When she was in third grade, Isadora Williams knew she would someday perform in the Olympics.
When he was younger, Emery Lehman never imagined he would compete in the Olympics. He didn’t even know what speed skating was.
Their stories began differently, but crossed paths at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Just under 3,000 athletes from 92 nations competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and several of these competitors are friends and family of current and former Lehigh students.
Graham Lehman, ’17, had the chance to travel to PyeongChang in February with his family to watch his brother, Emery, compete for the United States in the men’s 5,000-meter speed skating event at his second Winter Olympics.
“It was crazy,” Graham Lehman said. “I don’t know how else to describe it. I felt so proud regardless of how well he did, just because getting to the Olympics is so tough.”
Graham Lehman said seeing his brother compete for the U.S. Olympic speed skating team felt like a dream and being a spectator at the games with his family was an unforgettable experience.
“Sitting in the crowd with thousands of people there — and not all of them are related to athletes — it’s just so amazing to just be standing and see your brother skate and say, ‘That’s my brother,'” Graham Lehman said. “Regardless of how well he did, he still will be able to say in 20, 30, 50 years, ‘I was a two-time Olympian,’ and not a lot of people can say that.”
Growing up, the two brothers were very competitive with each other, which shaped their ambitious goals.
As a child, however, Emery Lehman never thought he would one day become an Olympian. He merely watched the events on TV.
“I remember watching speed skating when I was really young and wondering what the hell that kind of sport was,” Emery Lehman said.
It wasn’t until he started playing hockey that he would come to learn what speed skating was all about.
Emery Lehman said his mom read a flyer at one of his hockey clinics that advertised learning how to skate faster. She thought it would be beneficial for her son as a hockey player to learn to move quicker on the ice.
That was when speed skating started taking over Emery Lehman’s life.
When he started performing well nationally, he set his sights on skating at the Olympics.
“Once you start doing well nationally, you set that goal for yourself that you want to make an Olympic team,” Emery Lehman said. “Pretty early on, I set my sights high and put my head down and just trained and went for it.”
While he had high expectations for himself at his second winter games, he ended up falling short of his goal and placing 21st.
“My goal coming into this games was to outperform how I did four years ago,” he said. “So, I ended up falling short of that, which stinks. The next four years, I can only get stronger, and I think that will help going into the next games, so I am excited to see what the future holds.”
Emery Lehman has an advantage as a 21-year-old because his Olympic career is just getting started.
He said he hopes people across the globe recognize his hard work and dedication and use it as inspiration to achieve their own goals and dreams.
“My advice that I usually go with is to do as many sports for as long as you can,” Emery Lehman said. “I think that a lot of people try and dedicate themselves to one sport and just do one sport, but I think a great way to be great at all sports is to do as many as you can for as long as you can, and then hopefully you love one of them and later in life, you can dedicate all of your life to that one.”
While Emery Lehman chose to focus on speed skating, Isadora Williams dedicated her life to figure skating.
The day before the 2018 Winter Olympics started, Williams celebrated her 22nd birthday. Almost two weeks later, like Emery Lehman, she competed in her second Winter Olympics.
Williams — the best friend of Lehigh senior Jordan Ligos — has Brazilian citizenship through her mother, lived in Brazil for a few years when she was younger and has family in Brazil.
Ligos said though Williams grew up in the United States, she chose to skate for Brazil for a few reasons.
“Becoming an Olympian for the U.S. is very, very competitive,” Ligos said. “I think what Izzy saw when she got the opportunity from Brazil was that she could put them on the map. And that’s what she did.”
Williams became the first Brazilian to compete in figure skating at the 2014 Olympic Games and was the only Brazilian to perform and place this year, finishing 17th overall in the figure skating short program.
Ligos said her friendship with Williams dates back to elementary school, when Williams’ love of ice skating was already well underway. The pair grew up together and have been best friends since third grade. Ligos said since then, she’s been to many competitions, training sessions and ice rinks to watch Williams skate.
For Williams, the dream of becoming an Olympic figure skater began at a young age.
“I remember in third grade, she told me she was going to be in the Olympics and I was like, ‘No you’re not,’ as a cynical third grader,” Ligos said. “But, that is where her dedication took her.”
Ligos is now an avid watcher of Olympic figure skating. She said she has gained respect for the sport after seeing first-hand how hard skaters train.
Ligos said Williams and other Olympians are role models for the millions of people who tune in to watch them perform.
“All of their strengths and attributes are something you could look up to,” Ligos said.