Recently, three Ocala Olympians went to the Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Erin Jackson, Joey Mantia, and Brittany Bowe, with the support of their hometown and the rest of America, raced and did well. Bowe brought home a bronze medal from the Team Pursuit race, Mantia placed top ten in each race, and Jackson qualified for the Olympics not even a year after she transitioned from inline skating to speedskating on ice.
With these accomplishments, who wouldn’t want to celebrate these three Olympians along with the rest of their city? On April 6, 2018, Mayor Kevin Guinn hosted a welcome home celebration in Downtown Ocala on the square. During this celebration, he gave each Olympian a key to the city of Ocala.
Along with Guinn, Senator Ted Yoho and the Board of Commissioners were there to congratulate the trio and to award them with certificates and a flag for each of them. Renee Hildebrand, who coached the three before the Olympics, was with them as well to celebrate their accomplishments.
“What a tribute to these three fine athletes,” said Yoho during the ceremony. “They have shown up and have shown what Ocala, Florida, and the United States has.”
As the ceremony progressed, both Yoho and Guinn read aloud letters sent to them. Guinn’s letter came from Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States. In the letter, Pence said that he was proud of the Olympians and how they portrayed their community.
“I join America everywhere in applauding these athletes and cheering them on as they reach for their dreams,” said Pence. “May God bless the people of Ocala, may God bless our 2018 Olympic team, and may God bless the United States of America.”
The three Ocala Olympians did get a chance to speak for a minute, with Bowe going first. They each expressed their gratitude for Ocala’s support and the welcome they got back. When Bowe got up to speak, she was greeted with a great amount of applause.
“It’s pretty big that three kids from Ocala, Florida competed in the Olympic Games together from something that just started down the street at Skate Mania, thanks to Renee Hildebrand,” said Bowe. “Who would have thought that 22 years ago that we would be standing here in front of our whole community with them honoring us for making this dream come true?”
Jackson was up next to speak, and she said that it was awesome to see the support from Forest High School, where she graduated from in 2011. She also expressed her thanks for Bowe and Mantia for being two people she can look up to on her journey in skating.
“I think a key thing is when you come home and people ask ‘What was it like representing your country’ and you say ‘well amazing’ but more than that- it’s seeing all of you here and representing the town you came from,” said Mantia, the last Olympian to get up and speak. “It’s been an amazing journey and one of the coolest things.”
Hildebrand also came up to the podium to speak for the Olympians. She talked about the growing need for more inline tracks in our country for young and aspiring skaters so that they can transition to ice quicker and easier as well as her goal for continuing to train the younger skaters.
“They grew up skating on inlines and they switched over to ice once they reached all of their goals,” said Hildebrand. “They only switched to ice because inline skating isn’t in the Olympics. If inline was in the Olympics, they would be even more successful.”
After the ceremony was over, they each came into the crowd to congregate with the community and to eat at Mark’s Prime. There were also numerous television stations to interview each Olympian that evening. With our next generation at its prime, what Olympians will come out of Ocala next?
Story by Mya Kreuer