Carnegie's Amanda Trimble skating her way to glory on the ice
It was do or die for speedskater Amanda Trimble at the 2013 Junior National Championships.
The 16-year-old Carnegie native was facing the reality it may be her last competition. The massive finical strain of the sport – including the cost of her equipment, ice time and the cost of living away from home with hosts families in Washington D.C. – led her family to have the talk of giving it up.
“We were thinking this would be my last season if I didn't do well,” Trimble said. “I like to try to skate every race like it is my last. I definitely tried hard at Junior Nationals.”
The effort paid off – Trimble took fifth place. The finish gave Trimble a chance of getting her Junior Category 1 status – a top honor for a speedskater – and a chance to represent the United States in Warsaw, Poland if one of the top four finishers could not make it.
The success Trimble has found has not came easy as she has given up the typical life of a teenager in exchange for the sport she loves.
Trimble's exposure to skating came the same way as many other kids in Pittsburgh – through a parent's love of hockey.
“When I was little, my dad played hockey,” Trimble said. “He would put skates on me, and I would be out there with adults playing hockey. I learned to skate fast when I was getting pushed down.”
Trimble was an avid roller hockey player, but with injuries starting to occur and her not wanting to give up skating, her stepfather suggested trying out speed skating.
She attended a practice of the Pittsburgh Speed Skating Club nearly three years ago and during her first visit doubted she would enjoy the sport – until she hit the rink.
“I didn't want to,” Trimble said. “But then I stepped on the ice. It completely changed my mind, and I fell in love.”
The short-track speedskating rink measures 60 meters by 30 meters – the same size as an international hockey rink – with a circumference of 111.12 meters. The short-track version of the sport has grown more popular than the long-track version. Speedskaters can reach speeds 30 mph on 17-inch blades.
Trimble said her preferred event is the 1,500-meter race – which goes for a total of 13.5 laps. While short races are based more on getting your speed up, Trimble said the longer race allows skaters to not only use their bodies but also their minds.
“The difference between the 1,500 and the other races is there is a lot of strategy,” Trimble said. “I like to think while I skate. It is hard to lead in that race, because everyone tries to draft behind the leader. I like to be out front so I can see out of the corner of my eye and make my game plan from there.”
Trimble kept with the sport locally until a snag in the road came up as the Pittsburgh Club was going through some internal struggles, leading Trimble to wonder if she would be able to continue with speedskating.
“The Pittsburgh club fell apart,” her mother, Sara Dickson, said. “She was devastated that there would be no more speedskating.”
The search began to find a program nearby with a national coach. The search led them to the Potomac Speedskating Club based out of Arlington, Va. Maybe the biggest drawing point was coach Hyun-Jung Lee, a longtime coach and short-track speedskater who represented Korea in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games during speedskating's demonstration event (the sport's introduction to the Olympics).
“I saw how (Lee) treated her skaters,” Trimble said. “I saw what she expected from her skaters. I knew instantly I wanted to skate for her.”
The initial plan, Dickson said, was to send Trimble a week at a time to Arlington. But Dickson said the progress Trimble was making with the Potomac Speedskating Club was so noticeable that the decision was made to allow Trimble to move to the Washington, D.C. suburbs last summer at the age of 15.
“We realized she needed to train five or six days a week,” Dickson said. “So we found a host family, and she moved there. We all miss her terribly. It would be easy for me to say, ‘Don't go back.' ”
It has been nearly a year since Trimble moved to continue her career, and she said it has been a culturally rewarding experience. She has picked up a fluent understanding of Spanish and Korean – the latter thanks in part to Coach Lee – and also has been around Chinese and French speakers. The language barrier has been one of the biggest hurdles Trimble has had since her move to Virginia.
“If you send me to Korea, I most likely could find my way around,” Trimble said. “It is really different being a minority at times. It is weird to live in America, and you assume everyone speaks English and then you wake up in the morning and don't hear, ‘Good morning.' ”
Trimble does not attend school but does her work online and is registered with the Carlynton Area School District. Trimble said her self-discipline has helped her remain focused on her studies and admitted she doesn't know if she go back to the life of a normal student.
“I have to set my alarm for the morning and wake up and start school,” Trimble said. “I don't have a parent saying, ‘get to school.' There are times I wish I could go back, but I don't know if I could cope. I have seen so much and been cultured in so many ways a typical high school student isn't.”
No pain, no gain
While the basic concept of speedskating seems simple – skate fast and turn left – the sport requires a constant mental and physical dedication.
A typical practice can last up to five and a half hours and combines both ice and dry land training. The ice portion of the practice involves many relays, which are made up of pairs of skaters doing seven laps in a minute, switching off for a minute and then doing seven more. The relays last for two hours.
The dry-land portion of training involves a warmup of running a mile and a half. The skaters then jump on one leg for 15 minutes and switch. Then come 1,000 squats, a one-minute break and 1,000 more.
“Sometimes I walk out of the rink at night, and I am limping,” Trimble said.
In addition to the strenuous workout, Trimble must stay on a strict diet. She must keep to a balance of fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates and protein to stay in skating shape.
“Basically if something looks appetizing, I can't have it,” Trimble said. “I can't have anything like french fries or ice cream. It gets even stricter around a competition, because I can't have any meat. The body needs carbs more than protein, so during a competition I have a lot of simple carbs like bread. After competitions, I am dieting for protein.”
Despite the hours of practice, injuries occur. Trimble said skaters wear a “cut-proof” skin suit under the top skin suit, but it can do little to protect the skater from skates.
Then there are the falls and crashes. The outside of the rink is padded, but Trimble said the pads don't do much. She said a rule of thumb is the faster you go, the bigger the bruise will be.
“When they fall and hit the pads, it is like thunder,” Dickson said. “And their bodies go flying. Anytime someone goes down, I close my eyes. It's tense. Very tense.”
Last summer she was preparing for a competition when an off-ice incident led to Trimble severely spraining her ankle – at the time it was questioned if she had fractured it. Instead of taking herself out of the competition, Trimble skated two days later – while still walking on crutches – and finished with a personal best.
“The doctor and my coach kept saying, ‘You don't have to do this,' ” Trimble said. “But I knew how hard I worked, and I wouldn't let anything stand in my way.
“I was crying afterwards, because I couldn't get my skate off because my ankle was so swollen.”
Despite the injury, Trimble continued working out on her own with only one leg as she realized what life without speedskating might be like.
“It made me realize what it would be like if I didn't skate,” Trimble said. “I realized without skating, I didn't feel complete. I have goals in skating, and I cannot get to them if I don't compete.”
The physical toll of the sport is joined by the monetary cost. There is nothing cheap about speedskating – skaters need a skin suit, helmet, knee pads, shin guards, gloves, skates and blades. There are also monthly fees for the ice time and coaching.
And when there is a competition, travel and accommodation costs add to the monthly fees.
“It is easily $1,000 a month,” Dickson said. “The equipment has to be elite. My husband and I both try to pick up work when we can to help the costs.”
Trimble is given a monthly allowance, and the youngster has learned a life lesson many of her peers don't learn until college or beyond – how to ration money.
“My mom hands me $300 at the beginning of the month to pay for food and everything like that,” Trimble said. “After the first month, I realized when I get the $300 I shouldn't go to the mall and spend it all. I learned how to ration money quickly.”
Blades of glory
Trimble has been dedicated to the sport since relocating to Arlington last year, and the fruits of her labor are coming through.
At the 2012 Junior Short Track National Championships, she won a bronze medal in the 777-meter race. In October, Trimble won the Rochester Short Track Speedskating Meet in Rochester, N.Y. The strong finish at the Rochester event earned her American Cup A time, a benchmark needed to compete in certain events on the speedskating circuit.
“That event really opened up my eyes,” Trimble said. “It was really the first race of the season, and I was lapping my competitions two or three times.
“My coach kept saying, ‘take it easy, take it easy.' The girls I was lapping were girls I competed against last season. It shows how hard I had been working.”
Trimble's best effort may have been her fifth-place finish at the 2013 Junior National Championships. The event featured 70 of the top junior speedskaters in the country competing for a top-four finish and a chance to represent the United States at the World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Warsaw, Poland.
“That is the biggest event of the year,” Trimble said. “If I wouldn't have fallen, I would have finished fourth. The competition there is fierce. It is like a bloodbath. It is probably the hardest race I have been in.”
Fifth place made Trimble an alternative for the United States team.
The strong finish also opened the door to Trimble acquiring Junior Category 1 status. A skater must finish the 500-meter with a time of 48.1 seconds or the 1,000-meter with a time of 1 minute, 38.5 seconds to acquire the status.
Junior Category 1 is one of the highest honors a young speedskater can achieve.
After receiving the honor, the skater will be able to wear a U.S. Speedskating jersey with sponsorships from different companies.
“Every skater sees it as you representing the country,” Trimble said. “If you get it, coaches start looking at you when they didn't notice you before.”
It didn't take Trimble long to nab her Junior Category 1 status as she recorded a 1:36.861 at the American Cup II event in Midland, Mich. this past weekend.
Trimble will compete in March at the 2013 Junior Short Track National Championships in Omaha, Neb. before the speedskating season hits its slow section and the cycle starts over.
Getting the Junior Category 1 status was the first on a list of goals she hopes to achieve. She has many more in mind – including maybe someday the Olympics – and will keep skating and training to reach them.
“I don't want to be a product of my environment,” Trimble said. “I want to say I did something in speedskating.”
She is well on her way.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-388-5813.