BRISTOL — Dan Jansen's visit to Elkhart County on Monday brought back memories from another trip he made into this area almost 30 years ago.

"It was so many years ago," the 53-year old former Olympic gold medalist speed skater said. "After the 1988 Olympics I was invited for a pep rally for the Notre Dame-Miami football game. That was the last time I was in this area. It's good to be back. (Notre Dame) ended up winning. That was pretty exciting. I will never forget that."

Who was he rooting for in the game?

"Well, of course, I was rooting for Notre Dame," Jansen said. "I'm a Midwesterner."

The West Allis, Wisconsin, native was at Elcona Country Club in Bristol on Monday as a special guest for Hubbard Hill's 2019 Memories Matter Charity Golf Classic.

Jansen was personally drawn to attend because of his father's battle with Alzheimer's disease. In 2015, at the age of 86, Jansen's father passed away from Alzheimer's. 

The Hubbard Hill Living Wisdom Center for Dementia Care is opening up this month.

"It's a personal thing for me because I lost my father to Alzheimer's," Jansen said. "I haven't been out (to Hubbard Hill), but I've seen pictures of the place. It's a new and different way to treat dementia patients. It's so important. I've seen the other side of it. I hope this takes off and others around the country model themselves off of this."

Jansen would like to see more progress made when it comes to dealing with mental diseases.

"I think at times, while my dad was going through this, that there was a lot of progress being made and that we've come a long ways," Jansen said. 

"Then there were other times I felt like we're no where near where we need to be. There's no cure yet. That's really the end goal. There's going to be progress and great things like Hubbard Hill is doing. But there's so many other things we have to look at health-wise. We've got to keep going."

As a speed skater, Jansen kept going despite crushing disappointments during the Olympics. 

Eventually, he earned a gold medal as a speed skater. That moment took place on Feb. 18, 1994, in the 1,000-meter race at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. He finished with a world record time of 1:12.43.

"Sometimes it feels like 25 years ago and sometimes it feels like last year," Jansen said. "It's still a vivid memory. I love the feedback when people give their memories and their stories of when they watched it happen and what it meant to them. It's still special. I still do a lot of speaking and talk about it a lot. It's always fun to talk about it and see the video again. Great, great memories."

The journey to get that joyful moment was heartbreaking and painful.

At his first Olympics in 1984 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, Jansen finished 16th in the 500-meter, but came within a fraction of a second of taking home a bronze medal in the 1,000-meter.

Four years later, at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, Jansen was a gold medal favorite in the 500-meter. 

But winning any medal became secondary to Jansen, as he was shattered by the news he received on the day the 500-meter race took place on Feb. 14. His 27-year-old sister Jane had passed away earlier that day from leukemia.

"She was diagnosed at 26," Jansen said. "She lasted only a year with leukemia. She was in the hospital after giving birth to her third girl. They saw that her platelets were low and saw it was leukemia.

"I had five sisters and she was the youngest so she was the closest in age to me. We did things together all the time. She was the one that was so encouraging to me when I would lose as a kid. I wanted some sort of payback to her. It wasn't so important for me to win, but to keep going. She was a big part of everything that happened. It's kind of nice when I got done to say I did this because of her."

In 1988, with a heavy heart, Jansen fell during the 500-meter race and a few days later he fell again while competing in 1,000-meter.

Jansen kept trying, but continued to be denied in his bid for an Olympic medal.

At the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, Jansen finished fourth in the 500-meter and 26th in the 1,000-meter. 

Two years later at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Jansen finished eighth in the 500-meter before becoming a gold medalist in the 1,000-meter.

After winning the gold medal, Jansen took a victory lap around the ice carrying his young daughter Jane, who was named after his late sister.

What motivated Jansen to keep striving for Olympic success?

"A lot of it came from my support system — my family," Jansen said. "I'm the youngest of nine children. You had to be resilient every day sometimes. But I also knew they were always there for me, regardless of what happened.

"One of the best emotions I felt when I crossed the finish line (for the gold medal) was that my family was going to be able to celebrate now. They always came to the (Olympic) games and expected me to win. It was tough. It wasn't like they felt betrayed, but I wanted them to feel happy and finally they were able to."

Jansen doesn't see the same passion today from Americans when it comes to interest in the Olympics. He also feels that the U.S. has work to do when it comes to becoming one of the top countries for speed skating. 

"I feel like the games in general, when it comes to popularity, have come down a little bit," Jansen said. "I hate seeing that because it was such a big part of my life. I love the games so much. Maybe it's changing because they're bringing in new sports and trying to get the younger generation interested.

"The sport of speed skating today is similar, but different. You've still got the Netherlands dominating because they're the country that our sport is so big in. Here in the U.S., we're not really deep at the moment. But you can look back when I skated and say we weren't that deep back then. There was Bonnie (Blair) and myself. We had a lot of great skaters, but if you're looking at the public and what they see, they want medals. It's not always fair, but that's what they want.

"Right now, we have Brittany Bowe leading us in speed skating. She's a world champion and she's the best right now. But, sometimes, it comes down to the timing of the games. She had an injury the last time so she wasn't able to skate to the best of her ability. Now, she's on top, but she has two more years to wait and she'll be 34 or something so who knows what's going to happen. Bad luck could also prevent her from winning an individual medal. That's the games.

"Hopefully, there's some younger kids coming up. The positive for us in the last 20 years has been the influx from inline skating. They don't have the Olympics to go to so they just come to the ice and have a lot of success. That's how Brittany Bowe got started. 

"We need numbers. If you look at our numbers compared to the Netherlands there's a big difference. The Netherlands is the size of Wisconsin and they've got 25 speed skating rinks. We've got two indoor and two outdoor in the United States."

Being a public speaker and television work are among the jobs that keep Jansen busy these days.

"The thing I'm enjoying a lot is that I'm training some NASCAR drivers now," Jansen said. "I live in Charlotte. I'm working with three guys now that are in the Xfinity Series. We're training them physically and mentally. It has really been fun to learn a little bit about the sport as well."

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