A competitive cyclist, Michael Keye-Schuler got his start in speed skating over a decade ago while living in Ketchikan. He moved to Juneau about five years ago in part for the additional outdoor skating opportunities, and he logs several thousand kilometers every winter on various lakes.
Now, he’s hoping to spread that same dedication and enthusiasm to others.
The Ketchikan transplant led Juneau’s first-ever speed skating clinic over the past two weekends, taking over a dozen adults and youth under his wing to learn some of the basics of the sport.
“I think it’s a great sport because it’s non-contact, it’s strengthening, it’s great for your balance,” Keye-Schuler said in an interview after the second of three clinics. “So I want to believe that there’s a lot of people in town that have kids that want to skate but they don’t want to play hockey and they’re not really interested in figure skating.”
Keye-Schuler and co-instructor Andrew Dyke have each competed nationally in the sport, which has been an Olympic Winter Games staple since 1924. Up until recently, there were no loaner speed skates in town. That changed this year. A Vancouver, British Columbia, speed skating club wrote on social media that its old club skates were in need of a new home. Key-Schuler asked if they would be willing to send a few pairs to Juneau.
“They said you can have them all,” Keye-Schuler said. “They sent me 22 pairs of skates. I paid for shipping, and they sent these 22 pairs of skates. And they’re not high-end skates, they’re club skates, but at this level, it’s just a gift to have them. The rink is housing them here.”
Celia Wheeler was one of a handful of youth on the ice Saturday. A member of the Juneau Nordic Ski Team, Wheeler said the speed skating felt similar to Nordic skiing.
“It’s very similar to skate skiing because you have to do the whole balancing on one leg,” Wheeler, 16, said. “But it’s just more drawn out and lower to the ground.”
On her second-ever speed skate, Wheeler already seemed moderately comfortable making crossover turns.
“I’ve learned more about weight transfer and really getting on one side of your body,” she said
Fellow participant Zuzana Culakova was also noticeably advanced in making turns. She said the sport is relatively accessible is her hometown of Rochester, New York, where she’s speed skated a few times.
“Because of the offset on your blade, it’s really hard to do crossovers if you’re not going fast enough,” she said, “but it’s also really scary to do crossovers when you’re moving faster than you’re comfortable. So it’s a balancing act.”
Keye-Schuler spent countless hours to master skills like the crossover.
At one of his common skating haunts in Ketchikan, Ward Lake, Keye-Schuler used his professional background as a surveyor to layout precise short-tracks.
“I would lay out these official short tracks kind of like we did this morning and just skate circles as long as there was ice,” Keye-Schuler said. “In 2010, I started getting more interested in pursuing it and started racing long track at a Master’s national level, which is what I really focus on now.”
Dyke learned speed skating in a much more structured environment. The 22-year grew up in Michigan where a speed skating club attracted about 60 individuals, and he competed in various national competitions. Dyke is thrilled to pick it up again after moving to town earlier this year for an engineering job.
“I was probably skating as soon as I could walk practically,” he said.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.