Friday morning would have been strange enough for Jessica Lutz, who walked through the door of the Coffee Bar on 12th and S streets Northwest to work behind the counter for the first time since October, hoping she wouldn’t mix up a drink order or forget a recipe on her first day back on the job.
But when she walked through the door for her 10:30 a.m. shift, a clicking camera and videographer greeted her.
“Everyone, Jessica Lutz! The Olympian,” Lutz’s boss, Cait Lowry announced as the baristas behind the counter laughed and applauded and a few well-caffeinated patrons did the same. Lutz, wearing a black pullover with a Swiss flag on the chest and the Olympic rings emblazoned in white, stood in the center of the small shop with an embarrassed smile.
A dual U.S. and Swiss citizen, Lutz left part-time work at the Coffee Bar more than five months ago to train and then play for the Swiss women’s ice hockey team in Sochi last month. The 24-year-old delivered one of the biggest goals in Swiss ice hockey history in the bronze medal game, the go-ahead tally that capped a two-goal, third-period comeback and earned the Swiss their first hockey medal since 1948.
So when Lutz, whose father, Ernst, was born in Switzerland, returned to work Friday, her fellow baristas wore matching red T-shirts that read “The Barista Buries it!” in white letters, a tribute to the Swiss team’s colors and a broadcaster’s call after her historic goal. A camera clicked away, customers posed for pictures and a TV crew even rushed in for a quick interview.
But irony loomed in the joy of Lutz’s return and the attention centered on the normally quiet corner near the U Street corridor: The moment Lutz went on the clock Friday, she was back to her everyday reality, a world away from cameras, spotlights and the global gaze that she had dreamed of for years and lived for weeks.
“The Olympics all comes to a really abrupt ending,” Lutz said as she sat at a table three days after returning from Sochi and 10 minutes before her first shift. “It’s an intense couple weeks — probably the best couple weeks of some of our lives — and it’s just over and back to normal life.”
“Normal life” for Lutz includes shifts at the Coffee Bar and CrossFit training, and work toward a nursing degree, which she hopes to begin full-time this summer. But gone are the Olympic dreams that guided her uncommon course since her high school years at Washington Christian Academy.
Lutz rushed through her studies at the University of Connecticut in 2010 after three years with a degree in allied health sciences in order to move to Switzerland and establish the required two years of residency to pursue a spot on the Swiss team. She left her job at the Coffee Bar in October and left friends for the past three months while she trained for Sochi. She now finds herself a continent away from teammates with whom she shared her Olympic experience, where fans would ask to take pictures and daily sightings of Shaun White or Sidney Crosby were the norm.
“It’s been a little weird because I missed life here for three months,” Lutz said. “Missed life with friends and stuff like that. So it’s kind of like ‘Wow, I had a great experience, but I missed a lot here.’ So getting back with that will take a little time I think.”
But as Lutz was reacclimating herself, customer Melissa Schutte, who has been coming to the Coffee Bar for a few months, ordered an iced coffee and noticed something standing out against the barista’s black pullover — a big necklace with a blue band and a bronze pendant hanging at the bottom. If she hadn’t been in a quiet coffee shop on an overcast March morning, Schutte would’ve sworn it was an Olympic medal.
She told herself it couldn’t be. But then, she thought, “people don’t just go around wearing things that look like Olympic medals around their neck.”
“Is it real?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Lutz, a smile inching her way across her face.
“So are you a real Olympian?”
“Yes,” the barista replied again, her smile and those of her coworkers beaming at full blast. She offered her medal to Schutte to hold and customers snapped pictures.
“All the athletes definitely got the VIP treatment,” Lutz said of her “unbelievable” experience in Sochi. “Especially for the women’s team, not being a professional — for three weeks you definitely get treated like a professional.”
Lutz said she doesn’t mind sharing her Olympic stories, though she knows the excited questions from friends and family will likely “die down at some point” — as long as she doesn’t wear her medal.