Speed Skating is Coming Back.......FAST

Former Gafton High School athletes Matt Salm (competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the photograph above) and his brother Mike Salm are key players in an effort to return speed skating to prominence in Wisconsin.
Ozaukee Press staff

Two Grafton High School alumni are among the leaders in an effort to bring speed skating back to prominence in southeast Wisconsin, and one might compete at the sport’s highest level.

Matt Salm, a member of the Black Hawks’ class of 2014, picked up the sport two and a half years ago and already competed in the U.S. Olympic trials last month in the 500 and 1,000-meter races.

His brother Michael, a 2011 grad, has a business role in Developing Athletes in Speed skating for High Performance (DASH), whose headquarters are at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. The speed skating organization, which has Olympic gold medalist coaches, introduces children to the sport and teaches life lessons.

Athletic success had been part of the siblings’ upbringing.

In high school, Matt starred in soccer and was part of the school record-setting 3,200 relay in track and field. Michael also excelled in soccer in high school and went on to a decorated career at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Matt tried speed skating after graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Texas at Dallas and quickly fell in love with it. He convinced former Olympian and world record holder Nancy Swider-Peltz to coach him starting in fall of 2019.

“It feels like you’re flying across the ice,” he said.

Speed skaters can travel as fast as 40 mph.

“It’s the perfect nexus of fun but extremely challenging,” he said. “If you’re off by a little bit you can crash real quick.”

Matt had no experience in the sport, but he and Michael had taken inline skating classes at summer school in Port Washington when they were growing up.

Matt did a fair amount of training to build strength before he actually hit the ice. He credits high-quality coaching for his quick rise in the sport. He’s already within five seconds of the U.S. National Team members’ times in the 1,000.

His favorite events are the 1,000 and 1,500, which he compares to the 400 and 800 in track.

“Some of the pain tolerance transfers well,” he said.

Matt also helps with fundraising and communicating DASH’s message, but he is primarily focused on training. At 26 years old, he has a bright future. All of the USA’s individual medalists at the recent Olympics were in their 30s.

Michael, the organization’s chief business officer, joined DASH last summer after serving as deputy athletic director and chief of staff for the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He holds a degree from UW-Whitwater in health and human performance, chemistry and coaching and has a degree in legal studies from the Allan “Bud” Selig Master of Sports Law and Business program from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

It took a call from Matt and “some convincing” for Michael to come to DASH.

“Speed skating is the winningest Olympic sport in U.S. history. To play a role in that revitalization, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” he said.

Michael became convinced after talking with DASH President Dave Cruikshank, a four-time winter Olympian and member of the Speed Skating Hall of Fame who also works as a skating coach for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.

Cruikshank said he remembers the days in the 1980s when speed skating “was part of the fabric and culture for something to do” in the Milwaukee area.

It received regular news coverage and drew crowds four to six people deep on the backstretch during Olympic trials.

The sport fell off a bit when the U.S. Speed Skating Headquarters was moved to Salt Lake City, but Cruikshank wants to bring the sport’s popularity back.

The international exposure is there. Speed skating had a medal event on 14 of the 16 premiere nights in the recent Winter Olympics.

One of the DASH’s draws, Cruikshank said, is that it has six gold medal ambassadors, including Cruikshank’s wife, Bonnie Blair, and Dan Jansen, Joey Cheek, Chris Witty, Chad Hedrick and Casey FitzRandolph.

“You can get on the same ice as Bonnie Blair, a five-time gold medalist,” Cruikshank said.

“You can’t get in the pool with Michael Phelps.”

DASH has training for various skill levels. Everyone isn’t going to reach the Olympics, but DASH is about more than just speed skating.

The organization partnered with MKE Downtown and the Milwaukee police and fire departments on a superheroes night in February, and it is seeking corporate partnerships to help lead and mentor children, especially those from fractured homes.

“There’s a little bit of that out there but it’s not talked about enough,” Cruikshank said.

DASH raised $165,000 that helped keep the Pettit Center open during the pandemic.

“There’s an incredible family in speed skating. That’s the type of culture we’re trying to have at DASH,” Cruikshank said, comparing it to the friendly atmosphere of hockey.

The accolades from DASH’s skaters will come in time.

“We want to win and we will win,” Cruikshank said. “But you have to do it the right way.”

Once children start the sport, it’s easy to get them hooked. DASH held an introductory speed skating camp after which 90% of the participants asked when they could sign up for the next event.

It’s not a dangerous sport, Matt said — especially compared to hockey — which was one of the draws for him to try it. Injuries typically happen more often during training than skating.

Beginners don’t start out moving all that quickly.

“All they know is they’re going faster than they’re running,” Matt said.

For more information, visit www.dashskating.org




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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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