Tag Archives: Olympics

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

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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

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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

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.)

Carnage

If you haven’t seen this video yet, check it out. S.Dot.Carter is my hero…

Man, there’s so much going on in this video, and the commentary at the end really helps put what NSC is all about into context. Seriously, this video is far superior to any of those, well, not too convincing, dry FIRS videos they make every few years to get inline speed skating sold into the Olympics. The guys at NSC know what they need to do to sell their vision in today’s media environment. This is great stuff.

Spread the word – share this video with your friends who still call you a “Rollerskater” and snicker behind your back at your spandex-clad keister and the idea that you spend hours participating in a sport that involves little more than chasing other grown-ups around a roller rink with what amounts to a child’s toy strapped to your feet. As if.

To all the naysayers…come out and play.

Ice, ice baby

For me, prefacing anything with “I’ll never…” unleashes a mercurial power that brings to life that to which it’s been applied. (Wow, that was a mouthful of a sentence, eh?!) This power…I need to be careful with it, because I distinctly remember saying once that I’d never figure skate…

My butt was so cold it cracked. Get it?!

When it comes to skating, there’s now one thing in which I have complete faith. It’s this power, the power of the phrase “I’ll never…” Some would consider such power…unnatural. It’s become my fool-proof system to subliminally program my brain to do things I’d never thought possible. I’ve proven it, scientifically. If I really want to get into something, all I need to do is say I’ll never do it. No matter what it is…switch from fitness boots to speed boots, skate a marathon, wear a skin suit, skate indoors, be a coach…speed skate on ice.

Confession time: today I joined US Speedskating. Frealz…I’ve never even gotten an amateur card with USARS.

How’d it happen? It was all his fault, the guy second from left:

Short Track Skating: 2002 Winter Olympics, Portrait of USA Speed skaters (L-R) Marc Pelchat, Jondon Trevena, J,P, Shilling, and K,C, Boutiette with USA flag at Olympic Oval, Kearns 1/18/2002 (Photo by Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

I went to my inline coaches ice class once over the holiday break with my son, Speedy Weezy. Speedy and several other kids from The Rink Rabbits/Team United (Lionheart, The Brothers Speed and The Fast Kid) have been taking the class and having a great time. I’d gone once before back some time last year but at that point, it didn’t leave much of an aftertaste. But this time, for whatever reason, man I’m hooked. I’m hungry for more. I can’t get enough. And I know why…

It’s because I’ve spent so much time focused on my inline speed skating technique. Little things that mean so much – foot pressure, hip placement, arm swing, body alignment, balance, being able to get my skates underneath me and distribute my weight properly. Strengthening those little muscles that your really don’t use for anything else. Building my core. Breaking things down and studying the effects of subtle changes in position and timing. All that and I’ve been trying to get more flexible, and I’ve been pounding myself on the foundational drills. A lot of what Jondon’s taught me that was reinforced when Joey Mantia came and gave an inline speed skating clinic at Rollerland back in September. The new stuff I got from our time with him. I’ve been working on all of this stuff. It’s actually been a lot of focused work, even when I was off-skates for a while and thinking about ditching it all.

There’s so much more to tell…about the class, the two public sessions we went to the two days after the class, and Speedy Weezy’s first meet this past Sunday. In a week’s time, I’ve found something in me I didn’t know existed…the heart of a speed skater that knows no discrimination.

To be continued…

The Fifth Day of Inline Christmas

This post will make your brain bleed…

T’was the fifth day before of Inline Christmas when…And then with a twinkling my kids came to me, and said “Your count is all wrong, we’ll show you, you’ll see.” With calendar in hand, and a smirk on her face, my daughter said “Dad, you’re just a little off pace.” “No, no!” I cried foul, this just couldn’t be. “My countdown to Christmas is on track, can’t you see?” The 25th is the day I count as day one in my countdown of twelve days of Inline Christmas fun. “But Dad, said my son, Mom said your posts start with “before,” so on 12/25, you’ll still need one more…” He held up his hand and counted on fingers…when Saturday came there was one left to linger. Alas, they were right, the posts as positioned, would leave an extra day for which I hadn’t provisioned. And so, from henceforth each post shall begin, as it should have, with “day of” not “before” in lead in…

The only 5 Golden Rings in my future...pass the ketchup.

I love this time of year. Even when things aren’t exactly like I want them to be, it doesn’t seem so bad. There’s nothing a little Christmas spirit can’t overcome. I can’t wait for Rink Rabbits practice this Thursday. We’re gonna crank the Christmas music, get sugared up and just have fun. The kids have been working really hard all year, so it’s time to bust loose and jam. Plus, a lot of them have been getting deeper into the ice program that our Olympian coach runs, so their skating schedules have actually increased here in the “off-season” for inline. They deserve to enjoy this time, but it’s a surprise so don’t spill the beans. (There will be a full practice on the 26th for all of the advanced skaters, so bah humbug effective 12/26 forward.)

Here’s one I could have used a few years ago before I started doing all of the core building exercises and plyos…

Better than taking Midol before a race (if you're a dude.)

This easily adjustable back brace contours to the unique shape of your torso and back for a customized fit that can relieve lower back pain and improve spinal stability. Made by Bell-Horn, manufacturers of orthopedic devices since 1842, the brace has a patented pulley system that allows it to contour to wider areas around the hips and narrow areas around the torso, ensuring consistent, proper compression from vertebra L1 to L5. You can adjust the tension of the brace with one hand; simply pull the cord and fasten it to the front of the brace when your preferred level of support is achieved. The pulley system exerts 5X greater compression than a typical back brace for superior spinal support. The flexible, 1/4″-thin brace can be worn under clothing and won’t inhibited movement while you perform everyday activities. Waist sizes S, M, L, XL, XXL, or XXXL. 11 1/2″ W x 9″ H x 1/4″ D. (12 oz.)

Pull my finger (pinch me, we’re going to Nationals)

“A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding.”

Uh, oh – I’m quoting Steve Prefontaine. Quick! I need to shake off this serious air immediately…HA! I’ve got just the thing:

Did’ja ever fart in a pace line? How about off the start? Did it make you go any faster? Did you create a gap to envy? Why just last week I was…

Whew. I don’t think I need to go any further. That did the trick. Now, everyone gather round and let’s talk about the 2010 North Central Regional Speed Skating Championships in Wichita, Kansas!

Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent.

This post was going to be called “The Politics of Speed Skating,” cause there was “oh so much!” to talk about when it comes to gossip, misdeeds, missteps  and unsportsmanlike conduct. But the itty-bitty committee in my head got together and issued an advisement: S.T.F.U. was all it said. I conclude from the terse nature of the advisement that I should instead focus on the positive and “play nice.” After all, some of our skaters are on their way to Nationals, and it’s unfair to let the boorish conduct of adults and malcontents interfere with child-athletes’ day in the sun. So damn the diatribe – let’s talk about how well these kids are skating!

I can't hold back - THAT'S MY BOY!!!

First off – father’s pride! Speedy Weezy is fast on his way to the top of his game. The kid was on fire and he’s really thinking when he’s out there! We are so proud of him and I was really happy that Horseypants came along to see him shine. He’s really in his element when he’s on the line. He won all but one start, and his form was locked in and tight. We’ve got some work to do when it comes to knowing what to do when the whistle blows, but other than that the kid is a skating sight to see. I swell with pride watching the videos:

That was the Primary Boys 400M. You can see going into lap three what I’m talking about with the whistle. We need to practice what to do when you’re lapping someone – what you need to do, what the refs are going to be doing – but that aside, I’ve been watching this video over and over. Love watching that kid skate!

Speedy Weezy, B-Man & Lionheart - boys built for speed!

Some of our team came home with a little less skin, and a few came home a little heavier loaded down with silver & gold. All of our skaters did their best, and that’s what it’s all about. To each his & her own style and effort produced a work of art I’ll remember vividly. Each skater tells us their story when they’re out there – what their passion is, how hard they work at it, how much they want to be there, how great their dedication to improvement, how strong their desire to do their best. It’s palpable, especially with the kids. I can feel their excitement. I’m pinned to the wall by the raw nervous energy fueling the frenzy of speed and performances I’m taking in.

The art gets a lot more interesting when you pay close attention. Take the video above. This race was more revealing of the character of each skater than what might be readily apparent in the footage. Watch closely and maybe you’ll see it – the good, the bad & ugly. It’s all in there. I’ll just say this…I was very impressed by The Fast Kid and the way she held her lines and stood her ground in the face of adversity. She’s a real champ – the kind that will sand up for what’s right, protect her friendships and skate like a bat out of hell!

Lionheart put on another display of courage after taking a really nasty spill. The kid was in bad shape but recovered like the trooper he is. His poor parents had driven a long way and got there early Saturday afternoon. Honestly, they both looked like I felt on the last trip. They were on track to be able to start the 10 hour trek back to northern Colorado early on Sunday but the afternoon began to drag on because of a bunch of shenanigans happening with the relay selections that are best left unmentioned. Going into the lunch break we were about 40 minutes ahead of schedule, but that evaporated quickly. Subject of a future post: “What the hell is it about the relays?!”

Now…here’s where I could go on a long rant about things I know very little about. I won’t. I’ll just say this – it’s a damn shame that we’re not going to get to see one of this country’s top male elite skaters paired up in any relays in Lincoln in July. I don’t know what the hell happened but it just seems damn wrong to deny the guy his rightful place on the floor, where he wants to be. Guess he can tap out a few points in Farmville while others less deserving take home a medal. Nuff’ said. (That was a bit “insider” – sorry…)

B-Man & Katie Bug did great as well and both qualified to go to Nationals along with The Fast Kid & Speedy Weezy. B-Man got banged up pretty badly too, but took it with a smile, almost proud to have a battle scar to prove he was in the action. Everyone skated great, but due to an unfortunate series of events, it’s still unclear if The Shoulder Roller is going to Nationals or not. This was another situation where The Fast Kid proved that she’s got The Right Stuff. I hope it works out well for The Shoulder Roller, she’s a tough competitor and a caring skater, whose dedication over this last year to the team effort needs to be acknowledged.

And on the subject of acknowledgment, I need to fess up. I felt bad about not being more overtly supportive of B-Man & Lionheart when they were out there on the floor with Speedy Weezy. I get so wrapped up in rooting for my boy that I forget that I have other skaters there that I’m pulling for too. It often wasn’t until after Speedy had finished that I would shift my attention quickly to the other guys. Call it the zealotry of being a skating Dad, but I want those guys to know how proud I am of them and their achievements too!

All in all it was a great trip. The takeaways for me this time out:

  1. Always allow Horseypants to arrange the travel itinerary. She revealed Wichita to be a diamond in the rough for us. Not only did she find us a better room than we had last time, but she did most of the downtown driving and made the trip a lot less stressful for me. I love that chick.
  2. Old Downtown Wichita has a lot going for it. We explored it on Saturday after the (great) Team United open practice, hitting The Museum of World Treasures – a great kids’ museum that adults can learn a lot from too – and we explored the Arkansas River Front.
  3. Do not eat at Spangles unless you have nothing to do for the next 48 hours. (Did you know the White Castle & Pizza Hut were born in Wichita?!)
  4. Do eat at Promise Tai and Il Vicino and be sure to stop at Freedy’s Frozen Custad for desert (but while you’re at it, have the cannoli at Il Vicino too!)
  5. Late May is twister season in KS. If you see the Vortex 2 team or any of the NOAA guys driving away from a storm that you’re driving into, stop, turn around, and follow them to wherever they’re going.

"I'm still having a hard time keeping NPR tuned in even with this damn antenna."

As luck would have it, we watched a show on TV on Saturday night called something like “When Nature Attacks!!!” or some such thing and it was all about tornadoes. It was clearly in preparation for the ride home Sunday, where we ended up driving right into a system that was producing the storms with frightening up-close-and-personal-reality. We saw two funnels forming simultaneously over Goodland, KS. From where we were on the road, they looked to be to the south west of us. Well as we rounded the bend into Colby it was apparent that they were actually dead ahead between where we were and Denver. Seeing the NOAA guys and those ‘frady pants’ from the Weather Channel running for cover, we decided to do the safe thing and stay in Colby for the night. Given that the clouds were circling overhead, we thought it best to be off the road and someplace with a cellar.

Pretty much what we were staring down with about 5 more hours to go. That stain in the rental car seat? The dog did it...

I guess the final big takeaway, which isn’t really a revelation for as much as great reinforcement: don’t take this speed skating thing too damn seriously. We’re happy Speedy Weezy made the cut and is going to Nationals, but honestly, with the nature of our region, he could have phoned it in and still gotten a medal and qualification. (Subject of another future blog post: “Regionals – Really, What’s The Point?”) Nationals is going to be pricey, but we’re going for him, for the experience he’ll gain, and for the rest of the skaters in our club. I hope he does well, but that ain’t all there is. Sure, we’ll train hard between now and then, but at the end of the day, if he walks away from this and decides he’d rather play soccer or baseball, we’re going to let him follow that path.

Our Top Gun. I'll be your wing man anytime Speedy!

If however, he decides he wants to be the guy who can out-skate Joey’s records, then move on to take Apolo’s, then we’ll be there for him. But we’re not going to kick his butt on down the track. If he decides skating is his art, he’ll choose the colors, the canvas and the discipline. I just want to be there to clean his brushes.

5/21/10 Training: On the road again, no skating today.

5/22/10 Training: Spent an hour and a half doing the Super-Secret Workout in the pool area at the hotel. Put in a tougher workout than I do back home. It was great, but very humid. Glad there was a pool right there. Hope I didn’t leave a slick in it after cooling off!

5/23/10 Training: Race & travel day, no skating.

5/24/10 Training: Too windy by the time we got home, no skating today.

5/25/10 Training: 10k for a morning skate on the Cado Motus Pro 110’s. Rink Rabbits in the afternoon. Gee it’s good to be back home.

5/26/10 Training: 13 miles on the trail in Loveland for lunch. Found out the hard way that they’re resurfacing a crossover with chip-fill. Thank God I was going fast enough to get through it without falling.

5/27/10 Training: 17 miles in the hood for sunrise. I’m really starting to feel good in these Cado Motus Pro 110’s.

5/28/10 Training: 18 miles in the hood before work. Stronger, Faster, Better. It’s all good. Got another 9 miles in late in the afternoon out at Boyd Lake. Found out the hard way that the trail was washed out. Damn…the boots are gonna stink for sure.

5/29/10 Training: 26.2 miles in the hood at speed. Was less than 30 seconds off my Colorado personal best time thanks to the bozo in the white Camry. Thanks pal! Still, all things considered, this early in the season, I’ll gladly take the time!

5/30/10 Training: 2 hours indoors working on nothing but speed drills. Upgraded my Rollerblade Racemachines with a new set of 84a 110 Hyper Sidewinders and by the end of practice really like I was getting the hang of 110’s indoors. (Needed these wheels on this floor, trust me.) I’m not going back to 100’s indoors at this point. These are my new indoor skates, period.

5/31/10 Training: 29 miles on the Greeley to Windsor trail for Memorial Day. Thanks to all those who’ve given all for our freedom. I thought about you a lot this morning.

iPod Surprise Shuffle of the Week: She Believes In Me, Kenny Rogers. WTF…