Growing up in Northeastern China, Tony Liu was introduced to speedskating through his school’s physical education program. “Speedskating is part of life in northeastern China where I grew up,” he said, and he’s vowed to make it more accessible and exciting for children in the United States.
When Liu came to New York in his early 20s to attend graduate school, he looked for a way to connect with the speedskating community when he discovered Garden State Speedskating (GSS). Although the club was founded in 1978, he was shocked by the low attendance and lack of interest in the sport. The club only offered one hour of speed skating a week for just a few months in the winter, plus it had no website, no team suits and a low retention rate for members.
That all changed when Liu was elected GSS Club President in 2014. Liu took over GSS with the goal of creating a development hub for future skaters in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas.
“I wanted to establish a viable program for speed skating lovers, especially for children, to help introduce world-class coaching and training resources, and to inspire and train young children who want to be speed skaters,” Liu said.
Now, ice training is available five times a week from September through March, and from May through August, with an additional strength and conditioning practice. Year-round training programs keep skaters at the top of their game. The club has been recognized several times by US Speedskating (USS) as having the most member growth in one year and in 2019 GSS was awarded the USS Large Club of the Year.
Liu’s vision seems to be working. The club operates out of three arenas in the region with GSS skaters accounting for 20-25 percent of participating skaters at northeast regional meets. Last year, skaters from the club took first overall at the Short Track Age Group Nationals in the Men’s Junior D, and second place overall in both Men and Women’s Junior E categories. Two skaters from the Philippines, who train with GSS, participated in the Junior World Championships and World Cup events, a first for that country.
“We are hoping to create more clubs like ours across the country to create a strong pipeline to the USS national program,” Liu said. “I want to make children proud of being part of speedskating.”
Liu’s creative approach is expanding the reach of the sport. He organized speedskating exhibitions in Central Park, Bryant Park and at the NYC Winter Carnival, and is always looking for more opportunities and partnerships to help the club’s continued growth.
As the club moves forward, Liu wants GSS to become a full-spectrum, short track training center, providing exemplary coaching for skaters from 4-16 years old. The GSS club hosted the first USS Next Gen Camp in 2018 and will be part of the USS East Coast DEVO tour in February.
In 2019, GSS won the Middle Atlantic Short Track Championships’ high performance trophy, awarded to the highest point winner on a team. This is the third consecutive year for this award and the three-peat means the trophy is a permanent fixture in the club.
“I want to thank all speedskating friends, families, other clubs and USS for their support in GSS development in the last 5 years,” Liu said. “GSS benefited from strong support from area arenas and county park commissions - Mennen Arena, Codey Arena, Bridgewater Arena. GSS has partnered with NJ Rockets Sports Group at Bridgewater Sports Arena, so expect more to come for short track development at Garden State. I’m optimistic for the future."