Dream Not Lost – Just Took New Turn

Post a Comment » Written on March 22nd, 2007     
Filed under: News
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (March 22, 2007) – John Loquai always was the fastest skater on the ice when he played high school and Junior A hockey, a skill that once appeared would lead him to a scholarship at a major university.

Six concussions killed that dream, and the member of First Covenant Church in Red Wing, Minnesota, thought his future on the rink was a thing of the past.

SkaterHe says God has helped him find a new dream: Loquai hopes to use his talent to capture a long-track speed skating medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics. In just three years, he has made the difficult, but remarkable transition from hockey hopeful to becoming a contender on the United States team.

The sport barely rates a mention in the United States, but is hugely popular in Europe. Ten thousand fans attended a recent event in the Netherlands, and Loquai repeatedly was asked for his autograph. He also has competed before enthusiastic crowds in Germany and Russia.

Loquai’s father, John, suggested his son try the sport in 2004, but Loquai was reluctant at first. “Once I got out there, I was glad I did it and that he suggested it.”

He began in the summer by training on inline skates. “That was really difficult,” he recalls. “It was a much easier transition when I got on the ice.” He took quickly to the new ice skates, which are longer and thinner than what he wore for hockey.

Loquai had the raw talent, and he was invited to train at the Utah Olympic Village in Salt Lake City. Since then, the 22-year-old has moved up the competitive ranks. In the 2006 U.S. Fall World Cup Qualifier, he finished in the top five and earned the right to represent his country in the fall World Cup Races. He now travels the international circuit and is focusing on the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races.

The 2010 games seem far away, Loquai says, but he sets goals to achieve each year and focuses on the weekly competitions during the season. “When I look back at it, the last year has gone by fast.”

SkaterLoquai is pleased with his progress. “I never thought I would get to this point this fast,” he says as if the feat still surprises him.

His times continue to drop, but Loquai still must shave several seconds from his times to hope for medals. “It’s really hard when you look at the scoreboard and a tenth of a second separates you from five spots in the rankings.”

Loquai possesses the physical strength to win, but must hone his technique, which he says is the key to victory. Olympic medalist Shani Davis doesn’t train with the team, but other members work out together at the Olympic Village. Loquai says he is grateful that team members, including standout Chad Hedrick, help each other.

“Chad has probably been the biggest help for me,” Loquai says. “Since day one, he’s been helping me.”

Competing against the best in the world as he travels to international competition also has proved beneficial. “You learn a lot just by watching them,” Loquai says. “You learn your own flaws.”

Although Loquai continues to improve, finances pose one of the biggest obstacles to his success. U.S. speed skating pays for training and travel, but Loquai is responsible for all of his living expenses and the necessary high-priced equipment. Custom-fitted boots are $1,500 each, and that doesn’t include the blade.

“It’s really tough,” he says. “You pretty much struggle to get by.” His parents have helped him financially as have supporters at the Red Wing church. In between twice-daily practice sessions, he washes cars at a Toyota dealership. “They’ve been really good to me,” he says.

He is seeking the almost requisite corporate sponsorship, also a time-consuming process. “You have to keep trying and something will come through. You do whatever it takes.”

They are words he repeats often, revealing his natural determination to succeed. “I’m really hard on myself,” he says. “I always want to be the best in everything. If you never stop trying, you’ve never completely failed.”

Loquai says he has had to rely on more than his natural competitiveness to keep going. “If I didn’t have faith in God, I wouldn’t make it through,” he explains. He also credits the Red Wing church with keeping him inspired. “It feels like they’re really on my side to help me fulfill my dreams.”

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