For as long as they can remember, Kyle Ronchak and Steven Hartman have been long-track speedskaters, plowing their time and energy into a winter sport that few people understand and even fewer are participants.
Ronchak, of Arden Hills, and Hartman, of Falcon Heights, are friends and teammates on the Midway Speedskating Club in St. Paul. This weekend, they are competing in the America's Cup U.S. Long Track Speedskating championships at the Guidant John Rose Oval in Roseville.
A lot of people ask him if he is going to skate in the Winter Olympics, said Ronchak, noting that's a big stereotype many people have about long-track speedskating, as if all skaters will go to those international games.
While Ronchak said he hopes to make the U.S, Winter Olympic team in 2018, that's no certainty and is an honor that many other people will be seeking.
Still, Ronchak is on the right track for a possible Olympic berth sometime down the road. After initial races today (Saturday), Ronchak placed second in the 500 meters for the Junior World cup division and first place in the Junior American cup.
For Ronchak, a senior at Mounds View High School, it was the perfect way to mark his 18th birthday, which was on Saturday. (As of this interview, he did not know how he placed in the 1,000 meters.)
Meanwhile, Hartman, a 17-year-old senior at Cretin-Derham Hall High School, said he was pleased with his times in the 500 and 1,000 meters for Junior World Cup competition. (Skaters younger than 19 are in the junior division.)
But Hartman, who has been a serious long-track speedskater since age 10, said he is looking to peak in two weeks for the U.S. Junior Long Track Nationals, which the Midway Speedskating Club is also hosting at the John Rose Oval.
Hartman said he made the U.S. junior team last year and got to travel to Japan for the Junior World championships. This year, the Junior World championships will be in late February in Italy.
More than 20 Midway Club skaters qualified for this weekend's event, said Ray Larson, Club communication director. He said long-track speedskating is a sport where Midway club members work out 11 months out of the year, including twice-a-day practices three times a week in the summer for the most elite athletes.
"If you saw how hard these kids train and how much of a social life they give up, you'd either be overwhelmed or alarmed," Larson said. "No high school teams, no college scholarships, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow/endorsement. They just compete for competing sake. Pure competition and pure competitors as well."
Both Hartman and Ronchak acknowledged that plenty of practice and work goes into developing their talent and skill as speedskaters. Still, they said the sacrifice is worth the effort.
Hartman said he enjoys the camaraderie of the sport, hanging out with good friends. "That's what really makes it fun for me," he said, adding he enjoys the oppotunity to travel. "It is an unique opportunity we have."
Ronchak also said he enjoys traveling. "I like going to new places," he said.
For Ronchak, the competition at the Oval has taken him full circle. As a grade-school kid, Ronchak lived within eyeshot of the Oval and took skating lessons at the Roseville Skating Center when his family lived in Roseville, he said.
For other coverage of the speedskating competition, click on to this link:
National Speedskating Meet Today at Guidant John Rose Oval
To follow the Midway Speedskating Club and its skaters, check them out on Twitter (@midwayskaters), Facebook (Midway Speedskating Club) and Pinterest (MidwaySpeedSkating).