By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 20, 2011 at 1:12 PM

Like many Milwaukee-area youngsters, Alyson Dudek spent time skating with her family at the Pettit National Ice Center. It didn't take long for the Hales Corners native to get comfortable on the ice and she eventually joined the West Allis Speed Skating Club.

What started as a fun activity quickly grew to a passion and in 2010, Dudek became the latest Milwaukeean to win a speedskating medal at the Olympics, taking the bronze in the women's 3,000 meter relay.

Dudek, 20, is back in town for a few weeks rehabbing her shoulder took the time to chat with about skating, the Olympics and love for her home town. You're from the Milwaukee area, Hales Corners; how did you get started in skating?

Alyson Dudek: We're lucky enough to have the Pettit Center here, one of only two indoor ovals in the country. At that time, it was the only one. When I was seven years old, my family would go to the Pettit and just skate. You know, open sake sessions, just for fun. My mom said I was always just "gone." I would go as fast as I could. One time when we were there, the West Allis Speed Skating club was practicing on the short track rink and I was just in awe with the whole thing. I told my mom that's what I wanted to do. I was seven, I wanted to do everything then. She signed me up for the club and I fell in love with it.

OMC: Was short track what you wanted to do from the beginning?

AD: When I started, we did both, long and short track. I did both until I was about 15. I just felt more of a passion for short track.

OMC: What drew you to short track?

AD: I think the unknown more than anything, really. With long track, it's interesting because it's just you against the clock. You kind of know what lap times you can do and what you want to push yourself to do. I really admire that about long track and still would like to do some long track sometime. But short track drew me in because you never know what's going to happen. It's non-stop strategy. It's fun. It's exhilarating. It's a lot of excitement the whole race, every race.

OMC: So when you were a seven-year-old girl from Hales Corners, tearing up the Pettit ice, did you ever imagine you'd be standing on an Olympic podium someday?

AD: When I was little, I watched the '98 Olympics and saw that. I thought it would be cool, I thought 'I'd like to go to the Olympics' but to be honest, when I was little, it was more about just having fun every day.

OMC: When did skating become a little more serious for you?

AD: I got more and more competitive as the years went by. I started to realize how much goes into short track and what I needed to actually focus on. The past four or five years, that's when I started really training the hardest. That's kind of when I realized that it was really possible. I made my first World Cup team in 2006. We went to China and Korea. I was 16, one of the youngest on the team, that's when I decided that this was really fun, that I wanted to make more World Cup teams and eventually the Olympic team. That's kind of how it all started.

OMC: Unfortunately, Olympic sports don't get the same attention as baseball or football. It's not like you and your teammates aren't working or competing, so what are those "off-years" like for you?

AD: Every year we have trials to make a team. In the Fall, the trials are for the first four World Cups and then in the Winter, normally in December, that's when our U.S. Championship is. That's when we pick the last two World Cup teams and the World Championship team at the end of the year. We have to make a team every year.

OMC: So it's not like you're sitting back, relaxing in Milwaukee, between meets.

AD: Exactly, I'm never here anymore and I'm really sad about it. Right now, I should be back in Salt Lake City but I just had shoulder surgery because I dislocated my shoulder too many times last season during the World Cups. I ended up tearing the labrum and bicep tendon in my shoulder. I had to get that repaired. But that actually bought me a little more time to spend at home because I've been doing my rehab and PT over at Froedtert. It's awesome there. They have the Performance Enhancement Training program and they work with U.S. Speed Skating. A couple of the therapists there work specifically with speed skaters so I've been working with them and it's been pretty helpful.

OMC: Short track skating is pretty rough-and-tumble.

AD: It is! Injuries happen very often, unfortunately.

OMC: When did you start spending more time in Salt Lake instead of Milwaukee?

AD: I was a senior in high school, at DSHA (Divine Savior Holy Angels), and left in the middle of that year – that was in 2007 – to move out to Salt Lake City. I had been invited earlier, I think that spring, and I declined for the time being because I wanted to stay here and finish out high school. In the Fall, when the first trials came around, I got my butt kicked and that's when I decided that maybe I should go out there and train with the national team.

OMC: Are you glad you did?

AD: Honestly, I'm really happy I did. If I hadn't started training that early – I finished second at Olympic trials – I don't know if I'd have been able to do that if I hadn't moved out to Salt Lake City.

OMC: How does it work with Milwaukee and Salt Lake City; what's the difference between the two facilities? Is Milwaukee more the developmental area and Salt Like more for competition?

AD: Milwaukee, now, is more about long track. It has been split for awhile between the two sites but this year, I think, most of the long trackers will be here. They have a choice between the two ovals but short track is a little different since there's only one team for short track. Long track, there is the sprint team, the all-around and another program they can get involved in. Short track, there is a developmental program in Marquette, Mich. and then the national team trains out in Salt Lake City. That's pretty much the hub for short track.

OMC: Is it hard being away from home as much as you are?

AD: Yeah, it is. I like being home. I love being here, I love Milwaukee. I love my hometown. I've had so much support from everyone here. My sisters still live here. I really do love being at home. I think living in Salt Lake City, though, makes coming home that much sweeter. I like it there, we have a really good group of skaters there.

OMC: I would assume, training together, you all become quite close.

AD: We do. They're like friends and family. We travel together. We train together. We even live together. We're really like a family out there.

OMC: I know this is kind of the dumb question but, what let's talk about Vancouver. What was it like being at the Olympics?

AD: Oh my gosh, it was just amazing. I was 19, one of the youngest people on the team. Taking it all in ... after it happened, maybe a month or so later, we came home and it was like 'really, did that just happen?' We were there for a month and it felt like a week. I wish it could have been like three months long or something. It was just so much fun. Being in the (Athletes') Village, just walking around, it was just so overwhelming. All the buildings were brand new.

OMC: And they were sold as condos after for millions of dollars.

AD: They were gorgeous, beautiful. Walking around, you saw all the buildings with all the different flags for all the different countries. People were walking around, trading pins, taking pictures ... I took pictures with so many random people I don't even know who they all are. It was a truly incredible experience. There was this huge cafeteria for us, free McDonlad's – after, of course, all the races. It was really cool.

OMC: Vancouver is close to home, so there were a lot of American flags in the crowds.

AD: It was like we were at home! I swear to you, it felt like there were more fans there from the United States than Canada sometimes. When we were walking in the Opening Ceremonies, it was neat because the U.S. always enters close to last and you could hear the roar of the crowd, almost louder than any other country.

OMC: Watching the Opening Ceremonies on TV is pretty cool, seeing them in person is amazing but what is it like actually walking in the Parade of Nations and participating in the ceremonies?

AD: It was really amazing. Just the anticipation ... we sat in the back, you know, in the tunnel for a couple hours. We were wearing Ralph Lauren, really well-made winter clothing, so people were getting warm waiting. When we finally walked out, I had my camera on record – I wasn't looking at it at the time – I went back later and looked at it and it was just up and down, up and down. It was amazing. We couldn't stay for the whole ceremony because we competed the next day but we were actually in the stadium for maybe an half hour then we had to leave. But being able to walk in, do the march, was the most incredible experience to start off the Olympics. Other than standing on the podium, that's one of the best memories.

OMC: OK, so the medal. When you got it, how long did it stay on?

AD: You know, I was actually taking it off a lot because it was so heavy. It was cutting into the back of my neck! But I had it on for a long time. The night we won, we went on the podium at the rink then we went to the awards ceremony at a different location, where we were actually given our medals. It was a really long night. After that, we had press conferences, then we went to the USA House, where families and media can come, we did more interviews there, talked with family and friends and supporters, then we got to go back to the Village for an hour before we had to go do a segment for USA Today at like four in the morning. We had to get there at 2 a.m., though, because they had to do hair and makeup all of that. We had to practice because it was all live. I'm just remembering all of this again because I hadn't thought about it for awhile but it was a really, really long night. But it was worth it. It was so worth it.

OMC: How long do you want to keep skating?

AD: I definitely want to go for the next Olympics (2014 in Sochi, Russia). I'm training right now. Last season was my best individual season yet so I know that I'm getting better and I'm training harder then ever, figuring things out about my body and technical things, too. I'm still progressing. I want to go for the next Olympics and after that, we'll see what happens. I'm still pretty young. I could go for two more if I wanted but I'm playing it year by year. I'm still enjoying myself.

OMC: Are you in school right now?

AD: Yes, at the University of Utah. I'm studying Mass Communications. I figure I can do a lot with that but I'm not sure. I've changed my mind so many times. I'm just taking a lot of the basic courses right now, more of the general courses. I'm really only able to take two classes at a time because of our training schedule. We train 8-10 hours a day so I can really only take one class at night.

OMC: Was it hard to balance the training and studying, even back in high school?

AD: In high school, I would miss the first two classes to train in the morning. Then I'd go to DSHA, finish out the day and right after, I'd go back to the Pettit Center around 3:30 p.m. and practice again.

OMC: That's a long day for a high school kid.

AD: It sure is. But now, we get to the rink at 8 a.m., we don't leave until noon. We have to be back by 2 or 2:30 p.m., sometimes 3 p.m. if we're lucky. We don't leave until like 6 p.m. Then I'll go to class from like 7-9 p.m.

OMC: Aside from the skating, what kind of training do you do to stay in shape?

AD: Oh my gosh, we do everything. In the morning, we'll do some dry land training. It's some cardio but then some skating-specific exercises and drills. Then we'll get on the ice for about two hours and then for an hour after that, we'll do more cardio – stair-running, biking, running ... and more skating exercises of course. Afternoons are a mix of cardio and weigh training. The days kind of alternate in the afternoons, sometimes we'll come back and repeat the morning routing.

OMC: What do you like to do when you're not skating or practicing ... when you get the chance to get away for a bit?

AD: When I'm in Salt Lake, there's so much to do. We try to go skiing when we can but we can't tell the coach. We go river rafting, hiking, there are so many places to go biking. It's just a really nice place to be for sports. When I come back home, I love to hang out with my family. I love to go up north and get away and relax for a bit. I'll get out on the boat and go fishing or waterskiing or whatever. But when I'm here in Milwaukee, I visit and catch up with friends and I work out at the Princeton Club in New Berlin, they've been helping me out tremendously letting me train there. Especially now, since I've been home longer than usual, it's been a big help to me. When I'm not training though, I come back to Milwaukee and just hang out. A lot of my friends are away at school so when I come here I just kind of relax and take the dog for a walk, hang out by the lakefront and hang out with my family.

OMC: Does you schedule allow you to come back for Milwaukee's summer season?

AD: The past few years, I've been able to come back for Summerfest. I love it here in summer, especially the Hales Corners Fourth of July Parade. I think it's the best parade ever, but that's just me. Everything that goes on is so incredible. This year, I don't think I'll be able to make it back since I've been so long right now. We do, though, have a week off at the end of July, which is actually good because that will give me time off for my birthday.