Sun, Mar 25 2012 04:56 PM Posted By: Mike Cohen
Possessing the mental prowess to outskate and outwit, two young Culver City speed demons fly around the ice faster than Zambonis on overdrive.
Culver City residents Aidan Williams, 12, and Zach Araneta, 15, have garnered numerous medals the past year in regional, state and national short track speed skating events.
Requiring athleticism, skill and stamina to maintain speed, balance, and agility, these youngsters use their human body and sharp 17-inch blades to keep them soaring around the ice. As seen in the Olympic games, the sport features high speeds (up to 40 mph), and thrills and spills, earning the moniker “NASCAR on ice.” Think Apolo Anton Ohno.
Araneta claimed the gold medal last month in the Juvenile Division of the California State Short Track Speed Skating Championships held in Valencia. Williams was recovering from a fall during training and instead cheered on his competitors.
Members of the renowned DeMorra Speedskating Club in Lakewood, trained by Wilma Boomstra, Araneta and Williams are returning from a trip to Green Bay in the USA Age Class National Championships, where they had strong performances. Williams skated personal best times in the 334-meter and 1000-meter distances.
Araneta plays a leading role on the LA Junior Kings Under-16 AA hockey team. Williams played for several traveling squads, but recently gave up hockey to devote his time to speed skating.
“He watched the Olympics and loved it. He fell in love with the speed the first time he tried the sport,” said his mother, Jana Williams.
Already a decorated competitive hockey player, Williams took up short track speed skating in August 2010. In his first year competing, he won gold or silver in every meet he entered, and was awarded the Southern California Speed Skating Association Pony Age Class Champion. He also was bestowed the Southern California Speed Skating Association President's Award, which is rarely given to a first year skater. He has continued his streak with more wins this year.
Williams trains twice a week on and off the ice before and after school. His training intensifies in the summer on weekday mornings at the ice arena and later in the day at the park, the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook stairs or the beach.
“You just have to love the sport you're doing. In speed skating, it’s a very technical sport so you have to be on the ice a lot and just keep practicing. You have to watch other skaters, listen to your coach and concentrate on your technique,” said Williams.
Williams was on the Culver City Middle School cross country team and placed third overall in recent sixth grade competition.
The 4.0 scholars-class student has to keep organized, because he must fit in the homework required in Scholars math, social studies and English, as well as Spanish Immersion. He also has the added chore of sharpening his skate blades with a diamond stone every couple of training sessions, using a jig to hold the skates in place.
“In our family, grades are number one and sports number two. If you don't get the grades, you don't get to train,” said his mom.
The Sunkist Park resident was an El Marino Language School student and his brother is in first grade there.
Aidan's dad, Chris, played hockey all his life, growing up in Canada where ice sports are a way of life. Mom grew up in Australia and was a state-level gymnast. She first strapped on a pair of skates at age 16.
Like auto racing, the name of the game is go-fast, turn left, be smart and don’t wreck.
But, they all do.
Williams last year rolled over on his ankle during training and had to use crutches for a couple days. In a recent meet, his blade on one skate became entangled with his other boot on a turn and he wiped out into the protective pads placed around the rink. He went into the pads head-first and sustained a bruise on his forehead. And, while training on the day before the recent California Championships, he took a bad fall and had to sit out the event.
What’s life like as an ice mom?
“I've done it for so long now between hockey and speed skating that it's just become a part of my life. I'm really good at dressing in layers. Ugg Boots are my best friend and so is a warm blanket,” said Jana Williams.
“I understand why athletes thank their parents. When I'm waking up and driving in the dark to the skating rink at 4:45 a.m. for practice, I realize all the sacrifices parents make for their kids. I wouldn't change a thing, though. Sitting and watching Aidan have fun and hang out with a really great group of well-mannered, motivated kids, and seeing him commit to something like this reinforces that sport builds character and instills traits you can use throughout your life,” she said.
© 2009 Culver City News