Piu Veloce, Piu Forte, Piu Alto.
‘Faster, Stronger, Higher’ is what skeleton racer Joe Cecchini is set to do when he slides into PyeongChang, South Korea next week to compete in the Winter Olympic Games for the Italian national team.
In an effort to help Cecchini reach his Olympic dream, about 100 supporters gathered at the Fruitvale Memorial Hall on Monday night for a Go Joe Go fundraiser and were treated to an inspiring evening with the Fruitvale native.
For his parents Patricia and Mark Cecchini, who will journey to PyeongChang to watch their son compete, the experience has been unparalleled.
“It’s still kind of surreal,” said Patricia. “He’s still my little boy, but he’s worked very hard and right up to the bitter end, and I’m very proud of him that he didn’t quit and made his dream come true.”
“I’m very happy,” said his father Mark. “All of the boys have done well, but in Joe’s case it was 10 years of sticking with it, and that’s the main thing, a lot of perseverance. He had his ups and downs, but he stuck with it, he’d never give up.”
Cecchini, a Calgary police officer, was named to the Italian National Skeleton Team earlier this month after winning gold and silver medals at the North American Cup in Lake Placid. As one of the only self-funded athletes competing in World Cup races around the globe, the journey to PyeongChang is a costly one, so friends and family organized the event to help Joe realize his Olympic dream.
“He’s totally self-funded,” said Mark. “He’s very thankful to the Italian Federation because they’ve given him the opportunity to slide at the top level, and they basically provide him with the jerseys, the jackets and the clothing, but in terms of his sled, his transportation, he does that all on his own.”
With his family, friends, and supporters in attendance, Ali Grieve and Beaver Valley Nitehawks captain Sam Swanson opened with a tribute to Cecchini, his family, and their Italian heritage.
Andrew van der Ham then interviewed his good friend, via skype projected onto a big screen, waking Joe up at 4 a.m. at his residence in Rome, Italy.
As van der Ham queued up the questions, Cecchini answered with a mix of humour and humility. He explained his schedule leading up to his arrival in PyeongChang, Feb. 3, his decision to undertake skeleton, the details of sliding and the thrill of screaming down a track of ice at over 140 kilometres per hour, competing on the World Cup, his Italian heritage, the benefits of having Armani design Team Italy’s clothing kit, and of course – the Olympic experience.
“That’s the moment I’m really looking forward to is walking into the Olympic Stadium,” said Cecchini. “When you watch it on TV growing up so many times, watching the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics, it’s always neat to see the different teams and the athletes all seem so happy because they’ve achieved what they always wanted to do.”
Joe then fielded questions from the crowd that included a query on his tenuous grasp of the Italian language, and another by a young attendee on his favourite elementary school teacher.
“I spent a lot of elementary school in the hallway,” was Joe’s reply. “But they were all my favourites.”
The Times took a turn and asked Joe, ‘Why he took up the sport of skeleton at a late age and what made him believe he could reach his goal?’
“The goal was always to make the Olympics,” said Cecchini. “My brother wasn’t as optimistic as I was, but I thought I could. I was 25 and looking for a new adventure in sports … I always looked up to my neighbours down the road and Adam Deadmarsh, he made it really big, and so you always believe that you can make any sporting dream that you want to make.
“So, I was 25, I was done playing soccer, and I saw skeleton on TV, and I thought I could make a go of it. I thought I had a really good chance based on my speed and power abilities. I’ve been on the World Cup now for five years, three world championships, and, now, we’re going to the Olympics.”
Cecchini’s dedication to the sport and his commitment to his goal is unwavering, and in a final question that asked what advice Cecchini had to inspire kids who want to go far in sports, but are insecure about their skill level? – the 35-year-old Olympian offered this:
“There’s a lot of days over my career where I didn’t feel like there was another day to go. There was a point in my skeleton career when I was transferring from Canada to Italy in which I didn’t get to compete for nearly two years. A lot of people would stop at that point, but I always had my goal, and I kept pushing and always believed that if you keep pushing, good things will happen.
“Growing up in Trail there was no skeleton, but it’s just a belief in your athletic ability, keep pushing and try to be the best that you can be.”
The evening was cohosted by the Beaver Valley Nitehawks players who helped with the silent auction, a banner signing and a raffle for a Team Italy Olympic jacket. The village served up refreshments, local musicians entertained supporters, and all crowded in for a group-selfie to cap off an enjoyable and inspiring evening in support of an exemplary role model and Greater Trail’s next Olympic hope.
“It’s incredible that people want to be a part of my journey, and share this with me,” added Joe. “Thank you so much.”
The Cecchinis will attend the Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 9 and Joe will compete in the skeleton on Feb. 15th.
Supporters can still contribute to Cecchini’s go fund me page at www.gofundme.com/friends-of-joe-support-olympics, or make a donation and receive a signed poster at the Fruitvale Kootenay Savings Credit Union.