| By Mary Beth Looby

From Catholic school to Olympic gold

Essexville native grateful for Catholic education

He stunned the world with his first-place finish at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. He made an appearance on the wildly popular Ed Sullivan Show. And he returned home to a hero's welcome in Bay City, where thousands of fans crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of speedskater Terry McDermott and his gold medal.

Terry was born in Bay City in 1940. He grew up in a large family with six sisters, which he enjoyed, and is a 1958 graduate of St. John the Evangelist High School in Essexville.

“Bay City was a great area to be raised in,” Terry said. “There were so many good, hard-working people.”

Terry started skating at age seven. He said he practiced on any ice available: frozen ditches, flooded baseball diamonds and sometimes at Saginaw’s Hoyt Park.

He began speedskating because his brother-in-law, Dick Somalski, was head of the Bay City Speedskating Club. They traveled to compete against other talented clubs statewide, and Terry noted that the club was “very good.”

“Every two years we would go up a class as skaters,” Terry said.

While training for competitive speedskating, Terry cut hair working for his uncle, a barber.

Terry first competed in the winter Olympics in 1960, finishing seventh. Just four years later, he won the Olympic gold medal in the 500-meter race.

After winning gold, Terry was invited to be a guest on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City. That same night, the Beatles were performing in the United States for the first time on the same Ed Sullivan Show.

“I didn’t even know who the Beatles were until then,” Terry said. “They were very nice, real gentlemen. They carried on a nice conversation.”

Sullivan, always the entertainer, set up a photo shoot in which Terry, standing behind the four Beatles with a pair of scissors, pretended to cut an apprehensive Paul McCartney’s hair.

When Terry returned home, people packed the streets of Bay City’s Washington and Center Avenues to celebrate the return of the man nicknamed “the Essexville Rocket,” who shot to fame with a new Olympic record time of 40.1 seconds in the 500-meter race. The mayor of Bay City, governor of Michigan and members of the national press corps were on hand for the homecoming.

After the 1964 Olympics, Terry continued training and went on to compete in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France. His wife Virginia was there and saw her husband, who skated last, win silver despite the slushy ice by the end of the day.

Following the Olympics, Terry was offered a job in sales and moved to the Detroit area. He also served as a team leader, team manager and U.S. Olympic Committee liaison for the U.S. speedskating team.

 In 1972, Terry was inducted into Michigan’s Sports Hall of Fame.

“It was a great honor to be in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame with other athletes of all the various sports that I admire,” he said.

Terry and Virginia, also a 1958 graduate of St. John the Evangelist High School, now live in Bloomfield Hills and are members of St. Hugo of the Hills Parish. They spend their winters in Florida, where Terry enjoys golfing. They have five children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Terry still has family in the Bay City area, where two of his six sisters, Kay and Maureen, are members of St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Essexville.

Terry shares that his faith is very important to him.

“I try to live as an honest Christian person and to be kind to everyone,” he said.

Terry said he is grateful he attended a Catholic high school and especially appreciated the discipline he learned. His favorite teacher was Sister Irving, who taught math and physics, but he enjoyed all his teachers at St. John’s.

Terry offers this advice to today’s students: “If you are willing to work at anything, you are going to get better. Sports provide a lesson for life. Sports help you a great deal, because you realize that whatever you put into something, you get out of it.”

Good advice from an Olympic gold medal winner and a graduate of our Catholic schools.