One year from today, speed-skating events are set to begin at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Bridie Farrell hopes to be there. Today, though, she’s in Milwaukee, training at the Pettit National Ice Center.
And the road for her – and some other Olympic hopefuls - will include a weekend event at the Pettit, the National Age Group Long Track Championships.
It’s a revival for her skating career, which started more than a decade ago with Farrell as a world-class short track racer. She left the sport for six years before deciding to give it another go - and chase her Olympic dream once more.
“Love at first skate”
Farrell grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a speed skating town similar to Milwaukee. But Farrell's first interest in sports wasn't speed-skating; it was hockey. Farrell's mom, however, felt “hockey is not for girls” and put her in figure skating instead.
So at six-years-old, Farrell took to the ice, alongside her brother, Patrick. He became interested in trying out speed-skating, but Farrell's parents didn't want to drive to the rink twice. So she took up the sport, too, and it was love at first skate.
"I really just fell in love with it, the people, the atmosphere, the traveling with racing and I still am," she says.
Though she was involved in many other sports as a kid - from basketball to soccer and her first love hockey - Farrell says she focused her energy and passion on speed-skating because she liked the racing and the technical intricacies.
Farrell excelled at short-track speed-skating, which is performed in a hockey rink and involves packs of four, six, or eight skaters. The first two or three people to cross the line move on to the next level. Long-track, on the other hand, is won by the fastest man.
Short-track requires tactic and fearlessness - and a lot of aggression. That worked in Farrell's favor, as she says she was an aggressive skater when she was younger. As she worked her way from local to national levels, she progressed at a pace where she could chase the older skaters; her coach encouraged this while emphasizing technical skills. But along the way, she got a reputation for not being a nice skater, with her sharp elbows and throwing fists.
“There’s a couple of different kinds of skaters: those that skate because they are good skating, they keep moving through it, they skate because there’s nothing else to do, and there are those that skate because truly love to skate and I love to ice skate.”--Bridie Farrell
Farrell tried out for three different Olympic teams. The first trial was when she was 16 in 1998 and missed the team by five spots.
She tried out again in 2002. During that race, she was cut between her ribs and received stitches. In the end, she finished one spot from making the team. She says she made a few mistakes in her tactics, which cost her a spot and making it hard for her to move on.
"To the last minute, it was just high intensity and drama and blood and the whole thing," she says. "So missing that team by one spot was pretty hard and it really changed my perspective in terms of skating, where I didn't put all my eggs in one basket and that's when I focused more on school and moved to Colorado."
Farrell moved to Colorado Springs for their Olympic training center and went to the University of Colorado for computer science. By 2005, she was third in the country.
As the Torino Olympics approached in 2006, she was recovering from a torn ligament and tendon that required surgery. She knew she wouldn't make the team and felt her body was telling her to take a break. But she needed something intensive to be involved with - Cornell University was her best option to channel that energy.
While taking six years off from speed-skating, Farrell got a degree from Cornell and started working at the New York Life Insurance Company at their corporate office in New York City. Eventually, she became an agent and is now a registered representative out in the field with New York Life. But she still felt restless.
"After being away and having a few surgeries to put my body back together and rest up a bit, I just missed being at the rink and the atmosphere, and just the true act of skating," she says.
So after researching the different places to train, she found the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. Farrell says she originally only meant to stay for a weekend, but soon found good people, good ice, and good coaching. She moved into an apartment and has been here ever since.
During her time in Milwaukee, Farrell has reinvented herself to be a long-track skater and is hoping to make the Olympic trials. She has created a rigorous schedule for herself.
Waking up every day at 5:25 AM, she either goes to the gym for a strength workout or to her office (rotating daily). By 9 AM, she's at the Pettit to work with her coach, Bob Fenn, on technique. Another two hours are spent on the ice, followed by more technique work. Even warm-ups and cool-downs are intense; she says the warm-up is what she would have considered a workout a year ago. She runs for two miles, stretches, squats, and does calisthenics.
After a three-hour break, Farrell meets with other skaters as a team. They do laps, intervals, or other exercises, then more ice work, followed by more technique training. That includes running up and down stairs for six minutes straight to mimic the intensity of a 300-yard stretch. She arrives home at about 8:30 PM and has a strict 10 PM curfew.
But Farrell says it is all worth it in the end.
“There’s a couple of different kinds of skaters: those that skate because they are good skating, they keep moving through it, they skate because there’s nothing else to do, and there are those that skate because truly love to skate and I love to ice skate," she says.
You Can Do It, Too!
Farrell says there is a wide spectrum of people who are active at the Pettit, and it's easy to get started there. The Pettit will assign a coach to help get you achieve your goals and will customize their training to the skater, making the initial contact with the coaches less intimidating.
So she encourages potential athletes, especially girls, to give speed-skating a try - hockey, too.