For more information about the Cleveland-based speed skating team, call Yonah Bowl & Skate at 706-865-4569.
CLEVELAND — Team F.A.S.T., an in-line speed skating team, zooms around the track each Monday at Yonah Bowl & Skate in Cleveland.
Tim Nightengale, 37, of Blairsville has been speed skating for 20 years and began coaching the Cleveland team four years ago.
Nightengale said speed skaters can compete at every level, from novice to professional, and leaders in the sport have recently sought Olympic status.
“We were actually one of the six sports that was up to be introduced at the Olympics in 2016, and our sport is one that was denied,” Nightengale said.
Although in-line speed skating is not yet an Olympic sport, many skaters, like U.S. short track speed skater Apolo Ohno, were in-line skaters before they took the ice.
But not everyone is in it for the competition.
Nightengale said he welcomes skaters of all speeds, and they can join the team even if they don’t want to compete.
“If it’s a social thing, if it’s a fun thing, I’m not going to push you as hard,” said Nightengale. “But if you’re wanting to be the best skater that you can be, then I’m going to ride your back and push you harder and encourage you much harder to go beyond your abilities to train.”
Some skaters do it for the health benefits, Nightengale said.
“I actually had a husband and wife that both lost over 75 pounds each,” he said.
“Someone doesn’t even have to know how to put a skate on, and we can bring them in and teach them how to skate. Some people on the team do it just for fitness and for fun, some people do it for the sport, the competition.”
Isaac Cheves, 23, of Sautee said skating practice at Yonah Bowl is “the highlight of my week.”
Although Cheves said he’s probably past the point of making a career of skating, he still took third place in his age division at a recent state competition.
“I’ve always skated ever since I could, pretty much, walk. It’s just always been a passion. I never liked any other sports,” Cheves said.
John Sovine, 16, of Cleveland joined Team F.A.S.T. in September. His father, Gary Sovine, said it has improved other aspects of John’s life.
“It’s been good for him,” Gary Sovine said. “It’s really got him where he has to concentrate on what he’s doing, and believe it or not, the discipline of this has helped him with his schoolwork.”
Sovine said skating has helped him with other career aspirations as well.
“He does the Explorer program through the fire department (where students train to be fire fighters), and just the stamina it takes here has helped him even in that.”
Nightengale said some skaters approach 22 miles an hour on indoor rinks, and he has been clocked at 50 miles an hour on outdoor tracks.
“It’s very exhilarating to skate at that speed,” he said.
But speed isn’t the only reason Nightengale skates.
“Our team has a very family feel to it,” he said. “We travel together, we try to stay in the same hotels, we try to go out and eat together whenever we’re out of town, and I enjoy all of that very much. It’s more than just skating.”
The “family” includes a wide range of ages and abilities.
“The youngest is 4 years old, and then the oldest lady that I’ve had skating with me in the past is 66, and is still competing at the national level,” Nightengale said.