When the 2014 Olympic Winter Games begin in February, the staff at one Nampa company will be watching extra closely.
J.R. Celski, 23, is the top American short track skater going into the Sochi Olympics after he finished first in the overall standings at the Olympic trials in Salt Lake City earlier this month. Celski already holds two Olympic medals — bronzes in the men’s 5,000-meter relay and the men’s 1,500-meter from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. He also holds the world record in the 500-meter.
Celski qualified for the 500-meter, 100-meter and 1,500-meter events at the Olympic trials.
But before the medals and records, Celski was a promising young athlete at age 12 in Federal Way, Wash. In 2003, his parents, Bob and Sue Celski, wrote a letter to The AIM Companies, based in Nampa, asking if AIM was interested in sponsoring J.R. They told the company their son took AIM’s Barley Life nutritional supplement every day as part of his nutritional package and felt it made a difference in his performance.
After meeting with J.R., the company decided to sponsor him, a first for AIM.
“It’s just been a really great relationship ever since,” said Stacey Aparicio, production and events coordinator at AIM.
“They’re just part of our family, and we’ve watched him grow up, which has been really fun. … It makes watching the winter Olympics a lot more fun and nerve-wracking.”
Celski sent AIM a letter back in 2004 thanking the company for its support and helping him along his path to Olympic gold.
“He definitely had long-term goals to get to the Olympics,” AIM Chief Operations Officer Greg Wright said.
About 17 AIM staff members and their families traveled to Salt Lake City to watch Celski in the trials this year. Wearing matching “Team Celski” sweatshirts, the group held up signs and cheered Celski on as he competed.
“Seeing it in person, that’s pretty intense,” AIM legal administrator Wendi Combs said.
While the company has been able to help support Celski’s Olympic goals through the sponsorship, Celski has helped bring recognition to AIM, especially to a younger crowd who might not be as concerned about nutrition.
“That’s really our benefit that young kids and super athletes are starting to figure out that nutrition is a big part of how they perform,” Wright said.
During the Olympic trials in September 2009, Celski, then 19, crashed and sliced his left leg with his right skate. He bruised his femoral artery and came within inches of severing it. The injury required 60 stitches to repair.
Despite the injury, Celski recovered in time to medal in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games five months later.
Celski looked talented then, Aparicio said, but he looks even better now.
“I look at what we saw in 2009 and what we just saw a couple weekends ago, and it’s like … he’s a completely different skater. It gives me goosebumps,” Aparicio said.
Wright said the Celski family has sacrificed a lot along the way, and through it all they have remained humble.
“It’s been a really fun relationship with J.R. He’s just a great kid,” Wright said.