Full speed ahead

Junction Velocity Speed Club gives skaters a place to bond and go fast

Sean Gregersen, left, Jesse Smith, center, and Nick Lhotka, right, take off from the starting line during a recent practice for the Junction Velocity Speed Club at Spin City. The inline skating club, which competes in events in Denver and Colorado Springs, has grown to 23 people of all ages and abilities.

It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday at Spin City, where 15 skaters, ages 6 to 43 are lined up at the edge of the rink.

Some are in street clothes, some are in their pink and black “Junction Velocity” uniforms.

They all have helmets, or as the inline skaters call them, “brain buckets,” strapped tightly under their chins. When coach Brian Smith gives them the go-ahead, 15 sets of wheels begin to spin, and the skaters are off.

The Junction Velocity Speed Club has been practicing at Spin City for nearly one year now, with the first official practice taking place last June, but the team took root long before that.

Fifteen years ago, when Smith was 21, his brother coached an inline team at Rainbow Roller Rink, and Smith caught the coaching bug.

“My brother coached the speed team, and he kept asking me to fill in, so I would do it reluctantly, and pretty soon I kept showing up, and he didn’t,” Smith said.

Rainbow Roller Rink closed, but Smith kept skating, and eventually taught his wife, Jamie, and his sons, 8-year-old Jesse and 7-year-old Sawyer.

Once Spin City opened, the Smiths noticed an interest in competition, and Brian worked out a deal with the rink that allowed the team to practice Sunday mornings from 8 to 10 a.m. and Tuesday evenings.

Now, the team has 23 people registered for competition, but several others show up just to practice with the team. Each month Junction Velocity travels to Denver or Colorado Springs for competitions. There are four age ranges beginning with the largest, 9 and under, which is separated into four or five tiers based on skill level, the 10 to 12 range, 13 to 17 and 18-plus.

The team is constantly growing, and on Sunday it welcomed two new members, Blake and Madison Hawkins. The Hawkins, Blake is 7, and Madison is 8, met Jesse and Sawyer Smith at Spin City a few days before and were quickly convinced to give speed skating a try. 

After one day, both said they are “definitely” coming back again, and Blake said he can’t wait to learn tricks like skating backwards.

Blake and Madison started out on inline skates, but most beginners use quads, which are four-wheeled skates, before graduating to inline skates. According to Brian, most of the skaters have been using inline skates for about six months, including his own kids, who got their inline skates for Christmas.

The Smith boys still have their quads, mostly because they are good for practicing tricks, like Jesse’s favorites, toe stands and heel stands. As soon as practice ends and regular “session skating” starts, both boys change out of their uniforms and into street clothes and quads to work on trick skating while their parents look on.

The Smiths are one of several families that use inline skating as a form of bonding and family time.

Amber Gregersen joined her husband and avid skater, Sean, in the rink one year ago. She started using skating as a kind of rehab after being bucked off a horse and breaking her back.

“It has been a good way to get a leg workout without any impact, as long as you don’t fall,” she said with a smile.

Her 8-year-old son, Adam, joined the team shortly after.

Now with her back healed, Amber, who has yet to get back on a horse, skates as an alternative to purchasing a gym membership.

Nick Lhotka joined the team with his cousins, Jace and Annabelle Carter. Jace is the youngest skater on the team at age 6, Annabelle is 8 and Nick is 10. With one glance, it is easy to see the three are related.

Annabelle shares Nick’s long face, and has thick-rimmed glasses like her younger brother. Jace is like a miniature Nick, with the same black hair and glasses. Every sentence that leaves Nick’s mouth is either agreed upon or repeated by Jace, from their favorite thing about skating (going fast and winning medals) to the best things to do when competing in Denver (swimming and going out to eat).

“Of course, he would copy me,” said Nick, laughing.

Although Lhotka said he likes being on the team with his cousins, something else drew him to the rink.

Seven years ago, Nick’s father, Jason, died of altitude-related heath complications when hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. One year later, Jace Carter was born, and instead of naming him Joseph as originally planned, his parents chose to name him after his uncle.

“This has probably been the best thing for Nick since that happened,” his mother, Elena Lhotka, said. “He has just kind of struggled finding something that he is really passionate about, and this has been the first thing.”

Passion plus natural skill, plus role models, equals the perfect outlet for Nick’s energy, Elena said.

“Having these coaches, and just the role models here, and learning about being on the team is crucial, because he doesn’t get that at home. He is by himself,” she said.

Nick comes to Spin City to practice three to four times a week, and occasionally convinces his mom to come along for some outdoor practice, where she said, “He completely smokes me. I used to be able to keep up with him, but I can’t anymore.”

Nick has won 15 medals since he started competing in January, and with his support staff behind him, he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

“It has been a huge confidence builder, and I think that has a lot to do with the coaches being so supportive and positive with him,” Elena said.

“I just hate it in other sports when parents are yelling at their kids from the stands. I just can’t stand it,” she said. “This is completely opposite. I’ve been so impressed. It’s all so supportive, and the kids, they all thrive on that.”

A positive atmosphere has been Brian Smith’s goal since he started coaching. He said one of the best things about speed skating is there are no age restrictions or favorites.

“Anyone can race as long as they have good attitudes and are good sportsmen,” he said.


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