Injured skier follows dream from Microsoft to Sochi

Peru’s flag-bearer Roberto Carcelen uses his Windows Phone during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb. 7, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

Of course his race falls on Valentine’s Day.

After all, Roberto Carcelen’s journey to the 2014 Winter Games is at its heart a love story. It began when he fell for a woman he met in cyberspace, prompting him to trade the beaches of his native Peru for the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

There, love led him at age 34 to his first pair of skis — and a flailing, comic outing on the slopes of Snoqualmie Pass. Love of country ultimately led him to becoming the first Peruvian to ever compete in the Winter Games.

And now love has led him to Sochi, Russia. And on Valentine’s Day, Carcelen will represent Peru as he races in the 15-kilometer cross-country skiing event.

He won’t medal. All he wants to do is cross the finish line.  

It will be a painful trek. Barely three weeks ago, Carcelen broke his ribs while training in Austria. The doctor who viewed his X-rays says “I’m sorry, I don’t think you’ll be able to compete.”

Carcelen tossed and turned for a night, thinking about friends and family in Seattle and in Lima. This wasn’t how he wanted to end his skiing career. His thoughts kept drifting back to Peru, where he’s working to inspire others to follow him to the Winter Olympics. 

By morning he had decided to race, broken ribs be damned.

“Pain is just temporary,” says Carcelen, a consultant for Microsoft Store Online. “As long as I’m alive, I’m going to finish the goal I set. That’s the best way to live, I think.”

Love at first byte

Carcelen often hears how hard it must have been to find love online. It wasn’t.

A little more than 10 years ago, he joined an online dating site hoping to meet a few sporty Americans. He was planning to run a marathon in California and wanted to find some likeminded folks. He found Kate Clement, at the time a marketing manager for the Consumer Experience Center at Microsoft.

 Clement and Carcelen instantly clicked. They discovered they shared the same passions, the same goals, the same belief in never limiting your dreams. Soon they were spending five hours a day chatting back and forth, 5,000 miles apart.

After a few weeks they started to finish each other’s sentences. Clement, now a senior business manager in Microsoft’s U.S. Marketing and Operations Group, once typed “my favorite children’s book is” and Carcelen finished for her: Le Petit Prince. “It was almost spooky,” she says.

They decided to meet in Seattle. Carcelen would first head to Miami, where he had family. By coincidence, Microsoft asked Clement to go to Miami at the exact same time. One week later they were engaged and flying to Seattle, where they ended up settling.

Making history

Peru has an abundance of mountains and snow; the Andes run through the heart of the country. But it doesn’t have a culture of winter sports.

Growing up in Lima, Carcelen spent much of his time playing in the Pacific Ocean. He was a semi-pro surfer in his mid-20s.

He didn’t much care for the cold or the snow in the Pacific Northwest. But after a year or so, Clement finally convinced him to put on a pair of skis for the first time. “It’s like surfing on frozen water,” she told him.

At 34 years old, Carcelen’s destiny as a Winter Games competitor wasn’t immediately obvious. He spent more time on the ground than skiing across it.  

“I wish I had videotaped that first day,” Clement says with a laugh.

But Carcelen kept at it. He watched other skiers and copied their technique. Soon he was entering local races — and winning.

When the 2006 Winter Games kicked off in Turin, Carcelen set a goal: become Peru’s first Winter Games competitor. It wasn’t easy, or cheap. He traveled around the world competing in races to qualify. Several months before the 2010 Games began in Vancouver, at 39 years of age, it was official: he was in.

It was equally powerful for his wife, who was at his side. Clement got hooked on watching the Games at age 5 as she watched Nadia Comaneci’s perfect performance in the 1976 Summer Games. So she was overwhelmed when she walked out with Carcelen during the opening ceremony.

This time, Clement will be cheering from Seattle with their 6-year-old daughter, Francesca. (Yes, she skis.) Francesca is just starting to understand the magnitude of her father’s accomplishment, Clement says.

The opening ceremony was a life-changing moment. “It’s hard for me to describe the pride I felt when I stepped into the stadium with Peru’s flag,” Carcelen says.

She might not understand how much pain Papi will be in. When Carcelen called home after his spill, he didn’t know about his cracked ribs. All he knew was that he was in pain and competing in Sochi was up in the air.

Clement remembers hanging up and thinking, what does he have to lose? He should go for it.

That’s what she planned to say to him the next morning when he called. But, much like their initial conversations, he completed her thought: “I think I should just do it,” he told her.

Carcelen says that by battling through injury and finishing his race, he hopes to teach kids that life is full of opportunities when you never give up.

No matter what happens in Sochi, it’s probably safe to call Carcelen a winner. Just don’t call him lucky.

“Everyone says to me, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky.’ I don’t believe luck exists,” he says. “It’s all about how you approach life.”

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Jake Siegel
Microsoft News Center Staff