Shani Davis is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of long track speedskating. He has won four Olympic medals – back-to-back golds in the 1,000-meter and back-to-back silvers in the 1,500 in 2006 and 2010 – in addition to 30 world championship medals. With more than 100 world cup medals to his name, he is also the all-time leader in world cup points. Follow Davis on his journey to a fifth Olympic Winter Games as he writes for TeamUSA.org.
Holland – The location of my Dutch family, friends from all over the world, and the familiar sites and sounds of years of traveling!
What I love most about being in Holland is seeing my friends from all over the world that I have met during my skating career and experiencing the Dutch culture.
Meet My Dutch Grandma And Grandpa
Like many times before, I was greeted and picked up by my Dutch grandma and grandpa! I was so happy to see them and they wanted to make sure I made it to my destination safely. I was glad that they had time to pick up their American grandson and that I didn't have to travel by train to the hotel I was staying with my heavy bags. Before I left I wanted to show off to them my amazing baking skills!! I made some fudge walnut brownies, my Dutch grandparents are always spoiling me with Dutch treats like autodrop, stroopwafels and those cool windmill cookies with the almond in the center. The brownies came out really good, not dry – nice and moist with a consistent chewiness – and reminded me of the brownies my mom would put in my lunch when I was a kid. But anyways I gave them the treats and we were on our way.
One of the most ironic things was that they parked at the wooden shoes section of the airport and I got a big kick out of it because Grandpa is always wearing his Dutch wooden shoes and also handing out his wooden shoes with a skate blade on the bottom. He takes lots of pride in that because he personally makes these bladed wooden shoes, one of his many hobbies! So I thought it was cute that they decided to park there and not at the tulip or cow parking section. Here in Chicago at the airport we have the sport teams of the city (Bears, Cubs, Bulls etc.) as parking sections, so maybe you can see the humor.
My Favorite Hotel
We finally arrived at the hotel, the same one where I've stayed for over eight years, very close to the rink, within walking distance. It's my favorite place to stay because they treat me like family and they make me feel that it’s my home away from home, they always give me the same room every time I stay there and the staff is always very respectful and friendly.
At the height of my career they even have a huge photo of me right in the lobby, a super sweet 2010 Olympic shot, framed, of your finest doing what I do best, cornering. That picture was donated to the hotel by my good friend Martin De Jong, a photographer and another adopted family member. It stayed up there for a long time until one day it was mysteriously taken down or stolen, shortly after the 2014 Olympics. I thought it was very shallow of them to do such a thing – I mean even though the hotel is in Holland and the Dutch just cleaned house at the 2014 Olympic Games, winning more Olympic medals than ever before, I thought to myself upon returning at least I will have my picture up at this hotel. I was looking forward to seeing it there in the lobby, to the right of the reception, and then there was nothing, well except for this huge clock that replaced it. If you look closely you can still see the outline of where my picture was. I didn't bring it up, but the manager told me how he felt someone stole this picture from the lobby! Still to this day I don't know what to believe, but the manager did ask if Martin could donate a picture again.
Either way, if someone stole it or if they took it down because I didn’t medal in 2014, I am cool with it. Who knows, but the memory in my mind will live forever – entering the hotel and seeing a picture of me doing what I love to do most; no, not baking or playing video games – both very close seconds – but of me skating in a county where skating is one of the most popular sports!!
John, The Horse Masseuse
Always on the things to do list while in Holland is to get treatment from one of my favorite people, John. He is a very special person. He is very spiritual and highly skilled at massages. And did I forget to mention that his specialty is horse massaging?! I know it sounds crazy, but I met him through some mutual friends and they recommended that I try this special massage.
I was skeptical at first because I just imagined that if he is strong enough to massage a horse, then I don't want him massaging me. I will never forget the first time we met. That day I had a really bad practice and I was in a bad mood and I just wanted to play my video games and be left alone, but I kept getting harassed to get a massage and finally I gave in because I figured the sooner I get this massage over, the sooner I can have peace in my life without being nagged about getting a massage “that would magically make me feel better about my poor skating.”
Well I went to his house, another home away from home now, and the first thing I saw was this smaller Dutch man. I went to shake his hand and his grip on my hand showed me his strength. I so wanted to leave, but he had some really beautiful ladies working along with him.
Back then I cared about my image a lot more than what I do now. I didn't want them thinking I was afraid of a massage, so I swallowed my pride and took one for the team, with the hope maybe he passed me along to one of his colleagues for the special massage. Unlucky – John was doing the massage in front of them and he asked me to undress!! He began the process of just breaking my hard muscles down to jelly. I was in so much pain, almost in tears, as he got deeper into my muscles than I had ever experienced, but I hid my pain with laughter and somehow I kept my integrity since the ladies and John didn't make me cry. Who would have thought years later that he and I would be so close and for a while he was my European traveling masseur; he even came to America and helped me as well during the 2010 Olympics.
They say the body can adapt to anything and I always kept this in mind when I would come to Holland and visit his salon for treatment. We would always talk before the massage and catch up with each other. I dreaded the idea of getting the message, but I know my body needs it. He would start massaging my muscles and I felt like my bones were getting the massage from how deep he's going. There is this one spot in my groin that he gets ahold of and just grabs and pinch massages this tendon until the muscles are completely relaxed and without lots of tension. I know it's good for me, but I swear it's the most painful feeling I've ever encountered. Oh and there’s a spot on the heel of my foot he pinches and I hate it. Maybe it's just a figure of speech.
This time I came over to the Netherlands much earlier and we even had enough time to ride horses together. It was so special since we've always talked about doing it, but never did until now. It is something I really enjoy and look forward to doing it again someday. Learning how to steer the horse and pulling on the reigns was super fun!!
This trip was even a little more special as had a surprise visit from my German mom! She made the trip down from Bavaria and she always bakes cookies and cakes. I met her through my journey of competing in Germany. We became friends as there was a small town we would go to named Inzell. She has a long tradition of cooking and baking for skaters that come from far and near. She helped me tremendously after the hardship I faced from the 2014 Olympics. We had downtime there and every day I was there she opened her home not only for me, but also for my American teammates and even some Dutch ones when I trained with bestlist.nl. I mean full teams of more than 12 people, and she would just go above and beyond expectations.
What I enjoyed most was the time she set aside for me. I would go over for lunch after training and she would make very nutritious meals – nice to have something different than the hotel food – or even bake her famous holiday cookies and cakes! I was always appreciative and I never wanted to wear out my welcome, but she treated me like family and I would come any time I could for food, relaxation, playing board games – anything to make my life a bit more easier on the road. She loves board games and she's the best Chinese checkers player! I try to defeat her, but I never can and she really gets tickled about how competitive I can get at the smallest games. Her famous words are "you are best at skating...I'm best at Chinese checkers," as she jumps one of her pieces all the way over to my side of the bored or blocks me from getting my piece to her side.
Last time I saw her it was very special because she also came down to visit me in Holland when I won the world single distances in 2015! It was a very special moment, and I was glad since she was there for me when I was at a low and then a year later, around the same time of season I was winning and she was present, one of my most treasured moments!
Dutch Skating Marathons
Because I arrived much earlier than normal for the world cup, there was time to witness a marathon before the first world cup of the season. I forget how many laps they skated, but one of my sponsors attended the event with his family and I always enjoy seeing them because of how we became friends. A few years back there was a brochure I saw and on it was a skater that I've competed with numerous times over the span of my career, and he was giving them out at the equipment shop, where they sell his product. I made an off-the-cuff comment about why is this dude on this advertisement... I should be on there, I'm a prettier skater than he is... and the guy overheard.
I know my American big mouth was right, but he said if I really like his products for sharpening, he could make it happen! I mean, what's cooler than being a representative of a product that you use all the time, and to possibly one-up the other skater, since he retired and I could no longer race with him. I'm sure you can figure out the skater, but it was kind of a joke, or was I serious?! Lol, anyways, we have a great relationship and I love the new and improved brochure, with yours truly on it doing my signature corner skating technique!! It was a fun moment and story that I love to share and we always try to find time to meet up with each other and enjoy the company.
Oh and the marathon – that was cool too! A bit confusing, but cool to see this event live. I was hoping for more crash and burn, ruckus, mayhem but to no avail, just a whole bunch of people skating long laps. It’s super fast and truly amazing!
Sad my time was coming to an end in Holland and not knowing the next time I will be back to this wonderful place, or seeing the people that I've come to know so well; so much history and traditions but the memories I'm most fond of are the dinners. So many people that I've come to know and developed friendships with over the months and years, all together sharing their time with me, and most importantly giving me unconditional love and support. I believe Uncle Martin captured the moment best, he's always taking pictures of everything!! The moment is priceless and I'm honored knowing somehow all of our lives crossed because of me and the randomness of life and the timing of everything. Jokes and life moments were shared and after the wonderful meal and night I had one more horse massage from John (very hard and painful) before traveling abroad the next day. It's been a tradition since 2009!!