On thick ice

Full-body Spandex suits, skates with weapon-like blades, Bonnie Blair and maybe Dan Jansen – this is what "speedskating" means to most of us. To some 15 members of the Blue Ridge Speedskating Club who show up at the Charlottesville Ice Park every Sunday morning, however, it means much more.

It was not an easy task for BRSC founder and president Suzanne Coffey to launch the club last April, yet she and other members have put together a group that serves people who want to master things like basic body position or "stroke recovery," as well as those more experienced skaters who want to perfect their "forward power slide" technique.

The idea came to Chicago native Coffey during the Salt Lake City winter games. As the craze of short-track speedskating, headlined by American speedskater Apollo Ohno, took glancing hold nationally, Coffey decided Charlottesville could support it, too.

"We’ve got some kids who want to go to the Olympics, and I have come to view this as sort of a ministry," says Coffey, a chiropractor at Community Chiropractic Health Care. "I am here to help and mentor these kids."

A national speedskating organization got her lined up with David Kennedy, the president of a regional speedskating association. Kennedy and American Olympic speedskater Nathaniel Mills taught a coaching clinic for Coffey and new BRSC members in June.

Now entering their seventh month as a club, 15 or more BRSC members meet on the ice every Sunday. While preparing for their first competition (October 26 at the Richmond Ice Zone), the group was " just looking to get [its] feet wet…or cold," says Coffey.

Bill Randolph is a self-employed consulting engineer by week and and a BRSC skater by weekend, but he’s had an addicting taste of what professional training in these parts can mean in the sport. "Young speedskaters have so much access to world-class athletes," he says. "It’s as if youngsters went to a football clinic taught by NFL all-stars. You don’t get that kind of access everyday."

Merely a decade ago, of course, Charlottesville barely had access to ice everyday. The ice park, which was born of the tempestuous partnership between developers Colin Rolph and Lee Danielson, opened in May 1996. Speedskating – and some of its Northern cousins like hockey and figure skating – are all in their infancy here. Yet speedskating may have been launched with the highest early profile.

Coffey has skaters in the place now ranging in age between 12 and 50, and even that doesn’t satisfy her ambition to have broadcast networks one day run a story about the small Olympic skating village of Charlottesville.

Next on her list: at least 30 crash pads for the walls of the Ice Park. (Are you listening, Mr. Rolph?)

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