PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - There are countless Olympic stories. Some are uplifting, and some just rip your heart out.
There are stories of athletes overcoming ridiculous hardships. Or injuries. Or disappointments.
There are stories of athletes spending their entire lives chasing a dream, as their families make unbelievable sacrifices.
Just to get to the Olympic Games. Just to experience this magical event.
And then there is this.
This one just makes me smile.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Adam Stirn said. “I am going all the way over to South Korea to drive the Zamboni around.”
Yes, he made it to the 2018 Winter Olympics by driving a Zamboni.
Stirn grew up in Big Rapids, learned to drive the Zamboni as a student at Ferris State and — as one thing led to another — now he’s in Pyeongchang.
“It’s full pay,” said Stirn, 33.
Wait a second. He's at the Olympics and he's getting full pay?
Now he’s just showing off.
“They are paying for everything,” Stirn said. “We are staying right there in the Olympic Village. It’s going to be a vacation for free and still get paid for it. They said we are 5-minute walking distance from the gold medal arena.”
A vacation for free.
Now, that’s a gold medal situation, if I ever heard one.
Rink rat to Zamboni driver
How does somebody become an Olympic Zamboni driver?
Stirn started out as a rink rat. He grew up in Big Rapids but he knew that he wasn’t good enough to play hockey at Ferris State.
But he still wanted to be around the game, so he took a job working at the Ewigleben Arena at Ferris State.
“It was a way to stay at the ice arena and work at the rink,” he said. “You were always fascinated by the Zamboni when you were little. You wanted to drive it. I gave it a shot and eventually fell in love with it.”
It started out as a part-time job.
“I kind of fell in love with working at an ice arena,” Stirn said. “I used to work the Ferris games, weekends, youth stuff. Whatever. It was general cleanup and watching the building. You were there pretty much to sharpen skates, clean and drive the Zamboni. It was probably 20 hours a week, two or three shifts a week.”
He was majoring in criminal justice but those plans faded away. “About three quarters of the way through, I decided I didn’t want to do the whole police officer thing,” Stirn said. “When I finished school, it was considered a student job, so I wasn’t allowed to work there anymore.”
He left Ferris and took at a job at a rink in Green Bay, which became a full-time gig.
He stayed for four years.
“Randomly, online, I saw a job opening for an ice-maker for the University of Minnesota men’s and women’s ice arena,” Stirn said. “I applied online. Instead of just throwing up my application, I called up there and inquired about the job. I happened to talk to the guy who was doing the hiring, so it was a good start.”
He has worked at the University of Minnesota for four seasons now. “I’m the head ice-maker, but I’m the assistant operations manager, I guess, for the building,” Stirn said. “I supervise all the student workers and run the refrigeration and all the of the Zambonis. Stuff like that.”
After he arrived in Minnesota, he picked up some part-time work driving the Zamboni for the Minnesota Wild.
“There is three full-time guys for the Wild,” he said. “But it takes a lot of man hours to make a good sheet of ice, especially at the NHL level.”
About four months ago, he was approached to work the Olympic Games.
“With the NHL not going to the Olympics this year, a lot of the NHL drivers can’t go,” Stirn said. “There is an American in charge of the whole ordeal over there and he just needed some extra help. My boss at the Xcel Energy Center is very well known in the hockey industry. He called him and asked him if he had any employees he would recommend come over and give him a hand during the Olympics.
“We got a phone call asking if we would be interested. Of course, it was a no-brainer. It’s down to a science, making a nice solid professional sheet of ice."
And that is how you get to drive the Zamboni at the Olympics.
You have to know the guy who knows the guy who is doing the hiring.
But more than anything, just like the athletes, you have to be great at what you do.
Detroit Free Press columnist Jeff Seidel is covering the 2018 Winter Olympics as part of the USA Today Network.
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