Ice skater Richard Kreibich: from Communist Europe to Truckee-Tahoe
December 9, 2015
TRUCKEE, Calif. — For Richard Kreibich, it's been a long journey from his youth in Soviet-controlled eastern Europe to Lake Tahoe-Truckee.
In the early 1960s, when Kreibich turned 19, it was required that he become a solider with the Communist Czech army.
It was the height of the Cold War, and Fidel Castro had just taken control in Cuba. The world was afraid of a World War III, and Kreibich was being trained to fight on the front lines of this impending war between East and West.
He spent two years away from his parents scared and hoping he would not have to fight.
Once he was able to leave the army, Kreibich decided, "I wanted to get out and see the world. I wanted to see the other side of the Iron Curtain."
He felt the only options for escape for a young man were to be a figure skater, a tennis pro or a hockey player.
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"One day I bought skates, and the next day I had a professional photo of me taken looking like a skater," Kreibich recalled.
Next he went to the ice skating championships in Prague to find a coach to teach him how to skate.
"I wanted desperately to get into an ice show," Kreibich says.
A LONG JOURNEY
He sent the picture of himself looking like a great ice skater to an ice show, and promoters there told him that in three months, they would be in Prague for an audition.
Now, he knew he needed to learn how to skate.
"I skied day and night, training," he said. "It was hard to get on the ice because the hockey players had priority, so sometimes I skated on ponds."
But, he was willing to do whatever it took.
He turned himself into a skater and made his way onto a German ice show that was going to travel through France for the summer.
"I was so excited to be in the Western world. It was a shock in every way. I could buy apricots, and a big bottle of Coca-Cola, and the best, super soft toilet paper," he said.
The ice show included a few big stars of German skating (including two who had skated at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley), but Kreibich says it was a kitsch summer show for basic entertainment under a tent.
But it didn't matter to him, because he felt very lucky to be in the West. Less then two months after joining the show, Russia invaded Czechoslovakia, and he was frightened for what it would mean for his family and friends back home.
He made the decision not to go back, but instead to keep traveling as long as he could wherever the ice shows would take him.
He stayed with the German show for three years. Then moved on to other skating shows. He was the guy lying on the ice while the star skater would jump over him, or he would do comedy bits on ice. Whatever the show needed him to do.
RETIRING TO TRUCKEE
Eventually he would skate around the world, including in Madison Square Garden in New York.
He met his wife Susan, an American, who was also a skater, in a show in Hanover, Germany. They skated in shows together for three years before marrying on the Columbian/Venezuelan border with a taxi driver and another skater serving as witnesses.
Richard and Susan moved to America in 1977 and started their own business — Bed and Breakfast San Francisco, a referral service for bed and breakfasts, long before the Internet brought along the now ubiquitous other referral services like hotel.com and Yelp!
They also ran a shop called Aqui Brazil, which sold Brazilian imports.
Now they are retiring to Truckee. At 73, Kreibich is still ice skating, as well as kayaking, snowboarding, hiking and practicing yoga.
And, he's excited to be living in the mountains.
"There are lots of interesting people and kids who need help skating," he said. "If you see Richard on the ice rink, say 'hi.' If you struggle, I will help, I can guarantee. That is what I enjoy.
"I can still skate like when I was young."
Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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