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Speedskating coach builds enthusiasm for sport at Jefferson City rink

Friday, February 7, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:21 a.m. CST, Friday, February 7, 2014
Mylee Hawkins, 7, skates around the track at the Kirkwood Ice Rink during the Gateway meet Jan. 12. Hawkins is a member of the Jefferson City Speed Skating Club.

JEFFERSON CITY — Mylee Hawkins, 7, stands on the sidelines at the Washington Park Ice Arena, waiting for her turn to skate.

The tiny figure in long blades is learning how to sprint around the rink, taking her first steps on a path that leads, for a few, to a berth on the Olympic speedskating team.

When it is finally Mylee's turn to race, Kirk Bonnot skates up behind her and gives her a push.

"I want to see that technique, Mylee. Technique, technique, technique," he coaches.

She steps onto the ice, bends down and starts pumping her way to the finish line.

Mylee started off as a hopeful figure skater at the Jefferson City ice rink. Now, "speed" is the adjective she uses in front of "skating."

Bonnot, her coach, works with the Jefferson Speed Skating Club, whose 20 members range in age from 7 to mid-50s. This is where mid-Missouri children such as Mylee and enthusiastic adults learn how to speed around 111 meters of short track.

They practice drills, games and races in hourlong sessions Tuesday and Sunday afternoons. During the races, they are teamed up according to their size and ability.

Some may have Olympic ambitions, while others have given them up — or have joined the sport for enjoyment and athletic pursuit.

Vancouver Olympic hopeful Carly Wilson, who just missed a place on the U.S. speedskating team in 2010, grew up in the Jefferson City Speed Skating Club.

The club is one of four in the state belonging to the Missouri Speedskating Association. Members of all the clubs train and compete in short-track events.

St. Louis houses two of the clubs — Gateway Speedskating Club and St. Louis Speedskating Club. The newcomer is the Kansas City Speed Club in Line Creek Community Center Ice Arena. Both the University City Speed Skating Club and Clayton Speed Skating Club are no longer active.

Bonnot has been a coach with the Jefferson City club for five years. He attended a coaching clinic in St. Louis to become certified as a Level 1 coach and is working toward Level 2 certification as part of the five-level system endorsed by the U.S. Speedskating organization.

"I had fun as a kid, and I wanted to teach some other kids to do this," Bonnot said.

He works alongside two fellow coaches: Greg Weaver and Paul Rudder, who brought Bonnot into the club when it was revived in 1994 after a six-year hiatus.

Bonnot started skating at age 11, when he saw people strapping on long-bladed skates at a Jefferson City outdoor rink.

"There was no hockey down here because the rink was outdoor and we just had handrails, so there was nothing to stop the puck," he said. "I thought, 'Hey, that'd be neat,' got a pair of speedskates, joined the team and there it went."

Though the Olympics are always something to shoot for, Bonnot said he was always content with the thrill of racing.

"I knew I wasn't going to be good enough to skate in anything other than local meets, but I had fun," Bonnot said. "It's fun out there to go around as fast as you can."

He still competes against a clock. Most of his competitions are ability meets where opponents are grouped according to their 500-meter times. Ages don't have to match, and 46-year-old Bonnot has raced against 18-year-olds.

"I try to get my time lower every time I go out," he said.

His day job is driving for UPS. He started working part time for the company in September 1987 and has been a driver for almost 22 years.

The long hours can coincide with his time on the rink. He usually isn't done with work until 7 p.m., meaning sometimes he misses the 4:45 p.m. practices on Tuesdays.

His 17-year-old daughter, Tori, also speedskates with the club.

"I get to spend time with my daughter doing a sport we both like," Bonnot said. "It's a whole-family type sport. Anyone can do it."

The Jefferson City club is trying to bring more attention to the sport by making it accessible to novices and building an inventory of equipment to keep costs down, he said.

"We would love it publicized more, but right now it doesn't have the money, and money drives everything, " Bonnot said.

Missouri has had a speedskater on every U.S. Winter Olympics team since 1968, according to the Missouri Speedskating Association website. This year in Sochi, Emily Scott of Springfield is competing in short-track events.

"You just don't think of Missouri as that big of a hotbed for speedskating," Bonnot said with a laugh. "The numbers are down right now, but we have some good skaters."

For him, it is all about the journey of getting his athletes to another level. He said watching them try to perfect techniques and critiquing them without discouragement provides joy in his job.

"It's to walk that fine line where I still see a smile on their face, yet they get better," he said. "That's what I like about coaching."


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