On their way to a city famous for its breathtaking beaches, scenic mountains and electric nightlife, the families of Northeast Pennsylvania’s Olympic field hockey athletes made a decision.
For the most part, they’ll be happier staying at their hotel.
“We’re staying right near the beach,” said Larksville resident Doreen Kolojejchick, the mother of USA field hockey player Kelsey Kolojejchick. “I don’t know if I’ll even walk across the street and stick my toe in the water.”
Starting with the quality of that water, an ocean of uncertainty surrounding host country Brazil and its 2016 Olympic city of Rio de Janeiro has travelers and athletes on edge.
While Olympic selections in various sports across the world — most notably the top four professional golfers — opted not to participate in this summer’s Olympics because of health concerns, former Wyoming Seminary field hockey stars Kelsey Kolojejchick and Kat Sharkey of Team USA insist they never considered pulling out.
Their families, though, are pulling back.
“We’re not going to be walking the street in many areas,” said Moosic resident Anne Sharkey, Kat’s mom. “And we’re going to be smart travelers.”
Call it a trip filled with trepidation.
A handful of mosquito-borne illnesses is causing health concerns in Brazil, most notably the Zika virus, which has been attributed to causing brain damage in infants.
The polluted waters of Guanabara Bay and Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon — where Olympic athletes will compete — have raised fears about the lack of proper sewage treatment in Brazil.
And with the country in an ongoing recession, crime has escalated to the point where grab-and-run robberies are regularities on Rio’s beaches.
“I think we’re going to play it fairly close to the vest until we get over there,” said Tom Sharkey, Kat’s dad. “I don’t think you’re going to find us out running around at bars after midnight. It’s a shame. It is a beautiful, magnificent city. When you see the pictures, it’s spectacular.”
It can be a costly endeavor, though.
While USA field hockey members receive four complimentary tickets for their families to attend each game, those relatives are responsible for their own airfare, lodging and meal costs, a three-week trip that likely will cost at least $3,000 apiece. A few other family members will join the parents of Kat Sharkey and Kelsey Kolojejchick on the Rio trip, and they could find plenty of activity if they wished.
The city of Rio boasts a trove of attractions for interested tourists, including landmarks both the Sharkeys and Kolojejchicks said they’d love to take in during a calmer vacation trip. One of those attractions is the 1,299-foot peak of Sugarloaf Mountain.
But the Sharkeys and Kolojejchicks said they plan to pass them all up while staying in the Sao Conrado area of Rio.
“I think you’re always cautious when you’re traveling to a place you’ve never been to, especially with the way world events are going on,” Kelsey’s dad, Jim Kolojejchick, said in reference to a rash of recent terrorist attacks. “But you don’t let things that are happening change what you do, or don’t do, or what you always wish you had done.”
There’s one visit outside the Olympic venues his wife intends to make.
“The only sightseeing I would like to do is to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue,” Doreen Kolojejchick said. “It’s one of the (new) Seven Wonders of the World. We’re supposed to do that as a parent group. Other than that, I plan on staying around (the hotel).”
Despite the anxiety, these Olympics were never the time for the most loyal supporters of Kat Sharkey and Kelsey Kolojejchick to think twice.
“I know there are issues with Zika; you’ve got to watch the water; crime is an issue,” Jim Kolojejchick said, “But having them get a medal — and I don’t care what color it is — would be a lifetime opportunity you’ll never forget.
“I wouldn’t miss that for anything in the world.”