When Lauren Cholewinski was a little girl in Rock Hill, her mom wasn't a fan of day care. But she had a friend at the local roller rink, then called Roller Magic, so she dropped her children off there instead.
And Cholewinski, now 25, a self-described "rink rat," was hooked.
Years of skating later, first on inline skates, then on ice, Cholewinski is headed to her second Games in just a few short weeks. She qualified to compete on the world's biggest stage, or rink, rather, at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
"I always saw people in the Olympics and thought they were neat," she said.
But when she was a kid, Cholewinski never dreamed that could be her one day, because she was an inline skater. In Rock Hill, there wasn't any ice. But then, other inline skaters, including her brother, started making the switch to ice.
"After I saw someone else take the first step, it dawned on me I could be in the Olympics," she said. "I could do this."
And she did. Cholewinski, who attended Sullivan Middle School and Northwestern High School, moved to Salt Lake City, where thousands of winter athletes go to train.
Four years ago, she secured a trip to the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada, qualifying to race in the women's 500 meter race.
"The first time, I'd only been competing for two and a half seasons," she said. "I was so excited just to make the team."
In Vancouver, Cholewinski placed 30th out of 35 eligible skaters. But it didn't matter four years ago, she said.
This time around, she wants to win.
"I know what I'm up against," she said. "It's a total different ball game."
At last weekend's trials, Cholewinski skated a 1:16:18 in her two 500 meter races, securing the third spot on a four-member team behind winner Heather Richardson (1:14.19) and Brittany Bowe (1:15.51).
The winning skater in Vancouver skated a 1:16:09.
Over the next few weeks, Cholewinski said, it's all about training as hard as she can.
"It will be very intensive training and trying to rebuild," she said. "Through the competitive season, we lose a lot, so we have to get back to some of the basics."
The team will travel to Sochi the last week in January. The Games run Feb. 7-23. After that, Cholewinski said she's staying in Europe for more races before "retiring for now."
She wants to take some time off, go to school and accomplish a few other things before she turns 30, because training has been her full-time job for the last few years.
And while Cholewinski may be an Olympic veteran this time around, she said it's still a big deal to be a part of Team USA.
"It didn't hit me until last time when you get there and you go to the Opening Ceremonies," she said.
Every athlete cries and hugs during that walk, she said, proud to be representing the United States of America.
"It's just an honor and I just feel so blessed to be one of those people I looked up to when I was younger," she said.
Rachel Southmayd -- 803-329-4072
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