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Originally published February 14, 2010 at 9:13 PM | Page modified February 14, 2010 at 11:35 PM

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Steve Kelley

J.R. Celski's mother never wavered in her belief

It took 60 stitches to sew her son's leg back together. It took five months of rehabilitation to get him into the Olympics. And it took three races Saturday night — his first international competition since the wreck — for the Federal Way skater to win a bronze medal in short-track speedskating's 1,500 meters.

Seattle Times staff columnist

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Sue Celski was shooting video of the race, when her son's accident happened right in front of her.

She saw the crash through the lens of her camera. She saw her speedskating son slide into the unforgiving boards and watched the blade of his right skate knife into his left thigh.

Stunned, she stopped shooting just as J.R. Celski pulled the blade out of his leg with his right hand.

"It was mortifying," Sue Celski said. "It was pretty intense."

She dropped her camera and raced onto the ice. "It's over," her son said to her, talking about his 2010 Olympic dream.

"No, it's not over, J.R.," Sue said. "You're going to be fine."

She truly believed that.

At the Olympic trials in Marquette, Mich. — five months and a day before he was scheduled to compete in his first Winter Olympics race — J.R. Celski had slashed his leg an inch from his femoral artery.

For hours afterward, he thought he was going to die. And he was certain he never would race again.

"When the injury happened, I didn't really know what to expect," he told a small group of reporters Sunday in the Main Press Centre. "I looked down and I saw this rainbow assortment of colors in my leg. It was blue, purple, yellow, red, white. I could see my femur.

"When I first saw the opening, I was overwhelmed. It was really crazy to look at, and I thought at one point during the night that I was going to die. Definitely."

His mother, however, still believed in his future.

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She remembered a moment more than 19 years earlier, when she was pregnant with J.R. and thought she was going to lose him.

Sue slipped on a sheet of ice — yes, ice — fell and almost miscarried her baby.

"I almost lost him then," she said, just hours before the Celski family watched as J.R. was awarded the bronze at Sunday night's medal ceremony. "But I just had this hope inside me. I never thought it was over that day when I fell on the ice and I wasn't going to think it was over now. "

Sue Celski was right.

It took 60 stitches to sew her son's leg back together. It took five months of rehabilitation to get him into the Olympics. And it took three races Saturday night — his first international competition since the wreck — for the Federal Way skater to win a bronze medal in short-track speedskating's 1,500 meters.

"When I was in the hospital, I was crying," J.R. said. "Not because of the pain, but because I was so close to my goals."

Before he went into surgery, he asked the anesthesiologist to take a picture of his wound. He uses the picture, which still is on his phone, as motivation.

"When I fell, when I was on that ice, I was in defeat at first," he said.

"But I guess in those moments, it's where we truly define ourselves. I pushed forward. I knew I could do it and that's how I was able to recover so fast. I definitely learned that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was. I never looked back after I fell. I think that was the biggest thing."

In Saturday's final, Celski came around the final turn in fifth place, a remarkable accomplishment in itself. Then, two of the three lead Koreans crashed, giving him his first Olympic medal in his first Olympic race.

In less than half a year, he had come all the way back.

"When I first got back on the ice (after the accident) I was really hesitant, especially going faster," he said. "Because I fell (at the trials) going at 100 percent speed. Yeah, I had flashbacks. I actually fell a couple of times in practice.

"I needed that to mentally prepare myself for what could happen in the future. I'm glad I had a chance to fall. I know that sounds kind of ridiculous. I did have flashbacks, at first, but last night I didn't think about my leg the whole night."

Over the past few days, family celebrations have marked each of J.R.'s Olympic achievements.

"Just to watch him walk in the opening ceremonies, for us, was like watching a miracle, after what had happened to him," Sue said. "Then to see him on the ice in practice. There were a few tears.

"And for what he did last night, it was just amazing for us. The fact that he even got to the finals of an Olympic race, that was huge."

Five months ago, only Sue Celski believed this could happen. She knew her son was capable of miracles.

Now the world knows.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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