Texas speedskater races toward the Winter Olympics

May 18, 2011 in Community Events
Texas speedskater races toward the Winter Olympics

By Eric Aasen, The Dallas Morning News 5/7/11

MESQUITE, Texas — Michael Hubbs can’t hear his skates as they slice through the ice. He can’t hear his coaches yelling from the sidelines.

Instead, the Mesquite speedskater listens to his heart, which is telling him that he’s in the right place at the right time.

Hubbs, who is deaf, is making up for lost time. His childhood dream of being an Olympic skater was snuffed out when he was a teen. But Hubbs, 28, has moved to Utah , where he’s training on the ice. His eyes are set on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

He’s back in North Texas taking a break, speaking at schools and telling people about his Olympic dreams. There’s no guarantee that he’ll make it. Compared with other skaters, he’s older and inexperienced. But Hubbs isn’t paying attention to naysayers.

The speedskater wants to show people, regardless of whether they can or can’t hear, that they should never give up on their dreams.

“You can do anything,” he said.

Growing up, Hubbs was an inline skater. He wanted to move to Colorado and pursue an Olympic skating career, but he said his father wouldn’t let him.

Instead, Hubbs was sent to the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin. There, he joined the only sport the school offered that he liked: swimming.

He continued to swim at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where he graduated in 2009.

But Hubbs knew that swimming wasn’t his passion.

So last year, after a 10-year break, he returned to inline skating.

As he skated, he thought about inline skaters who transitioned to the ice and earned Olympic medals, such as Jordan Malone of Denton, who competed last year in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Derek Parra, who medaled in the 2002 Olympics.

“I knew I could make it, too,” Hubbs said. “If they can, I can.”

So, last fall, he moved to Utah.

He trains at the Utah Olympic Oval, where Parra is one of his coaches.

Hubbs trains up to eight hours a day. Skating on ice is trickier than inline skating but more fun, Hubbs said. One of his coaches brings a laptop to the ice to communicate. Sometimes, Hubbs brings an interpreter.

Joe Ballent, a fellow speedskater training in Utah, said Hubbs is already at the oval when he arrives in the morning. When he leaves for the day, Hubbs is still there.

“Michael has a ferocious work ethic,” Ballent said. “He’s one of the most intense and energetic (people) I’ve ever met. His enthusiasm is contagious. . There’s almost like a social inhibition that’s knocked down with him. He’s not afraid to break the ice and come up and talk.”

Because of his age, Hubbs is considered an “old fogy” in speedskating, said Anthony Barthell, one of his coaches. But Barthell is impressed with Hubbs’ work ethic.

“Most of these kids start at the age of 12 or younger,” Barthell said. “He still has some work to do, just finding himself, finding balance. But in the little time he’s been around, he’s doing fairly well.”

An Olympic appearance isn’t guaranteed, Barthell said.

“He could possibly surprise people over the next couple of years,” he said. “If he gets a great understanding quickly, then it’s possible he could make an Olympics.”

Over coffee in Mesquite, Hubbs gestured aggressively, his eyes filled with energy. While he can’t hear, he can talk. If he can’t get his point across, he scribbles words in a notebook.

Hubbs, who was born deaf, said he’s glad that he can’t hear. It’s easier to fall asleep, he says. He also enjoys communicating through sign language. He says it’s beautiful to watch signers as their arms and hands float through the air.

“It’s art,” Hubbs said.

While in town, he’s met with deaf students, and he has a message for them: Believe in yourself. Say “I can make it.”

His Facebook postings reflect that upbeat spirit.

Like this: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

And this: “ONE life, ONE chance, YOUR choice. :)”

For more information about the Winter olympics in Russia please click here.