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Forest Lake student Auggie Herman, 16, is a national-class speed skater. (Submitted photo)

In 2014, Forest Lake student Auggie Herman saw the Olympic long track speed skating competition on TV and knew it was a sport he had to try.

Already active in track and field at the time, Herman sought to translate his natural footspeed onto the ice when he joined the novice program at the Midway Speedskating Club, based in Roseville. He admits that progress was slow at first, but after a few years of training, growth and improvement in technique, he started skating times that were good enough to get him into national age-group meets.

“Two years ago, I was still lagging behind, but then I started learning more about my body’s mechanics and my form improved,” said Herman, who is now 16. “It’s a sport where you can get better just by improving on your form.”

Among the best

Slow though his start may have been, Herman is now among the fastest skaters in his age group. He even set a national record for his age group in the 10,000 meters last year, though he says that isn’t a big deal.

“Not many kids my age my compete [in that event],” Herman said.

Even so, his name is in the book, and his success on the ice has also allowed him to book travel to competitions all around the United States and in Canada.

Herman competes with his Midway clubmates in the annual American Cup, which entails a series of meets in places like Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Lake Placid and even the club’s Roseville rink, with different clubs competing to garner points toward an overall championship.

He has also competed in various state and national competitions, but again, he downplays his accomplishments.

“Sometimes, junior nationals isn’t a big deal because not many kids do [speed skating],” Herman said. “Last year, I won my age group against no one.”

There are a few competitions coming up that Herman finds more worthy of notice, however.

Under the direction of Russian-born Andrey Zhuykov, Midway’s high performance coach, Herman now has his eyes set on some major events which could entail his first overseas trips. Strong results this winter could mean a place at the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland in January and/or at the Junior World Cup team, which will be held in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Poland in February.

Life at these speeds

At least part of Herman’s speed skating ability comes from his natural running speed: Last spring with the Ranger track squad, he clocked a 54-second time for the 400 meters and was an alternate on the 4x400-meter relay team that qualified for the state meet. Skating, of course, takes athletes around their ovals much faster than runners can negotiate theirs: compare Herman’s 400-meter running time to his 500-meter skating time of 39.2 seconds. Herman’s age-group record in the 10,000 is 15 minutes, 46.82 seconds, about what a top high school cross-country runner can do for half that distance.

For Herman, the world-blurring pace of skating is one of the sport’s appeals.

“It’s just a lot of fun; it’s not scary at all,” he said.

There are a number of strategies runners can use, but Herman says skating calls for exactly one: Start fast and finish faster.

“You want every lap time to get faster and faster,” Herman said.

When he set his age-group mark in the 10K, he didn’t suffer a single slowdown from lap to lap, and over his last five laps, his circuit times dropped by a full two seconds.

Even if he downplays the significance of his time establishing a record, it is clear that Herman is proud of his performance.

“It was such a perfect race,” Herman said.

That 10K has Herman thinking that the long distance race may be his best, though he also excels in the 1,000 meters, where his personal record is 1:15.4. Skaters vary their distances much more than track athletes: Herman has raced in sprints like the 100 meters as well as many intermediate distances including the 3K and 5K.

Herman’s distance prowess was also on display last month in the North Shore Inline Marathon in Duluth.

Herman overcame a fall at the 18-mile mark and caught back up to win in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 3.13 seconds.

“That was a great race; you get to skate on the freeway and go through all the tunnels,” Herman said.

One skating style Herman is not likely to compete in is short track, famous for its constant turns, tight packs and abundance of crashes.

It’s his height (6 feet, 4 inches and likely still growing) that keeps him out of that discipline.

“Short track is really tough on the taller athletes,” he said.

Future plans

If Herman was a top-level competitor in track, or football or any sport sponsored by the NCAA, his future plans would be to chase a scholarship.

As a speed skater, though, he has to take a different path.

“It’s tough for older athletes, because you don’t peak until you’re around 33,” Herman said.

Opportunities between the junior level and that peak age are hard to come by, but Herman plans to move to Salt Lake City after he graduates from Forest Lake to take his shot at glory.

“I’ll train out there and try to make the national team, World Cup team and Olympic team,” he said.

Growing the game

In addition to competing, Herman does his part to help bring new skaters into the sport. At Midway, he is a coach of the novice program through which he first hit the ice.

“There’s no age limit,” Herman said. “We get kids who played hockey and decided they didn’t like it, and people who have never skated before. It’s easier to learn to skate on speed skates.”

Herman also hopes to see participation figures move back toward the peak the sport enjoyed a few generations ago.

“I always hear people say their grandparents skated,” Herman said. “It used to be huge in Minnesota. It’s a great sport and it’s easy to go places.”

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