Jan. 27 --Four years ago, J.R. Celski had it all figured out. He won two bronze medals in short track speedskating at the Vancouver Games not long after experiencing a near-death accident when he sliced his leg with a skate. Celski enrolled at Cal, attended orientation and planned to submerge himself in academics. Then it hit him: He had nothing figured out. "When I got to school I didn't feel like I wanted to be there," Celski said. So instead the 19-year-old Celski returned home to Federal Way, Wash. , and started following many of the acts in Seattle's budding hip hop scene, including Macklemore -- who took home four Grammy awards Sunday night. It didn't take long for Celski and some friends to transform from fanboys into documentarians who chronicled Macklemore just before the rapper went global. The Olympian and music star have become friends through the production of "The Otherside," an hour-long movie that made its debut in May at the Seattle International Film Festival . As co-producer, Celski had a primary role in the three-year project that also spotlights local acts such as Grynch, Massive Monkees and The Physics. The man expected to lead the short track team in Sochi, Russia , founded the film company M.A.D Northwest to help promote music, art and dance in his hometown. The artists say it's no surprise sports and art intersect in the Emerald City. "There's something special about Seattle at this point and time," said native John Overlie , aka Grynch. In an effort to take advantage of Celski's impending Olympic fame, filmmakers plan to release the movie online Feb. 6 . It can be viewed at http://theothersidenw.com . The idea for the project was hatched because the messages of Macklemore and other Seattle rappers inspired Celski as he battled back from his leg injury in 2009. Before the accident, Celski was considered the next American to follow in the skatesteps of Apolo Ohno . But it wasn't clear he could skate again after crashing into a wall and slicing his left thigh five months before Vancouver. The cut was six inches wide and two inches deep, and required 60-plus stitches to close. "A lot of the lyrics, especially Macklemore's, made me question who I was and how I looked at things," Celski has said. "I felt like everybody should hear what these artists had to say." At first, the Monterey native tried to organize a benefit concert for the Seattle Children's Hospital in the summer of 2010. He contacted Macklemore and other favorite artists through Twitter. Their schedules didn't mesh but some of the groups performed separately for patients. The encounters led to budding friendships. Celski and his friends started videoing the artists' performances and candid backstage moments. "Part of it was just luck that we were there to capture it," said fellow producer Vinny Dom , who attended middle school with Celski. "At first, we had no idea what we were getting into." Macklemore and Ryan Lewis first exploded nationally with the hit "Thrift Shop." Then came the gay rights anthem "Same Love." "You see clips from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis touring around the country in smaller venues with a couple hundred people," The Physics' Gathigi Gishuru said. "Comparing that to where they are now, it's kind of wild." Macklemore, whose real name is Ben Haggerty , told NBC Sports , "That was the first athlete, or anybody really famous at all, to really acknowledge me." The film's name comes from Macklemore's 2010 song, "Otherside," about drug addiction. While Macklemore's star power has cast the spotlight on the documentary, the filmmakers tell diverse stories about Pacific Northwest artists. Some of them knew Celski's name before he contacted them. After all, Ohno put Seattle on the short track speedskating map when Celski was a kid at the same Federal Way rink. Celski returned to training in 2011 as the film went into post production. At first, he had to force himself back from the much-needed hiatus. "It's a hard lifestyle, not knowing where it will take you," he said. "I was really talented but didn't know how to set my training program." He returned a matured athlete. But before the year ended, Celski also suffered another frustrating injury. This time, he broke an ankle during a three-skater crash at a World Cup event in Japan . The Olympian had to skip the 2012 World Championships. He also has suffered from two concussions since his return. But Celski is healthy heading to Sochi, underscored by his sweep of three events at the U.S. Olympic trials in December. If all goes well he could add to his medal collection. Seattle's hip hop community will be on the sideline hoping it happens. "That's my guy," Grynch said of the skater/filmmaker. "Man, this dude is an Olympian." Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond . ___ (c)2014 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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