CALGARY, FEB. 18 -- They are blond and blue-eyed, and as Kevin and Mary Pat Wilson walk around the Olympic Village at the University of Calgary wearing their team jackets with Puerto Rico in red letters on the back, people stop and stare and ask them where they're really from.
The answer is somewhat complicated. They were both born in Puerto Rico, live most of the time in Colorado but have deep roots in Loudoun County, Virginia. In fact, if you don't count luger Miroslav Zajonc, a Czech defector living in Annapolis, they are the only Washington area athletes competing at these Winter Olympics.
Their parents, James and Barbara Wilson, have lived on a farm in Middleburg, Va., since 1973. Kevin, now 28, attended Loudoun County High School. Mary Pat, his 24-year-old sister, went to Hill School and Notre Dame Academy, also in Middleburg.
And starting this weekend, they will both be competitors in Olympic skiing, Mary Pat in the slalom and giant slalom, Kevin in Super G, slalom and giant slalom.
They are part of a nine-person delegation competing for Puerto Rico, and while they both know they will be far back in the pack in all their events, the Games already have been a rousing success.
Mary Pat carried the Puerto Rican flag in the opening ceremonies. She had lunch on the mountain the other day with Swiss ski star Pirmin Zurbriggen and says, "I walk around the Olympic Village with my eyes wide open. It's been a fantastic experience, something neither one of us will ever forget."
The whole notion of joining the Puerto Rican team got started with a magazine article Jim Wilson sent Kevin back in 1986. But the Puerto Rican connection goes much further back.
Jim Wilson's grandfather worked for a large construction company all over South America and eventually settled in Puerto Rico. Jim Wilson grew up in Queens, N.Y., but spent many vacations in Puerto Rico. He got a degree in engineering from Manhattan College in New York, then went back to Puerto Rico himself to start a land development business that is now based on the island, with offices in the U.S., as well.
Jim met his wife Barbara in Puerto Rico where she was working as a secretary for the FBI, and they began a family that grew to six children. Barbara Wilson came from Baltimore, and the family usually came north for Christmas vacations.
"We'd go up to the Pocono Mountains because mom missed having snow at Christmas," Kevin said. "That's where we all learned to ski."
But skiing and ski racing are totally different pursuits. Kevin and Mary Pat were recreational skiers. Kevin worked as a carpenter after graduating from high school, went to a younger sister's graduation from Western State College in Colorado and was so enamored with the place, he decided to go back to school there. A few years later, Mary Pat enrolled, too, and just graduated in May.
Now, back to that letter from father Jim. He sent Kevin a Fortune Magazine article that mentioned that two Puerto Rican engineers living in Denver were putting together a national ski team at Keystone, about 70 miles from Denver. The resort was looking to attract more Latin skiers, and this seemed a perfect marketing vehicle. Kevin contacted the two engineers, Felix Flechas and Walter Sandza, and he began getting himself affiliated with the United States Ski Association in order to build up points that would allow him to enter major competitions, including the Olympics.
Kevin had never done ski racing before 1986, but he quickly got hooked. He competed for the Summit County ski team, as did Mary Pat, who had done some recreational racing.
Meanwhile, Flechas and Sandza began doing the paperwork necessary to get the Puerto Rican ski team eligible for the Olympics. Keystone helped out by providing free lift tickets, and the team scraped enough money together to hire a coach, Tom North. They also chipped in to buy team uniforms, straight out of a wholesale catalog, and they get their equipment at a discount from several different ski manufacturers. "It's definitely real shoestring," Mary Pat said.
Neither Kevin or Mary Pat has ever skied in a World Cup event, but they have trained diligently over the last year to prepare for Calgary.
"I won't win the gold medal," Mary Pat said. "But I have competed against some of the girls I'll be racing against before. If I can beat them, I'll be happy. We see all of the stars out on the mountain -- Figini, Walliser -- but we don't hang out with them. It's not a real sociable crowd unless you're on the circuit all the time. We're not."