International athlete delivers inspiring message to students
Drawing upon lessons learned as an Israeli national skeleton and curling athlete, South Lake Tahoe resident Larry Sidney recently encouraged students at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in the Gardnerville Ranchos to find their passion and follow their dreams.
The desire to make a difference drew Sidney to a middle school teaching career that spanned 15 years. In 2012, Sidney felt ready for a change, and his days in the classroom and coaching both soccer and track came to a close. He made the move from Connecticut to Tahoe at the age of 40 and took up the sport of curling while helping his brother, Ray, establish the Lake Tahoe Epic Curling club (laketahoecurling.com).
What started as a hobby quickly evolved into more and more advanced levels of competition. Just four years after throwing his first curling stone, Sidney represented Team Israel on the mixed curling team at the 2015 World Championships in Bern, Switzerland. (As a dual citizen of both the United States and Israel, Sidney is eligible to represent either country in competitions.)
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” he said, emphasizing the importance of being prepared as a critical step toward success.
Sidney’s preparation took the form of maintaining his physical fitness and committing to a curling practice fueled by personal enthusiasm and interest.
“When my opportunity came, I got lucky because I was ready,” said Sidney, who extends this same philosophy toward success in school and in life. “Prepare yourself for a lot of opportunities so that you have options later.”
In 2012, Sidney’s innate love of sport took he and his brother to the Olympic training area in Park City, Utah to try their hand at skeleton. The sport is held on the same icy track as bobsled and luge; skeleton riders sprint about thirty yards before leaping face first and face down onto a sled, tucking themselves into an aerodynamic position, and racing through twists and turns at speeds that can exceed 80 mph.
One run was all it took for Sidney to discover yet another passion, and it wasn’t long before he decided to pursue skeleton as a competitive sport. A short time later, the head of the Israeli National Curling team put Sidney in contact with the head of the Israeli National Skeleton team. He accepted an offer to join the team and was literally off to the races.
“Remember that your dreams are your dreams,” said Sidney, noting his parents’ understandable concern about the dangers of his new sport. But Sidney would not be deterred, saying, “When you are passionate about something, it’s a good use of your energy.”
Skeleton training and competition sent him to different locations all around the world, including Lake Placid, N.Y.; Calgary and Whistler in Canada; La Plagne, France; and Sigulda, Latvia. The stress and injuries incurred during competition sometimes led to Sidney to question his decision to follow this path, but he never abandoned his sense of wonder and curiosity about where the next step might lead.
“Have a goal and a motivation for what you do, something that pushes you to try harder when you do it,” he advised. “You need to be motivated when things happen so you will get up and get going all over again.”
Sidney fought hard to race skeleton in the 2018 Olympics held in South Korea. Although he and fellow Israeli teammates Adam Edelman and Joel Seligstein all qualified, only 30 skeleton athletes across the world were allowed to compete. Edelman’s world ranking earned him the top spot for Israel, so Sidney traveled to the winter games as an alternate and also had an opportunity to lend his skills as a coach. He retired from skeleton competition following the 2018 Olympics and now acts as the Secretary General for the Israeli Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
Sidney pointed out that not everything goes smoothly on the road to success.
“Nobody wins every game… sometimes there are going to be setbacks and you just have to get up and dust yourself off,” he said. “If it’s worth something to you, you need to keep at it.”
This philosophy was evident in three video clips Sidney shared of skeleton runs he took in Calgary. He called the them “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” in reference to one run that went smoothly, one where he bumped precariously against the track wall, and a final one that showed a wreck that could have easily been far more disastrous if not for Sidney’s quick reflexes and ability to remain focused and centered while traveling face first down the icy track.
“Stay calm so you can steer your way through the course,” Sidney said, drawing yet another parallel between sport and life.
Things have circled back around for Sidney, and curling is once again at the forefront. Next month he represents Team Israel at the European Championships in Helsingborg, Sweden. His wife, Kerstin, and sons, Lucas and Marcus, will cheer for him from home.
As an international athlete representing Israel at competitions all around the globe, Sidney is inspired and enthusiastic about his role as an ambassador.
“I might be the first Israeli person someone else has ever met. Or I might be the first Jewish person they’ve ever met. That means I might get to make the first impression about who we really are, and that is powerful.”
Sidney noted the particular importance of his role given the current state of global unrest and recent rise is anti-Semitism.
“If you stereotype people in a certain way based upon something you’ve seen or read, you might not be getting an accurate picture of who [a] person truly is,” he said.
Through his many adventures, Sidney stayed true to his passions and took an active role in pursuing them. He encouraged the students to do the same.
“Dreams don’t just happen, we make them happen,” he said. “What is your dream? What are you doing every day to achieve it?”
Sidney’s visit to PWL was sponsored by the MeFiYi REWARD Club, which assists students and athletes in exploring their talents; establishing realistic academic, athletic, and career achievement; and understanding and utilizing community resources. For information, visit mefiyi.org.
Follow Larry Sidney on Twitter @doubleicedchai. To learn more about the upcoming European Curling Championships, log on to worldcurling.org/events/ecc2019/.
Amy Roby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.