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Vermonters join in on speed skating fun

February 26, 2018

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) — Speed skating can be a daunting skill to attempt, even for those with plenty of experience on the ice.

“I think the best thing I teach is to try it and don’t get discouraged the first time,” said Edwin DeBruijn, who runs a local speed skating program. “Stick to it. It takes a few hours to adjust.”

Adam Franklin Lyons takes his children Silas Wickenden, 9, and Elana Wickenden, 6, to the Nelson Withington Skating Facility in Brattleboro nearly every week during the winter season. It is a tradition going back four years now. The three get up early to go to the skating rink, where speed skating is scheduled Sundays from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. The only cost is the regular admittance fee of $4 for residents and $5 for non-residents. Participants all skate in the same direction. But the younger kids can skate in narrower circles within the rink.

Lyons had never tried speed skating until it caught his son’s interest. Family members in Boston skate and play hockey so they are happy to buy his kids new equipment or sharpen their skates during holiday visits.

“I had never done it before but I found that I really like it,” Lyons said. “Also, I think in some ways, I might be the biggest fan of it at this point.”

Silas was inspired to try speed skating after watching videos from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The family has also caught some footage from this year’s games in Pyeongchang, China.

“We have been following some of the speed skating,” Lyons said. “They also are into biathlon, it turns out.”

Lyons can skate around a 400-meter oval in about a minute. That feels fast for him. “But that’s just under half the sprint speed for the Olympics so it’s half as fast as they’re going,” he said.

DeBruijn started the local program 18 or 19 years ago. Brattleboro Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte told him she had a slot available for him to offer speed skating.

“I said, ‘Of course,’ and jumped right into it,” DeBruijn said. “In the beginning, we had a lot of families and kids — up to 15, 16 people on a Sunday. Now, we’re back to five or six or so.”

In the early days of the program, DeBruijn had lots of extra skates to let guests borrow. He still has a few pairs he can loan out if anyone is interested in trying it next season.

DeBruijn grew up speed skating.

“That’s pretty much the only winter sport that exists in the Netherlands,” he said of his home country, once completing The Eleven Cities Tour that is held there when lakes, canals and towns are connected by ice for a total of 120 miles. “Why are the Dutch doing so well in the Olympics? Because everyone is skating.”

At the rink, DeBruijn offers pointers for skill building and sets up little relays or races for free for “love of the game.”

“I just wanted the community to learn skating,” he said. “It’s so much fun to have these kids out there and they’re improving so much.”

He tells skaters to start slowly with their straightaways and get their upper body in line with their skates.

“The turns are the most difficult ones,” he said. “If it’s really difficult, I give them a chair and get them to skate behind a chair, one step at a time. Some people are natural, some people take a long time. If you stick to it, you can get it.”

It took DeBruijn about 19 or 20 minutes to do a 10-kilometer race he won in Vermont in the early 2000s. He can skate up to 25 to 35 kilometers per hour, calling it “a good biking speed.”

“In the Olympics,” he said, “they hit 60 kilometers an hour on the short distances.”

Professionals are known to complete a 200-kilometer race in the Netherlands in six hours and 10 minutes. DeBruijn said he did it in about 12.5 hours in 1986.

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Online: http://bit.ly/2CIyrTl

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Information from: Brattleboro Reformer, http://www.reformer.com/

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