My World-Champion Skating CareerThursday, June 07, 2012 By Joey Gonzales
My interest in speed skating started when I was eight years old. I was with my dad watching the 2002 Winter Olympics that were taking place in Salt Lake City, Utah in February. The short track speed skating events were being shown. An American skater, Apolo Anton Ohno, was competing in the 1500-meter final. While I was watching, I immediately felt drawn to the sport. The skaters were moving so fast and taking turns on ice at 60 miles per hour. Apolo Ohno won the race, and the crowed exploded in applause. I told my dad that I wanted to be just like Apolo, I wanted to make crowds of people from all over the world applaud for me. This is my story on reaching that goal. My parents had taken me to the local skating rink for speed skating information. The owner of the rink, Charlie Lucas, was actually a world-class speed skating coach who was the United States of America in-line speed skating world team coach. He also coached the French World Team in his career. He took me in with open arms, and I had joined the Inside Edge speed skating team representing Waco, Texas. When I first started, I wasn’t fast at all, and I had no clue how to go fast. I tried to copy what I had seen Apolo do on TV, but that wasn’t enough. A few months went by, and Charlie decided I was ready to compete. My first race was in Austin, Texas, and I was a nervous wreck. I lost every single race I had; I came in last place each one. I felt highly discouraged. When we got back home, I started to work harder, I really wanted to win. One month later, there was a race here in Waco. I felt even more nervous than I did my first competition. My race was in fifteen minutes, and I was at the arcade playing games. I had to put all of the quarters I had in my sock and run to put on my skates and get ready for my race. I won the race. it was a 200m sprint. It was the first race I had ever won. I took my skates off to find that I had a hole in my sock and that only one quarter was left. I now wear that very quarter around my neck for good luck. As the years went by, I started going faster--I was growing taller, and my legs were getting bigger. In 2008, when I was 14, I won my first national indoor championship in the freshman division. It was then when I started getting approached by companies that wished to sponsor me and have me promote their products. I started getting paid to skate, and I loved it. Later that year, I had qualified for the United States of America world team, placing fifth overall at the 2008 National Team selection meet. At the World Championships in Madrid, Spain, I was excited and nervous at the same time, I felt as if it were my first race again. The only medal placement I had was in the track relay, which was second place. A few weeks after I had arrived back home, I started short-track ice speed skating, which was an entire new world to me. In 2009, I traveled to Florida, Colorado, and Wisconsin for training for in-line and ice. I was more determined than ever to become faster. At the Indoor National Championships, I won all three distances in the sophomore division, winning overall again. At the national ice championships, I placed fourth in my age group. At the in-line World Team selection meet, I placed second overall, once again securing my spot on the American team. In 2009, the world championships were taking place in Haining City, China. I was in all of the sprint races, the 300m time trial, 500m and the 100m on the track, and the 200m time trial and the 500m on the road. I placed second in the 300m time trial on track, first in the 500m, and 1000m on track. On the road, I won both the 200m time trial and the 500m. In 2010, I became more active with short-track ice, so I spent more time on the ice than on rollerblades. I spent a lot of time in Colorado Springs, Colorado for training. It was there where I had met the Olympic gold medalist in long track ice speed skating, Eric Heiden. Eric had made a huge impact in my life--he had taught me about nutrition and how sleep, stress and surroundings affect me as an athlete. During the 2010 national ice championships, I had won the sophomore age group, and I felt highly accomplished in winning after only one year of ice skating under my belt. The 2011 skating season was my most successful season. I won the junior division at the indoor national championships, setting a new record in the 500m sprint. Outdoors, I made the World Team again, placing first overall at the World Team selection. During the 2011 roller World Championships, I dominated every race I took place in. On the track, I won the 300m time trial, 500m sprint, 10,000 points elimination and the 1000m sprint. On the road, I won the 200m time trial, the 500m sprint and the 20,000m elimination. I also won the junior men marathon. I was awarded most successful athlete at that World Championships as well. My 2011 ice season was also my most successful season as well. I decided to skip the national championships to skate the World Cup trials. I was skating against the very person who gave me the desire to start my skating career in the first place, Apolo Ohno. The team consists of the top six skaters at the meet; I placed fifth overall. I was on the United States of America World Cup short-track ice speed skating team. The World Cup race took place in Shabuya, Japan. I was with my coaches, trainers, and team members Apolo Ohno, Jordan Malone, Simon Cho, Travis Jayner and JR Celski. I was the youngest one on the team by three years, as well as the only non-Olympian on the team. The World Cup was an entirely new experience to me. I had the exact feeling there when I was a kid watching the Olympics in 2002. I was there, the crowd of 10,000 people yelling and cheering, with the athletes I studied and looked up to now my teammates and my competition. I competed in one race, the 500m sprint. I made it to the 500m final surprisingly enough. Nobody knew who I was, so I was constantly referred to as “Baby Apolo” because of the similar way we skated. In the 500m final, there were five skaters. Apolo Ohno and me from the United States, Lee Ho-Suk, Rai Oh-Chun and Sung Si-Bak from South Korea. On the first lap, I was in the back of the pack, and on the second, Oh-Chun took Apolo out as he fell. Luckily, I was able to avoid the crash, leaving me racing two Koreans on my own. On the third lap, the rest of the race felt as if it were quiet and in slow motion. I saw Apolo still down, and I heard my coaches, my teammates, and the entire crowd cheering for me. I threw a bomb pass (a highly risky, last-minute pass), and I made it to the lead. On the fourth and fifth laps, I was able to hold the lead and win the race. The crowd roared. I was overcome with happiness. I couldn’t believe it. Apolo congratulated me and gave me an American flag to wave in my victory lap. It was the best feeling in the world. Winning that race made me realize that I am a part of the next generation, and maybe somewhere in the world a kid is watching me, wanting to become just like me. I do not have a normal life. Hotel rooms are second homes, the road and the sky are my two closest friends, and I don’t see my parents as much as I’d like. Skating to me is more than just a sport, more than a job. My sponsors allow me to help pay bills, and save money for my parents. I came from a low-class home, I came from the bottom. Now I’m a world champion, an endorsed athlete proudly sponsored by Nike Livestrong, Holiday Inn, Bont skates, Flyke, and Red Bull. My life is far from average, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.