The Need for Speed

15min

Junior Caroline Wachtel participates in speed skating, a rare sport for high schoolers.

By Monica Cheng
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CONNER GORDON / PHOTO
CONNER GORDON / PHOTO

How would you describe speed skating to those who aren’t familiar with the sport?
When I try to explain it to someone, I usually mention the fact that we’re on skates, except our blades are longer than those on a figure skate or hockey skate. The general idea of it is that we go fast and skate in the counter-clockwise direction. The trick is to stay really low on the ice. The more you bend your knees to get down on the ice, the more power you can get out of a stroke.

How did you come across the sport?
I’ve always known about the sport because both my mom and my grandpa did it. But it wasn’t until about a year ago that I started skating competitively. I’d been involved in a lot of sports before I decided to speed skate. I played soccer and rode horses competitively for a while too. But in the end, I chose speed skating because I loved it the most. I actually dropped soccer, which was my last sport, so I can pursue the sport full-time.

What are your plans for the future?
My goal is to qualify for the Junior Nationals team so I can compete at the AM Cup 1 (America’s Cup) and eventually the Olympics.

How do you balance speed skating with school?
I have a shortened school day. Since I train in the morning, I get to miss first period. When I have (t travel to competitions, I usually bring along some homework to finish during down time.

How often do you train usually? How are training and practice different during racing season and off season?
I have conditioning, which is off-ice training, every day. We do general cardio to increase endurance, plyometrics to help us push harder and faster on the ice, and a ton of lower body strength exercises. During the off season, which is from April to September, we train two times during the day in the school week. We can only get ice time in the weekend, so I skate on Saturday and Sunday. During the racing season, I train (off-ice) in the morning every day. I skate three times during the week in the afternoon and two times in the weekend.

What safety equipment do you use? Is speed skating a dangerous sport?
We wear knee guards, shin guards and neck guards. Also, you don’t see it, but in the skin suit we wear, we have a Kevlar material within the suit to prevent injury from other peoples’ skates. Speed skating isn’t too dangerous, but it depends on who you’re skating with. If the skater you’re with has less control on the ice than you do, that’s when it gets dangerous. But if you’re good at controlling your movements, it’s not as dangerous as people make it out to be.

How did you come across the sport?
I’ve always known about the sport because both my mom and my grandpa did it. But it wasn’t until about a year ago that I started skating competitively. I’d been involved in a lot of sports before I decided to speed skate. I played soccer and rode horses competitively for a while too. But in the end, I chose speed skating because I loved it the most. I actually dropped soccer, which was my last sport, so I can pursue the sport full-time.

What are you plans for the future?

My goal is to qualify for the Junior Nationals team so I can compete at the AM Cup 1 (America’s Cup) and eventually the Olympics.

How does your training change when the competition date looms closer?

We train a little harder when it’s racing season. Keeping our heart rates up for a longer time to raise endurance is a huge part of it. A lot more down time in base position, which works with the specific fine motor muscles for skating.

Who are your role models?

My favorites are Katherine Reutter and J.R. Celski. They both competed in this past Winter Olympics (2010) for the first time. I was able to go to the J.R. Celski coach’s camp just this past summer, so that was really cool because it was an elite skater’s camp where you had to be invited to go.

What is your favorite aspect of speed skating?

It’s a tough one. I love all the parts of it. I think probably when we’re going at the race pace, you have to give it all you got. 100% effort. Feeling the speed and the cold air on you—it’s just like a rush. You really grip the ice, and you fly around the track. It’s amazing.

What is something most people don’t know about the sport?

There’s a lot more work involved than most people realize. Training twice a day. Skating in the weekends. It never ends. It takes a lot of focus and dedication, but the work pays off at the end, and I think it’s really worth it. Also, there’s a lot of travel involved. In Indiana, speed skating isn’t as popular as it is elsewhere and the Demorra Skating Club doesn’t have enough money to sponsor a meet at our club, so every meet is out of state. There are meets all around the U.S. Some of the meets I’ve been to are as far away as Pittsburg.

What are the different categories in competition? Which do you compete in?

The two categories are short track and long track. I compete in short track, which is 110 meters every lap. Long track is 400 meters every lap. The straightaways and curves in long track are longer, and there’s not as much knee-bending involved as there is in short track. Also, in long track, you have clap blades, where the black of the blade isn’t attached to the heel. This gives more power in a stroke because the blade stays longer on the track.

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