Stan Klotkowski was my coach back in the early 90’s. Stan is a polyglot from Poland who speaks Polish, German, Hungarian, English and probably several other languages. He became a regional coach for the United States International Speed Skating Association (USISSA) and found himself with the misfortune of being my coach in the 1990 and 1991 seasons.
Stan’s version of the English language was a lot of fun. It was interesting. His analogies and metaphors were unlike any I had heard. It was never quite certain if the metaphors and similes Stan offered up were Polish sayings or just ‘Stanisms’ – I suspected they were some combination of both. But they worked…
Here’s one: Stan told me over and over, “John – you makes skate like duck – feet wide opens – you must makes your feet straight – even when you are walking – you must always makes your feet straight.” Sure enough, on video I could see an awkard transition between strokes where my feet were pointing out.
Even to this day, I can find myself walking and then suddenly catching myself – making sure my feet are pointing forward. This last February, after a significant snowfall, I walked our dog around the pond behind our house. I was chagrined to find my footprints with my toes pointing out at an angle off center. I reversed it on the way home.
Some lessons never die.
Some of Stan’s other lessons were for others – but I still remember them. Rick Swanson, another skater under Stan’s tutelage had difficulty keeping centered over each leg – his knees tended to lean inward, knocking together with each stroke. Stan’s advice?
“Rick, you skate like young girl - first time having sex” (Here Stan pantomimes knees locked together) “You must makes your knees open – not like whore (he pantomimes legs wide open) – just straight – nor-mal”. We laughed about this one for a long time – but Rick’s technique immediately improved.
Stan, like Walden, believed in me. For an entire season, Stan would wake early, arrive at our slovenly hotel or dorm room, and take our resting pulse while were still sleeping to ascertain whether we were well rested. I think my inability to recover completely threw Stan off – he was always convinced that he had scared me or wakened me, or his favorite when I finally found a girlfriend, “Your pulse makes very high – but I think it was because you are finding a girl...”
In the early weeks with Stan – my first year of full time training after graduating from college, I progressed quickly, and his (and my) excitement grew. I was like a desert flower just waiting for rain – my jumps, my squats, and my lap times improved dramatically. But who knew that I was operating in a delicate ecosystem of fast twitch and slow twitch muscles?
As I worked harder and harder, my results, laps, and strength wained. This was vexing for everyone involved – but most of all for Stan and myself. For the second or third time in my life, I found a direct correlation between ‘working hard’ and ‘failure’. I began to soft pedal.
If for 2 or 3 months I was the first to wake up, the highest jumper, the deepest squatter, the most intensive when it came to technique and laps, eventually I began to just “show up.” The worst part? My results immediately improved – though not enough to make me a serious contender (despite being one for several years while training part time living in California).
I saw Stan a year and half ago in Salt Lake City. He was every happy, gregarious and complementary. He told my wife that, “if John had just makes more hard training, he makes Olympic champion and world champion – he is true talent.”
I’m so pleased to have had such a coach and inspirational figure in my life as Stan – he truly taught me proper skating technique and for those lessons I’m eternally grateful. But in the 20/20 vision of the rear view mirror – he was wrong. I failed the training regimen not from not working hard enough – I failed because I wasn’t made of the same stuff as an Eric Heiden or Bonnie Blair. I was and am a weak and fragile facsimile of those kinds of athletes. And when I forced my body into weeks and months on end of anaerobic, high intensity workouts with little rest, I removed the one chance I had for success.
Thank you Stan for all your care, support, and belief. I wish I had truly had the kind of talent you hoped to nurture in me. That said, despite my flaws, and with your adept guidance on technique – I did get pretty far.