Back in high school, around 1996, I discovered FreeBSD and Slackware while scouring the USENET.
Installed both in turn on my Packard Bell 486DX2 to check it out. Didn't really know how to use it and didn't know anyone to talk to for questions. But was still excited on the idea of a completely free OS.
A year+ later I was in college and learning about it again, first in intro CS classes, this time using Red Hat and with many knowledgeable peers to learn from. Then I started building and configuring the kernel for my PC (Pentium 233MHz MMX). If I remember, the first kenel I compiled was 2.2.10 or so. Then moved on to Mandrake, Debian, and Ubuntu and Linux Mint.