Parkland College, Illinois
By Evelyn Kent
“I first saw her when she was in the eighth grade and she was playing softball. As a center fielder she covered everything herself. She was an exceptional athlete,” said Carl Meyer, Executive Director of Parkland College Foundation.
Bonnie Blair, Olympic champion, seems to inspire fond, reminiscence and warm adjectives in at least two groups not well known for being warm and fuzzy: police officers and journalists.
For instance, the Christian Science Monitor called her “the chipper champion of speed skating.”
But it is the Champaign Police Benevolent Protection Association that is well known for helping Blair raise funds to compete internationally and eventually make her way to the Olympics.
Blair, a speed skater, is the most decorated woman in U.S. Olympic history and the winningest American in Winter Olympics history. She won gold medals in the 500 and 1,000 meter races at Lillehammer, Norway in 1994; in the 500 and 1,000 meter race, in Albertville, France in 1992; and in the 500 meter race in Calgary, Canada in 1988. She also won a bronze medal in the 1,000 meter race in Calgary.
Blair’s athletic achievements are not limited to Olympic medals. She won 11 gold medals in World Sprint Championships and is a 10-time U.S. National Sprint Champion. She won the World Sprint Speed Skating Championship in overall points in 1994 and 1989 and twice in 1992.
After demolishing world-class competition during her amazing career, Blair set about breaking the women’s world record in the 500-meter race. In her children’s book, “A Winning Edge” Blair says, “This race wasn’t about gold medals, fame or money. It was about racing against myself.” In March 1994, Blair broke the 39-second barrier for 500 meters then shattered it again with a 38.69-second world record in 1995.
Blair began skating when she was two years old and credits her parents for encouraging her and teaching her to balance life’s demands and wants.
That balance must have come in handy when she attended Parkland College in Champaign while training and competing. As part of the physical education program, Blair “attended classes off and on because she was doing a tremendous amount of training at the time,” Meyer said.
She left Parkland in 1987, shortly before winning her first medal.
Her post-competition career includes sport commentating and motivational speaking. She occasionally makes appearances on behalf of the Parkland College Foundation and is involved in various charities through the Bonnie Blair Charitable Gift Trust Fund.
In her book she encourages children to strive for the best. “Few people compete in the Olympics, but everyone can better themselves.”