Quest For Winter Gold
By STEPHEN McGUIRE
He has gone from Ground Zero to a quest for the Gold.
This week as the world marks the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City, Queens Michael Voudouris will be there.
And regardless of the outcome, this professional photographer, EMT at Ground Zero on Sept. 11 and member of Greeces Olympic team has already proved hes a world class act.
Voudouris, a Queens native, will be boldly going where no other Queensite has gone before by participating in the skeleton event on Feb. 20.
"He made the cut," at the Olympic race-off in Germany last month, according to his mom Rita Voudouris.
Although the 41-year-old Voudouris has "lived in Glendale pretty much his whole life," he will be "sliding for Greece," his mom told the Tribune.
Because Voudouriss father is from Greece, he was offered a spot on the team.
Despite the fact he is on the Greek team, a glance at what is hidden under his sled proves that this one is for New York.
But the road toward Olympic competition has not been easy for Voudouris, who got to the games through persistence and a willingness to help others.
Voudouris grew up in Glendale and attended Archbishop Molloy High School from where he graduated in 1978.
Track coach Brother Patrick Hogan recalled Voudouris as "One of those kids who always worked hard," as a member of the track team.
His story is "quite inspirational," Hogan said.
After high school, Voudouris attended Columbia University and City College and went on to participate in a host of different professions including a career as a sports photographer and an emergency medical technician (EMT).
It was while working as a sports photographer that Voudouris had his first encounter with skeleton racing.
According to Voudouris parents, Michael was shooting photos at a Womens National Bobsled competition in Lake Placid, N.Y. in the mid-1990s.
While taking pictures he noticed a female skeleton racer "slide" by.
He then asked the racer about the sport he knew little about at the time.
She reportedly told him that she wouldnt let him take any photos until he tried it himself.
The rest is history.
Voudouris found a motorcycle helmet and a construction suit and took his first skeleton run.
Then he tried it again and broke some ribs.
But that didnt stop Voudouris who would go on to spend his weekends driving from Queens to Lake Placid a six-hour trip in order to take practice.
As he began to master the sport he decided he wanted something more.
To get on to the World Skeleton racing circuit, Voudouris had to represent a nation.
Because his father was born in Greece, Voudouris already had a Greek passport and dual citizenship status.
He was able to convince Greek Olympic officials to let him compete for them.
In 1999, Voudouris represented Greece in the World Cup Competition in Calgary, Canada.
There he finished 37th.
And his placing remained around the same level in competitions in the years that followed.
But again, Voudouris kept at it.
On Sept. 11, Voudouris was at home in Queens.
When he heard that an airplane had struck one of the Twin Towers, his instincts kicked in.
Voudouris, a certified EMT for the past 21 years and one-time vice president of the Glendale Volunteer Ambulance Corps picked up and packed his car full of medical supplies and headed toward the scene of the attacks.
He detailed his experience in an article he wrote in Dressage Magazine in Nov. 2001.
"Driving through cordoned off expressways and tunnels, I was at Ground Zero within two hours. A volunteer nurse and I walked to the southwest section of the area, searching directly under the flight path of the second airplane. There were no survivors. There was nothing to protect people from combined catastrophic forces like that," he wrote.
"But as a photo journalist and a medical professional, I remained detached. The mission at hand then became to additionally support the people doing the search and rescue effort the firefighters, police officers, medical professionals and union trades workers called in to move the rubble by buckets. For the next 36 hours, we moved debris, irrigated other rescue workers eyes irritated from the acrid smoke and fine dust, cleared their airways and distributed thicker protective masks. The first day, I think we washed out about 1,000 pair of eyes.
"People are now talking about ground heroes at the site, but Im not going to admit that I am a hero, and I never will. I was just doing my job what Ive been trained to do for 21 years."
Voudouris will be honoring E.M.T.s who lost their lives on Sept. 11 with his custom skeleton sled.
On the bottom of Voudouris sled appears a graphic of the Twin Towers that bears the name of E.M.T.s who died in lower Manhattan.
In published reports Voudouris said that doing so gives him "an opportunity to explain its not just policemen and firemen who were there, there were others who were working who lost their lives."
"Were excited," Rita Voudouris said when the Tribune visited the Voudouris family home in Glendale this week.
Mrs. Voudouris said that she and her husband will definitely be watching Michael make his Olympic runs in Salt Lake City but from where they will do so remains up in the air.
According to the Voudouris, airfare is expensive, Utah hotels are booked and security near the Olympic site will be tight all reasons why the family may not be able to make it to the games to watch him in person.
But regardless of from where, the Voudouris family and his native borough will be rooting him on.
Skeleton is a little known sport that is similar to the luge event.
Unlike luge where riders slide feet first on their sleds, skeleton riders race on the course belly down and head first at speeds near 80 miles per hour.
Riders chins usually are only inches from the floor as they hurtle toward the finish line.
According to Olympic organizers, skeleton is considered the worlds first sliding sport. Skeleton is believed to have started in the Swiss town of St. Moritz in the late 1800s.
The first competition was held in 1884.
Legend has it that skeleton got its name in 1892, when a new sled made mostly of metal was introduced to the sport.
People thought the sled looked like a skeleton.
The sport has only been featured in the Olympics twice before in 1928 and 1948.
The skeleton competition is scheduled for Feb. 20 Day 13 of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Queensites can catch a glimpse of Michael Voudouris run on NBC (Channel 4) between 8 - 11:30 p.m. E.S.T. (Schedule subject to change). For more information, log onto www.nbcolympics.com
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