September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
The Schleper family has something not many people can say they have - two connections to the Olympic games in Sochi. Assia grew up in Sochi and Mike's cousin, Anne Schleper, is on the U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey Team. Mike and Assia milk 60 cows in a double-6 herringbone parlor on their farm in Stearns County near Farming, Minn.
"It's a small world," said Assia Schleper.
After living in the United States for 13 years, Assia still visits Sochi.
One year while Assia was visiting, it was announced that Sochi was going to be the home of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
"I was surprised," Assia said. "Nobody could believe it. We didn't have any ice or snow here. We didn't have many winter sports except skiing in the mountains"
"We were wondering how they were going to do it," Mike said.
Assia made another trip back two years ago when they were in the middle of building the Olympic village in a suburb of Sochi called Adler and preparing for the skiing events at Krasnay Polyana, just outside of Sochi.
"Everything is brand new," Assia said. "It looks like a castle."
It used to take Assia an hour to arrive in Adler. Now it would take no more than 15 minutes.
"The roads were narrow and serpentine like," Assia said. "Now the roads are newer and better."
This January, Mike and Assia found out they had another connection to the games when Mike's cousin, Anne Schleper, earned a spot on the U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey Team. She played for the University of Minnesota Women's Hockey Team, which won the national championship in 2012.
"She always had a desire to be great," Mike said of Anne. "We were thrilled for her after how much work she had put into it. She put her whole life on hold because she wanted to be an Olympian and march in the opening ceremonies."
Anne hasn't forgotten about her dairy-farming cousins in Farming, Minn.
"She gave (our son) Robert an autographed Gopher shirt," Mike said. "When we left after meeting her, Robert wouldn't stop talking. He was so excited."
With the cold winter, the Schelpers decided not to attend the Olympic games.
"Mike wants to be there so badly," Assia said.
"We were hoping to go. If it would have been a month later with the weather a little nicer, we might have gone," Mike said. "I didn't want to saddle someone with the cattle in this cold."
Mike and Assia did find time to watch the games on TV. Mike woke up at 2:15 a.m. and 4:15 a.m. to watch his cousin play before heading to the barn.
They have been following his cousins' blog about their Olympic experience in Sochi.
"It's interesting to read how they are enjoying it," Mike said. "How many people can say they have this type of connection to the Olympics?"
Mike and Assia met on the Internet and exchanged emails to get to know each other.
"We didn't have Skype then," Mike said.
At that time, Assia's son, Sergei, was 11 years old and had an English tutor. Since Assia didn't speak English and Mike didn't speak Russian, Assia, had the tutor help her communicate with Mike.
"When Sergei had lessons, they would come to our house, so I would have her translate the emails for me," Assia said.
Assia invited Mike to come to Sochi in March of 2000.
"I knew it would be warmer than it was here," Mike said.
Sergei's English tutor, Tanya, accompanied the couple to translate for them, and Assia used a book with phrases to help communicate with Mike when they were on their own.
During his first trip to Sochi, Mike learned that Assia had a dairy background.
Assia's grandmother milked 20 cows by hand, but as she got older, she only milked two just outside of Sochi.
"I grew up in the city, but I spent my summers with her. I always helped her milk," Assia said. "Two cows was not a problem for me. They don't have farms in Sochi like they do in America. They are smaller farms."
"She had a love for livestock and animals," Mike said,
Mike continued to email Assia and agreed to come back for a second trip to Sochi, except this time, he was planning to ask her to marry him.
"I don't know what it was, but I knew I wanted to ask her," Mike said.
In December 2000, Mike made his second trip to Sochi and attended a family gathering at Assia's grandmother's farm.
"I proposed right on her grandma's farm in one of the pastures," Mike said.
Since there was still a language barrier, Tanya came with to interpret.
"I can't remember what was going through my head," Assia said of the proposal. "I was so surprised."
Mike made another trip to Sochi with his sister, Sue.
"She wanted to go," Mike said.
Assia and Sergei moved to Farming, Minn., on July 19, 2001. Mike and Assia were married soon after.
"I made sure it wasn't January," Mike said.
After moving to Minnesota, Assia dealt with a lot of changes.
"Everything was different," she said. "It was like being reborn, but at 32 years old."
"She had to rely a lot on me," Mike said.
Assia learned to speak English and drive a car. One big difference was the weather, especially the winter weather in Minnesota.
In Sochi, the temperature averages 50 to 55 degrees due to the mountains protecting the city from the cold winds and allowing the sun to keep things warm.
"It's a climate that is unique to Russia," Assia said. "Usually Russia has a colder climate."
Sochi is home to palm trees and numerous fruit tree gardens.
"We never had to buy fruit. It was always there," Assia said. "It was hard for me the first year. I felt there was nothing to eat."
The amount of snow in Minnesota shocked Assia since it is not common in Sochi except in the mountains.
"When it snowed in Sochi, we were always so excited," Assia said. "It snowed once a year and it was a wet snow. It wouldn't last long. Some years there was no snow."
Assia has lived in Farming, Minn., for 13 years. During that time, Sergei graduated from Albany High School and the University of Minnesota where he majored in criminology and psychology. He is now working for the Department of Homeland Security. Mike and Assia also have a son, Robert (11) who it attending school in Albany playing hockey and baseball.
Assia now works at the Bingo Emporium in St. Cloud and helps Mike feed calves and move heifers around.
"This is crazy," Assia said. "It's like this was planned. What are the chances of this happening? It has come full circle."[[In-content Ad]]