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A dream out of nowhere for Emery Lehman’s parents, grandfather
By Rick Morrissey
SOCHI, Russia – Most of us, when we become parents, don’t think our new arrivals will grow up to be president or an astronaut or an Olympian. Most of us just hope our kids will eventually grow up.
But imagine having a child who somehow possesses enough talent, lung capacity, drive and whatever else it takes to become an Olympian. A star from out of nowhere.
Imagine finding yourself at the Olympics and observing your son with a combination of pride, awe and maybe a little otherworldliness. You pinch yourself. Can this be happening?
It can. For Emery Lehman’s parents and his grandfather, it is. The Oak Park speedskater finished 16th in the men’s 5,000 meters Saturday. It’s no surprise he’s here. The 17-year-old is one of the best junior skaters in the world. But genetically? No, nobody saw this coming while he was squirming in the cradle.
Dave Lehman, Emery’s dad, says he still has Riverside Brookfield High School’s sophomore record for the 330-yard low hurdles. He’s willing to admit that it could be because the 330-yard low hurdles ceased to be a state track event not long after he hung up his running spikes. He calls himself an above-average athlete who dabbled in several sports. Dave’s wife, Marcia, grew up before Title IX. Emery’s grandfather, Don, is a retired truck driver and doesn’t have a story to tell about his days in the big leagues.
So Emery an Olympian? That wasn’t even a dream of a dream.
“When we see him up here in the top 16 in the world, it’s strange,’’ Dave said after the race. “It’s like, ‘That’s our kid?’’
“And look at us,’’ Marcia said. “It wasn’t like I was a world champion something.’’
“There’s no pedigree,’’ Dave said.
“We feel like we’re completely normally people,’’ Marcia said. “We do normal things. So in that sense, it feels bizarre and different and weird.’’
They said Emery was struggling to find his niche in sports as a child. He finally found a home as a hockey player. And then came speedskating. Fast.
“When he was 9 and just starting, they have a Class A and a Class B when you have age groups, and he skated Class B,’’ Marcia said. “The other parents were mad at me because he was beating everybody. They said, ‘You need to move him up to Class A.’ ”
“We didn’t even know what Class A was,’’ Dave said.
There has been a lot of hard work since then, a lot of hard miles that Marcia had to put in driving Emery from Chicago to Milwaukee for practices.
Now here they are, in Russia, in a different world really.
“Being a grandpa and having a grandson like this, all my friends think it’s so wonderful,’’ said, Don, who lives in Brookfield. “They’re like, ‘You’re going to Russia?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what the hell. I’m healthy. I’m only 80. I’m still young. I play golf and everything.
“I never imagined having somebody in the Olympics. What a wonderful thing. I think I told everybody I knew about it. Even strangers I tell. I meet people. My son says I could talk to a tree. I say, ‘Hey, my grandson’s an Olympian.’ It’s great.’’
Emery is getting better all the time. On Saturday, he finished nine seconds faster than the time he raced at this rink a year ago. There figures to be many more trips abroad for the Lehman clan.
“His rate of improvement is as good as anybody on the planet, and I don’t see that stopping,’’ said his coach, Jeff Klaiber. “I think there’s a lot of room for growth for Emery still, both technically and power-wise.’’
And now? What about the immediate future?
“Chicken nuggets at McDonald’s and staying up past 12,’’ Emery said.
He’s still a kid.