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Columbus Speedskating Club is for those who prefer the fast lane

By Story by Erin Holl, Video by Stefanie Hauck
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After American speed skater Apolo Ohno won the Gold Medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Chiller started fielding questions about speed skating.

Those who expressed interest in the sport were put on a list. Interest became obvious, and the group had a coach in former Olympian Charles King. So they were sent an email, and in June 2002, a club was formed in central Ohio. Currently, David Lee is the main coach for the group.

A few of the original members remain with the club and are certified speed-skating coaches, including Diana Harrell and Chris Knapp.

Unlike regular ice skates, speed skates have much longer and somewhat sharper blades on the bottom of the boot.

“The blades on the bottom are like knives,” Harrell said. “They have to be to hold you up on the ice.”

According to Knapp, some choose to get custom-made boots. Knapp has custom-molded fiberglass boots for his skates, which have a 17-inch blade. They fit his feet so well that he doesn’t wear socks with them. They are more expensive, too, at $1,500, compared to the regular speed skates one could buy for $300 to $400.

Other equipment needed for speed skating includes knee pads, a safety helmet, high-impact safety glasses and gloves.

“Most of the equipment we wear is basic stuff,” Knapp said. “Safety equipment is very cheap. The expense is in the skates.

They also have pads along high-incident areas around the track.

“Safety is paramount," Knapp said.

Speed skating covers two types of distances: a short track and a long track.

“We have a short track here (at the Chiller Easton),” Knapp said.

When asked how fast skaters go, Knapp said some in the local club are able to reach speeds near 30 mph.

“Some of the top skaters here can do a lap in 11 seconds. At the Olympics, they do it in eight seconds,” he said.

They take part in competitions, mainly in the Midwest, and central Ohio usually hosts one about every year.

“There are regional competitions and one here every year or every other year,” Knapp said. “When doing competitions, we compete as an individual but support each other as a team.”

Harrell, who joined the group because her son wanted to do it, said that when she goes to the meets, she sees some of the same people and gets to know them. Members of the local club also have seen a few Olympic hopefuls and Olympians rise through the ranks.

“It's very much a family sport. It's family driven,” Harrell said. “It's really cool with the Olympics because we've seen people on teams come up."

People of all ages take part in the group, and the youngest member is 5-year-old Lewis Hunt, who has really taken to speed skating, according to Harrell.

“His mother said he hasn't been this excited about something for a while,” she said. “He gets up at 5:30 a.m. and can't wait to come to practice.”

The group usually sees an uptick in those wanting to try out the sport after the Olympics.

Club member Alec Hall said he wanted to try it after the 2010 Olympics.

“I saw the 2010 Olympics, and I told my dad I want to do that,” he said. “I found out about the club and I've stuck with it.”

Margie Fugate, who said she was out with the group for the fourth week, just decided to try it.

“I did it on a lark. I just wanted to get back on the ice," Fugate said.

Hope Dela Vega, who is a roller-derby skater, tried it for the second time and said she does it to improve her skills.

“It's harder,” she said. “Thankfully, I'm doing it to get better at roller derby. It's nice to learn a new skill."

The club welcomes new members and encourages interest in the sport.

“We love seeing great numbers out here,” Knapp said.

The Columbus Speedskating Club has a number of the special skates for people who want to try the sport before committing too much of their own time and money. They practice all year long, but numbers tend to dwindle in the warmer months.

“You won't see me in here much during the summer,” Knapp said. “A number of people in the group do cycling and other sports.”

Those who are new to the sport should contact the club in advance and set up a time to get fitted for skates and go over equipment and basics before trying it out.

“Come 45 minutes early if trying it out,” Knapp said. “Get skates, get sized and, if necessary, I can build a pair of skates to fit someone on the spot.”

It's not as easy as the Olympians on TV make it look, according to Harrell.

“It's a little harder than what people think," she said.

The Columbus Speedskating Club is planning an open house for Saturday, March 8, and will have an information table set up at the Easton Chiller location for the Winter Olympics celebration Feb 15.

The group meets for practice twice a week, from 7:45 to 8:45 p.m. Wednesdays and from 7 to 9 a.m. Saturdays. Those interested in trying the sport should send an email to the club through Jeremy Rogers at jrogers@thechiller.

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