Interview & images submitted by Aaron Heo
PA Cyber Charter
Inspiring Teens Magazine: itmgz.com
Summer 2016 Issue
Tell us about how you got started in skating.
I went down to Maryland to have a birthday dinner with my family for my Grandfather. My cousin was originally already involved in speed skating and he asked me if I wanted to participate in the camp that his club was holding that weekend. I agreed, not really even sure what speed skating was. That was my first time ever setting foot on ice with skates on and it was even my first time ever being in an ice rink. I think it came pretty naturally for me. One vivid memory that I have of my first day of practice was my coach telling me to go do one lap but I told him it was too easy and that I wanted to do two. That summer, as an eight-year-old, I stayed at my cousin’s house in Maryland separated from my parents.
How often do you need to practice? Tell us about your practice schedule.
Ideally, it would be nice to practice twice everyday with one day to recover. A practice can include anything from getting on the ice, to doing off-ice technique exercises that we call dryland, or getting in the weight room. This wasn’t possible up until this season because the team that I skate at is located in Maryland which means I have to commute a ton and still attend school back here in Pennsylvania. My typical schedule was go to school on Thursday, drive to Maryland for a practice in the evening, then drive back and go to school the next morning. After school that day, I would return to Maryland and practice for the weekend before returning on Sunday. I’ve maintained this schedule since I was 8 years old. But for this season, I decided to make a bigger commitment to train to snag the one spot for the Youth Olympic Games by moving out to Utah all by myself to train at the facility where all the national team members train. I was on the FAST team and trained twice every day except on Sundays. This increase in training really helped me improve my abilities immensely.
When did you decide to go competitive?
I think I’ve always been speed skating competitively. There was never a point in my time of skating where I said to myself, “Oh I think I’m ready to compete now.” I think this is because without even knowing it, my coach just told me to race for the experience since that is very valuable. I competed in my first race when I skated for maybe 2 or 3 months. I somehow won and from there I started to compete in bigger and bigger races.
Have you ever gotten really hurt? If so, what happened? How did you recover?
The only major injury I’ve had was fracturing my collar bone. I fell into an area without padding and it really shook me up but I skated soon after that. I was still a bit out of it so I fell on the straightaway and slammed my collar bone onto the ice. It took about a month or so to recover if I remember correctly. I actually skated with a sling on but nothing to intense.
How to you combat your fears and nervousness?
When I was younger I used to struggle with being super nervous. This problem didn’t really go away until about two or three years ago when I just naturally started to relax and just skate like I’ve been doing for more than half of my life. I still get nervous in really important races but it isn’t anything that affects my performance. I think it is good to be a little nervous so you are reactive to whatever happens in the race.
Do you ever miss out on doing “regular teenage activities?” How does your sport affect your schooling?
I missed out on a ton since I’ve started skating. Since my weekends are all spent on the ice in a different state, I didn’t and still don’t have time to hangout with friends much but when I get the chance I for sure take it.
School was not too difficult when commuting. I still maintained solid grades and finished everything I needed to even though I had to do homework in the car often. I did this until this school year when I had to switch to online schooling in order to train in Utah. I plan on returning to a normal, brick and mortar, school for my senior year.
What are your goals?
I think my goals are the same as any athlete participating in an Olympic sport. To make it to the Games. It is a little tough to make it to the 2018 Games but there is a chance.
Some smaller goals I have in mind are to make the junior world teams the next two years and then start attending the senior level world cups.Tell us about your time in Lillehammer, Norway.
It was an unbelievable experience. It was my first time leaving the country so that was an interesting experience and it was also my first international competition. Getting a taste of what the actual Olympics are like was an unreal experience and I am dying to go to another big event like this. It was also super cool to talk and interact with athletes from other sports and countries. Even though there was a pretty major language barrier between a lot of us, we still had tons of fun and everyone was always smiling and laughing. I could talk on and on about all the amazing little things that happened but all in all, this opportunity to compete in the Youth Olympic Games was the best two weeks of my life.
What advice do you have for any other teenagers looking to get involved in competitive speed skating?
Go for it!!! It may be hard to find clubs in this area to go try the sport out but the closest one is Garden State Speed skating in New Jersey. I went there last season multiple times to get extra practices in on the weekdays when I couldn’t travel all the way to Maryland to train with my home club. Speed skating is a very unique sport with a tight knit, friendly, and supportive community so don’t be afraid to try it out.