There are lots of things I’ve done when I thought no one was looking, just to discover later that enquirering minds were lurking beyond my peripheral vision, watching my every move. It’s led to some awkward denials and having a few invitations rescinded. All I can say is let those without sin flick the first boog.
But this post isn’t about my private predilections and deviations from societal norms, it’s about the definition of character and dedication to our sport. And, in breaking with my inner narcissist, it’s not even about me, it’s about some new Rink Rabbits we took into the club this weekend…
We were honored to have Joey Mantia and his friends & team mates Michael Cheek, Sara Sayasane and Wouter Hebbrecht to do a technical clinic with The Rink Rabbits here at our home rink, Rollerland Skate Center, in Fort Collins, CO! Not only is this one powerfully talented group of World Class achievement, they’re all genuinely nice people who truly love inline speedskating. Their love of the sport comes through in many ways.
The clinic itself was custom tailored to be an event open to all of our skaters, from the youngest, least experienced on through The Fast Kid, who’d just returned from Outdoor Nationals with 2 Gold Medals. Everyone skated away with something they could use to make them better, faster, stronger and smarter skaters.
Case in point…Horseypants.
My better half has been a recreational skater for just about as long as I’ve been skating. This year, she’s going with me to Duluth, Minnesota to skate her first half marathon at the 15th Annual Northshore Inline Marathon. We upgraded her to 100mm “race cuff” fitness skates (Rollerblade Speedmachine) a month ago, (which I’ve since bumped up to 110’s with the CadoMotus 4×110 Dual Box) and she’s been training regularly to increase her mileage and improve her time each week. She was at the clinic with us but she didn’t skate. She took all of the pictures and video attached to this post so we could document and remember the day for the club.
Well, this morning (day after the clinic) she had already skated 5 miles around the neighborhood before I dragged my old, sorry and sore butt from bed. By the time I’d strapped my skates on and caught up with her, she was rolling and preaching the Gospel According to Mantia. She even started to recognize the elements of my stride that need work. Freakin’ know it all…but admittedly, she was 100% spot-on. And I didn’t need a Garmin to tell me she was already faster and more efficient then she was the day before, it was obvious in the speed I needed to catch up with her, and her ability to recover quickly from her burst activity. And to top it off, when we got back to the house, she asked to try my Pro M1’s. She took them for a two mile roll and declared, “OK, I want a pair.” She’d graduated from recreational to speed skater in less than 24 hours.
Like any good predatory drug dealer who can spot the future junkie in their recreational customer pool, I quickly moved in for the kill by rushing to my supplier and ordering her a pair of her own. Alas, that was a bit like trying to convert a toker to a tweaker overnight. Too much too soon. She’s in, but it’s going to take some time before she’s ready for the stiffness of a semi-custom speed boot. Nonetheless, she herself will be joining us in the rink this winter, and she’s encouraged other Rink Rabbit moms to join the team too! Welcome to The Rink Rabbits, baby!
So, you ask in your speed-weenie whine, why all this about her, what about Joey?
So much about her because this transformation, from Horseypants to Horseypower, happened…just by watching the Mantia clinic.
It’s powerful, trans-formative stuff, and you, First Loser Reader, you’re in for a treat…
I’m going to share what we’ve learned with you, as much as I can. Over a series of posts, we’ll share in the Gospel According to Mantia, until we’re all converts to his Stride. Yes – Stride is capitalized. As it should be. Mantia is a Skating God…(and hell, I’m no dummy…the longer I can milk this Mantia story, the more readers I’ll get, the higher my unique and repeat traffic will be, and world domination won’t be far off…and all those Ivy League schmucks I grew up with can suck my knee cap!)
Getting it together
Working with Mantia to set this up was smooth from beginning to end, just like his Stride. We were able to coordinate the event by email, and didn’t really even speak until about a day or two beforehand. He was really easy to work with, to the point where all I really had to do was let people know he was coming and show up to unlock the doors and turn on the lights.
Even volunteer coordination was a snap. One of the great things about a small club is that it was super-easy to get folks to pitch in and do things like clean the floor, set the lunch counter, cook the food, watch the little kids and clean up. The jobs were gone within a half hour of sending out the email call for help. Rink Rabbits Parents ROCK!
For such a busy guy Joey was amazingly responsive. I got a real kick out of seeing his name appear in my text message in-box. I was in a business meeting when I got a text from him and leaned over to show the name to a colleague…she smiled politely and shifted uncomfortably, not really sure why I was giggling like a 12 year old. Anyway…
No introductions necessary
Our schedule called for check-in and warm ups between 9 and 10 am. Mantia and Michael showed up on schedule at about 10 to 10 and came in with a couple of extended family members in tow…Sara Saysane & Wouter Hebbrecht from Simmons Racing / Team USA & Team Belgium! Two more world champs to make this the second such surprise Mantia pulled on me…the first was when he emailed and asked if I’d mind Cheex coming along with him. I think that was the day or two after Cheex had run an 8.4 flying 100m and taken the 2010 award for Grand Indoor Champion at National Speedskating Circuit. Cha, do I mind? As if…
For the most part they showed up without being noticed, which was great because Mantia just strapped on his skates and rolled out the floor while the kids were all open skating and warning up. You should have seen their faces as they began to realize who that new guy was…it was a classic entrance!
Moreover, it was more revealing of his character than anything he could have said. With his easy nonchalance and good nature, Mantia makes you feel like you’re on the same team. When we were going back and forth by email setting this up, he more than once said he wanted to help our club and was happy to be able to whatever he could to make the clinic happen. Seeing him roll right out there and mix it up with the kids made him the most accessible, everyday skater super-star in the world. He was really right in his element and looked immediately at home with them. Cheex followed closely after him and by that point to gig was up, the guys were in the house and running the show. Mantia took the wireless mic, called everyone the middle and got the clinic rolling.
He got the skaters going building their foundations. He got the MILF’s in the room going with his “fluid grace and power.” (That’s a quote.) Facebook was alight the following day with snapshots of the kids with Mantia & Co., and one drooling comment after another about Mantia’s legs…and the obligatory, “and little Johnny looks like he had a good time too. But really, are his legs THAT BIG in person?!? OMG!!!”
In retrospect, I should have emailed around a pic of the guys in their skin suits with the event announcement. I could have charged for spectator admission and all the local moms would have funded the club for the next three years.
Where the learning begins – the basics
Ah, back to the clinic…bending your knees and getting low. Weight distribution and edges. They covered a lot of ground quickly and made sure all of the skaters got through the drills with individual attention and moral support when it was needed.
We spent lots of time on our skates doing drills that we normally do as dry-land (skates off) drills. Being on skates for drills like these adds a whole new dimension to the workout, and shows you pretty quickly why these drills are important to get right.
No one was left behind or made to feel “less than.” Rink Rabbit spirit was in the air. As our in-house Olympian and head coach pointed out, they covered a lot of the stuff we been working with the kids on for the past year, but Wow! How responsive they become when the current Champ of Everything Speedskating is teaching!
One of Mantia’s gifts for the in-house coaching staff was complete validation.
It was great that our skaters were somewhat prepared to do some of the drills through muscle memory and the basic knowledge we’d passed along up to this point. They’ve been working hard all year. But there was a lot of new stuff too, which was just awesome…how to “lock in,” and what locking in will do to help you become more stable and unmovable when you’re in a tight pack and particularly into your corners. Not only did he run us through a drill, but he explained the whys of importance too.
A constant theme of the day quickly became “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Performance.” We were shown how World-Class achievement starts with low-level attention to detail. Mantia is very purposeful when he’s training. He’s very precise with his movements, and it was amazing to watch him break down his Stride into smaller parts that he then practiced with a patient determination to get the motion and muscle response as perfect as he could see it in his mind.
Breaking down the elements of “a skate” or “a race” into smaller, more digestible parts, Mantia worked us slowly through drills that took us from the start, down the straightaway, in on the cone, through the corner and out to the finish line. It’s all in your technique and how you breakdown your form. Wouter said it best when asked to share what it is he knows now that he wishes he’d known when he 14. He told us it’s technique. Form and function are the most crucial things to focus on and get right when you’re just starting out.
What was great about all of these on-skate and dry-land drills was that the kids were familiar with some of them, excited by the new ones, and all of them were endorsed by Mantia & Co. They will now associate “perfect practice” with their visit, and understand that Mantia’s secret isn’t so secret after all – he’s not doing anything they can’t do themselves. He started skating when he was 9 too, so it’s not unthinkable that if they listen to what he said and start doing what he does, they too can be World Champ someday. It’s not out of reach.
We spent a lot of time on starts. Each participant got personal attention and pointed critique and correction of their starts. There’s not really a better example of why this clinic was so worthwhile.
When it comes to starts, opinions vary. As an instructor with the Rink Rabbits, I’ve got an Olympian coach and his method, I’ve got a coaching manual (or two) with methods that aren’t exactly the same but very similar. When you’re teaching a group, you want to be able to get the idea across to everyone in a way that speaks to all, leaving no one behind. Some people progress quicker than others, and eventually someone gets to a place where it’s time they tailor the “art” to their own style. What’s great was having World Champs share their foundational points, but then give the students the freedom to find their own form based on sound principal. They showed the students why the “science” elements (for example, loading up on your front leg in a side start) are important, then they helped the students understand how “feel” (art) takes the sport and makes a custom fit.
It was during the time that we were going over side starts…which no one except The Fast Kid had ever even tried (we focused on down starts all year)…it was during this time that I spied Cheex, Sara and Wouter being themselves. I looked off to the far side of the rink, and there they all were, discussing the things Mantia was going over with us, over there on there own. They were talking about side starts and running through them by themselves, thinking no one was paying much attention to them. That, for me, was why they were here, and made their dedication resonate with me. I mean, here they were, all Champions in their own right, hanging out at a clinic that their buddy dragged them along to on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and there they were, “behind closed doors” as it were, talking shop, running drills, laughing out loud and being just as engaged as if they were among the student population. What that revealed was that they all have something in common – they possess an athletic character that’s crystallized in the phrase “pure skating.”
That was a huge take-away for me, and what I think is a good lesson for us all. If you want to make it and stay at the top of your game…the game that’s yours alone, your form…then you’ve got to be a life-long learner, and it’s got to be fun. To keep it pure, you’ve got to enjoy it, genuinely. You’ve got to have an open mind, be ready to take someone’s advice and give it a try. Being able to hang out with Mantia & Co. for a day made it pretty clear to me…their dedication and interest in the sport isn’t different than mine at all. Is their training more intense? Sure it is. But their hearts are in the same place as mine. It’s Pure Skating. When no one is looking, you’ll find us all in that same mental place, where Stride & Glide are all that matter, and that’s pretty cool, to know I have that in common with the greats.
Now that the outdoor season is done for me, I’ve put the Garmin away. It’s back to the rink, and time to slow it down. Break it all down to build it up again. This training season is going to be more intense, I look forward it…bring it on! More soon…