with the bicycle. She learned how to thrive in different settings — how having an open mind and a determination to succeed could have a major impact all across her life.
Then, in November, Dudek happened to be in Salt Lake City for work at the same time a world cup speedskating race was being held. She stopped by to watch the races and help US Speedskating with some fundraising and other events, and she got to talking with some former coaches and teammates.
The thought bubbled up, could she come back? Would she want to?
“I started having dreams about it, and talking to my family, like, ‘Am I crazy? It’s one year out, I’m cutting it really close here,’” she said. “Short track is a very unforgiving sport. I just decided I’m 26, why the heck not?”
Even though she wasn’t skating, Dudek had remained active with biking, yoga, pilates, weights and high-intensity interval training. That side of her never went away. Now, however, she’s on the ice a few times a week with a development program in her hometown of Milwaukee, often training alongside former teammate Katherine Reutter, who retired from speedskating in 2013 but launched her comeback in May 2016. Dudek hopes to rejoin the national team sometime in the spring.
News of her return, she said, has been met with positivity.
“My friends, my family, they’re all supportive and excited because they can tell I’m excited about it,” said Dudek, who opted for a casual reveal of her plans versus any sort of announcement. “When I tell people I just light up and get really excited. It’s going to be a really fun year.”
She also has the support of Team USA.
“It’s exciting to see Alyson get back on the ice and adds depth to our women’s short-track pool,” said high performance director Guy Thibault. “She was one of our top 500-meter skaters going into Sochi, a distance we haven’t been strong in over the past few seasons. Having that potential going into next season, along with potentially skating on the relay, it’s really exciting for US Speedskating.”
Although it’s been three years since Dudek skated in a competition, she said that every time she’s on the ice training, she’s working on race strategy. She’s constantly thinking about different techniques, how she would react in certain situations, what she’d do to set up a pass and who her competition might be.
Those instincts never left, nor did her motivation or drive.
What’s different this time around is that Dudek now feels like she has nothing to lose.
“I’ve always been excited to skate and race, but I think I put a little too much pressure on myself before and I kind of lost sight of that excited feeling and the true passion and love I have for the sport that developed when I was 7 years old and first put skates on,” she said. “This time around I’m coming back at it with a fresh attitude and perspective.”