Tag Archives: inline

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


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

Joey Mantia: From Inline to Olympiad

“The preeminent victory you dream about as a kid, the victory that makes all the sacrifices worth it, the kind you attain over your fiercest rivals that brings you to the top of the world…that’s the victory I live for.” – Joey Mantia

If you’re reading this and you’re a skater, you know. Joey Mantia is one of the most successful inline speed skaters in history. 28 World titles, countless national records, verified world speed records…there’s little he hasn’t achieved in the sport of inline speed skating. We’re talking about the most decorated inline speed skater of his generation. So it came as no surprise when he traded in his wheels for steel, in pursuit of Olympic gold on ice with US Speedskating. It was inevitable.

It’s one thing to be selected to participate in the joint USA Rollersports / US Speedskating / US Olympic Committee Wheels on Ice Program (WhIP), but it’s quite another to make the US Speedskating World Cup Team, and something yet again to make your way through Olympic trials to earn a berth on the US Olympic Speedskating team. Mantia’s done it all, in just a little over two ice seasons, or less than a typical four-year period between Olympic games. He really hasn’t been on the ice all that long at all.

As if this weren’t enough, he stunned the long track world by winning a gold medal in the 1,500m World Cup race in Berlin in his second season on the World Cup team, just one stop away from Olympic trials, earning the respect of the best long track speed skaters in the world. And yet for every success Mantia achieves, he becomes not more mythic, but more human, more approachable. He’s humble. He’s connected to his fans and friends.

The skater you can talk to.

The skater you can talk to.

In the age of social media, his Twitter feed and Facebook walls are full of pictures of him with the skaters he’s connected with over the years, from all walks of life. At clinics or races, on the track and off, he’s always been known as a skater you can talk to. Joey, “The Professor,” who you can ask for advice. He’s a skater so passionate about the sport, he’d tell you how to beat him because it would make the race more of a challenge.

He’s a skater’s skater, as trite as that sounds. Even in his WhIP years and now today as an Olympian, he never abandoned inline speed skating. He’s been right here, either in-person announcing at an NSC (National Speedskating Circuit, the professional inline speedskating league he co-founded with Miguel Jose) event, or showing up to race and win on inlines at a World Inline Cup race. Inline speed is in his DNA. He’s truly a champion for us all, because he never takes himself as seriously as he takes his own technique. Thus, this interview came to be.

Conducted over these weeks since he made the US Olympic Long Track Team headed to Sochi, Russia, to compete in the XXII Olympic Winter Games, Joey made time to talk to us, the inline community. Without further ado, Mantia speaks on his #RoadToSochi:

L-R Jonathan Garcia, Brian Hansen, Shani Davis, Joey Mantia.

L-R Jonathan Garcia, Brian Hansen, Shani Davis, Joey Mantia.

FirstLoser: Congratulations man. You’ve earned a place among the greats at the top of the world. I know I speak for many when I say how happy we are for you. A legion of inline skaters feels pride in your accomplishment.

Joey Mantia: Thanks man. Much appreciated.

FirstLoser: Tell us about the decision you made to become an Olympian. What was it that drove you to pursue this path?

Mantia: Well, for a long time it was something that Renee (Hildebrand, longtime coach and mentor) talked about when I was a younger, but I never really paid too much attention to it. I really wasn’t thinking about it at all, especially after I started making legitimate money from pro contracts with inline. But eventually, after competing in nine straight World Inline Championships and accomplishing all of my goals, I found myself lacking the hunger that molded me into the aggressive athlete I once was. The guy who laid everything he had out on the track at every practice. That guy was gone. I found myself starting to get soft. So that’s when I started thinking about what Renee had always talked about. I gave it a lot of thought, and ultimately decided that the only way to get the hunger back was to switch to ice and start from the bottom again. And start from the bottom again is truly what I did. (laughs)

FirstLoser: And the mighty will rise! When you think back along your entire career, was there anything you had to sacrifice in order to make it as far as you did on inlines? As far as you’ve made it now on ice?

Mantia: That’s a hard question to answer because I feel like I’ve always been fortunate enough to do what I love to do. So in a sense, no, there wasn’t any real sacrifice in my eyes. I guess from the outside looking in, I missed out on a lot of partying in high school and stuff like that, but man, I just wanted to be the best in the world at skating, and I took that very seriously.

FirstLoser: Look where all that partying got the Beib? Huh? No real loss there. So OK, let’s turn that somewhat on its head…is there anything you wouldn’t sacrifice now in order to make it further?

Mantia: Well, I would never sacrifice my happiness. Of course there are days at practice where I’m absolutely miserable because of the amount of work load, or because my skating isn’t really coming along as well as I’d like. But in the grand scheme, when I stop having fun doing what I’m doing, then I’m going to walk away and find something new that makes me happy again.

FirstLoser: OK, so people won’t let me forget it if I don’t ask, will you ever compete on inlines again?

Mantia: That’s a good question. (pauses) I’m not sure. I want to, but I don’t want to disrespect the sport by competing when I’m not ready, when I’m not at a level that I need to be at to compete with the top guys in the sport.

FirstLoser: Not even once a year like you have been, or another long, point-to-point marathon?

Mantia: Well, when you put it like that, I guess marathons are never out of the question. But the heart of the sport, skating Worlds – circuit style racing on track and road – I’m not sure I’ll ever do those again. But who knows? We’ll see.

FirstLoser: Yeah, sorry for the diversion, you’ve got bigger fish to fry right now. Back to where you are today. Let me ask you this, were there times you regretted making the decision to chase this Olympic dream of yours?

Mantia: Well, before I switched over to the ice, I was confident that I would be able to pick it up quickly and be where I wanted to be in a relatively short amount of time. I was confident. When I actually made the switch, I started doubting myself a little bit, I started questioning if I actually had enough time to get on the level I needed to be on to make the Olympic team. It was pretty much up until this season that I was miserable with the ups and downs. It was outright depressing how aggressive the lows were. On one hand, it was nothing I hadn’t experienced before with inline, but on the other hand, this time I felt like I was going through it alone. There was no comforting coach, no major sponsors, and no steady pay check. It was just me and my goals; it was do or die. It wasn’t that long ago that I was at a breaking point with a very short amount of time to get things straight. Luckily, I made it through to the other side.

FirstLoser: When you say it wasn’t so long ago, how long ago was it?

Mantia: After the first two world cups this season.

FirstLoser: Wow. Not long ago at all. I can only imagine the depth of that kind of despair. We’re all certainly glad you pulled out of it. And now you’re there, training at the top of the world, with the fastest skaters in the world. You walk among the gods of Olympus.

Working hard in the freezing cold of the great Italian outdoors.

Working hard in the freezing cold of the great Italian outdoors.

Mantia: (laughs) Thanks, but I wouldn’t go that far. I’m here though, and it’s cold! We’re training in Italy, outdoors. It’s in the low 30’s. It’s really miserable skating outside, you get numb in like thirty minutes, then it turns into just pushing hard and hoping for the best.

FirstLoser: Brrrrrrr. Man, sounds like skating inline outdoors in Colorado this time of year. But what I was saying was, you’ve made it. You’re there, from the bottom back to the top, now you’re one of them. How has your reception been among our nation’s elite? Have you been welcomed openly by other members of the team?

Mantia: Yeah, everyone is friendly, for sure. But at the end of the day, no one is here to lose, and you can feel that.

FirstLoser: Warm, not necessarily fuzzy, eh? Well, let’s talk about what’s gotten you to where you now sit, in the freezing cold over there. What’s the biggest thrill been for you so far on this Olympic journey?

Berlin, the tipping point.

Berlin, the tipping point.

Mantia: Undoubtedly, it was winning the World Cup in Berlin in the 1,500m. Winning that event was a rush I hadn’t felt in so, so long. When I was competing on inlines, I became addicted to the thrill of winning. Starting from the bottom when I switched to ice, I was deprived of that feeling, to the point where I forgot what it was like to win, especially when it really counted. That’s so crucially important to my mental and emotional toughness. Berlin is where I got it back. That was my tipping point.

The face of addiction.

The face of addiction.

FirstLoser: What about making the Olympic team? Was that the same kind of rush? Where does that rate on the same scale?

Mantia: It’s not the same, no. Making the Olympic team was more of a relief than a thrill for me, because the reality is, making the team was just an enormous stepping stone to the big show. Making it through trials gave me confidence and experience, but most importantly, making it through that competition gave me more time to sharpen up on the ice. That’s the reality.

FirstLoser: Wow. I get a thrill if they accept my application to take a beginners curling class at the local ice rink, and you take making the Olympic team in stride! (laughs) Jeez…So then, tell me, is there anything about the journey that’s been surprising to you, as in, you had no idea something was going to be so hard or so easy? What’s something that’s been unexpected?

Crushing it in Berlin.

Crushing it in Berlin.

Mantia: I didn’t take making the team in stride man, it’s just a different feeling from what I experienced winning that gold medal in Berlin. But on what you just asked, I guess the major shocker was how small the sport of long track ice skating really is. Sure, the recognition I experience now is bigger than inline, but that’s only because I’m going to the Olympics. Ice skating feels like this tiny little world when you’re inside of it. It was a really weird transition for me, coming from wheels. I’ll tell you this though, point-blank, long track is a man’s sport. There’s no hiding. The worthy win and the unworthy fail. It’s a study in simplicity, and that’s the odd beauty that can make an athlete fall in love with the sport if they stick with it long enough.

FirstLoser: It sounds like you’re there, in that love affair. And it’s work is what you’re saying. To stay on this subject for a minute, but to go to the technical tip, what was the hardest transition for you going from inline to ice? What did you have to work on the most to truly become a long track speed skater?

Mantia: The absolute biggest thing for me continues to be fine tuning where my center of gravity is and keeping my hips rock solid. I don’t know if I was just better at it when I was younger on my inlines, but I feel like when I switched to ice, I was technically pretty terrible on my inlines. It’s one of those things I look back on now and wish, for my own sanity and for the sake of time that I would have made the switch in 2007 when I was, technically speaking, skating the best I ever had. Now, I’m trying to pin-point that two to three millimeter position where my weight needs to be to make my skates work correctly, while at the same time keeping my hips from moving around, those are the keys to my success on the ice today. That’s where my focus is.

FirstLoser: Sounds like fodder for self-visualization and mental training too. Wow. OK, so back to the transformation you’ve undergone. What was the first thing to go through your head when you knew you’d made the 2014 Olympic team?

Reaction to the 1,000m big personal best and qualification for the 2014 Olympic Team.

Reaction to the 1,000m big personal best and qualification for the 2014 Olympic Team.

Mantia: (laughs) YES. YESSS. YESSSSS. YESSSSSSS. OKAY. Now, how do I get a lot better than this in a month?

FirstLoser: (laughs) That’s got to be a rush, then a panic!

Mantia: It wasn’t a panic, but I definitely understood the urgency of the task at hand.

FirstLoser: So when you come back down from that mental ledge, what’s the first thing that happens to you as an Olympic athlete? You know, is there some kind of immediate reaction from the USOC that’s triggered when you’ve made your spot? Black SUV’s pull out, large men in black suits with earpieces and sunglasses whisk you away to a secret, undisclosed location…

Mantia: Mmmm, yeah. No, nothing like that. To tell you the insider’s truth, there’s actually nothing really special. We did have a short team processing meeting, where Under Armour (US Speedskating sponsor) unveiled our new suits, and we got some cool Olympic long track gear, but other than that, life pretty much carried on like normal. It’s funny in a sense. People do end up treating you a lot differently when they find out you’re going to be in the Olympics, but you know, that’s the way the world works I guess.

FirstLoser: Your fans were able to be there with you too when you made the team, because trials were broadcast nationally live on Skater’s Place – oh, no, I mean on national television on NBC. How did that factor into your performance that day? Did knowing you were skating on national television have an effect on your game?

Earning his first spot on the 2014 Olympic Team at trials in the 1,000m.

Earning his first spot on the 2014 Olympic Team at trials in the 1,000m.

Mantia: I didn’t really feel the presence of the cameras too much, but it did give me a little extra motivation to leave everything out there on the ice and finish each race with my tongue hanging out.

FirstLoser: So when you hit this level of success, the off-ice distractions undoubtedly increase. Opportunities present themselves, and like you said, people start treating you differently. Have you gone Hollywood and gotten yourself an agent yet? Starting to see the promise of big-time endorsement opportunities as potential reality?

Mantia: As a matter of fact, I do have an agent. I’ll tell you, it’s tough to be an Olympic athlete from America, because there are so many good ones out there. To have a public career beyond the games, you have to have things like a good story, or a cool name, or you need to be completely dominant, or something along those lines, that’s how you get the big deals. For me, I’m still flying under the radar, because even though I have the utmost confidence in my ability, results are what matter, and I’m still new here, I haven’t done much to stand out yet.

FirstLoser: Well, now that you’ve risen to this height, where you’ll soon have that opportunity to stand out among the world’s best, describe for us how do you feel, deep inside, when you’re alone with your thoughts and no one is looking. What do you feel when you think about skating in front of the world at this level?

Mantia: I think the best word to describe that feeling is surreal. I can only visualize what I think it’s going to be like when I get there, what I think it’s going to be like to walk in during opening ceremonies. These are all assumptions I’m making based on the stories and the things I’ve seen on TV. I’m just trying to prepare myself as much as possible for the enormity of what’s about to happen.

When you consider the intimidating figure he strikes in his official US Speedskating, Lockheed Martin / Under Armour Mach 39 competition skin suit, and you take in his words, you see the portrait of a man whose exterior doesn’t betray the skater within. While there are those among us who can identify with where he’s at to a certain level, for the rest of us mortals, this reveals a state we’ll never know, that place reserved for those who’ve given it all, who’ve pushed themselves as far as they could, just to get the chance to push it even further in the Olympic games.

Joey Mantia stands ready at the starting line between here and eternity. He’s on the edge of immortality that only Olympic gold can bring an athlete of his caliber. There’s more to this story, and with just about two weeks to go on the #RoadToSochi, we’ll talk more with Mantia, vicariously living out this adventure with him here through this conversation, and through Facebook and Twitter. We’ll be pulling for him all the way, giving back in-kind what he’s so freely given our sport over the years. We’re standing with him in spirit, shoulder-to-shoulder, here where he is now, at the top of the world.

Support Team Mantia: jmantia.com
Follow Joey on Facebook: Official Joey Mantia Page
Follow Joey on Twitter: @jrmantia

Why stop when it doesn’t have to end?

Like Phil Robertson at a GLAAD convention, I’ve been getting a lot of attention lately. Ever since publishing part one of what I’m now calling the Larson Trilogy, I’ve been getting hammered both online and off for more content. Now I know what George Lucas felt like between Star Wars and Empire, just, you know, without the gobs of money people threw at him.

“Just gonna need somma dem roller skates, duct tape and extension cords. Won’t be a minute to fix all this sinnin’.”

Our story picks up where we left off, but not exactly. I agree to meet Jim at an abandoned roller rink on the outskirts of town. The place is dark, deserted, and still smells like Team Pigpen just finished two four-hour double-up practices. I squeeze through the busted front door, hop over the rusty turnstile and make my way to the concession area. There’s a loud bang as the lights over the skate floor fire up, and I can see Jim standing in the middle of the straightaway in full gear. He’s ready to skate, or just enjoys dressing this way…
"It hit me in the face at cone four, I don't know where it came from! It's a helmet cover, REALLY!"

“It hit me in the face at cone four, I don’t know where it came from! It’s a helmet cover, REALLY!”

FirstLoser: Yo man, WTF? What’s with all the theatrics?

Jim Larson: (Rapping)So get your ideas, stack your ammo, but don’t come unless you come to battle, now mount up, jump in the saddle, this is it – it’s what you eat, sleep…

FirstLoser: Whoa, I just came to interview you man, I didn’t even bring my skates.

Larson: Damn son, you blew my groove! (Throws his helmet across the rink) It’s all about you, isn’t it?

FirstLoser: No man, no one wants to hear about me, they’re sick of that. This is about you.

Larson: Yeah, well hell man, I got more to tell, so let’s get this going.

FirstLoser: That’s what I’m saying Jim.

Larson: Next question then.

FirstLoser: Well, looking over what you gave me last time, it’s clear you’re a man for all skates. I mean you’ve pretty much cleaned up on inlines and quads, both in speed skating and in Roller Derby. Have you ever done any aggressive bowl skating? Skateboarding? Downhill? Roller skiing? Any other roller sport you want to dominate in the years to come?

Larson: It’s funny you ask this question, because I am surprised I haven’t had a serious injury before the one that happened this past June (2013, when he jacked himself up real good). Back in like 1987-1989, a buddy of mine that used to skate with us back home in Illinois had a huge half-pipe I used to quad skate on. We spent a lot of days and nights on this thing, under the lights. I actually got pretty good at it! I mean I wasn’t doing McTwists or anything like that, but just cruising and getting air off the coping. Grinds were some of the coolest things on quads, brother! We had a lot of fun!

FirstLoser: Wow, that memory lighted the mood in this place. I didn’t know what the hell you were setting me up for walking in here.

Larson: It’s all about the show man.

FirstLoser: So, obviously, you’re a guy who lives for this show. What’s keeping you going after all these years?

Spending time giving back and having fun.

Spending time giving back and having fun.

Larson: I really think that in this sport, we tend to make a lot of friends, and those could be good or bad, but for the most part, the sport is smaller than back in the day, so there are more good than bad. I stick around because being at the track, being at a meet with my friends, it’s home.

FirstLoser: I get that, and there are a lot of people who just hang around having fun with it, staying in touch. But you, you’re not just here having fun, you’re growing, even after all this time. What’s your motivation to train as hard as you do? Why do you keep skating, (getting in my way, taking all the damn medals)?

Larson: It’s the money bro. Hahaha – yeah, print that! No, for me, the motivation to keep going is the adrenaline rush of the competition, pure and simple. I’ve never really done any sport half way, or at fifty percent of max. Speed skating is called speed skating for a reason. You want to go slow and not put the work in to go fast, well, someone else like me will. If you’re that guy that just wants to leisure roll, then this might not be the sport for you! Try something more sedentary, like BINGO! Haha. I’ll tell you this; it takes a strong person to compete in this sport.

FirstLoser: True dat, Jim. This isn’t a sport you can “phone it in” on. I tried that at ODN in 2011, learned that lesson the hard way.

Larson: But you’re still here man. Why? Because it’s a part of you. Look, you’ll have some seasons that are better than others. This sport, it will bring you down both mentally and physically sometimes, but you have to be prepared to take those lumps along the way and get right back up and go back at it! You’ve got to be tough. The losses will come, maybe more for a guy like you, but for all of us, we’ll have them too, trust me. But you have to remain focused, stay positive, and set those goals to be successful in this sport! This is one sport you cannot be on top putting in half ass work, like you did that year. That was pathetic bro.

FirstLoser: Thanks man.

At this point, I contemplate jetting out to the “rest room”, finding the gas main for the pizza oven and letting the place go up in a ball of space-carpet glory. It’s the only way I’ll get rid of this guy. He’s not ever going to go from the sport quietly. But then, my competitive spirit awakens, and I decide to press-on. I’ll take him on the track one day, as it was meant to be. So in the meantime, might as well try to dig further into his psyche, see if there’s anything I can use to further my own performance…

FirstLoser: So, tell me, do you have a career goal? You know, like breaking all the records in any and all age divisions you skate? Something like that? What is it? TELL ME!

USARS 2000 with relay partner and frequent divisions challenger Norm Kirby.

USARS 2000 with relay partner and frequent divisions challenger Norm Kirby.

Larson: Chill out bro, what the hell is wrong with you? Yeah, I have tons of goals, some I’m still trying to reach, some I’ve set before and achieved for a third, fourth and maybe a fifth time. There are some that are similar to ones I’ve achieved before, but with a variance in how to achieve them next. For example, go out in a race to try for a record, but do it from the front! Lead every lap and the record is yours. Or change it up, and maybe come from behind to set the record. Little things like that. Or lead every lap of every race at Nationals from start to finish. That would be some stuff brother! But you know, just changing it up. This also keeps me going strong, makes it fun.

FirstLoser: Sounds like a great way to structure a practice. Get the record book out, establish the lap times, and go for the gold.

Larson: Now you’re talking. Wow, that’s not something I’d think you’d come up with.

FirstLoser: Yeah, um, thanks again, Jim. So, how old are you now and how long do you plan on doing this?

Larson: Your line of questioning is odd man. I’m seeing a pattern here. Well, what the hell, it’s not like you’re really any kind of threat to any record I hold now, or have ever held for that matter. I’m forty-seven this year, and plan on still competing as long as I’m having fun. And winning IS FUN, so, as long as I’m winning, you’re not! Haha! Yes! But I’ll tell you this; one goal I’d like to accomplish before I get out would be World Team Coach.

FirstLoser: OK, now you’re talking about giving back.

Stars & Stripes Forever - not Jim, but they share the spirit!

Stars & Stripes Forever – not Jim, but they share the spirit!

Larson: Yes. I truly believe I could be an asset if USARS would use me in this position, or even utilize me as part of the World Team Staff. Whether it’s a coaching position, a trainer or a manager, I have a strong desire to give back and contribute to our country’s success in residency and track-side at Worlds.

Niece Megan Gillis, on Right, with hard-won hardware.

Niece Megan Gillis, on Right, with hard-won hardware.

FirstLoser: I think there’re a lot of us who would support that. And it’s truly exceptional that you’d be willing to make the sacrifice to contribute at that level. But let me ask you this. And I know I’m not the only one who wants to know…why aren’t you skating NSC (National Speedskating Circuit http://www.pronsc.com)?

Larson: Yeah NSC, I KNOW, I KNOW (caps for emphasis, he’s yelling, clearly agitated by this.) Well, back to another 2013 goal, it goes like this…I broke my leg in June, four weeks before Nationals. I was ready to take down the Veteran division and defend my title in Veteran Men, and then go off to Federal Way Washington, for the NSC. I had spoken with Miguel (Jose, NSC league president and co-founder) about trying out and he was like, (imitating Miguel with a funny little back and forth motion, waving his hands around, sticking out his front teeth) “that would be soooo freaking totally AWESOME bro!!!” (Regaining his composure,) trust me when I say I was ready. I was feeling good. I was skating the fastest I’ve ever been skating, and I know that Pattison’s floor well, so it would have been pretty entertaining, I would have crushed it. And after watching the tryouts, I can honestly say I would have had a good shot at breaking some hearts of those young guns. Who knows, (looking off into the distance, like Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentlemen) maybe again this next season. We’ll see how I heal up.

Yep, he knows that floor at Pattison’s REAL WELL.

Yep, he knows that floor at Pattison’s REAL WELL.

FirstLoser: Going pro in NSC and medaling at forty seven would be an accomplishment, no doubt. So, in thinking about your accomplishments, you know, the entire first half of this interview’s content, what’s been the most significant medal and/or record you’ve ever won or broken?

US National Inline Master 2 Man Champs record holder 2008 with Jon Elliott and coach Joe Cotter.

US National Inline Master 2 Man Champs record holder 2008 with Jon Elliott and coach Joe Cotter.

Larson: I’ve got a couple of these, but probably the most significant medal that I’ve won would actually be my first Great Lakes Regional Medal, in 1978. It was in Elementary Boys, I took second place. Even though it wasn’t a win or a gold medal, I remember earning it like it was yesterday. I can still recall each race from that meet, who got what and who placed how, over thirty-five years ago, brother. Then there’s a record I’ll truly cherish forever, and that’s the Master Two Man in 2008 with Jon Elliott. We were skating for Team Hyper and Team United, and we won and set the National Record. After the race, I fell out with a smile on my face. My legs were burning and I had a couple little tears in my eye!

FirstLoser: Sounds like you left it all on the floor.

Larson: Indeed.

FirstLoser: Let’s talk about other skaters. As a skater and coach, tell me, who’s the best inline skater to study for form and function?

Larson: Well this is kind of a tricky question, ‘cause there are so many technical aspects of our sport, particularly when it comes to form. Man, I’ve learned so much over the past fifteen to twenty years, on both inlines and quads. There’re a few inliners, both male and female, that I’ve watched endlessly on performance, technique, strength, exceptional sprint speed, and conditioning. A few from today’s crop, and a whole bunch from the past. Before I name them, let me just say, each of these skaters has a different, unique style they employ, but they all achieve the same goal in their own way.

FirstLoser: Ok man, how ‘bout it then? (yawns)

Larson: Pipe down, son. OK, here’s an obvious one, Chad Hedrick. He’s the man to study for outdoor. There’s no other. He’s a 50 time World Champion, he’s a master technician in his outdoor capabilities with that double push of his, and the strength this guy possesses! Let’s jump right to a contemporary super-star, Joe Mantia. Same background as Chad, but Joe is flawless in his technique, and no one has ever been so efficient. And Derek Downing…

FirstLoser: Look, Jim. No offense, but those guys are too obvious man. People are gonna read that and say,” c’mon Jim, tell us something we don’t know.” Tell you what, let’s get in the TARDIS and go back a few years…

Larson: (Standing up, clenching fists, veins bulging in his temples…) What did you just call me bro?

FirstLoser: The TARDIS is Dr. Who’s time-machine. It’s a BBC television show. Sci-fi classic.

Larson: (Taking a deep breath, sitting back down.) Dude, you’re nerd-dom almost got your head knocked in. Dr. Who? No one is going to get that reference. Anyway. Alright, I see what you’re saying. How about this…One that stands out in my mind, that I used to watch on his path coming up over the years is Dane Lewis, from Sacramento California. His technique, his power, and his sprint speed were beyond that of any other skater at that time.

FirstLoser: Now we’re getting somewhere.

Larson: But I’ve got to go back to the head of the class with Dante Muse. Sorry, you cannot ask me this question and think that I won’t bring this guy into the picture. Having had the opportunity to skate against him back in the day on quads was truly amazing. You know there are some skaters that come to an event that you just simply hate getting beat by, but if you got beaten by Dante, it’s no big deal because it’s dang near expected, and he’ll beat you! He was amazing. And you can’t mention Dante without another Muse that’s closer to my age, a champion in his own right, Tony Muse. He’s a good friend of mine and derby teammate. He’s also a legend and he’s has taught me stages of the mental game, not only as a competitor, but as a friend.

FirstLoser: Give us some names of guys that are still out there, doing this thing we do.

Larson: You bet. I used to pay close attention to a bunch of guys that I’ve either skated against in division or a relay. Guys you know like Norm Kirby, Rodney Green, Russell Parmely, Ron Dillow, Terry Palmer, Michael Fortner, Rich Russell, Paul Santana, Scott Thomas, Jim Bourgeois. These are just some of the guys that have had their day in the spotlight, all with great abilities, strengths and endurance to go with it, they are amazing.

FirstLoser: OK, what about the women? Tell me ‘bout them womens!

Larson: Chill out Superfly! I’ma have to throw some water on you! Well, on the female side there’s Julie “smooth as” Glass. Her technique is as smooth as it comes. Then there’s Theresa Cliff, Jessica Smith, Debbie Rice, Vicci King, Heather Gunnin. Just naming a few. I could name a ton more, but all of these skaters are the ones I’ve watched most over the last 10 years.

FirstLoser: Clearly you’ve rattled off a few great talents there. But in the final assessment, who are the skaters you look up to? Not the one’s you’re learning from, but the skaters you hold above all?

Larson: Well there’s you of course. HAHAHAHA! (Spits and laughs hysterically.) As if. No, no. There are a few on this list. I look up to current and past skaters alike, guys like Buggy Allmond, Jeff Foster, Curt Labeda, guys that have been doing this a long time, still skating strong, suiting up, showing up. Then there are some of the past skaters like Tom Peterson, Chris Snyder, Tim Caldwell, Tim Small to name a few. These guys through the years were and are devoted to this sport, whether it be skating or as a manufacturer. These are guys I look up to for real. Much respect (pounds chest with fist, warrior like.)

FirstLoser: I appreciate that, really. But let’s talk about those that have been inspirational. Who are those that have been the most influential to you in your skating career?

Jim backbone, his wife Denise.

Jim backbone, his wife Denise.

Larson: You trying to get me in trouble man? The most inspirational? Well, this might have to go out to a couple people who have inspired me. First, I’ll say my wife Denise, who also skates but is also a mental coach to me. She’s my backbone. A couple others over the years, yeah, I have a few more. My niece, Megan Gillis. In my coaching paths, Megan made the Junior World Team at thirteen years old, one of like four or five to have ever done this, and then she went on to win a medal at Worlds! Then there’s my good pal Jon Elliott. Jon’s been that friend anyone would want in this sport. We’ve been through it all, the ups the downs, you name it. I’ll also have to give a couple shout outs to a few coaches in my career. People like Jan Porter, Kelly Springer, Joe Cotter, Mark Muse, Sonny Felter, and Linda Wood. Each one of these coaches helped me somewhere in my career along the way! I thank them all from the depth of my being!

FirstLoser: It’s like you just brought it all right back home, to where your heart is.

Larson: Look man, there are more out there, but we’ll be here all day listing each one. I look at and watch everyone. There isn’t any one special person that I just look up to. Actually, I look up to every skater participating in this sport. It takes a lot of money, dedication, drive, and adversity to do well, and I look up to anyone that can overcome these hurdles to be successful. That’s why I really want a place with the World Team organization. And I think we need a few of those folks I mentioned to come forward and volunteer too, to get our program back on top.

At this point, it’s been another long session. I’m feeling confident I’ll get away from this one without bleeding, having brought him to a place where he’s clearly reflecting on the good time, good people and glory of a path well-blessed with quality people and experiences. In an effort to end the session and get to my Pokémon League game on time, I try to end it on a light note:

FirstLoser: Well, I’ve got to get…um, home, and um, record the Duck Dynasty marathon. One more question for today…what’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at a skate meet?

Larson: Hmmm. Hahaha, yes. The funniest for me would be the Easter meet in 2010 in Hickory, North Carolina. It was the Master Men’s 500m final. There’s video of this out there too. (Laughs to himself again.) Yes, on the 4th lap. I was leading. The corner four cone was placed on the wrong mark the lap before and when I came around, I had to take the corner a little differently and chirped my wheels. It completely caught me off balance and I did a three-sixty on the Bell Lap! But check it out – I had a big enough gap to hold corners one and two, skate the back straight away, skate the last corner and win the race with a hawk! That put me over the top for the overall win for the meet! (Laughs to himself one more time.) Might not have been funny to the others in the final, but it made my day! Hahaha. It’s pretty funny when you watch it!

FirstLoser: Yeah, sounds like you’re pretty full of yourself…

Larson: Hahaha – yeah. *BAMN*

So much for getting out of here without getting cracked in the teeth. I didn’t need that incisor anyway. Tasting the metallic warmth of blood pooling in my mouth, I head for the door and make my way to FanBoy Comics, 15 minutes late for round one in the Pokémon tournament. As I sit down to shuffle my cards and deal my hand, I can’t help but think ahead to what his reaction’s going to be to the final round of questions. The state of USARS and the US World Team, 125mm wheels, his injury, his run for the Presidency. Things are going to get interesting, to say the least. Next time, I’d better wear some hockey gear, just to be safe.

For all you brothers and mothers

Like Sylvester Stallone’s 1983 sequel to Saturday Night Fever, I’m Staying Alive. After a shockingly poor attempt at a blogging comeback earlier in the year, I’ve dusted myself off and I’m ready to try it again. Looking to pick things up where I left them off, my goal is to give the inline community reason to keep coming back with quality, in-depth, thoughtful and well-reasoned inline commentary, not embarrassing, unnecessary, uninspired and self-indulgent rants. Oh wait…that’s what I’m known for. So it goes…

You can try to understand, but really, why?

You can try to understand, but really, why?

Making my way back to the indoor, 100m oval, has been…interesting. I’m not the skater I used to be, and I’m about as far forward in the pace line as I ever was. Having gotten over the idea that I was once one of “the fastest” in my group, I’m satisfied at being counted among one of “the faster” these days in the pace line hierarchy of fast-to-fastest. I’m focusing on my form and trying to catch my breath. I’m sure none of you can relate.

In addition to my forgetting just how different indoor is, what’s happened while I was away is that the line’s gotten faster, from front to back. Those that have been faithfully suiting up and showing up have moved on up in the pecking order. The line’s gotten thicker in the middle – in a good way, not like I have. But the back of the pack has grown a longer, faster tail too. There’s new, old blood that’s been showing up, creating an air of excitement and higher expectations.

Ummm, OK. What THE HELL was that?

Ummm, OK. What THE HELL was that?

Yeah, that pic is blurry, and for good reason. Check out the color scheme in that suit. Look familiar? Look like the colors of domination, and long standing outdoor records? Anyone who recognizes the colors in that skin suit knows that whoever may be wearing it would be someone to be reckoned with. This one in particular is none other than four-time Olympian KC Boutiette.
Don't call it a comeback, call it a reconnection.

The Skin Suit of the Age of Greatness.

Having been the first inline speed skater to make their way to ice, the man is a legend among us mortals. Well, a legend shoulder to shoulder with the other legend we get to skate with, two-time Olympian Jondon Trevena. Jondon went to ice right after KC, and as the story goes, many others have followed them both. KC and Jondon paved the way for what Joey Mantia is doing today, and have a long history together. Getting to be a part of a group with them, sharing the floor with them and learning from them is, for me, inspirational and an honor. And for a guy like me, who’s been looking for the inspiration to get out there again myself, to give it my all and do my best, it couldn’t be happening at a better time, ’cause you know, it’s all about me…
From left to right Dude 1, Jondon, Dude 3, KC

From Left to right Dude 1, Jondon, Dude 3, KC

Both of these men love skating. And the thing is, they’re both at very different places with how they’re approaching it these days. But no matter how long they’ve been doing it or how high they’ve soared, they’re here among the terrestrials, giving it all they’ve got, and smiling every stride of the way. They’ve reminded me that it’s a relationship we have with this thing we do, each to the depth of our own commitment. My skating means just as much to me as theirs does to them. It’s our relationship to do with as we will, as we must and as we can with the lives we live today. If you want to skate with Jondon, come on out to Rollerland any given Sunday morning. No matter how long you’ve been doing this, how many World or NSC races you’ve skated, who you skate for, what configuration or how many wheels you have on each foot, he’ll gladly share the floor with you, and tell you what he can to help you get more out of this. And if you want to skate with KC, come on out, but know this, he’s here, working. He’s not pleasure cruising. He’s testing equipment, wearing weight vests, skating extra laps and nailing his form. He’s friendly and all that, but he’s got his game face on too, so be prepared to get over when he comes screaming by. And if you don’t want to come to Fort Collins in the winter, just wait a few months…he may just be on his way back out there to skate with you.

Yes, I was looking for inspiration, and I found it. These guys, just being around them, inspire you to seek the next level. And now our group has a World Team member too, with the Fast Kid having graduated to the World Class Kid while I was away. It’s a rink full of top talent, that’s fo sho’.

KC, The World Class Kid, Jondon

KC, The World Class Kid, Jondon

Yep, I’m in the right place at the right time. I feel the city shakin’ and everybody breakin’ and I’m stayin’ alive. Now I just need more chest hair, a wider, whiter smile, bigger hair and some medallions to go with. Look out world, here I come.

C’mon y’all

Yep…like a great ball of North Korean bluster-cluck, I started the year with a saber-rattling bang. Man, did I have plans. This was going to be the big year of the First Loser comeback. Well, um, no, that’s not happening any time soon. I’ve been busy man…busy packing it on and skating less and less.

But, unlike New Jersey’s Donut Swilling Governor, I’m not revealing any short-cut gastric surgeries to undo the damage of a few months over-indulgence in Russell Stover’s Pectin Jelly Beans and Pizza.

Yes, I have no plans to run for anything. Or to anything. Imma gonna eat this skate - nom, nom, nom.

Yes, I have no plans to run for anything. Or to anything. Imma gonna eat this skate – nom, nom, nom.

Yes, I’m tired of watching my mid-section gyrate like Shakira’s hips when I brush my teeth shirtless. I’m not going under the knife or making the same mistake I did a few years ago with shakes & supplements. No, I’m shedding the belly shimmy the hard way…healtier dietary choices and Shaun T’s Insanity.

The program is freaking awesome. Really. No weights, no supplements (although they’ll try and sell you a recovery drink), no BS. Just a straight-up, 60 day course in plyos, cardio and sweet pain. Yes – a mainstream plyo workout, 100% skater friendly!

And it’s working. For me, at least. Going into my third week, here are my unvarnished Fit Test results:

C'mon y'all

Now, granted, I’m not quite as out of shape as I make myself out to be (or AM I?) But the chick in the DVD does better than I do so I still have a way to go. Nonetheless, the graph you’re looking at represents eight minutes lived the hard way. But they’re eight minutes that leave me with an incredible sense of accomplishment, so they’re totally worth it. In fact, every workout I’ve done so far feels that way, not just the bi-weekly tests. You get to the end of a daily workout and you’re totally amazed that you’ve done this thing. Even if you can’t keep pace with the hot-bods on the screen (oh yes, there are a few that even Speedy Weezy is looking at saying, “Dad, I think she’s sexy, if that’s what sexy is.”) you go your own pace and feel totally spent at the end of the workout. Spent in all the best meaning of that word. You’ve given everything you have, nothing left in the tank, and it’s good. Look at some of the regular exercises:

Power Jacks
Power Knees
Globe Jumps
Level 1 & 2 Exercises
Mummy Kicks
Moving Push Ups
C Sits
Butt Kicks
Mountain Climbers
Floor Sprints
Log Jumps
Switch Kicks

The list goes on and on. It’s not insane, it’s freaking NUTS. It’s high-intensity interval training. It’s pounding it out as hard as you can, with 30 seconds rest at the end of a series of exercises, then do it again, just, you know, harder and faster than last time.

Another great aspect of the program is it doesn’t take a lot of time. 30-45 minutes a day, 6 days a week. I tell you this, I’ve never looked more forward to having a day of rest as I do now. But really, that rest day is 26.2 mile trail skate day, and believe me, after spending the week putting on the hurt, the trail seems like a trip down light-weight lane.

So this is where my training is this year. I’m committed to Insanity for the next 45 days or so. Or should I be committed for doing this? I’ve been looking at the month 2 schedule, it gets worse. Or better, depending on your sadomasochistic tendencies. We’ll see in a couple of months if I’m as excited about it as I am right now.

Tell you what…if I do stick with this thing, I’m gonna post those unflattering “before” pics with my buff “after” pics. That way, this site will finally get pulled down for obscenity and I’ll be done with it and have more time to skate.

Smoking J’s

Like a blue-meth head tearing out the carpet looking for that elusive last rock, I follow odd notions out to extreme ends. It’s not like I’m sitting here smoking play-doh, nylon and carpet-cleaner, but that’s not something as far out as this theory: If you want to be a WINNER in this sport of ours, you need to change your name. But only if your current nom-de-skate doesn’t start with the letter “J”.

I got it where it counts now, boyee.

I got it where it counts now, boyee.

Being a pareidoliaphile (pron.: /pærɨˈdoʊliəphile/ parr-i-DOH-lee-ə-phile) I’ve discovered the best kept secret in the sport. I’m tellin’ ya, where there’s smoke, there’s crack:

Joey Mantia
Jim Larson
Jordan Malone
Justin Stelly
Jarrett Paul
Jake Powers
Jorge Botero
Jeremy Anderson
Jondon Trevena

All champions. Coincidence? I think not. Perhaps it’s the testosterone fueled phallic nature of the letter itself, but seeing this list, one thing is clear: my uncanny ability to take vague and random stimulus and perceive it as something significant is finally gonna pay big dividends. I’m officially changing my name to Jagger, so I can bust the moves that’ll land my butt on the podium, ahead of you.

Off to listen to some Dub-Step backwards and find hidden messages that’ll unlock the secret that’ll enable me to become the first male roller-girl in the NSC. Dream big.

Afterburner engaged

My Facebook newsfeed is cluttered with status updates from a lot of those “I have nothing to do all day but post memes” profiles that I jump on to steal from and re-post sos I looks *relevant* to all my FB Friends. The memosphere I subscribe to is a vast wonderland – a colorful playground of the glib and snarky. Well-selected images of cunning pets, maniacal babies, Victorian drunkard folk art, 50’s commercial kitche, fools in unfortunate situations and teenagers standing in the bathroom with their iPhones wearing facial contortions that look like they’ve been sucking Atomic Warhead Sour Candy dipped in peanut butter. “Yeah. Uh-huh. Gonna show her my Jiffy Face.” Mmmwwwaaahhhhh!

How you like me now?

How you like me now?

Moron, oh, I mean, more on memes later. So…I made the decision right before New Year’s to go vegetarian for 4 months, as a test. A colleague suggested I watch Forks Over Knives, a documentary about how with what we’re eating we’re lining our pipes with enough sludge to make the New York City Sewer System look like a clean, un-crowded out-of-the-way-place you’d want to take a first date to impress her. I’ve never been one for watching medical footage on television, but when I saw the scene when they extract a tube of plaque from a guy’s main artery, and another scene where they conduct a bypass operation, I couldn’t help but think that maybe it would be a good idea to consider what the filmmakers were saying – namely that animal fat & processed foods are killing us and that maybe I should consider healthier eating alternatives. So, being a guy who likes to jump right in on the next great idea, I did what any red-blooded meat-eater would do starring down the barrel of another hasty decision, I celebrated by going out for one last burger with “The Fam” to Five Guys Burgers & Fries. That was the best damned burger I’ve ever had…

3 days into it, had a Marshmallow Peep and blew the whole thing. Damned things have Gelatin in them. According to Wiki-Know-It-All, Gelatin is a translucent, colorless, brittle (when dry), flavorless solid substance, derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products. Not just for breakfast anymore! So much for the technicalities. I didn’t realize till after, so it wasn’t like I ran stark raving mad for the nearest In-N-Out Burger to gorge. In my mind, that’s not a reset. I’m in this to win. Or wind, I should say, which is the point of this post…stereotypes about vegetarians and truth in memes.

Here’s a surprise…the vegetarian diet gives you gas. I knew this beforehand, and it didn’t scare me off (“PullMyFinger” is my middle name) butt wholly shite, I had no idea HOW gaseous I’d become. Gaseous Clay is my new boxing name. I break like the wind and stink to high heaven. My farts were never particularly odiferous, but now, bow-wow-wow-yippy-yo-hippy-stench do they reek! Seriously…no pinching a loaf on the sly in my office anymore. It’s my busy season at work, and I’ve already had a few unfortunately timed “drive-by’s” by key executives right after I’ve popped the cork on a vintage veggie boof-bouquet. Gotta get up and get myself to a safe place before the spoiled slippage seeps. Seeping isn’t quite right. I mean, yes, sometimes. But they’re packing more force, like the Psi has been cranked to 11. Hard to control and man they break bad. Really. Freaking. Nasty.

It was the same week that I sniffed out a “FART FACTS” meme that was loaded with fun nuggets of intelligence on flatulence…

– Vegetarians fart more than non-veggies (I now have proof)
– Termites fart most of all (buggers)
– Most humans fart 14 times per day (that’s an average and I’m a high-end outlier)
– You cannot suffocate in a chamber filled with your own fart gas (time for a Dutch oven, baby)
– SBD’s smell so bad because they’re produced by bacterial fermentation, which produces small amounts of noxious gas that doesn’t build enough pressure to create noise upon release (ain’t that some shite? Yes, actually.)
– Women fart just as much as men (and they smell just as bad – butt you knew this)
– Yes, farts are flammable (strike a light homey)
– Fish and turtles both fart (apparently there was some debate)
– It is not possible to get high from inhaling 2 or 3 farts in a row (butt I got a serious buzz huffing a bag of 12 – try it)
– Farts travel out of the anus at 10 feet per second (7 mph)
– You can, in fact, taste a…

Jeez, I could go on all day. But it was that second to last one – farts travel at 10 feet per second, 7 miles per hour – that got me to thinking…how could I use my newfound super-power to help my skating?

Lucky me, I’ve got a physicist in the family. I hit him up on Fartbook:

Still waiting to hear back from the lab in Cern.

Still waiting to hear back from the boys at Cern.

So there’s your proof from The Prof – Farts Make You Faster! The meme was right. I don’t need to do the math to know that I can convert a tailwind to a headwind with a right old toot of the heiney horn. Yessiree, my heat-seeker sphincter song will propel me to the top of the podium, where I’ll be smelling like roses, or at least the King of the Heap! I knew this new diet would pay off – yeah boyee! And hey, if my butt-cracked-pot theory doesn’t help boost me ahead, at least it’ll keep people off my tail, ’cause, you know, who’d wanna be there?

Go on, pull my finger, I dare you.

Let ‘er rip.

We hope you will enjoy the show

Happy New Year! Let me introduce to you, the new First Loser, same as the old First Loser, just, you know, new…

Have to admit, it's gettin better. Can't get no worse. (Wait. Strike that. Reverse it. It can.)

Have to admit, it’s gettin better. Can’t get no worse. (Wait. Strike that. Reverse it. It can.)

Don’t call it a comeback, but it’s something like that. Not quite a psychedelic acid trip with tangerine rollerblades and marshmallow quads, but it’ll be a trip worth taking, if you’re into skating. It’s not all about me anymore, or maybe, not as much as it used to be. Some weeks, we’re gonna get by with a little help from my friends – skaters you need to know about, learn from and start following. ‘Cause I’m fixing a hole in the content. I’m unplugging the stoppage that is writer’s block, that’s kept my mind from wandering where it will go, which is to all things skating. That’s right, for the benefit of you, Mr. & Mrs. Inline Speedskater, there will be a show tonight. But it’s not on a trampoline, no, it’s right here, right now…just what you wanted, another Mantia video:

Don’t say I never gave ya nuttin’. Anyways, look for new posts every two weeks in 2013. A mix of the old style, with a lot of new seasoning. What you can expect:

– Skate training

– Cross training

– Skater interviews

– Videos

– Nonsense

– Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll

– Rambling, pondering, expounding, bloviation and cranial flatulence

– Inline speed skating

– etc

It’ really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, I’m write, or right, going to the left, or just rambling incoherently. There’s nothing to do, it’s up to you. Tell your friends, First Loser is back, and I’ve got nothin’ to say but it’s OK!

When the lights are out, it’s less dangerous

Like a Resuscitation Annie CPR doll and a cold sixer, my speedskating life and this blog go hand in hand. Or like *something* in *something else*. You get the picture. For years, I was having lots of fun poking fun at myself and our sport in ways that let my inner deviant spread its satanic verses like a jihadi suicide bomber’s inerds, at a least-expected moment in a well-populated marketplace, and all over the front of an innocent’s Shalwar-Kameez.  Yes – Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Blessed Festivus – Santa is answering prayers this year and yours just came up on the underside of a urinal cake: First Loser is back.

Forcast is calling for sin. Leave us.

The prognosis is sinful. Leave us.

It’s been with me for a while, the idea of picking this up again. Like a festering serving of pop-radio drivel that’s tunneled its way into your ear, onto your brain and taken up residence in your every-waking thought. For weeks, the idea of breathing new life into First Loser has finally come to a place where I need to deal with it head-on. Since the only way to rid oneself of an ear-worm is to indulge the id-terloper…here we are now, entertain us.

Be warned, my Super-ego is showing no signs of intervention here. We’re coming back full blast, like a Mexicali truck driver on his 84th hour behind the wheel, fueled by 5-Hour Energy and jalapeno poppers. Gas-masks are advised.

It’s been a while since I put any meaningful time into this thing, that’s if you consider what I’ve published before and up till now anything like “meaningful.” There’s a simple reason for it…namely, it’s that my relationship with my skates has changed, again. And again and again and again it changes again. I love them, I hate them, but never really hate them, love them and hate them again. It’s on, off, on, at least five to seven times a week. I’ve never really stopped or left the sport, but I still feel like I’m away and that I’ve not even yet really come back. And, I’m serious, I skate all the time. But my head’s not in it. It’s constantly a struggle. At this point, I skate to keep myself in pizza. That’s really not the ethic that got me to where I was. But it’s a motive that’s hard to shake…especially now that Christmas Cookie season is upon us, and my belly.

The reason for the weezin' at mile 24...

The reason for the weezin’ at mile 24…

At one point, it ceased being fun and it became work, every damn day. And that got to be too much, especially for where my “inline career” was headed. At 40, it really wasn’t going anywhere, fast. Silly-Wabbit, Gold-On-A-Rope dreams are for kids I told myself, so I decided to just tone it down, go low-profile and take a much-needed break. I mean, I was looking for inline fart-jokes wherever I could find them for this blog, and it all started to stink up the place in my head. The noise around me, the blog and my skating was too loud and not very well directed, so I had to peel-off the pack and put it on cruise control for a while. But I guess if Soundgarden and Nirvana can get back together, I can start blogging about this thing I love to hate, and live to do, still, this thing we do called Inline Speedskating.

I’m coming clean here: I haven’t been able to shake the Christmas weight from last year – about 13 pounds. And it’s not that I haven’t tried. But I stopped working as hard as I used to, and my body has said, “Get back! I’m alright Jack, keep your hands off of my stack,” when it comes to my efforts to shed. Ellipticals and bikes, weights and running, all on top of all the regular “heart-rate” skating. But it’s not going anywhere, and I’m getting tired of lugging it around again. So it’s time to hit the training like I used to, if for no other reason than to trick my metabolism just long enough to think I might compete again. Cause if I’m thinking about going to Duluth in 2013, and I believe that thought, then my body will respond, and I’ll get back to where it was.

But the reality is, I don’t think I’ll go again. Not in 2013 at least. I’m in SoCal now, and it’s just too damn far and too damn time-consuming to even think about seriously. So I need to figure something else out. It ain’t gonna be competing indoors, because the nearest indoor teams and practices are over an hour away. And ice is no-bueno muchacho. Fuggedaboudit. Where the pavement giveth, the ice taketh away, and I’m not into being THAT technical about anything. Ice ain’t happening.

So maybe it’ll be a few inline races in SoCal next year, but honestly, I’m not even excited about that idea. I mean, I think about it, and if I’m on the trail when the thought hits, I’ll peel off on a three-mile flyer and pat myself on the back when I’m done and cruising with my hands on my knees for a half-mile in recovery. But right now, I can’t maintain that pace like I used to, you know, before Louie Lovehandles took up residence in my mid-section.

So I guess I need to come back to the place serious skaters know – that place where it’s all live to roll and roll to live. It’s not that I don’t want to be there, I’m just not sure I’m willing to pay the price of admission.

I feel stoopid, and contagious – come along for the ride, we’ll see where this goes. Again.

I’ve been away for too long

Don’t know where I’m going

I  just keep on rolling

I  just keep on rolling

Gotta  roll

Bloody wheel - ODN2011

Bloody wheel – ODN 2011

Rolling is Breathing and breathing is life

stopping is dying, you’ll be alright

life is a hammer waiting to drop

adrift in the paceline and the rolling won’t stop

Don’t know where I’m going

I just keep on rolling

I just keep on rolling

Gotta roll

Can’t see the sky, nothing on the horizon

can’t feel my feet and the speed keeps rising

can’t slow the pace, cause I’ll be dropped

I  just keep on pulling, I just keep on rolling, Don’t know where I’m going

Don’t know where I’m going

I just keep on rolling

I just keep on rolling

Gotta roll

Rolling  is living and living is hard

but  living beats losing all that we are

and all that we know of, and all that we feel

and all we remember, imagined or real

I heard an echo, but the answer had changed

from the word I remember, that I started out saying

drafting is cheating if you’re not pulling hard

but the flyer is leaving, I’ll get mine, you’ll get  yours

Don’t know where I’m  going

I just keep on rolling

I just keep on rolling

Gotta roll

Rolling is bleeding and bleeding is breathing

breathing is feeling, burning or freezing

keep getting dirty, but I started out clean

keep on pulling, I keep on pulling,

I keep on rolling, I  keep on rolling

Don’t know where I’m going

I just keep on rolling

I just keep on rolling

Gotta roll

Adapted from Rowing by Soundgarden – used without permission

If you’ve led the line, you get it.