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Winter Olympics: Erin Blair bound for Sochi

ErBlair 32 has been selected work as women's hockey referee 2014 Winter Olympics Sochi Russia. The Bloomingdale resident also works

Erin Blair, 32, has been selected to work as a women's hockey referee at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Bloomingdale resident also works as a health teacher at Lakewood School in Carpentersville. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: January 12, 2014 6:18AM

Rest assured the fifth- and sixth-graders at Lakewood School in Carpentersville will be closely following the women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Erin Blair, a first-year health teacher at Lakewood, will need a substitute for much of February after being chosen to work at the Olympics as a women’s hockey referee.

The assignment represents the opportunity of a lifetime for Blair, a 32-year-old Bloomingdale resident.

“I’ve wanted to be involved in the Olympics since I started playing hockey when I was 10 years old,” Blair said. “I originally wanted to go as a player and that didn’t work out, so I kind of changed my path a little.”

Blair grew up in Lisle and played for a number of boys and girls hockey organizations in the Chicago area during her formative years, including the high school club team at Naperville North. Her talents led to a playing career at the Division I level in college at Findlay University.

It was during her time at the Findlay, Ohio, school that Blair first started to officiate hockey in 1999.

“It was second nature for me to be in the rink,” Blair said. “They needed referees and I started doing it just for the fun of it.”

One thing led to another, and soon Blair was climbing the ranks among women’s hockey officials both in the United States and abroad.

In 2008 she worked the gold-medal game at the 18-and-under World Championships in Germany, and in 2011 she was part of the crew working at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Switzerland.

“I caught the eye of the right people and was pushed through the system pretty quickly,” Blair said. “Officiating is very similar to player development in that as you develop you go to camps and get the opportunity to show your skills. USA Hockey offers a lot of different learning opportunities for officials to gain experience.”

Fifteen women were picked to officiate the women’s tournament at the Olympics, which runs for the duration of the Sochi games from Feb. 7 to 22.

Blair is one of three Americans on the crew and will serve as one of six referees, with the other nine officials working as linesmen.

“The language barrier is always present, but we find ways around it,” Blair said. “Most of the girls that work at the higher levels speak very good English.

“I talk to officials from all over the world all the time because we’ve become friends and built that bond of being able to travel together and work together. It’s very unique to get different backgrounds and cultures into your friendships.”

Blair is awaiting details regarding how many games she will referee and how much time she will spend in Russia before and after the Olympics.

To be considered as an official for the Olympics, Blair had to be licensed through the IIHF. The certification process is based on recommendations and performance, and Blair and the rest of her colleagues were deemed best suited to administer the rules of hockey during this year’s tournament in Sochi.

“You’re not in this position if you don’t want to do well and you don’t want to succeed,” Blair said. “I’m very competitive and I want to do the best I can and represent as well as I can. It’s all about hard work and training, and working in the gold-medal game is the ultimate goal.”

The Olympic experience will be a boost for Blair in her other profession as a teacher. Beyond the souvenirs and stories she will bring back from Sochi to share with her students, Blair is hoping her journey serves as an inspiration.

“I recently did a little presentation for the girls at the school on perseverance where I talked about never giving up and always believing in yourself,” Blair said. “For me, that’s the lesson they can get from this. They can see I’ve finally gotten to where I want to be and they can realize it took a lot of hard work.”

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