Sunday’s WaPo had a very interesting article about eight-year old speedskater Jean Paul Dias.
Jean Paul didn’t know how to skate until a few years ago when his grandmother took him to the Fort Dupont Ice Arena at the suggestion of her co-worker Nathaniel Mills who runs the D.C.-ICE (D.C. Inner City Excitement) program. According to the Washington Informer:
There speed skating coach, Nathaniel Mills, who was a former speed skater for the United States in three winter Olympics Games – in 1992, 1994, and 1998 – is a familiar face to the world of skating. Mills was a former 1000-meter record-holder and a U.S. champion in 1991, which he won a silver medal.
Mills was also a co-founder of Inner City Excitement, the Ice Arena’s speed skating club. “The purpose of ICE is to get skating in more communities,” said Mills who started skating when he was 10. “The purpose of ICE is basically to strengthen families and enrich children’s lives through skating – all kinds of skating, in-line and roller blading. We had our soccer on ice today.”
Shani Davis, the United States’ first African American Olympic speed skater, was the inspiration for ICE. “Shani Davis won the gold medal, and he is the fastest speed skater in the world,” said Mills. “Shani is involved with our club. He comes to this ring and coaches the kids.”
Gliding Into Place
A Young Speedskater Finds Purpose, Passion In a Seemingly Unlikely Inner-City Sport
By Les Carpenter
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The tiny body of Jean Paul Dias shivers in the frigid morning air, his breath dangling in little clouds before his face. Still, he sheds his jacket before the biggest race of his life. Nothing can slow him down on this day. His eyes peer determined from under his red helmet. Across the rink, a starter’s arm rises and, as if doing a jumping jack, Jean Paul snaps into position, legs splayed, arms akimbo. Firmly he plants the toe of a skate into the ice. And waits.
He is 8 years old. A speedskater. Already he is so skilled that it is considered unfair for him to race children his age when the D.C.-ICE speedskating club meets Saturday mornings at Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast Washington. In many ways he is outgrowing this program, which is designed to teach speedskating to urban kids. A few weeks ago, the coaches matched him up with the oldest and fastest racers, figuring it was the best challenge they could provide.
Now he crouches between his usual opponents: a 14-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl. They loom beside him like mountain peaks.
Jean Paul has lost to them every time.
But now he has come to the last race of the season, nine laps around a makeshift oval. Medals will be awarded at the end. He dearly does not want this one to be a third-place trinket.
Under the rink’s lights, his dark skin, like that of almost all the skaters, stands in contrast to the glaring whiteness of the ice and this sport he has chosen. He does not seem to mind. To his right, through a bank of windows, the dome of the Capitol glistens in the morning sunlight. He does not notice.
Instead, Jean Paul stares at the starter’s hand looking for the signal to go.
He wants to compete in the Olympics. This is what Jean Paul recently told his grandmother, Sheila Scott-Bates, in the car one day. He didn’t say it the way most 8-year-olds insist they are going to become firemen or baseball players or astronauts. Rather, he spoke with a determination that said these Saturday mornings are about more than fun and learning to skate. They are about purpose. A goal.
Then again, his grandmother is accustomed to such ambition from Jean Paul. He is the same child who learned his alphabet in a matter of weeks, tries to play the piano without looking at the music and insists on being first at almost everything he does.
“He must win,” Scott-Bates says.
“I think it’s good that he has the competitive edge in him,” she adds.
I enjoy reading about black folks who excel in sports besides the usual football, basketball and track and field. It’s good that we step outside the box and realize that there are other sports besides the usual suspects.