If winter sports are your passion, getting on the ice blade-to-blade with 2002 Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra is kind of like shooting hoops with LeBron James or drafting Tiger Woods in a round of golf.
For a major lower body workout, join Parra, one of the world’s best speed skaters, in his Learn to Speed Skate course at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns—even if you’ve never tried the sport. In fact, he prefers it that way. “I love working with beginners,” he says. “I want to engage them and show them how much fun you can have with it.”
The fresh, new skaters Parra works with are a mix of ages. “We get skaters that come in at seven or eight years old and some at 45 or 50,” he says. Lessons are for ages six and up, so it can be a workout for the whole family.
Parra starts with the fundamentals, and after a few sessions, skaters are broken into groups based on skill level to focus on individual needs.
After winning Olympic gold, Parra was a development coach for the U.S. Speedskating team and says pros can get bent out of shape over their slightest mistakes, which is why he gravitates to newbies. “Beginners are just happy with standing up for the first time,” he says. “An hour on the ice with them is the best part of my day.”
Lessons include six sessions over three weeks and take place on the oval’s short track. (Short tracks are about 111 meters around, while long tracks are 400 meters.)
After mastering Learn to Speed Skate, skaters can join the Oval Speed Skating Club, which gives kids and adults a chance to sharpen their skills. If you think you’re really good, join FAST (Facilitated Athlete Sport Training), the Oval’s group for ages 16 and up, to train for national competitions.
About the coach:
Speed skaters tend to originate from cold places like the Netherlands, Germany and Russia, but Derek Parra began his career on wheels at the local roller rink in San Bernardino, Calif.
“They’d have two-lap races for a free drink at the snack bar,” he says. “The first time I went, I got blown away by the other skaters but had such a great time doing it. I got hooked.” He dedicated himself to inline speed skating from 1984 to 1996 and became the most decorated athlete in the sport with 18 world titles. But he’d never get into the Olympics on wheels. So in 1996 Parra made the transition to ice and traveled with the U.S. team to the 1998 Olympics, qualified to compete in the 2002 Olympics in SLC and won gold in the 1500 meter and silver in the 5,000-meter events.
Parra was later a coach for the U.S. Speed-skating team, and after the 2010 Olympics, he was offered a position with the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation to help foster new skaters.
Parra is also the first Mexican American to medal in the Winter Olympics. He served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and wrote the book Reflections in the Ice.
Parra’s Tips for Beginners
Relax and focus on position rather than speed. “Some people come in so tense. With that tension, you can’t get your skates to do what they’re supposed to do,” Parra explains.
Let the skates do the work. “The skates are round and a little bent because they’re made to turn, and if you get in the right position, the skate will do the turn for you.”
Practice the speed skating pose. “Before your lessons, get in a speed skating position and get comfortable there. Do it a lot, and you’ll be balanced in class.”
Watch the Best
The world’s best speed skaters haven’t taken the ice in Utah since 2005, and now they’re back. Don’t miss your chance to be one of the 7,000 guests to watch these elite skaters at the 2013 World Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval Jan. 26 and 27. Free tickets available at the door. Visit utaholympiclegacy.com for more info.