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Caleb Wakefield Hopes To Follow Familiar Path From Inline Skates To Olympic Ice

By Karen Price | March 29, 2021, 7:48 p.m. (ET)

Caleb Wakefield never really envisioned making the switch from inline speed skating to ice, even though it’s a path many Olympians have taken. 

He even grew up looking at a signed photo of Apolo Ohno at his local roller rink because that’s where the former short track star and most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian ever got his start. 

“I thought it was really cool seeing that, but I never saw myself doing it,” said Wakefield, 24, from Enumclaw, Washington. 

Never say never.

Wakefield, who began inline speed skating at 8 years old and advanced to both the junior and senior national teams, is just finishing his first season in long track speed skating. He’s hoping the journey that started on wheels and has already taken him all over the world will eventually take him to world cups, world championships and even the Olympic Winter Games.

“I was just chatting with my coaches and my parents and they all asked, ‘How do you feel where you’re at right now, do you feel good,’ and I have no regrets and no complaints,” he said. “Being that this is my first season, it’s one of those things where I didn’t set high expectations or low expectations. I set goals that were going to stretch me but that were attainable, and most of them I attained. I can’t complain about it.”

You don’t need to look past the current U.S. long and short track teams to find a slew of athletes — including two-time Olympians Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia — who started out on inline skates. And whether it’s wheels on the road or blades on the ice, there are similarities.

“The position is one of the biggest things I can see and know and feel is similar,” Wakefield said. “And even though inline is a cardio-type sport and ice is a strength and power sport, those meld really well together, and because you’re in the same position you’re using the same muscles. You don’t have to rebuild the muscles, you’re just adding muscle fiber and building strength in different forms.”

The difference in technique, Wakefield said, is the most significant.

“Coming from inline, when I skate outdoors it’s a double push, it’s a whole different pushing mechanism versus pure power to go straight down the ice. With inline there’s a little more leeway because you’re on wheels. That technique aspect of it is definitely one of the biggest differences.”

From the start to the straightaways may feel different, but Wakefield said another similarity is in cornering. He credits that to great coaches over the years who emphasized that skill. 

As he learns more, Wakefield said, he believes switching between inline and ice from season to season is going to become relatively easy. And he also believes that doing both is going to help him overall.

“Over the years I’ve heard controversial things about whether to do both or just ice or if you should even do ice for helping you with inline,” he said. “In my opinion — and a lot of coaches I’ve talked with said this, too — you should do both. I think cardio is a big thing for ice and inline gives you that huge lung capacity, then ice is pure strength so they do complement each other and give you a holistic view of your body and how it operates and builds strength and lung capacity. Plus one is in summer and one’s winter. You can be on skates all year.”

In addition to skating, Wakefield also bikes, hikes and does just about anything that will get him outdoors. 

“The more you learn about other sports the more you can add to your sport or your life in general,” he said. “You also learn perseverance. If you’re out hiking maybe the terrain isn’t the best or you don’t feel like rock climbing that day but you have to get up that rock. Or riding your bike, you go 30 miles in one direction and now you have to ride 30 back. But just being outside in nature, in the sunlight, or even the rain, is just relaxing.”

This is actually Wakefield’s second go at speed skating on ice. When he was 15 or 16, he said, he tried short track but didn’t like all the rules. He missed the jostling and more physical nature of inline. He still loves the feeling of racing against other people and having to outsmart and outperform them in inline racing, which he’ll continue to do in the summers.

“But racing against yourself, against time, and not having to worry about someone messing you up is fantastic, too,” he said of long track. “They’re both great sports at the end of the day.”

When Wakefield first took to the ice in July to begin his new pursuit, one of his biggest goals for the season was to simply be patient. A friend who competes in speed skating for Switzerland cautioned him to not get down on himself or get in the habit of wondering why he wasn’t better, and he took it to heart.

“I’ve just looked at it as OK, I’m not going to force myself to hit anything I’m not going to be able to hit, just focus on what I can do here and now,” he said. “Physically, it’s honestly a little hard to say (where I’m at) with those goals because I’m still learning the little things about the races. I hit some time goals over the past month, though, so I really can’t complain. One step at a time, one goal at a time.”

Karen Price

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.