By Steven Gaynes

They could be our neighbors or the offspring of close friends. They may be students who once passed through our classrooms in high school. They are filled with dreams and have a glow that comes only with being part of the U.S. Olympic team. And they are representing our hopes and competitive spirit this month in Sochi.

And whether they take home gold, silver, bronze or just their wounded pride, we love them all for the courage they have shown in just competing. This Team USA comprises the best and brightest our nation has to offer.

As my wife and I have been watching some of the competition -- we've especially enjoyed figure skating, skiing and luge competition so far -- I can't help wondering: Where did these amazing athletes begin their journeys to the Olympics? How must they be feeling at this very moment?

Figure skater Jason Brown of Highland Park, Ill., has real charisma, and it showed in a performance that helped the U.S. win a team-skating bronze medal.

Blogger Jim Caple wrote: "Jason Brown has had a pretty memorable past year. At this time last year, he was just an 18-year-old figure skater on the junior circuit. In the year since, he made the Olympic team, won a medal and even met Russian president Vladimir Putin"

The American team found itself in a hole after U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott fell twice in the short program. Although Brown fell once, he garnered high enough marks for the U.S. to capture a team medal.

Caple quoted him as saying: "To be on the medal stand with my teammates yesterday and to think a year ago I didn't even think I was going to be skating in seniors competition? I didn't think I was going to make the Olympic team. And now to have a medal?"

Sage Kotsenburg of Park City Utah took the Games first gold medal by winning the men's slopestyle on Saturday. The unpretentious snowboarder "was determined to stay his chilled-out, snowboarding self and march to his own beat," the Los Angeles Times reported.

As he talked with reporters after the semifinals, the Times said, Kotsenburg seemed "oblivious to any pressure. Stress apparently is not in his DNA."

"I really want the medal just as much as the next guy," he told the Times, "but my attitude in the run (is) if I land, that's cool. If not, I need to try harder obviously. That's just how I snowboard. I'm super mellow, laid-back. I'm not like the normal guy that goes in the gym and trains. I haven't been in the gym since September."

The Games so far have delighted us, too, with the totally unexpected.

The luge was introduced as an Olympic sport at 1964 Innsbruck Winter Games. And in 50 years since, no U.S. individual had never won a medal. That is until Erin Hamlin captured the bronze Tuesday.

She had finished 12th in the 2006 Games in Turin and 16th four years ago in Vancouver.

"It's surreal," she told Yahoo Sports. "I came here with no expectations, and this is beyond what I imagined."

Julia Mancuso was magnificent winning bronze in the women's Super Combined Alpine skiing competition. Her navigation of the tough course was poetry on skis.

On of the TV said she literally seems to have a strategy for winning and understands every twist and turn that lies ahead of her on the course. The smile on her face at the end was one of satisfaction that all her work had paid off in a medal.

With each competition, we have seen the culmination of years of practice and hard work. When they started out, some of these athletes, I'm sure, never dreamed they would perform on a world stage, let alone stand on a podium to receive a medal.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: