You know those times, when you’re watching the Olympics or some other incredible feat of athleticism from the comfort of your couch, and you think, “That’s awesome, I should learn how to do that,” and maybe you do a quick Google search for “javelin throwing lessons” or “luge tracks in Maine” before giving up on the idea and then completely forgetting about it altogether?

The Great Atlantic Speedskating Club was started kind of like that. Except the founders didn’t give up on the idea.

Maine’s only short track speedskating club, Great Atlantic Speedskating Club came to be in 2002 when a few locals got inspired to learn after watching the Winter Olympics that year. These days there are 30 members ranging in age from 10 to 70, and the club includes recreational skates and those who compete in local meets around New England and Canada and nationally, too.

To encourage more novices to give the sport a try, the club has hosted Try Speedskating events every year. A friend and I attended a few years ago [photos]. Then more recently, I went back with some intrepid souls from the Fit Maine Social Club [photos].

Spoiler: we weren’t speedskating masters by the end of the lesson. But we did get to lace up those cool (and very sharp!) speedskates, learn some basics about from (knees bent, back rounded, butt tucked), and get to practice our turns with some lively bucket races. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Coach Karen Schilling, in plum-colored jacket, talks to the group before the Try Speedskating event. Shannon Bryan photo
A pair of speedskates await their assigned skater for the morning. Speedskates don’t have the same ankle support as figure skates and hockey skates, and the blades are longer (and mighty sharp)! Shannon Bryan photo

The club is coached by Karen Schilling, a US Speedskating certified Level 3 Coach, and Shelley Littlefield, a Level 1 Coach. Karen is a welcoming instructor – making jokes and describing things in a way that make sense to a beginner. It’s clear she also really loves getting new folks out onto the ice.

Coach Karen Schilling demonstrates proper speedskating form to a group of first-timers. Shannon Bryan photo

Before we got schooled in the speedskating basics, we spent some time just getting acquainted with the skates and the ice (i.e., we spent the time clinging to the walls of the rink and hesitantly taking strides with our wobbly legs). Eventually, most of us felt confident enough to leave the wall. Coach Karen demonstrated proper speedskating form: knees bent (like, really low), belly button pulled in, back arched.

It’s not an easy position to hold for very long, especially when you’re not used to it. But we practiced skating up and down the ice, tucking our bodies as well as we could.

Practicing our skate (pushing out) with the help of some buckets. Shannon Bryan photo

Then we practiced pushing our skates out to the sides – putting those long blades to work by pushing our legs. And we did this whilst sitting on buckets. (Turns out, buckets are a valuable learning-to-speedskate tool.)

We used those buckets for support while we practiced our turns, too.

Beginner skater Audra uses the bucket for support as she practices her turns. Shannon Bryan photo

The instructors employed other fun games to help us practice, like setting up mat tunnels on the ice that we had to skate under (decidedly harder for the adults among us).

Coach Karen Schilling after a successful trip through the tunnel. Shannon Bryan photo

And then there were the bucket relay races. While the races were fun, they were also a good opportunity to practice putting it all together – bending our knees, taking out turns, working up some speed.

Bucket races! Shannon Bryan photo

Whiles experienced speedskaters make the movement look smooth and effortless, speedskating requires some serious effort. It requires some serious cardio and muscle stamina to maintain for more than a lap or two – regular practice and conditioning are essential.

I also loved how Karen advised “speed slowly.” No quick-legged sprints here. Speedskating is all about the long push, letting the skate do the work. (Except, you know, the human is also working really hard, too)

Members of the Great Atlantic Speedskating Club skate a few laps to show us beginners what it looks like when it all comes together. Shannon Bryan photo

I’m pretty sure most of us left the lesson with renewed speedskating confidence. Maybe we weren’t going to win the Olympics, but at least we’d actually gotten off the couch to give it a try. I suspect some of the skaters that day will stick with it and – who knows – we might really see them at a future Winter Games. Or at least having an awesome time a Family Ice.

The speedskating season for 2019-2020 started in October, but you can still sign up. Practices are on Saturdays at 6:30 a.m. and Sundays 10:30 a.m. In the spring, it’s Tuesdays at 6:10 p.m.

Membership includes annual dues ($75 adult, $5o youth) and a 15-session punch card ($450 adults, $375 youth).

*** Also, if you want to do a Try Speedskating event yourself, reach out to Karen Schilling at ***

Great Atlantic Speedskating Club

Based at Family Ice, Falmouth
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