Ryan Pivirotto clearly remembers the very first time he raced as a brand new speedskater.
He’d been on the ice all his life, and he was always fast growing up playing hockey. Though raised on hockey skates, to make his first trip around the oval he went straight to speed skates — and a pair of the coach’s custom blades at that. He was just that comfortable.
So, when he lined up for the start of the local 500-meter race, he felt confident.
“The gun goes off and I take one step, two steps, and I tripped,” he said. “Full Superman, stretched out. I was down. I was belly on the ice.”
Yet somehow, he said, he got up and made it to the first corner out in front. He doesn’t remember if he actually won, but he remembers what it was like to fall and get back up.
Pivirotto has done a good bit of that, literally and figuratively, throughout his speedskating career. He made the U.S. short track team for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games but didn’t get to compete, instead serving as an alternate for the men’s relay and 1,000-meter. The crisis of confidence that followed nearly ended his career.
Now 26 years old, Pivirotto is heading into the coming Olympic year with a new sense of motivation and feeling the support of his team. When he’s not on the ice, he’s also got a lot to keep him busy.
For starters, Pivirotto is a fan of all water, not just the frozen variety.
“My girlfriend and I both bought paddleboards so during the summertime, on the weekends, we take those out to different reservoirs and it’s so nice to be out,” said Pivirotto, who’s originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, but now lives in Salt Lake City. “The water is super nice here (in Salt Lake City) because it’s cold mountain water and mixed with the heat it’s a great combination. We’ll spend a few hours out there, and it’s a fantastic feeling. Nothing’s better.”
While that might be Pivirotto’s ideal day off when the weather is nice, an indoor day off might find him working in front of the oven. He recently got into baking and producing bread every couple of weeks has turned into one of his favorite pastimes.
“You start in the morning, finish in the evening and it’s really a sense of accomplishment knowing you put all that work into it, followed all the steps and got a product that looks and tastes amazing,” he said. “It’s really fulfilling.”
Of course, most of Pivirotto’s time is spent training. In preparation for PyeongChang in 2018, he moved to South Korea to train with former U.S. coach Jae Su Chun and was there from May 2016 through March 2018. It was an amazing experience, he said, and being surrounded by the speed skating culture there deeply influenced his approach to the sport.
“There’s so much volume, so many skaters there that are at the top of their games and so fast and can skate internationally,” Pivirotto said. “The way they train over there is a lot of volume, and no matter how much they were able to do everything was at a way faster speed than I could have done. It’d be two hours on ice, plus an hour and a half of dry land into a big rest into another hour and a half of dry land and another hour and a half of ice. We have similar training here but being with the amount of talented skaters (in South Korea), that was the biggest thing I picked up.
“Also, how to race. I thought I knew how to race, but when I saw what they were doing, these kids were passing me so easily. But it made me understand what they were doing and what I could do to make them not pass me and what I could do for myself in order to pass them. It gave me a deeper understanding of what the sport really is.”
While training takes up the bulk of Pivirotto’s time, he also manages to prepare for a future outside of the ice rink. A few years ago, Pivirotto built his own computer. He’d always been a video game player, but actually delving into how everything worked and all that the computer was capable of was something he found fascinating.
He’s currently attending Salt Lake Community College and majoring in Information Systems, which ties together his love of computers with business. He’s also considered going into information security.
“Basically you’re hired to legally break into a network to look for security flaws,” he said. “That fascinates me.”
With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games in less than a year, Pivirotto said one big difference between now and the lead-up to PyeongChang has been actually living in the U.S. and training with the U.S. team.
“I don’t feel like I’m going at it alone anymore,” he said.
Physically, it’s always a work in progress.
“After our last World Championships I didn’t do as good as I felt like I could have, but I felt like no matter the race, I had a chance and wasn’t just there on a whim,” he said. “That said, I want to go into races this year knowing I can beat these guys. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think I can get there.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USSpeedskating.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.