While millions of people around the world watched the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremony, the festivities had special meaning for MATC medical assistant instructor Mary Docter. The Madison native was a four-time Olympian who competed in multiple long-distance speed skating events.
"The opening ceremonies are my best memories from the Olympics," said Docter. "The excitement was just amazing; there were so many people from so many countries and we all cheered for each other. I had tears in my eyes watching the Vancouver Games, because I know how special that was for the athletes and the spectators."
Docter got to soak in the Olympic experience because her races were traditionally held toward the end of the Olympic Games.
"I would usually watch hockey and figure skating because you could sit at those events and it wouldn't take a toll on your legs."
So, was she in attendance at the legendary "Miracle on Ice" hockey game between the United States and Russia in 1980?
"Nope, I sold my ticket and went and watched it on a big screen in a local bar."
A Career among the World's Elite Speed Skaters
Mary Docter has served as a medical assistant instructor at MATC for six years.
Mary Docter and her sister Sarah represented the United States in the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Sarah is shown here with five-time gold medal winner Eric Heiden.
Docter's top results were a pair of sixth-place finishes in the 3,000 meters at the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., and at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. She also represented the United States at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, and at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. In addition to the 3,000 meters, she also participated in the 1,000-, 1,500-, and 5,000-meter races during her Olympic career.
Docter shared the 1980 Olympic experience with her younger sister Sarah, who competed in four speed skating events.
Now 48, Docter was among the world's elite speed skaters for more than a decade. She won the 3,000 meters at the 1980 World Junior Championships.
Docter's path to MATC had many interesting twists and turns. She received a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987 with the intent of teaching grade school or high school. While continuing to compete among the on the international level, she chose to pursue a career as a physician assistant and received a degree in that field from UW-Madison in 1993. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Milwaukee to begin her career as a physician assistant.
In the early 2000s, she moved to a part-time physician assistant position and returned to speed skating, this time as a coach.
"I had a dozen or so men and women who I coached," said Docter. "They all qualified for the 2002 Olympic trials, which made me really proud."
Docter admits that coaching ignited her competitive spirit. "I did feel that fire. But I only felt it occasionally. To compete at a world-class level, you have to have that feeling 24/7. Another coach told me that I should give it (a return to speed skating) a try, but I knew my time at that level was over."
Four-time Olympian Mary Docter shows her grit and determination on the speed skating oval.
It was conversation with her father, Tom, that led her to make another career change.
"I'll never forget it - we were in a hot tub in Florida on vacation and I was trying to identify the 'ultimate' job and thought that maybe I'd like to be a school teacher," reflected Docter. "But I figured I would have to go back to school for a master's or doctorate degree and I really didn't want to do that."
So, Docter investigated job openings on various college and university web sites several times a day.
"I found a part-time medical assistant instructor position at MATC," said Docter. "I looked at the requirements and thought it would be a good fit because of my education and physician assistant degrees."
So did MATC. Docter was hired in 2004 and spent one semester as a part-time instructor and then became a full-time instructor.
Medical assistant students Sasha Siekmann and Dawn Zawacki prepare to practice under the tutelage of Docter.
The friendly, unassuming Docter doesn't brag about her prolific speedskating career. She casually mentions that she was friends with Olympic legends such as Eric and Beth Heiden, Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen.
In fact, Docter's students were surprised to learn she had such a successful athletic career, as was one of her supervisors.
When asked if she knew of Docter's Olympic history, MATC associate dean of health occupations Sharon Abston-Coleman remarked, "I had no idea, but I'm not surprised because Mary has great drive and zeal. When she commits to something, she puts everything she has into it.
"In the short time I've known Mary, I've come to learn that she is a very dedicated instructor," continued Abston-Coleman, who oversees MATC's medical assistant program. "If I introduce a new concept or idea, she really embraces it. Mary is not one to boast or brag, she just 'does.' "
"This is that 'ultimate' job I was looking for," said Docter, who still maintains an athletic lifestyle by working out regularly and rollerblading. "I love MATC and the students are really, really terrific."
"If I were to sum her up," commented Abston Coleman, "it would be in the adage 'if you find a job you like, you'll never work a day in your life.' That is Mary."
Mary Docter (far left) and other members of the United States Olympic Speed skating team visit with President Ronald Reagan.
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