"Professional speed skating is different than other career sports, it's not about the money," said head coach Carl Cepuran of the Glen Ellyn Speed Skating Team. The "small sport" of speed skating depends on volunteers as a whole. Similarly, volunteers are the glue that holds the Glen Ellyn speed skating team together.
"The Glen Ellyn Speed Skating team is a 100 percent volunteer organization, that has a grassroots and community-centric culture of hospitality and service, while bringing a national-level, professional quality expertise to what we do in the community," Cepuran said via e-mail. He explained that "what they do" is teach and promote the sport of speed skating.
The team was formed in 1937 after the Illinois State Outdoor Championship—the first big skating meet on Lake Ellyn. The Glen Ellyn Speed Skating Team (GESS) boasts a history of successful skaters, including four Olympians, multiple athletes who have competed at an international level, two Speed Skating Hall of Fame Inductees, and a coach who was named the USOC Volunteer Coach of the Year for Speed Skating.
In addition, the team also participates in the Glen Ellyn Fourth of July parade every year (and even won Best in Parade Float in 2010) and brought racing back to Lake Ellyn. The group also revamped its Learn to Speed Skate program, where anyone can pay a small fee to attend classes and learn just how to skate with those long blades.
This group of speed skaters does not forget that it truly is a team effort and support comes in multiple forms from various different volunteers throughout the organization. According to Cepuran, the group functions with about 6-7 volunteer coaches, all of whom do this because they love it, or want to give back and share their own knowledge about it. There is also a high volume of parent volunteers and skaters who have an abundance of team spirit.
"I'm the head coach, but this is truly a team/group effort by a large staff of coaches, parents and athlete volunteers. I'm proud of this group," Cepuran said.
"This is a unique activity (and outlet) for kids who are trying to find their niche. Though the typical starting age is six to nine, we have skaters who sometimes start as young as two to three years old," Cepuran said, "This group promotes high-quality coaching, teaches kids about commitment, and focuses on fun. It really fits with the Glen Ellyn sense of community."
Coach Cepuran's attitude about volunteerism and giving back is exemplified by the speed skating parents and coaches. Cynthia and Saul Ebema's son, Liron, is five years old and has been skating for about three months in the GESS Learn to Skate program. "It's the highlight of his week," the Ebema family said.
Glen Ellynite Julie Colombo's son, Sam, 10, has been speed skating for about five months.
"Sam hockey skated for years—he loves skating. Sometimes it gets hard and he doesn't want to come, but he does and ends up glad that he did by the end of practice," Colombo said.
This is a common theme among kids and sports. By encouraging children to push on and honor their commitments, parents are working wonders for their children's future commitments and perseverance.
Though the team name carries our village in its title, it is not strictly limited to Glen Ellyn membership. Johnny Aquino is a Carol Stream resident, although his wife owns Teas and Toes, 413 N. Main Street, whose son Jon skates with the team.
"John is almost 10 years old and has been speed skating since he was about six or seven. He first got on skates when he was four or five, then graduated to inline skates, before moving on to speed skating," Aquino said.
Lombard resident Tim Manning's daughters, Madison and Lauren, are six and three years old respectively. Madison has been speed skating for almost 12 weeks and Lauren only about four, but dad said both girls look forward to their Sunday night sessions.
"Madison started doing it, then Lauren saw her having fun and decided that she wanted to try it, too," Manning said.
While parents are an important volunteer aspect to the group, there are no requirements, expectations, or assignments other than bringing the children to their practices. Most parents offer to put in additional efforts, including setting up and taking down the safety mats that are temporarily installed against the glass and boards for protection during practices. Others, such as Tim Manning, do what they can to acclimate new students and parents, trying to make them feel comfortable and a part of the team. The coaches, obviously, give up a few hours of their time each week to work with their teams on improving their skills and gaining self-confidence. They also add in extra time doing off-ice warm-ups before practices.
GESS practices used to be held at our local Center Ice Skating Arena. However, when ownership changed hands last year, the new owners, "Offered less ice availability, so now the team practices at different rinks," according toCepuran.
Club skate, for the more experienced skaters, is at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville and the Learn to Skate program takes place Sunday evenings at the Addison Ice Rink.
If you're interested in volunteering to help out the team, or learning to skate, check out the team's website at www.glenellynspeedskating.org.