speeding toward sochi
representing at the olympics
New Zealand’s Blake Skjellerup hopes to represent LGBT community at next Olympic Games. Not many people would look at a broken arm as a fortunate event, but Blake Skjellerup says it “was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me.”
Skjellerup, a resident of Christchurch, New Zealand, and Olympic hopeful, discovered speed skating after a broken arm kept him from playing rugby, and left him looking for a new outlet to release his boundless energy.
“I had been playing rugby since the age of six, like most New Zealand boys do,” he recalls. “When I was 10 years old, I was rollerblading adventurously down a hill with some friends and unfortunately fell over and broke my arm.”
Unable to play rugby with a busted arm, he was looking for something else to fill his time. His brother’s school friend was a speed skater, and his team was recruiting. Skjellerup decided to give it a try, and was immediately hooked.
“I found something I loved and was good at.”
It also provided him an outlet to deal with his parents’ divorce.
“Speed skating was my avenue; it was something I felt I could excel at. Being on the ice gave me a sense of freedom and power.”
He quickly became dedicated to the sport, and that dedication, coupled with his family’s support, took him all the way to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
“They are my biggecast supporters, and I wouldn’t have made it this far without them. My brother introduced me to the sport, my Dad would drive me to training, and my mother was an administrator within the sport.”
It’s their support that has taken him thousands of miles from home to Calgary, where he’s now focusing on his form and speed, working towards his shot at reaching Sochi in 2014.
But chasing a dream is not without sacrifices.
“I have been travelling around for speed skating since I was 16. At times, it has been difficult to be so far away from my family and my home, but being in Calgary has allowed me to achieve a lot in my speed skating career,” he says “I moved for the facility and expertise they have here at the University of Calgary Olympic Oval. There isn’t the structure or support to allow me to train at a level to be competitive on the world stage in New Zealand.”
Skjellerup has family in the area who provide support and a link to home so he can focus on his goals. He describes his training as an average workday – starting at 8 a.m. and heading home at 4:30 p.m.
“The only difference is that my lunch break is two and a half hours,” he says. “I start the morning off with an ice practice session for two hours, with an hour of warm up and activation beforehand. Cooling down after an ice session last 45 minutes, which is spinning out the legs on the bike, and stretching. The afternoons run the same, but we generally alternate an afternoon session with being on the ice or in the weight room.”
Every hour he spends training brings him one step closer to the Games. But getting to Sochi has a special significance for Skjellerup. It’s not just about representing his country, but also the LGBTQ community.
Skjellerup is not just a talented athlete, but also an openly gay Olympian. In fact, it was at the Vancouver Olympics’ Pride House that he came out.
“I was at a point where I finally realized that my sexuality was not a limitation to any part of my life,” he recalls. “Here I was, just having finished achieving a life goal competing in a Winter Olympics, something in my brain and mind had internally told me I couldn’t achieve as a gay man.
The experience of not only competing, but making it to the Olympics was a trying one; but it gave me perspective on all these inhibitions I had on who I was, and how I thought people would perceive me. All my negative preconceptions were not true, and my decision to come out was in hope that I could break down a barrier towards LGBT people in sport and allow others to see that you can be gay and achieve whatever it is you desire in life.”
The response to coming out has been largely positive, from both his family and friends, as well as the sporting community.
“The support I have received since then has been overwhelming. It really makes the journey of training for an Olympics less lonely, and gives me added emotional support knowing so many people are behind me cheering me on.”
It has encouraged him to take on Sochi, despite the political climate in Russia, and the controversy surrounding the upcoming Games.
“As an Olympian I believe in the Olympic values and morals. These laws that exist in Russia are archaic, and do not in any way align with what I believe the Olympics or Olympism to be about,” he says. “I want to go to Sochi and champion LGBT people all over the world. We are not ones to be oppressed or discriminated against any longer”
“My athletic endeavours come first, and that is who I am. I am Blake the Speed Skater, who happens to be gay. It is nothing I need to apologize for, nor should have to hide at any point in my life,” he says. “I hope they see someone who is just a normal person, who loves just like they do, who lives just like they do, and is capable of achieving anything, just like they are.”
And whatever politics and contentions swirl around Russia, Skjellerup believes the true spirit of the Games will take centre stage.
“It is the Olympic games,” he says. “Its very existence is about unity, friendship and humanity.
That is what will shine through in Sochi.”
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