by Jayson Geiser
(WAOW) - The pomp and pageantry of the Winter Olympic games begins Friday, with the opening ceremonies in Vancouver. Eagle River native Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej will represent her country and her hometown, lacing up the skates for the women's hockey team.
"When I get to the Opening Ceremonies, it will probably all set in that we're going to be Olympians," said Zaugg-Siergiej. "My husband says all the time, 'You're an Olympian. Do you not realize that?' And I don't think I do."
In fact, Jinelle's husband, Mike, is a perfect starting point when illustrating her strong ties back to Eagle River...even when she's 2-thousand miles away in Vancouver.
After all, before they were soul mates...they were teammates on the Northland Pines boys hockey team. One of Jinelle's brothers was also on that squad...which helped make Zaugg-Siergiej who she is today.
"If I didn't play with the boys," Jinelle said, "I wouldn't be where I am today. I'm very grateful for all of them. They beat me up for the first 2 years...threw checks, threw me to the ground, never passed me the puck...the whole nine yards. But my junior and senior years they really started to respect me and take me as one of the players and protect me."
"I think that probably helped her," said her father, Chuck Zaugg. "She worked hard to keep up with her older brothers."
But the road from British Columbia back to Northern Wisconsin is even longer than that. After all, Jinelle's been skating nearly as long as she's been walking.
"I was probably 2 or 3 when my parents got me skating just for fun," remembered Zaugg-Siergiej. "We moved to Eagle River when i was 6 and hockey's what they do there. We kinda got sucked into it."
"It was a long road, but a fun one," added Pam Zaugg, Jinelle's mother. "Jinelle is our youngest so we were able to rearrange our schedules and be there for everything."
That included a college career at Wisconsin during which Jinelle earned a pair of national championships and played for another. She left UW as the school's career leader in goals, power-play goals, game-winners, and games played. And now, starting Friday evening, the Zaugg family will "be there" to see their daughter represent her country at her sport's highest level.
That all begs one obvious question. Is her Olympic selection the highlight of her hockey career?
"I don't know," said Zaugg-Siergiej, before adding with a laugh, "I'll tell you once it's over."
One thing Zaugg-Siergiej does know is that, gold medal or no medal, all those who've helped her along this journey will be closer to her than they think.
"Everybody up north, the state of Wisconsin, they're all amazing to me," said Zaugg-Siergiej. "Even if they don't think so, their support means the world to me and I will take it with me to Vancouver."
The women's team opens Olympic play Sunday at 2pm against China. Plover's Joe Pavelski is on the men's team. They get started Tuesday at 2pm against Switzerland.
Online Reporter - Jayson Geiser