Olympian brings anti-bullying message

Students from Warren Street Elementary School in Johnstown listen to an anti-bullying message from Olympic speed skating silver medalist Trevor Marsicano Wednesday in the school gym. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Olympic speedskating medalist Trevor Marsicano brought a personal anti-bullying message to the students of Warren Street Elementary School on Wednesday, telling them not to keep their feelings inside.

“If you’re struggling with something, keep trying to reach out to somebody,” said the 29-year-old Schenectady native.

Marsicano gave a talk about his career and bullying to students during an assembly. He also meet with them one-on-one during the school day.

Marsicano said he switched from hockey, that he played since age four, in favor of speedskating, partly to escape bullying, which had led to bouts of depression for which he took medication. He was homeschooled for high school, finishing his studies in 2006.

He recuperated for a full year after a 2004 short-track speedskating accident in which a skate sliced into his leg, causing Marsicano to lose half the blood in his body. He switched to long-track skating shortly thereafter.

Olympic speed skating silver medalist Trevor Marsicano skates into an anti-bullying assembly Wednesday at the Warren Street Elementary School gym in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

He was announced as an Olympic medal contender with a record four medals at the 2009 World Single Distance Championships in Vancouver. He made the 2010 U.S. Olympic speedskating team in four events, the 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m and team pursuit. At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, he achieved a silver medal at age 20 in the team pursuit

Marsicano told the fourth through sixth grade Warren Street Elementary School students that when he was younger — about their age — he loved sports but was short, skinny and shy with a confidence problem. But he knew he was fast, and he said he “worked out aggressions” through speedskating.

But he said the “horrible, horrible” bullying got worse when he entered middle school.

“That was a very hard transition for me,” Marsicano said. “I got bullied a lot.”

Marsicano said he adopted the philosophy of “there’s nothing else going on in my world” besides speedskating, so he threw himself into the sport. He said the “Olympic dream” for him personally was not necessarily to win a medal, but to combat bullying.

“We always need something to fall back on,” he said. “For me, it was sports.”

He told the students that for them, it might be something else such as music or art to get involved in.

“Find that one thing in life that brings you a lot of joy and helps you relieve stress,” Marsicano said.

Marsicano also gave tips on dealing with bullies, such as not engaging them because they are looking for a reaction. If the kids are bullied, he told them “walk toward” an adult as quickly as possible. But he also said that bullies are human beings too and they need help with demons in their own troubled world.

Marsicano showed the children his silver medal and the various skates he uses, telling them he is retiring from sports and going to college at this stage of his life.

“It’s very hard to describe what it’s like to be presented and be awarded one of these,” he said.

Students asked him questions about what steps Marsicano took to make it to the Olympics, his speedskating influences and his future goals.

He said he enjoys telling his story so he can hopefully help school children. He also showed a video in the school gym about his exploits during the highest levels of world speedskating competition.

Beginning his talk by discussing his athletic career, Marsicano said “it takes a lot of commitment” to get to the level of the Olympics. It takes six to seven hours per day of training and cross-training involving cycling and running, he said. He said it took him two years to build strength and another two to four years to “get good at it.”

“Obviously, it was a very exciting time,” Marsicano said.

He said that the Olympics he experienced is a little different than the one portrayed on TV, as he got to experience a “world festival,” taking in various cultures.

The Warren Street student body — using some of their current curriculum — showed off flags from around the world as Marsicano came skating into the gym to give his talk.

In some ways, Marsicano said being on a championship Olympic team is almost the polar opposite of bullying.

“The goal is you have to have a lot of teamwork,” he said.