The Olympics: A Gieser Family Tradition

February 5, Susie Cassel

(Above, from left: Marge, Steve, Wendy, Dick, and Susie Gieser, 1980.)

We've already shared with you how our parents instilled in us a deep love of the outdoors, so we thought we'd share how that love translated into how we've experienced the Olympics as a family. It involved being close to nature while being in the thick of the action, the athletes, and atmosphere of the international event. But before I tell you about our first experience at the Olympics, let me give you a little background.

Camping is a Gieser family pasttime. We spent each summer of our childhoods camping and canoeing in the Boundary Waters. We also camped in northern Michigan in the winter. I remember one excursion where our dad employed an ingenious method for keeping us warm. We built an igloo kind of snow fort against the side of a big rock. All afternoon my dad tended a fire at the base of the rock. That evening, the rock radiated heat and kept us warm! Snuggling with our big Hungarian sheepdog helped too.

All this to say, we were no strangers to experiencing the elements, regardless of the season. Apart from dad's love of the outdoors, you should know he is an AVID fan of every aspect of the Olympics. He loves the competition, the coming together of nations, the crowds, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. (Thank you, Jim McKay.) 

It all began when we were watching the opening ceremonies of the 1980 Winter Olympics which were held in Lake Placid, NY, approximately 900 miles from our home. My dad wondered aloud if there were tickets still available for any of the events. This was before the Internet, so I'm not sure how he found out there were but, before we knew it, we were on our way to New York!

In his investigation of accommodation options, he'd learned there were no hotels available, but that the local campground was deserted. Dad has always loved the challenge of conquering nature, so we threw our camping gear in the back of our Suburban, rigged our little black and white TV so we could somehow continue watching the events as they unfolded (this was WAY before there were such options in vehicles), and drove to Lake Placid.

We packed our warmest winter clothes and that time was the catalyst for what became a Gieser family tradition. The most memorable experience from our first attendance at an Olympics involved the U.S. men's hockey team. My brother Steve, who was 20 at the time, happened to get a ticket for the gold medal game between the U.S. and Soviet Union. He sat was among the U.S. ski team delegation, and witnessed history being made when the U.S. men defeated the Soviets, 4–3, 

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In 1984, we traveled to Los Angeles for the Summer Olympics. While camping would've seemed like the logical choice, we rented a house. The highlight was watching Karl Lewis win four gold medals in various track and field events.



Between the LA Summer Olympics and the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988, Wendy married Dave Partain in 1985, and their first, Hailey, (right) was just five months old when she was bundled to within an inch of her life in order to be taken to the events. Wendy remembers nursing her in the campground.

The only time we had a negative experience camping was at this Olympics—one of our tents blew down the hill while we were attending an event!

The family cheered on fellow Wheaton native Nancy Swider-Peltz Sr., a speed skater who was a member of four US teams between 1976 and 1988. We also watched Eddie Edwards, aka Eddie the Eagle, a British ski jumper, as he charmed the crowd at the 90-meter event. Despite the snow, the cold, or the wind chill, my dad would always say, "Wasn't it GREAT?"

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(Above, Wendy, with Hailey in stroller; Steve in green parka sitting next to Susie in red jacket at 90-meter ski jumping.)

Nate and I married in 1991 and our brother Steve married Ruth in 1992, the same year both the Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same calendar year. When the subject of going to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, came up, we were the only ones who went with my folks. Again, dad was determined to camp, and that trip instilled in Nate and me a love for camping that we've made part of our family culture for 26 years. Speaking of family, I was five months pregnant with our first, Karl, when we traveled to Norway.

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(Above: Tent City, Lillehammer, Norway.)

Norway's culture encourages outdoor activity even through the winter months, so there were many campers in an area called "Tent City." All of the tents there had TVs in them, little heaters, and some even had small wood-burning stoves. They were the big green canvas you associate with the military. And here were the Americans in our little nylon REI tents! Needless to say we were quite a sight!



To keep warm, we put hay under our tent floor, and inside our tent we slept on reindeer skins we purchas-ed locally be-cause it was just so super cold! With all these layers, we actually stayed nice and toasty in our sleeping bags. (Left, Nate and I with my dad. Mom's taking the picture.)

My parents were 56 at the time, and their example of embracing an active lifestyle has influenced me as I'm now in my 50s. 

In 1996, the Summer Olympics were in Atlanta, just 12 short hours from Wheaton. We decided to rent a house because my children, Karl and Olivia, Wendy's middle two, Gabe and Max, and Steve's twins, Will and Ellen, were all toddlers who needed quiet spaces to nap. We even hired a babysitter there so that we could attend events while they slept!



2002 was the last Winter Olympics to date where the entire Gieser clan was in attendance. In Salt Lake City, UT, we rented three RVs when we arrived so that we could drive them to event venues and be within reach of a quiet place to nap or get out of the elements. My parents, who were 63, camped, and the grandkids took turns having special sleepovers with them. (Above, left to right: Britta Cassel, Charles Gieser, Karl Cassel, Will Gieser, and Olivia Cassel.)

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When we attended a men's hockey game, all 12 grandchildren made the Jumbotron because they were wearing USA gear. That must've seemed odd to the rest of the spectators in attendance, because it wasn't a game in which the US was even playing! (Above, from left: Oliva and Britta Cassel with baby brother Lars, just 3 months old!)

Nate and I and our kids attended the Summer Olympics in London in 2012 in conjunction with a missions trip to the UK. We hope our kids will find their own ways to continue this family tradition with their spouses and children.

Thanks for reading about our unique family tradition. We hope you and your loved ones are getting out there, embracing the weather, and making memories through experiences. You never know what might become part of the fabric of your family's culture for generations to come.

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