Posted 12/01/15 (Tue)
By Jody Michael
Two months after coaching Crosby’s Junior Gold hockey team to a state championship in 2012, David Olson moved across the Pacific Ocean to Mongolia to work for Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM).
“I felt the Lord calling me to go overseas to work,” Olson said. “I contacted NLM to see if they had openings, and especially in Mongolia, as I like cold climates.”
In the years since, Olson has spent much of his free time spreading his love for hockey to his new country.
This has included not just coaching but also raising funds for, and even purchasing out of his own pocket, equipment for the fledgling hockey program in the Mongolian town where he began his mission work.
Now, his latest endeavor is to bring yet another town its very first hockey rink.
Olson said hockey was on his mind as he first settled in the summer of 2012 in Mongolia’s capital and largest city, Ulaanbaatar, which has roughly 1.3 million residents.
“I have always enjoyed hockey, both coaching and playing, as well as trying to develop hockey wherever I have lived,” he said. “So I tried to make contacts within the hockey community in Mongolia when I first moved there.”
Because his job at NLM is office-oriented -- overseeing projects such as continuing education for rural health care officials and improvements to school dormitories -- he said he appreciates the opportunity hockey gives him to make friends outside of work.
“I really enjoy getting out in the community, meeting different people, and working with youth and hockey allows me to do that” he said. “These were big reasons for being involved with hockey in Crosby as well.”
Ulaanbaatar has been seeing slow but steady economic improvements -- “it is becoming modern and has all the amenities one needs,” Olson said -- although about half its residents live in poorer districts that lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
Even so, he found residents with a true passion for the sport of hockey.
“It is definitely not the biggest sport here in Mongolia, but those that play and are involved are diehards,” Olson said. “Everything is outdoors, and it is not uncommon for them to play in minus-20- to minus-40-degree weather. I had to learn some tricks to keep my toes from getting frostbite!”
A man there who had recently built a small hockey rink approached Olson during the fall about wanting to begin a youth program.
“I had started with helping coach with my Mongolian friend,” Olson said. “They did have some old skates and sticks available for some kids.”
But there wasn’t enough equipment. So Olson pitched in with the help of some family and friends back in the United States. He also received a donation from Scheels owner Steve Scheel.
By January, Olson said, a shipment from the U.S. arrived with skates, sticks, helmets, gloves and shin and elbow pads.
Olson’s role at NLM, meanwhile, has continued to expand, leading to his move this past summer to Mongolia’s westernmost province of Bayan-Ulgii to start the organization’s newest branch.
Bayan-Ulgii’s capital city has about 30,000 residents. Olson said his apartment building is new and lacks only hot water.
Once again, Olson crossed paths with a man who wanted to develop youth hockey there.
“This was in the end of August,” Olson said. “By October, I had decided to help build an outdoor hockey rink with a warming house and try to purchase equipment for a youth hockey club.”
At the beginning of November, Olson emailed his parents, Terry and Jean Olson of Grafton, about the hockey project.
He mentioned, with some hesitance, that the cost worried him a bit. Rink construction was going to cost about $6,000, and equipment could be another $5,000.
“I thought the cost might get a little too high for me to handle everything,” David said. “I myself am conscious about asking for help, and it is not my favorite thing to do.”
Jean sent a letter to relatives and friends to seek a “Christmas offering” for David.
“He’s the type of young man who would pay for it himself,” Jean said, “but I know some of the people who know him would like to contribute.”
So far, Jean said she’s collected $3,000 for David, who said the contributions “will be very helpful” in defraying his expenses.
“I am always very grateful for support people in North Dakota give me,” David said, “whether it be in encouraging words, prayers or monetary support.”
Rink construction took place in early November, while the warming house is starting to come along as well. Now, Olson said, he is trying yet again to bring in a shipment of hockey equipment before the end of winter.
Much like he did in his 10 years in Crosby and his three years in Ulaanbaatar, Olson said he is eager to give the youth of Bayan-Ulgii the opportunity to enjoy hockey as much as he has.
“The kids absolutely love the sport,” Olson said, “and that is my absolute favorite thing to see: the smiles on their faces.”
Donations can go to Jean Olson, 6834 147th Ave. NE, Grafton, ND 58237.