CHAPTER 3: 1986 Six Year Old Junior Olympian
It’s 1986, I’m six and ready to run. My parents signed me up for gymnastics but I wasn’t very coordinated. I hated being closed in a room full of kids waiting for my turn on the balance beam. It wasn’t fun and I wanted to quit. Getting Pizza Hut was the only thing that made my day.
I tried out for soccer but was too scared to kick the ball. I just liked to chase after it. My dad found a Track & Field club in Lima, Ohio and I entered the 100M, 200M, and 400M dash. When I was done with my race I wanted to run farther not faster. And so began my journey in long distance running.
My dad and I joined another local family of runners ever weekend we had a meet. Brad Hansen was ten and I was six during our first year of competing together in the Junior Olympics. Skyler, Hansen qualify for State. Skyler, Hansen head to Nationals. Aimee Skyler, Brad Hansen. Each week for years, Brad and I made headlines in the local paper.
The Lima club team closed down so I joined one in Toledo. My dad would coach me back home in Bluestone, Ohio and take me to the meets each week. Brittany, Lauren and Kristen were my new best friends but they lived an hour away. We had a meet almost every weekend. Cross Country in the Fall and Track in the Spring and Summer. Our team only had one rule when qualifying for Nationals. The meet had to be east of the Mississippi if we were to attend. We qualified for everything because we kicked ass!
My family bought a van so we could travel. A grey Bivilack with middle seats that could turn backwards so we could play games at the table. Sometimes Brad Hansen rode with us if we were going on a long trip and his family didn’t come along. I had a little crush on him but he was also like a big brother.
We used to have a meeting spot on I-75 for the Toledo team. My parents didn’t always go to Nationals so they would drop me off on the side of the road where I jumped in another car to go to a meet somewhere like Raleigh, North Carolina.
Our team rocked Regionals as Champions and our little 3rd Grade egos were ready to school the United States National Junior Olympics competition. In the back of a status wagon, with the seats down flat for our bedding and coloring books, we made signs that said: Raleigh ‘89, Atlanta ‘96. I don’t think we would have even been old enough to compete in the Atlanta Olympic Games but that was our dream. To compete in the big kid's Olympics.
Practice was hard work, meets were often grueling but road trips were a blast. It was the 80s so that meant Burger Bundles or Wendy’s Super Bar. Remember those? Oh, and Shoney's seemed to be a frequent stop. We’d stay in the Holidome and go swimming after the meet, our favorite part of the entire trip. The pool! We’d run around the hotel playing elevator tag with our brothers and the boys team. Running up and down the hallways as fast as we could was the best, as if we hadn’t run enough already.
The Beach Boys Kokomo was playing on the radio every day and McHammer’s Can’t Touch This was our team song, You Can’t Touch Us. We were getting a bit too cocky for 4th grade girls.
Brittany had a big family and I loved to go spend the weekend at her house in Toledo, Ohio watching movies and riding bikes with her big brothers. She’d come stay at my house in Bluestone and we’d rehearse dances to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, acting’s the scenes to the lyrics. Something I also loved to do with my cousin Nicolette from Colorado. We didn't have a video camera at that age but there were many more embarrassing videos to come.
Life wasn’t all that bad growing up. By dad was really tough on me. He only seemed to care about how well I performed. I could always do better and if I was in the top three or kicked ass against the boys or adults, people were impressed. Not many 8 year olds ran the 4 Mile Fund Run. I liked to run and I liked to win. I didn’t win every race but I’d qualify for the next for the next race. There was always room for improvement. If I lost I could practice and get better.
Sometimes adults in town would come up to me and ask me if I really wanted to run or if my dad was making me. I don't really know the answer to that. I wasn't held hostage but I wanted to win his approval. I’m not sure I ever had a single week off from running. Maybe between seasons but I couldn't get out of shape so I had to bike or do some type of psychical activity. School and practice on Monday through Friday, meet or road race on Saturday, church and visit with grandpa on Sunday. Repeat.
When I wasn’t running with my dad or team, I was hanging out in the boys locker room in his office with the High School boy’s basketball team in the winters and in his office with the Boys track team at the college. I remember riding in the vans with his Indoor College Track team and just being with older boys almost every single weekend that didn't revolve around my Toledo team.
I had a group of friends in Bluestone Elementary and we were always fighting and trading best friends. In 4th grade Molly Hollister and I wanted to be Marine Biologists and dolphin trainers, but I still had this expectation to be an Olympic Athlete.
My real best friends were my teammates, Brittany and Lauren in Toledo, but I didn’t go to school with them so my other friends didn't know them. We had gotten broken best friend necklaces at Claire’s Boutique during one of our trips to Columbus, Ohio. We felt so grown up walking around the mall and going to see Look Who's Talking with John Travolta.
"Round round, get around, I get around," sang the Beach Boys. We didn't even understand those little fishy things were sperm making a baby but here we were still babies ourselves, making qualifying for National competitions look like a piece of cake.
It was also the era of Beverly Hills 90210 and New Kids on the Block. I liked Joe the best and painted I heart Joe in glow in the dark paint on my wall so my mom couldn’t see it. I must not have thought about the fact that she might open the door when it was dark. Oops.
I had crushes on boys in my class for as long as I could remember. Some of my friends had boyfriends but I was really shy. Most of the time I was running and hanging around the older boys. I used to bully my little brother Andrew so my parents kept us separated. I was my dad’s little star so he usually watched me, or rather took me with him and let me do whatever he was doing, coaching another team. My brother stayed with my mom and played T-Ball with his friends. He participated in a few track meets but he wasn't as athletic at that age. Andrew had a much more normal childhood because my dad didn’t pressure him to practice and compete.
Looking back at our childhoods, it’s almost like we had two different families. We lived under one roof until the day it came crashing down. He was getting love and attention from my mom who was just 17 when she married her teacher, our dad, Coach Skyler, while I was getting grilled to compete and get stronger. I had a family legacy to live up to. Going Pro...or rather to the Olympics.
I also remember my dad nicknaming me Douglas and the name took through Junior High. “Hey Dougie, get me a beer,” was the common nightly chore in my house. He’d open it, give me a sip, as if it was a reward, and put on a movie like Porky’s or Animal House. I remember my brother hiding under a pillow when we were watching The Birds.
There wasn't really a rule when it came to what movies I could watch. Not that parents can control everything that kids watch, but my 4th Grade birthday party movie was Dirty Dancing. We were so in love with Patrick Swayze. My aunt sent me a VHS tape with Barbara Walters interviewing Patrick after the recording of the moving. 20 years later I was working with a woman and she said she was friends with Patrick "Buddy" Swayze in Texas. They were in the same dance class when she cut her foot on a piece of glass and had to carry her home. Sure enough that VHS tape I had at home showed their dance class photo.
Pretty Woman was my 6th Grade Movie theme for my birthday party. I'm not sure we knew what a hooker was at age 11 in Bluestone, Ohio. MTV was banned and there was no internet. I wasn't really sheltered like my other friends.
Now that I'm an adult I see things differently. Women were treated like objects and their looks were what attracted men. Boys were raised to succeed and be the breadwinners for their family.
I was one of the boys. Doug. I don’t think I ever cared to do a single girly thing. When I was 4 I was playing with dolls but by 5 I traded them in for fire trucks and trains. I stopped wearing dresses and my dad bought me Track suits, adorned me with medals and took me around town for photo shoots. He had my photos blown up poster size for his office walls and made sure the results were always in the paper, cutting them out for a scrapbook during the first three years of competition. After that winning got old. Like keeping a scrapbook was a chore but practice was not.
I wasn’t always in 1st place but that’s what made me want it more. That sick feeling in my stomach at the starting line knowing the race wasn’t going to be easy. If I went into it knowing I was going to win, I wouldn’t be able to improve my time.
By the time I was 10 I was the Junior Olympic State Champion at the Cross Country Meet in Lancaster Ohio. Brad Hansen came along that day. His younger sister Rochelle and brother Jimmy were competing too. Brad was now in Jr. High where they had a team for the local kids.
During the summer of 1990, Brittany and I were in the 5th grade. My dad took us with a few of his high school athletes to a Cross Country camp at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. It was my first experience away at camp but I wasn’t going to a lake to have fun with the other kids in my class on canoe trips, I was going to learn how to kick ass and take names.
Brittany and I were 11 years old and settled into our dorm rooms where the rest of the kids in camp were age 15 to 18. Bang Bang!!! The camp advisors came around for wake up call at 6am to go running on our morning jog through campus. After 3 miles we'd have breakfast at the cafeteria, morning mental training session, afternoon run, lunch and activity hour at the indoor pool or frisbee with the team. Our evening session consisted of a 6 mile course or an intense training session on the hill. Keep in mind, we were 11 years old and running 10 miles a day during summer camp.
Brittany and I usually finished in the middle of the pack. When camp was over we were ready to go back home and keep up the stamina before our next season of Cross Country started. We ran all over the place. Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri North Carolina and even Alabama.
I was the girl in my class smearing on Vaseline all over my face to protect me from 20 degree weather or camped out in the shade of a college stadium in 104 degree temperatures waiting for my events. Sometimes we had to run a qualifying round before we could make it to the finals. Rain, shine, snow or tornados, we were there to kick ass. I was pulling myself up the side of a hill by the tree branches in 2 inches of snow while the other girls in my class were wearing leotards in dance or gymnastics.
I was not a girl there to look pretty for the camera, I was a girl there to get gold ever since I was just six years old.