Lori Ogren loved most sports and wasn't afraid to try something new, but she admits she had no idea what she was getting herself into in the summer of 1983.
"Before I really didn't," Ogren said. "But when my friend, Carol Lindsey, said I should try team handball, thinking I'd be really good at it, my immediate response to her was, 'Why would I want to play handball? I don't even like racquetball.' Bouncing a ball against a wall, right? She said, 'No, no, no. It's not like that.' And I said, 'Well, what's it like?' "
The rest was team handball history.
Ogren, a Port Wing native and a former three-sport standout at Minnesota Duluth, went on to compete in team handball at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
She, along with longtime major-league umpire Bob Davidson, famed prep hockey coach Willard Ikola, Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Tom Kurvers, world's oldest hockey player Mark Sertich and the late administrator, teacher and coach William Wirtanen were inducted Thursday night as part of the 27th DECC Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony.
Ogren was nominated by Gary Holquist, UMD senior development officer and former men's basketball coach.
Holquist and his wife, former UMD women's basketball coach and current administrator Karen Stromme, have a place in Port Wing and know the area.
"This is Lori's home turf," Holquist said. "She has been a pioneer and role model for female student-athletes growing up in the South Shore School system. Two of the best women's basketball players this region and this country has ever had came from this community, Jolene Anderson and Megan Gustafson. Lori Ogren forged a patch for them to reach excellence. That's an awesome legacy."
From Port Wing to Barcelona
Coming from an athletic family, Ogren graduated from South Shore in 1981.
Ogren said she had an idyllic upbringing. Her neighborhood was dominated by boys, and she was always pushing to keep up with her brothers. Basketball was her first love.
"But if you were an athlete at South Shore, you did everything," Ogren said. "It was a great time to be at South Shore."
Ogren compared Port Wing (population 164) to the movie "Hoosiers."
"People have asked me what it was like to grow up in a small town, and that's pretty much what it was like," Ogren said. "The people are so supportive of sports, or pretty much anything the kids are doing there.
"It's a tradition and legacy, where everybody is about trying to do your best. If a local team was going into sectionals, everybody would be driving down there to watch, and the last one out, turn the lights off. It was really a blessing to grow up there."
Ogren took her game - or make that, games - to UMD, where she earned three letters each in volleyball, basketball and softball. While playing three sports at that level is considered unheard of now, Ogren said she wasn't the only three-sport athlete from that era. In between, she said the likes of Linda Larson, a driving force of women's athletics at UMD, were supportive of Ogren's pursuit of Olympic glory, even though it delayed her graduating and took her away from Bulldogs sports. Ogren graduated from UMD with an education degree in 1986 and was inducted into UMD's Hall of Fame in 2001.
Ogren called team handball a European sport for soccer players to do in the offseason, with similarities to basketball, even hockey, with 6-on-6 action on a court, plus goalies. Ogren described the ball as "shrunken down" and "cantaloupe-sized," with leather panels so that you can dribble it.
The game transitions like basketball, going from offense to defense, and substitutions are made freely. It's fast paced and exciting, and Ogren said she fell in love with it.
It's certainly not like racquetball. Back then, the U.S. simply recruited college athletes from across the country to try team handball because it was so new to Americans. They learned the sport on the fly.
"Pretty much everybody had to because it wasn't on TV, so you could watch it," Ogren said. "And at that time, you couldn't pull out your cell phone and look it up on a YouTube video to see what it was like."
While Ogren picked up team handball fast, she didn't make the Olympic team overnight. It took perseverance, and in 1989 she participated in the Pan Am Games, and then in 1992, finally, the Olympics. The U.S. didn't make the medal round, finishing sixth, but that was still an accomplishment knowing how much work it was simply to qualify.
"So yes, when you finally make the Olympic team, it's kind of like the weight of the world is off your shoulders," Ogren said. "In many of the sports, to simply make the American team in anything is pretty amazing, a dream come true."
Making a difference
Ogren lives in Huntington Beach, Calif., having moved out there after the 1992 Olympics, and has spent most of her professional life working in physical education.
Ogren talked Thursday about her journey while encouraging people to "dare to dream."
A lot of the powers in team handball are old Soviet Bloc countries, so much of Ogren's international playing time was in that part of Europe. She wished she had a video camera at the time, to record the day and night difference of traveling from gorgeous West Berlin into drabby East Berlin, and perhaps reflect on lessons lost among the younger generations.
Ogren recalled playing in Yugoslavia when there was fighting going on only 100 miles away, or about going into Romania on a third-class train the year after dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown.
"Some of the highlights ... we played in Czechoslovakia during Desert Storm," Ogren said. "We played in Berlin two weeks after the wall came down. We went to a Checkpoint Charlie and played in East Berlin.
"So there was a lot of freedom going on during that time, a lot of opening of borders and walls, so it was exciting to be a representative of the freest country in the world."
But you can't be a world-class athlete forever, and Ogren knew this. She needed something to keep driving her competitive spirit, she said, something for "after the Olympic dream ends."
Ogren has been involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Habitat for Humanity. She talked about World Vision in Rwanda, about seeing the affects of war and genocide, and about Betsy King's Golf Fore Africa.
"I've been blessed to travel with them two different times," Ogren said. "To see some of the work of World Vision and Golf Fore Africa, and to help out at some of the events. It's just life changing."
Talk about seeing the world.
"Everyone supported my dream of being an Olympian, but you can't do it by yourself," Ogren said. "I'm very thankful and grateful for all of that, but when you're walking through the opening ceremony, and how wonderful and amazing it was to be there. You think, 'Ok, that's it. That's as good as it gets.'
"But I'm here to tell you, when you're the answer to somebody's prayers, when you've provided clean water, when you've donated money - and I was blessed to sponsor a well over there - and to hear the stories and know that you're changing lives, your feet don't even touch the ground. It's a whole new dream to pursue."
"When you're feet don't run any more and the legs don't jump, there's still some dreams to be gotten."