Recently, the Thai National Speedskating Team came to our place in Thailand for a training camp. It reminded me of the days when I went to camps in the late 80’s to work out with ice speedskaters. Run by speedskating goddess Dianne Holum, these camps were absolutely brutal, since she was basically grooming skaters to go to the Olympics. The workload was insane. Needless to say, I was in way over my head, but I tried hard because it was all so new and challenging, and I longed to break into the big leagues. There was a constant cloud of dread hanging over us, since we never knew what kind of torture our coach was going to subject us to next. Everybody had a good reason to complain. We all had blisters, strained muscles, general fatigue, and yet we had to keep on going in a clueless state. For her and her best students, there was nothing to be afraid of. They knew the routine, and they already had an idea what their bodies were capable of and what they could eventually achieve with blood, sweat, and tears.
For a newbie like me, skating for the pure love of the sport, these camps were a voyage of self discovery, like a trip to heaven and hell wrapped in one.
The kids from the Thai Team have it better than they know. They are living a dream: each skater is salaried, stays in a deluxe hotel near the sports complex, eats royally, gets all their schwag for free, and is exempt from going to school. That’s diametrically opposed to my early days, where I spent all my spare allowance on skate equipment, dumpster dived for food to bring back to my cramped dorm room, and grudgingly finished my course load so I could get out and skate more. Were these kids as hungry as I was to hunt down their dreams? We would soon find out. I saw myself in each of the nine kids, aged 15-24, who suited up every morning, trembling slightly at the prospect of the discomfort they knew they were going to experience. They were afraid of the unknown. I was the bad guy, but they had no excuse, since I was doing everything they were doing and presumably suffering just as much.
Each skater reacted to the stress of skate training differently. Everybody had up days and down days. Some excelled at dryland but couldn’t skate an uphill interval worth a dime. Some could draft long distances at high speeds but couldn’t push into the wind themselves. Some had the will to skate but were reduced to tears because their heels had blisters which had turned into divots. (When a blister is the center of your universe, it’s hard to explain that pain is only temporary. “Just skate hard and you won’t feel it anymore since your legs will hurt more,” doesn’t work.)
One skater stood out, not because she was the fastest or most promising, but because she was willing to get out of her comfort zone and try. She was easily the most consistent, never late for a skate (or a meal!), always went hard when it was her turn to take a pull, and would make an effort to laugh and put a positive spin on things even after crying and doubting her capabilities during training.
That was me all those years ago!