Tag Archives: ice skating

Joey Mantia: From Inline to Olympiad – Part 2

“The excruciating pain that you find intolerable, the pain that mentally rips you apart and breaks you, the kind you hope never to experience again… that’s the pain I live for.” – Joey Mantia

2014_Thanks_KC

The road to the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia is winding down. In just under two weeks, Joey Mantia will make his first appearance in the Olympic Games, and that being the case, the skater is laser focused on the task at hand. Fourteen days to peak mode. It’s all led up to this, all the years, all the training, the ups, downs and in betweens.

Given the enormity of the events unfolding before him, and the intensity of his training in this final build-up to the games, it’s no wonder we now find Joey in a somewhat nostalgic place. One can stay locked in the high-stakes present-tense at such extreme levels for only so long before the need down-shift becomes an absolute necessity. When he is able to settle for a while, it seems he’s finding comfort in the memory book that he holds in his head, full of memories of the races, places, coaches and teams he’s been a part of over these many years in skating. Looking across the entire span of his career, he’s decided to share more about the experiences and people that have helped get him to this place, the #RoadToSochi:

FirstLoser: I know for a lot of us, we wonder what it’s really like to train at a level that gets you ready to even think about Olympic competition. You’ve undoubtedly trained to extreme levels to make it this far. So now, with two weeks to go, tell us what you’re out there in Italy working on before the start of the games.

Ice RInk Renon/Ritten - the fastest outdoor speed skating track in the world, in South Tyrol, northern Italy

Ice RInk Renon/Ritten – the fastest outdoor speed skating track in the world, in South Tyrol, northern Italy.

Joey Mantia: I’m putting in one more hard cycle before the games and pretty much just working on locking in that “sweet spot” feeling on the ice. At the end of the day, skating is a technical sport, and the guy that skates the best on the ice usually wins. I understand the importance of that, and although I won’t sacrifice my physical work load to make more room for technical work, my mental focus is heavily weighed on the technical side of things.

FirstLoser: So there’s technique, then there are the conditions you’ll be skating in. Because Sochi is at sea level, the ice is supposed to be slower. How does that play for the type of skater you’ve become?

Mantia: Slow ice seems to be a benefit for me. This season, I skated terribly at the first two World Cups, and they were both on really fast ice. Then, when we went to sea level, where the ice is significantly slower, I started skating much better, actually becoming competitive with these guys. I think the slower ice gives me a chance to relax and not have to deal with as much lean in the turns, which is something I’m still learning how to do, so at the end of the day, it’s a personal advantage for me that Sochi will be slow.

FirstLoser: People are thinking world records and Olympic records will be hard to come by as a result of the venue. Is that important to you?

Mantia: Records are great, but there’s no guarantee that they will last forever. If I can make it to the podium at these games, that’s an accomplishment that no one will ever be able to take away from me, that’s the focus.

No one's in it to lose. L to R Shani Davis, Brian Hansen, Joey Mantia.

No one’s in it to lose. L to R Shani Davis, Brian Hansen, Joey Mantia.

FirstLoser: Fair enough. So with this being your first games and you being relatively new on the ice, how do you see yourself skating against these guys who’ve already won numerous gold medals in your events?

Mantia: I’m not going to the Olympics to just participate… I’m chasing gold. I proved to myself in Berlin that I have what it takes, I just need to bring everything together and make it happen in Sochi.

FirstLoser: Man, to even be able to make a statement like that…you’re in a position to actually do it! Did you ever really think, long ago when you were a little kid slogging it out back in Florida, that you’d be sitting there in Italy freezing your butt off tonight, with two short weeks between you and the opening ceremonies?

The future Olympian, doing what makes him happy.

The future Olympian, doing what makes him happy.

Mantia: When I was a kid, I just lived in the moment. I loved the sport. I couldn’t get enough of being on my skates, but I never really thought about where it could take me. In hindsight, there was a point where I almost ruined this entire Olympic opportunity for myself. When I was in elementary school, there was a period of time that I got teased so hard for being a skater that I seriously considered quitting.

FirstLoser: I still get made fun of for doing it, but that’s another story…go on.

Mantia: I remember coming home from school pretty upset. Some of the kids at school and in the neighborhood would call me names and stuff, you know, typical things kids that age do, I just really took it to heart.

FirstLoser: Today that wouldn’t be teasing though, it would be bullying, wouldn’t it?

Mantia: I guess I never really considered it bullying, but either way it wasn’t fun. Anyway, that went on for a couple months, and I went through a little point where I stopped wanting to go to practice because of it. I guess I was ten or eleven at the time, but I still remember.

FirstLoser: How did you overcome that challenge at such an early age?

Mantia: You know, I don’t really remember telling my parents about it, I would just make up different excuses for why I didn’t want to go to practice. Luckily, my dad didn’t ever let that slide, he was pretty strict about never missing practice. I’m thankful for that now because it’s probably one of the main reasons I am where I am today.

FirstLoser: So then, having lived through that, what advice do you have for kids dealing with something similar, being able to look back on it from where you are today, as an Olympian?

Mantia: Looking back, it was just a huge inconvenience. It affected me emotionally, and caused a lot of unhappiness, but at the end of the day, skating made me happy, and that was more important than anything. I guess my best advice is just to realize that it’s a small phase of your life, it’s not going to last forever. Most importantly, as hard as it is to realize right now, those who make fun of you for petty things like that…they don’t matter at all. I feel like more often than not, those are the same people who’ll end up envying what you’ve become later in life. Life is going to be full of incredible opportunities; you’ll come out on top in the long run.

FirstLoser: Did that experience help form the dominant skater you became?

Mantia: No man, I just felt pretty bad about it. I felt like I wasn’t accepted. At that age, I didn’t have a goal to be the best in the world, I just liked to skate.

FirstLoser: I imagine at some point, as you got into high-school and started racking up the medals, things started to change for you, yes?

Mantia: Yeah. I remember, the older I got, the older everyone else got, it became cooler that I was a skater. I was traveling around the world doing what I loved to do. Then in high school, it was a lot more “legit.” By the time I was a senior, everyone seemed pretty stoked about it (laughs). I was in high school with a professional skating contract, living the life!

FirstLoser: Tell us a little about “the life.” You clearly had a great time. What was that like?

Mantia: It was awesome man. The money was coming in year to year. I was able to buy my own things, help my parents out with bills and stuff. I was traveling around the world training and racing…it was the dream.

FirstLoser: In terms of skating, who were the important people in your life at the time?

Mantia: Doug Glass (owner of Nestivo, the makers of Luigino skates) was my mentor. It was Renee (Hildebrand) who molded me into an athlete and created the base upon which my career was to be built. There was nobody better for the job. It was Doug who taught me how to race against the best guys in the world, on a World Class level. He had experience; he knew what it took to win. He had done the same for (Chad) Hedrick.

FirstLoser: What was that training and mentoring like?

Mantia: Nothing was ever better than training in Ocala (Florida, his boyhood home) with Team Florida. I was on Renee’s program, with a huge team to support my growth. Practices were even more effective because of the sheer number of people that attended. We would have burn-paces that wrapped around three quarters of the floor; it just raised the competitiveness of each workout to the next level. The mentoring was something I really needed. I wasn’t the most confident skater back then, and Doug gave me no choice but to be ruthless. Losing was never an option. That being said, if the races didn’t go as planned, he would break down exactly why and we would move on to the next one, it was a healthy environment.

FirstLoser: That sounds incredible. And with the weather, you guys were always outside too! I’m jealous! How frequently does a team like that practice?

Mantia: When I was young, I can remember we had outdoor practice at least two times a week. We’d do indoor four times a week. Plus, there were all the sessions I was skating. (Laughs) I was on my skates a lot as a kid.

FirstLoser: Well, I’ve seen pictures of those old Team Florida practices; those were some huge lines, full of elites, especially those outdoor sessions. You were probably racing each other constantly, weren’t you?

From L to R: Seth Gordon, Paul Fitzpatrick, Renee Hildebrand, Joey Mantia.

From L to R: Seth Gordon, Paul Fitzpatrick, Renee Hildebrand, Joey Mantia.

Mantia: Yeah, definitely. There was one guy, Paul Fitzpatrick. That kid is probably responsible for me being good when I was younger. I never wanted him to beat me, and he never wanted me to beat him. We battled every day.

FirstLoser: With such a big, competitive team, what was it like at practice? Did you guys bicker a lot?

Mantia: (laughs) Funny thing. I remember when I was younger and getting faster, I was to the point where I needed to move back behind the sophomore girls in the burn pace, and they did not like that. I could just hear them talking crap in front of me after I did it. (Laughs) But I moved back anyway, and after a practice or two it was just accepted. All in all, everyone got along pretty well though; we were a big family.

Stoking Olympic aspirations: L to R: Olympian Brittany Bowe, Renee Hildebrand, Joey Mantia.

Stoking Olympic aspirations: L to R: Olympian Brittany Bowe, Renee Hildebrand, Joey Mantia.

FirstLoser: So was it at that point that you realized you were getting a lot faster?

Mantia: I guess it was one day at outdoor practice when it hit me. A few people were making a big fuss about me leading too fast and I remember thinking that it wasn’t that fast. But from then on, I just knew that if people were mad because they were hurting to keep up, I was skating well. I’ll never forget what Renee told me once. She said, “…if everyone likes you, you’re not skating fast enough.”

FirstLoser: Ah, that’s great line. You did that so often, just dropped the field, leading really fast. I mean, how many races did you finish with literally no one on you, and how much did your team play a role in those dominant races?

Why hawk? First in the 500m at Worlds.

Why hawk? First in the 500m at Worlds.

Mantia: (Laughs) It’s happened a time or two. My last year as a junior at worlds, I was pretty strong. I won ten of the twelve gold medals. The other two were silver. I finished a few races there with no one close. Over the years, I won a lot of world titles pretty much alone, but there were times where I absolutely couldn’t have won without the work of the team. Actually, my first Junior World title ever, Terrence Almond was the perfect teammate.

FirstLoser: That leads us to an inevitable question. How have you dealt with haters throughout your career?

Mantia: That’s a weird situation, because those on the receiving end say things like, “I love the haters.” I’ve said it before myself, but it’s a facade. No one really wants people talking negatively about them. In terms of dealing with it, I just learned to accept it after I realized something: if people choose to talk about you, regardless of what they’re saying, it’s a bit flattering when you consider how many things there are in this world they could choose to talk about. Most of the time, the people that are saying negative things, don’t really know you at all.

FirstLoser: Well, I can’t imagine anyone is talking smack now. Let’s get back to where you are today. That little kid that got picked on has made it to the big time. You’ve already shared what it was like to make the team, but you’re actually skating two individual events, the 1,000m and the 1,500m. It’s the 1,500m that you’ve said is your sweet spot. So let’s come forward in time, but back just a bit to what was going through your head when you were on the starting line in the 1,500m at Olympic Trials. You’d already made the team, now you’re going for your second event. What were you focused on before the gun when off?

Mantia: I was still really nervous because I didn’t feel very good on my skates in the warm up, and I knew it was going to be a rough race. I’m getting better at identifying that, and also getting better and fixing it before I actually step on the line, but I haven’t perfected the art yet. Knowing I was already on the team was a little relieving, but my best shot at a medal in Sochi is undoubtedly the 1,500m, so I really needed to make the team for that event, the pressure was still on.

FirstLoser: On that subject, perfecting the art of calming your nerves, have you developed any pre-race habits or rituals that get you in the zone and out of that nervousness? Do you have a special mantra you repeat to yourself?

Mantia: Not really, I just try to focus on the task at hand and really break down my race strategy over and over before I get out on the ice, but it’s not a set routine every single time. I get nervous thinking about a routine or ritual before I go out there. I just like to keep calm and focus.

FirstLoser: Do you use visualization techniques to do things like “see the win before it happens?”

Mantia: Yeah, I definitely use that technique sometimes. It helps to see it before you step out on the ice. If your mind is in a familiar place, the body always reacts much better.

FirstLoser: Did you use it in Berlin, before winning your World Cup gold? Did you see that win before it happened?

Mantia: Now that I think about it, no actually. I was skating badly that whole week at practice, so I just went out in the race and tried to nail a couple technical things to the best of my ability. I never step on the line to lose, but I guess the long term goal at that point was to get the skating dialed back in really tight before Olympic Trials. I guess that further solidifies my belief in the skater who skates the best usually wins.

FirstLoser: How about in trials? Did you expect that you’d do so well in the 500m? Were you training for that race or was your race performance just reflective of your overall conditioning?

Celebrating his PBR in the 500m at Olympic Trials.

Celebrating his PBR in the 500m at Olympic Trials.

Mantia: I never train for that race, although I really, really wanted to make the 500m, just for peace of mind during the rest of trials. Even though I came up short, it was nice to make a big personal jump in my performance. My start is so awful on the ice that it makes being competitive in that event impossible; I definitely want to spend the next 4 years with that as one of my main focuses.

FirstLoser: That’s one of the areas the live commentators zeroed in on during the televised portion of trials. They’d call out the difference in the “inliner” start versus skaters who’d come up on ice. Generally, there’s been a lot of hay about inliners being so dominant this year, but it’s nothing new. Everyone has an opinion, so how about yours? From the man at the top, why are inliners so strong in long track?

Mantia: Pain. I think we aren’t afraid to hurt like hell when we come over. Moreover, we typically have pretty good work ethic on the ice. I also think that we have a decent idea of what it feels like to have efficient strokes, and that sweet feeling you get when things just click and it becomes “easy.” Knowing that exists keeps us hungry and always searching for that Holy Grail, so to speak.

FirstLoser: You point to the kind of pain you live for on your blog. Where has the pain been for you during this transition, the past two seasons on ice? Where have you found the greatest mental challenges?

Mantia: Just in this last season alone, the Calgary and Salt Lake City World Cups were really tough on me. Skating in Calgary was hard, it was the first big competition of the season and things were just not clicking. I was down in the dumps bad. Same for Salt Lake City. I just knew it wasn’t going well, but I still had to go out and race. That sucked. That’s where the mental agony comes from. It’s like knowing you don’t know some of the words to the national anthem, but having to go out and sing it in front of thousands of people anyway. It’s that kind of pain (laughs). I’m just hard on myself when it’s not going well.

FirstLoser: How much of a motivator is it for you to turn things around, that kind of pain? Do you wake up one day, snap out of it and charge forward? I mean, clearly it works for you. Describe the rebound effect.

Mantia: It’s a huge motivator. It takes time on the ice, because for me, it’s almost always something technical, so figuring that out takes some time. Mentally, I’m ready to fix it instantly, but it usually doesn’t come over night.

FirstLoser: But how do you channel the bad vibes into positive outcomes?

Mantia: (Laughs) I just remember how bad it feels to lose like that and I do whatever I can to never feel that again. Sometimes you just can’t control it though, or so it seems.

FirstLoser: So then would you say you learned something about yourself mentally in Calgary and Salt Lake City that made you better, stronger and faster since?

Mantia: You know, I’m not sure, because I know what it feels like to fail. I’ve done it enough, and it sucks. Those kinds of experiences just confirm how much I hate it. But, I guess I do learn from those experiences. They just let me know how much harder I needed to work on the technique. They confirm what I already knew in that sense as well. I mean, at this point it’s either fail or achieve, and I’m beyond the point of needing extra motivation from losing. (Laughs) I’m not on the fence with how hard I should work at practice, or the amount of effort I put into visualizations and such. I’ve been one-hundred percent all-in for a while now.

FirstLoser: Yeah, you’ve been all-in for quite some time, that’s why you’re where you are. But you said something back there. When you say it’s almost always something technical to correct, what happens, do you just forget things? Is it nuance that you lose?

It wasn't uncommon to see Mantia doing circle drills in the infield before a big race.

It wasn’t uncommon to see Mantia doing circle drills in the infield before a big race.

Mantia: Yeah, things I was doing naturally well and wasn’t aware of, I just occasionally stop doing those things out of the blue. So I happen to get it right by chance, and it goes in the right direction for a while, but then one day it just goes away, and because it was something I didn’t know I was doing, it’s hard to deal with and correct sometimes.

FirstLoser: Oh my God, I know exactly what you mean. What’s with that?

Mantia: When you’re a kid, you just go, you know? You don’t care too much about technique; it just starts to develop without too much direct focus. Really, it’s just the nature of the sport. Golf is the same way. You get older and a little more aware, and then it’s really just over-thinking that, at the end of the day, is the root cause of so many more hours being spent on form. It can be an exhausting double-edged sword.

FirstLoser: Well, then there’s the very different pain of having to have a day job while you’re putting in your time, paying your dues on the World Cup circuit, right? A lot of folks see skaters turning to gofundme and sites like that just to survive, because on ice, when you’re in training, you’re just playing a big “what-if” game till you can actually get to the games, right? What’s it like for you being an athlete making ends meet while training for the Olympics?

Mantia: I guess the best way to paint the picture is by asking, if you weren’t getting paid, would you continue to work your job week after week, for years, to possibly collect the money you’ve earned one day? But then, that paycheck is contingent upon you doing that job really, really, really well…so well that you’re one of the best in the world at it? The answer is probably “No way!” That’s pretty much what athletes do until they make it to the top. We train for years and years, risking never collecting that paycheck at all, because we don’t do it for the money, we do it for the feeling we know exists if we one day find ourselves standing on that first place podium. The problem is, that fuzzy, addicting feeling doesn’t pay for food, or rent, or any of the things we need to make that dream happen, so it’s a little stressful. Yeah, we could get jobs, but it would significantly take away from the quality of training and with time being of the essence, each practice must count for everything. Personally, I’ve been extremely lucky to have people help support me along the way. From my parents doing what they can to help, to donors on my gofundme site, to those buying my Olympic tees, it all adds up in a huge way, until I can hopefully make it high enough up again to where I can be self-sufficient.

What’s it all for, this investment in pain and humility? That shot at immortality that only an Olympic medal can deliver? Sure, that’s probably a huge part of it. But there’s more. The modern Olympic Games have endured for over one-hundred years for good cause, because they represent civilized man at his best. The idea that the nations of the world can come together, in good times or bad, and compete in a non-warlike spirit of peace, excellence, friendship and respect, it’s truly a noble effort that speaks well of us as a species. When the 230 members of the US Olympic Speedskating Team arrive in Sochi, Russia in two weeks, they’ll be representing us in that endeavor. The pain they’ve endured will have been on our behalf. Their goals become ours, as a nation. And as we’ve seen through Joey’s example, the evolution of his Olympic spirit started long ago. His #RoadToSochi has been long, having started well before ever stepping foot on the ice. And as he’s just now getting to that place where he’ll be in peak condition, standing ready to represent us, we can anticipate that he’ll be out there giving it his all, because it’s what he’s trained to do.

With just under two more weeks to go, we’ll wrap up our time with Joey by bringing it back home to inlines in part three of our conversation, just as he’s entering the Olympic Village as one of the best ice skaters the world has ever seen.

Support Team Mantia: jmantia.com
Joey’s GoFundMe Site: Joey Mantia gofundme
Follow Joey on Facebook: Official Joey Mantia Page
Follow Joey on Twitter: @jrmantia

Ice to meet you

In the course of events in this thing I call my life, I need to mix things up. I’m not the kinda guy that you can expect to sit still for more than a few minutes at a clip, at least with my pants on…

REVEALED: This is how I cop so much time on SkateLog Speed Skating Forum.

I need to be busy. Need to be doing something. And no matter what it is, if I really find it interesting, I can become very disciplined, very quickly and develop routines that I’ll adhere to, religiously, for years without interruption. But once I start getting bored, the routines get hard to maintain, and I need to find something to spice things up, or I’ll start getting lazy and I’ll start relying on anything I can find to use as an excuse to get distracted from that thing I was so engrossed with that it became a part of my daily life and part of the definition of…me.

My career as Skatey Spice was short lived...I just couldn't bring myself to shave my legs.

I’ll admit it…I started getting bored with this thing of ours. That’s right. I started to become a slacker skater. If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you’ve seen the ups and downs. What I’ve published here really only scratches the surface. And yes, my posts do tend to exaggerate the state of things, and go more for a cheap fart joke than any real substance, but that aside it’s a pretty honest portrayal of my skating life. I’ve added emphasis there because my skating life is truly more than roller skating, or, you know, inline speed skating. Ice has become a part of this thing I do. To the extent that I should really just say I’m a skater, as opposed to an inline skater, because the latter implies a singularity of purpose that just isn’t in my make up anymore. It’s like saying “I’m a road-skater,” or “I’m a trail-skater,” or “I’m an indoor speed skater,” or “I’m a marathon skater.” The label “inline skater” has become too restrictive. And since freedom is so much of what I love about this sport, I think saying “I’m a skater” is about as liberating as I can get. That said, inline is really my core so I’m not dumping the label. I’m just more open-minded about this thing I do.

We're just not coming at this from the same place.

Being one of such open mind, I decided that since nude speed skating is flat-out too dangerous and just wrong (God knows the view would be hanus trying to catch a draft,) 2011 is the year of doing things differently. By that I mean setting new goals, tackling new challenges and stretching past my comfort zone. It’s one thing to try to break a personal best time, whether it’s for 100m or 26.2 miles. It’s another to try to become somewhat competent in another discipline, and that’s what I’ve chosen to focus on. I’ve moved to ice. Not in the epic sense of a Jondon Trevena or Derek Parra or Chad Hedrick. No. Just in the sense of being me and trying something new. And it’s been a humbling experience, one that’s done the ego some good.

Taking a similar track to what I did my first year on inlines, I jumped right into the deep end of training and competing. Honestly, the main reason I haven’t been updating these pages all that much lately is that I’ve been using all the spare time I can find to get me some quality ice time on my new Marchese One boots and Marchese Zero blades. (Full disclosure…CadoMotus makes these Marchese’s, and CadoMotus is a sponsor of First Loser.)

These skates kick butt.

Yep…I’ve become a short track slut, puttin’ out on the ice as much as I can, and gettin’ my money’s worth out of the Ice Center Super Pass I bought in February. But I digress…

To really kick up the excitement a notch, I competed in my first ice meet earlier this season, The 2011 Colorado Speed Skating Championships. The meet was organized by Colorado Gold Speedskating, and they’re just awesome! anyway…this meet was a quick test of my ego-resiliency. Considering that my only real competition was a self-described “old lady” and some guys that have been doing short track for all of maybe eight months to a year, I was thinking I was on my way to gold, or at least the claim of having my First Loser status carry over in my ice debut. That wasn’t to be the case. I did pretty well, in that I got the entry fee’s worth out of the event by placing in my heats and skating all the finals, but the podium was a bit further away than I thought it would be.

Turns out I was competing in the masters division. So even though I was on the ice with the Bony Pony’s, or whatever we were being called, I was skating against those guys I was watching and going “Holy S#!t look at that!” So needless to say I didn’t come home with any medals (not even a freaking participation award or a chocolate bar) but I did skate away having had a great time and really falling for this new discipline. (Father’s pride: Freezy Weezy took third in his division!)

Freezy Weezy takes Bronze!

As it stands right now, I’m on the fence about NSIM this year. I honestly don’t know if I’m going to go. It’s a lot of effort for a little better than an hour’s worth of skating time. Yes, it’s the premiere event for me, no doubt. But I’m not excited about the idea anywhere near as much as I’m stoked to go to a short track clinic at the Oval in SLC in June, and compete here in Fort Collins at our first ice meet in October. I’m truly excited and I’m working hard to try to improve my technique so that I can show improvement versus what I did down there at the World Arena in April. That’s got me fired up man. Honestly, I miss that about inline. That same fire just ain’t there anymore.

DON’T GET ME WRONG DAMNIT! I still love inline skating more than any other sport. And now that the weather is somewhat improving here in NoCo I’ve been able to hit the trails with gusto again (94 miles logged last week!) and I’m truly amazed every time I skate in my Pro M1’s on the trail and feel truly in command of every facet of my stride, but it’s that, I don’t know, maybe it’s the novelty of new-found passion that I just don’t have for inline anymore. With inline, it’s like I have something to maintain. I’ve achieved a little something. With ice, I ain’t done s#!t, so I’ve got the world before me. And with a 1:07 500m time, I’ve got nowhere to go but up…at least I hope.

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR

Crazy F’in Glenn is at it again! Just to make things nice and tidy, he’s offered up a really schweet deal on Bont Patriot Short Track boots and Bont ice blades. Check it speed freaks:

Any in-stock Bont Patriot short track boots, normally $225, this month only, $175. 

Any  in-stock Bont Platinum blades (top-of-the-line!), normally $450, this month only, $375.

NEW – full custom Bont Patriot boots and Platinum blades, $1000!  Note that the blades alone normally retail for $450.  Shipping and applicable taxes extra, please.

Email Glenn today: glenn916@yahoo.com to get this crazy azz deal before it’s too late. Sorry Rick! (Inside joke.)

Do the namaste

Roll out your stinky mat, light the incense, rub some coriander oil into your pecs and get ready to get downward D-O-Double-G. This is another one of those things I said I’d never do. But here I sit…and I think…they say change comes from within, so the next time I break one off I want to pass a Grant, two Jackson’s and a Hamilton, with interest, ’cause I’ve been holding this exploration for a long time. That’s right Boo-boo…bang a gong and strike a pose as we endure initiation into the world of Yoga. Who’s your Yogi, baby?

A few more inches and I'll never have to leave the house again...

It started innocently enough…Horseypants invited me to attend what her friend Mrs. Needle Pusher (SpeedLord’s Mom) sucked her into…Core Power Yoga. I’d done a Yoga class with her a few years before, so I knew what I was getting into. And since I’m down a few sizes since my Jabba-The-Hutt Mu-Mu wearing days, and I’ve been told that I need to get more flexible, I decided it was time to try again.

My first observation: Yoga isn’t just for unbathed hippies, flatulent vegans or chicks that like their partners hung like a doughnut anymore…not only is my own MILF regularly going, but there were plenty of would-be yogis in what Mr. Needle Pusher calls “distracting” outfits. The talent has really come along since the last time I tried this 10 years ago. But other than the influx of Cougars and Co-eds, not much more has changed, particularly the smell of sweat steeped patchouli and the heat.

The ambient music helped create a mood that allowed me to drop my cynicism just long enough to relax and flow with the experience. We start in Balasana, or Child pose, which I imagine is a very familiar posture for your average practicing Muslim, but instead of chanting prayers toward Mecca you’re silent on your knees, driving your hips and weight down over your heels at the same time pushing your forehead into the mat under you and stretching out your arms on the floor over your head. It creates an expansive cavity for you to focus on your breath and release tension in all of your major muscle groups. It’s very effective as a warm up all by itself.

Child pose...don't eat pork and beans the night before class.

As I’ve come to learn, the practice is centered on synchronization of timing and motion. Timing the motion of your body to be synchronous with your breath. With focused practice, Yoga becomes a moving meditation. In the first few weeks I was moving with nothing like what you’d call Swiss accuracy, but by the third week I began to get just a slight feel for the fluidity that the instructors move with. I’ve got a long road ahead of me, but it’s just like those first few times you nail a good double push. You know this can only get better the more you practice, and you start to think about it obsessively, living in anticipation of your next training session to do it again. At least, that’s how I know it’s right for me.

And like skating, you’ve got to start slowly and build a foundation. I’ve chosen to spend time with the breathing, as breath control is something I always struggle with. In Yoga practice, the breath work starts right in Balsana. In pose, it’s simply a matter of taking purposeful long, slow breaths, and timing them so that as you enter a new posture, you lengthen your musculature on the inward breath, and find depth upon the breath release. In some postures, that’s lengthening your spine by lifting your chest to the ceiling as you’re breathing in, and going deeper into a twist or a stretch on release.

A number of these postures were familiar due to the inordinate amount of time I spend being down low as a speed skater or sitting on the crapper. With inline speed skating I’ve built a pretty solid core, so to get down and hold Utkatasana, or Chair pose, isn’t a problem for my quads, but man, it takes on a whole new dimension when you raise your arms over your head and straighten your spine.

Let's see Cheney do this! Heh, heh...

We also use runner’s stretch, and a lot of the Warrior poses put you into a forward lunge that’s familiar. I was surprised at how hard it was to find balance in some of these poses considering the amount of time I spend doing one-legged drills, both on inlines and ice, but I found that as I focused more on my breathing, it was easier to achieve the balance I was looking for. One of the coolest poses is Eagle pose, where you move from the Chair pose to this pose shown below:

Eagle pose: what I usually look like on the floor after attempting a Hawk. To pull this off while standing is a bird of a different feather.

My problem with Eagle is that I can’t seem to get my foot wrapped around by calf, because my blood is tiger’s milk and I have the legs of Adonis. But I digress…The dude in the pic above isn’t fully there, as this one also requires you to get your elbows up to shoulder level. Talk about brutal, but that’s not the worst of it. There’s this inversion pose called Crow pose…

Seriously, WTF am I doing here?

In Crow, you’ve got to balance yourself on the shelf you create with your triceps after you’ve been doing this in a hot room for 45 minutes. This gets slippery…and the danger of face plant is high. Go ahead and try and do this one, naked in front of a mirror (just for added kicks.) Oh, and hold it for a minimum of 5 deep breath cycles. Yeah…Charlie Sheen couldn’t even hang with that s#&t, boyee! It’s Epic!

There are many other poses that skaters can benefit from. And with the Core Power program, they run you through other core building exercises like bicycle crunches. A lot of the poses really stretch out your hammies. After an hour, I’m spent, dripping wet and smelling of rotten feet (but that’s because I hit the Yoga class after having spent an hour on the ice. The chicks really dig the aroma.)

If anything, I’m thinking Yoga will allow me to get deeper in my seat, and improve my core strength, stacked alignment and balance when I’m skating, both inline and on the ice. Am I more flexible? Hard to say at this point. I do know this…I feel a lot more vulnerable, and sometimes really dirty, like I need to take a shower to wash off the ugliness…

I got worried when the instructor introduced herself as Yogi Strap-On Sally.

This might have something to do with Happy Baby pose.

Free ice time!

From my buddy TASII in Indiana…what to do when 1/3 of the nation is under a couple of inches of ice: OUTDOOR PRACTICE!

That’s thinking!

Zen and the art of speedskating

Like a chronic wanker with Parkinson’s, I often find amusement and get sidetracked for hours…inadvertently. I don’t mean to, but when something piques my interest, I grab hold and shake it for all it’s worth, squeezing every last drop of fun out of it before moving on. Blessing or curse? You decide. I can do the same within the realm of thought, and sometimes, that endeavor proves more productive…

The Thinker, 2011. I got nothin' but time (and a case of silver bullet long necks.)

This ice fascination has really taken tenacious hold of me, and it’s making me do things I once thought…improbable. Like even entertaining the idea of blowing off inline speed skating practice to get some time in at the public ice skating sessions at our local ice rink. Because when I’m out there, I get lost in another zone, where hours speed by like minutes, and the experience leads to a higher level of enlightenment every time.

When skating, I just skate.

It’s deep…I’ve been focused on the sound of silence. That state where you’re no longer toe-pushing and hearing that horrible crunching sound at the end of your stride. For me, it was truly a Zen experience the first time I made it around the entire oval without making a sound. It took three solo practice sessions and three regular classes, but I’ve finally got it. Worked on the straightaways first for a week, then the corners. It was time well spent.

I’m continually amazed at how easy it is to get lost in thought while I’m on the ice. The time goes whizzing by when I’m out there. Well…it’s not like I’m really “lost” in thought, because I’m very aware of what’s going on around me. Rather, it’s that I’m elevated above what’s happening by the thoughts going through my head. Does that make sense? It’s not like I can see myself, but it is a whole lot easier for me to visualize my form when I’m on ice.

I think it’s because I’m so much more into my form. I’m becoming very aware of the subtly of the art of speedskating on ice. It’s really a perfect mix of science and art. I’ve become a mad physicist, conducting experiments, tests and proofs on each lap. I’ll take one stiff-shouldered, then another loose. I’ll push my knees way forward on one lap, and sit back into my heel in the next. It’s so much fun making mental notes of the results. With these notes, I’m kinda coming into my own, referring to them often when I get tired or hear that familiar crunch. Taking instruction from the coaching staff becomes so much more meaningful for me when I’m able to spend more time playing with this stuff on my own. Having their guidance and my own notes, I’m able to make corrections easier when my form starts to break down. I’m able to pinpoint what was wrong, and for me, it’s more apparent and easy to see on the ice than it is on inlines.

That said, WOW! Has the ice ever helped my inline speed skating form. And honestly, I’m back to a place where that’s REALLY got me fired up about inline. And as it turns out, I haven’t actually gotten to a place where I’ve blown off inline practice for ice. Not yet at least. For as any Zen master would ask, “What am I?” And deep down, I know that answer as it relates to skating. I skate, therefore I am.

Freezy Weezy Rising

Okay, look. Once in a while, we all get…a little soft. Soft in the middle, soft in the pants or soft in…the heart. This isn’t your usual First Loser pull-my-finger and tug-my-womprat blog post, this one’s for my bud Speedy Weezy. He’s my skating hero.

Speedy Weezy transitions to ice at seven. Say hello to Freezy Weezy.

We started the new year with a new competitive sport. If you’re a parent, you know that with a seven year old, that’s not too hard to do. With year-round opportunities to play soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, cycling, football, lacrosse, curling, swimming, phart boxing and Pokemon, I was pleasantly surprised when Speedy Weezy said he wanted to do competitive short track. Not wanting him to specialize with anything at such an early age, even my beloved inline speed skating, for fear of causing burnout, chronic repetitive motion injuries and a host of other reasons, Horseypants and I actively encourage him to try as many different sports as we can find. That he keeps coming back to skating on his own makes me happy. Inline and now ice, the kid obviously enjoys it. And in my mind, while they’re essentially the same sport, as many of you know, ice and inline are such completely different disciplines that I really do consider them separate, but mutually supportive, sports. (That’s my “avoiding specialization” loophole for the more astute observers amongst you.)

Converted Rollerblades with custom "Hairy Monster" blade covers.

Having spent Christmas vacation getting our ice legs under us in preparation for the Mile High Open on January 2nd, we went into it with no expectations other than to just have a good time. This is actually just like we approached our first trip to Wichita last year for him to compete on inlines in the Team United Inline Speedskating Classic, so in retrospect I’m not surprised by his performance on ice. He did really well. Better than what we could have prepared him for. He just got out there and skated his heart out. He’s a natural.

Freezy starts his competitive ice career.

It’s a father’s pride that starts to step on my journalistic objectivity here. I even have to put my inline coach role to the side on this one, because a couple of our really talented and hard working skaters were competing too. All great kids, but now I’m speaking as Freezy Weezy’s Dad, and here’s the unvarnished truth…I wanted Freezy Weezy to WIN at this. Not just win, but CRUSH IT. Beat everyone, friends and strangers alike. And I say strangers because I don’t believe in foes in all of this.

But back to my cleansing…deep breath…when it comes to my boy I wanted to see him win everything at this meet and for once I want to drop the pretense of political correctness that says I need to tell EVERY kid who skates how great they are. Just once, I want to look MY kid in the eye and say, “Damn Dude, you’re the best!” I want to do it and not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. Just like every other parent. There, it’s been done. As a coach, I’ve just committed a carnal sin. So that’s why I’d never in a million years say such a thing when wearing my coaches hat. But I’m not now and it is what it is. I know at this point I’ve pissed a few people off. So it goes…

Freezy Weezy did great for his first meet. Really. Not a “fish tale” here. He was out there skating against quite a mixed group and qualified for every final in every distance. He came in First Loser in many of the races behind one of the Brothers Speed.

Ohno! We got photobombed! At least he got the FirstLoser hand salute right, but placed in front of the forehead would have taken the gold.

It’s great to see him competing with his friends and have it be a healthy competition. Freezy and the Brothers Speed have a great friendly rivalry that pushes the three of them to really try and do their best. Freezy almost won a race straight up, but slipped in the turn. It was a final, so at least he’d gotten to skate the full set.

The organizers of this event, Colorado Gold, did an awesome job from soup to nuts. In the end, Freezy took home a First Place ribbon for his age group and a really sweet Hersey’s bar. All of the participants got something, and in my heart I know that was a good thing. And all of the kids and skaters who went to this meet did great. Really, they all skated well, had a great time and fell deeper in love with the sport. All great outcomes, and truly what I want for all of them. But…

…you know, there are times when I think we’ve lost something as a culture when we can no longer sing We Are The Champions without worrying about losing friends, hurting feelings or trying to make everyone feel good about themselves. Does that make me a schmuck? I think not. It makes me a sports parent, and human. It’s all about having fun…yes. But winning is a lot more fun than losing or just doing your best – WE ALL KNOW IT! For me, I’ll take First Loser and truly be good with it. But for my kid, it’s nothing less than world domination and gold on a rope. I’m very proud of him. He’s working hard, he’s got talent, and he’s applying himself. It’s hard when you’re seven. Hard to control the urge to goof off, hard not to be distracted. But he’s doing his best and he’s doing great. Sometimes he needs help, and that’s why Horseypants and I are here. He’s fighting against natural and powerful forces to become better at something that’s really difficult to master. He’s well on his way and there’s nothing anyone can take from him. He’s got the world ahead of him, and nothing but good times in the rear-view mirror. At least for now. I hope he can keep it that way, but at the end of the day it will be up to him. I’ll support him through it all, by being honest and being there. He’s my hero, and I’ll love him forever no matter what.

Short track hijinks

So I’ve developed an interest in short track speed skating, and I’ve been out here making jokes about figure skating, but man, did you know how bad-ass the sport of figure skating has become? I’m not talking about a relatively good natured competitive knee knocking, I’m talking serious s#*t…vehicular manslaughter, sex tapes, drugs, multiple DUI’s, various and sundry “alleged” assault charges, several divorces, bankruptcies, bars, nightclubs & strip joints, hair metal, groupies and girls, girls, girls.

"Ponytails make for a competitive disadvantage guys. Maybe it's time for a haircut?"

The world of figure skating has become a Theater of Pain in which Dr. Feelgood has taken center stage, Shouting At The Devil for the enjoyment of Captain America and the Minions of Media Consumption. Amazing…yet another 80’s metal icon, Motley Crüe front-man Vince Neil, has become a TV darling that my mother would love…just like Ozzy F@#%ing Osbourne, Bret Michaels and The Demon, Gene Simmons. (Whoops…I don’t mess with Gene man, he’s my idol. The man has been a mentor since I was seven. Forget I mentioned him.) Vince Neil on Skating With The Stars. OMG…

This is SOOOOOOOO painful to watch. Fall of Rome type stuff man. It might actually be more fun to watch them feeding believers to the lions, cause this is just pure hell. How much farther can we fall?

As we wait for the imminent collapse of Western Civilization, my son and I are having a great time learning how to take what we know about inline speed skating and apply it to ice. He’s a quick learner, very adaptable, and has taken to it more naturally and a lot quicker than I have. It’s taking me time, but I’m enjoying it.

US Jondon Trevena skates in the mens 5000m speed skating finals 09 February 2002 at the Utah Olympic Oval during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. AFP PHOTO TIMOTHY A. CLARY (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Picking up where we left off…Last time I went to Jondon’s ice class, I was slipping and sliding, going slow and falling at slow speed, which left me wet & sore. I didn’t go back. This time though, I applied some of the technique I’ve learned on inlines and had a much better result. Long straight-away glides, leaning into the turns, shoulder & hip alignment…that and I’d learned enough watching the others that I knew I could survive a turn by loading up all of my weight on my right skate. Choosing not to fall over form, I avoided crossovers for the entire class. I didn’t create any real power and I couldn’t stay with the line when they powered out onto the straightaway, but I didn’t care, I was just having a blast getting a feel for the edges…which for me was just one at this point, and mostly on the right skate! (Double push is hard to un-learn, but completely necessary at this early stage. Oi!)  By the end of class though, when no one was looking, I started doing a circle drill by myself and lo and behold, when I put some weight on my left skate I was actually getting some traction and felt comfortable crossing over. It was at that point I knew I had to go back for more. I was starting to see why technical skaters do so well going over to ice, and I liked it.

With my addictive personality, it quickly became an obsession. So compulsively, the very next day, we went back. The day after that too, hitting two public sessions for up to three and a half hours of additional ice time that week. By the end of the second day, I was getting low in the turns, able to crossover the whole way, and combined with long straight away strides, was going hella fast. More importantly, Speedy Weezy was making incredible gains. It was perfect. Another kid from the speed class was there at the second open session, so we were both able to chase him around and do a quick study of his form. By the sessions end, Speedy was keeping up with this kid, touching the ice with every turn and really having a great time experimenting, falling, spinning, slamming into the boards and doing it all over again with the goal of staying up next time. (“Dad, if you’re not falling you’re not working hard enough!” he shouted as he left me in the ice-dust.) We giggled all the way home, laughing and bragging to each other about our spectacular wipe outs. Sliding into the boards at high speed, spinning on our tails (or on all-fours doing 360°’s halfway down the straightaway,) getting dizzy, bonding over ice. I’ll never forget that ride home with him.

And here’s the best part…what we were really doing with these extra sessions was getting Speedy some extra time on the ice before his first meet, which was coming up that weekend…to be continued.

HEY! Check out the Training Log page for self-incriminating detail of how I work it. Or not.