Karen and Steve Backes aren’t just hockey fans. The parents of St. Louis Blues captain, two-time U.S. Olympian and Spring Lake Park High School graduate David Backes returned from Sochi, Russia even more proud of their son.
Not just for the three goals, an assist or averaging 15 minutes of ice time in each of the four games for the Americans, but also his work to help stray dogs find a home by pairing up pups and hockey players.
“We always had a dog,” Karen said. “[Before we went to Sochi] we read all the online stuff about the dogs thinking they might be rabid or aggressive but they really were domestic pets … most were friendly.”
Without services like the Animal Humane Society or shelters for homeless pets, the street is where they call home.
“You can imagine what would happen in this country if people opened the door and said, ‘See you later.’ Out of control breeding,” Karen said.
This is where David and his wife Kelly’s non-profit organization, Athletes for Animals helped out. The couple launched the organization for professionals athletes to help homeless companion animals across the country in November.
Karen said Kelly and other players’ significant others, along with the Athletes for Animals, spent the final five days in Sochi securing a way to get two strays back to the U.S., arranging veterinary check-ups, passports, transportation and ultimately families to adopt the dogs after clearing a quarantine.
Sochi Junior and Sochi Jake have found new families and a latest report from athletesforanimals.org said the two will complete a required quarantine before April 1.
This was Karen and Steve’s second chance to see their son compete on the largest stage.
“We are true hockey fans and the fact that David is [playing in St. Louis], makes it even more special for us,” Karen said. “We just feel really blessed in life and we have a son that we raised who is a really determined and focused person in his career and we just get to come along for the ride. We can go to an Olympic hockey game knowing he’s doing the best he can through his determination.”
Watching hockey inside Russia was quite the experience too.
“These were basically all-star teams so seeing so many games live, it was pretty great,” Steve said. The pro-Russian crowds cheered louder for the U.S. opponent as the game moved along, too.
Being on the other side of the planet was an entirely different experience from visiting the Canadian west coast, where Backes competed in the 2010 Olympics held in Vancouver.
“When we wore our USA garb around the Olympic Village it was almost comical how many Russians wanted pictures with us,” Karen said. “For us it wasn’t something that happens to us everyday.”
They stuck with security precautions to wear more typical clothing instead of USA-clad shirts away from the Olympic venues like Sochi and Adler, home to the alpine events.
Steven and Karen were able to watch ski jumping, pairs figure skating and watched the women’s gold medal game where Canada beat the U.S. in overtime.
Jason Olson is at