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Fayetteville crowd cheers Olympian with connection to Fort Bragg

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — More than 20 men and women raised their glasses Saturday night in honor of someone half a world away.

"Cheers to the team, cheers to all the friends and family who came out, and cheers to J.R.," said David Celski to the group gathered at the Carolina Ale House. They lifted their glasses and cheered.

Celski and the others crowded around a long table, eyes glued to the big-screen TV on the wall. Under the TV hung a red, white and blue banner that read "Team USA: Go J.R. Celski."

At the end of the table, David Celski stood with his wife, Brit, waiting to watch his baby brother skate in the Olympics.

Four years ago in Vancouver, the couple watched from the stands as short track speed skater J.R. Celski picked up two bronze medals at his first Olympics.

But David, a member of the Ninth PsyOps Battalion stationed at Fort Bragg, couldn't make it to Sochi, Russia. So he and Brit organized a watch party to cheer on J.R., widely considered a medal contender in multiple events.

"We just wanted to show our pride on this side of the country," Brit said. The Celskis are originally from the Seattle area.

Gary Hendrick, who is stationed at Fort Bragg with David Celski, and his wife, Michelle, were among the group there to cheer on J.R. Celski and Team USA.

"I expect him to win," Gary Hendrick said, noting J.R.'s success in Vancouver. "I think a lot of Dave. That's his little brother; I hope he wins."

But some of those gathered already knew the outcome of that morning's 1,000-meter event: Celski fell during the quarterfinals.

David and Brit Celski were up early Saturday morning to watch J.R. compete live via streaming video online.

"The results were disappointing, but in no way were we disappointed in him," David Celski said. "It's just one of those things that happens."

Knowing the results didn't quash the excitement. Many in the group wore T-shirts and hoodies reading "Team Celski."

"We're gathered here because we're all friends and family, and we want to be here for our little brother," David Celski said. "We don't want to give up on him just because he lost."

When a commercial featuring home movies of his brother appeared on TV, David Celski shouted, "That's my brother!" Later he posed for pictures under the TV, pointing up to his brother on screen.

"We're very close, and I'm very protective of him," said David Celski, 29, of his 23-year-old brother. But that can be hard, he added, when they're so far away.

J.R. lives and trains in Salt Lake City.

"We're very, very proud of his accomplishments," David Celski said.

Despite his difficulties Saturday, J.R. Celski may still come home a medalist. He still has chances to win medals Friday in the men's 5,000-meter relay and the 500-meter race, the event in which he holds the world record.

David Celski said family and friends may gather again to watch his baby brother compete on the world's stage.

"Seeing him there, it's so amazing," David Celski said. "We're so proud of him."

rentzp@fayobserver.com
 

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