ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Speedskating is one of the most popular sports at the Winter Olympics—but for the athletes involved in the sport, it’s a year-round effort.
“I just like the speed force and the power makes it,” said 12-year-old Ethan Sonn, who’s been speed skating since around age four. “It just makes me feel more free.”
He spends a few nights a week at the Kirkwood Recreational Center working out with The Gateway Speedskating Club, which works to foster a lifelong love for the long-blade sport.
“We are looking to teach the skaters and have them become and have a more active lifestyle,” said coach Scott Schuyler.
And for some, that can take them pretty far.
“We've had a St. Louis skater in almost every Olympics since 1968,” boasts coach Ed Jacquin, whose father was a founding member of the club in the early sixties. This year, that includes Ian Quinn, a St. Louis native and Lutheran High School graduate.
Sonn just qualified for his third national competition, and he’s excited to see where he goes from there.
“When you see yourself going faster, the wind in your ears kind of gets really loud, and also you're noticing that you can catch up to the kid that you couldn't catch up to last season, and it's kind of fun because then you're more competitive,” he said.
Teammate and fellow nationals-qualifier Sophia Ashley-Martin first hit the rinks in her native Canada and has made herself at home on St. Louis ice.
“It's sort of like a nice outlet,” said the thirteen-year-old. “I found it was a way to get my energy out in it, like a positive way. And yeah, it just overall kind of made me happy.”
Is speedskating easier or harder than it looks?
“Oh, honestly, I feel like it can be both,” said Ashley-Martin. “It's easier in the fact that it's just really fun, like it's the fun is sort of a distraction from the work, but it's a lot of work, you know?”
The club’s developmental programs can teach the fundamentals of the sport before moving on to competitive groups.
“It's all positive. It's all constructive. And kids get a lot out of it,” said Jacquin.
The young skaters know it’s not always smooth at the start, but they say it was worth the stretch.
“I was just it was cold and I was not really prepared or anything. So, yeah, it was kind of nerve-wracking,” said Sonn. “I feel like you'll meet some new friends and you'll be able to talk about something that you never talked about before. It's kind of interesting, and I feel like you might like it.”
These days especially, Ashley-Martin says the sport is exactly the escape a middle schooler needs.
“It's much better to be on the ice,” she said.
To learn more about giving it a try, visit the Gateway Speedskating Club website.