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In Our Own Backyard...Do you believe in miracles?

The ribbon was old and faded, frayed along the edges as though it had been fingered by many hands. But the gold ornament that hung from it was smooth and burnished, seemingly unscathed by the passage of time. I was surprised by its weight as it lay heavy in my hand. But even its heft was dwarfed by the weight of what it stood for….

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Somehow my husband and I had managed to be first in line to meet legendary Olympic hockey star and member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, David Christian of Warroad. He was guest of honor at last Thursday’s annual banquet of the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce, and with the luck of the draw, our Pine Journal table was situated just kitty corner from the one where Christian was seated for the evening’s events. Realizing early on that was “him,” we excitedly pointed him out to our colleagues.

And while everyone there knew Christian was to be the keynote speaker, not everyone seemed to hold him in quite as much awe as we did. The two of us spoke in hushed voices of that memorable game in Lake Placid, when the underdog United States hockey team surprised everyone by upsetting the Russians and crumbling the dynasty they had established over many years.

“Did you watch that game?” my husband asked of the others at our table.

A few of them shook their heads, and others said they’d seen the movie, “Miracle,” that Disney had made about it several years later. It was then that we realized the two of us were the only ones old enough to have watched that Olympic matchup as adults. That realization literally blew us away, because in our minds, that time remains a defining moment in sports history.

We were young adults during that magical time in 1980, married and raising children. We had both graduated from the University of Minnesota and were die-hard Gopher fans. My husband retained his season tickets following graduation, and when the brash and talented Christian played the Gophers as a forward for North Dakota, it was always guaranteed to be a great game.

When 1980 rolled around, it was exciting to think he’d be playing on the Olympic hockey team, along with Bill Baker from my home town of Grand Rapids and several other Minnesotans. And of course when it came to Herb Brooks, who brought together the “dream team” and saw them through to that momentous Olympic victory — and eventually the gold medal win — it goes unsaid that every sports fan in Minnesota knew just who he was.

The memory of watching the U.S. team work its way through the team rounds and eventually through medal play is as clear in my mind as the day Kennedy was assassinated and the year the World Trade Center was attacked. I was a young stay-at-home mom at the time, with a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, and I hung on every moment of every televised Olympic hockey matchup that year.

The U.S. was the youngest hockey team in the Olympics, and they had none of the world exposure and international playing experience that the Russians did. The big game against the Russians was blacked out until evening’s prime time television hours, and most felt that would be the end of the line for the U.S. team.

Apparently, no one told them that.

What followed were some of the most exciting moments in sports I can remember ever witnessing. As the score zigzagged back and forth, providing the faintest flicker of hope to all of us who looked on, I began to realize the U.S. could actually win the thing. I hung on the TV screen and didn’t dare leave. And when, in the unforgettable closing moments of the game, Al Michaels asked the now-famous question, “Do you believe in miracles?” I think Americans everywhere must have uttered a collective “Yes!” right along with him.

And so it was, that when David Christian took the stage at last Thursday’s Chamber Banquet, he brought back all those memories, of somehow being witness to that Herculean effort from my living room at home. It made me smile.

Christian took his seat after giving his talk, and Chamber President Kelly Zink announced he would be staying around for a while to meet with folks. My husband and I immediately bolted over to greet him and grab a few photos. And as he handed me his gold medal and I held it in my hand, the magic of that time in 1980 came flooding back — and I believed in miracles all over again.