Helena Blach Lavrsen is a goddess on ice
In the Olympics, the penultimate sporting event, there seems to be a place for female athletes of every size-except plus size. While tiny gymnasts co-exist with rangy basketball players, the rounder, more voluptuous athlete is rarely seen.
Helena Blach Lavrsen shattered that Olympian stereotype at Nagano, Japan in 1998, when she proudly carried the Danish flag in the opening ceremonies. And the 36-year-old became an overnight sports celebrity when she and her teammates brought home a silver medal in Curling. "We were on the front pages of all the Danish newspapers, there were articles in all the weekly magazines, and there was live TV coverage of our arrival back from Nagano," she recalls, still expressing wonderment at all the attention.
Curling-a sport that, prior to the team's victory, was almost as obscure in Denmark as it is in the U.S.-consists of two four-member teams on an ice playing surface. By using a motion remotely similar to bowling, team members attempt to deliver eight stones (think of hockey pucks) closest to the target at the other end of the field. The object of the game is to knock the opponents' stones out of contention, while keeping their stones closest to the target (think of shuffleboard). When delivering the stones, the players put a spin, or "curl," on them, hence the name of the sport.
Blach Lavrsen, who lives with her husband, Lasse, in a suburb of Copenhagen, has been on the ice since she was six years old. She began as a figure skater, but, she says, "I had to stop when I was 14 because of my weight." Following in her father's footsteps, she switched to Curling.
In 1994, she remembers, "My club team agreed on the goal that we would be the first Danes to win a medal at the Winter Olympics." Thus began a grueling 15 hour per week training regimen. "We would train on the ice every Tuesday and Thursday, do bodybuilding on Wednesday, and compete in tournaments Friday, Saturday and Sunday." Twice a year, the team spent two weeks in Canada, and they also traveled around Europe at least once a month. "In order to be at the top in Curling," Blach Lavrsen asserts, "you need to travel abroad and meet good opponents from other countries."
All the while, Blach Lavrsen continued to work full-time as a computer security administrator. "While our employers gave us time off with pay during the actual Olympics, during the years prior we used our vacation time for Curling. We also worked more in the summer so we could save the hours and be free in the winter."
After her Olympic victory thrust her into the spotlight, Blach Lavrsen came to be viewed-and rightly so-as a role model for other Danish plus-size women. A plus-size clothing company, Ozone, signed her to be their spokesmodel, and she has gone on the speakers' circuit to talk about her experiences as a plus-size woman. She also dreams about creating a Danish version of BBW.
When she's not on the ice or in the spotlight, Blach Lavrsen relaxes with R&B music. She reveals, "I'm also wild about shopping, a good party, seeing a good film, and spending time together with my husband at home."
Will we see a Blach Lavrsen repeat her performance in the 2002 Olympics? She will only say that the team is taking a one-year break to concentrate on careers and family. But she also admits that "The best Curlers in the world are in their 30s and 40s," and that she's considered "The grand old lady on the team." If the team goes the gold, you can bet we'll be holding a torch for her.