SARATOGA SPRINGS — The talk of speedskating in the United States will inevitably bring up the topic of Saratoga Winter Club, which began its rich history in 1888 as the Saratoga Toboggan Club, finally became it’s current form in the 1930’s. Several Olympians have made their way through the club including: John Wurster, 1968 and 1972 US Olympic team member; Rich Wurster, 1972 Olympic team member; Pat Maxwell, 1984 National and World Team Coach and also 1988 Olympic Short Track team coach; in the 1990’s Olympic team members Moria D’Andrea, Kristen Talbot, David Tamborino, and Erin Porter skated on the ice for The Saratoga Winter Club. The winning tradition continued in the 2010 Winter Olympics with Trevor Marsicano. This day and age, aspiring skaters still take to The Saratoga Winter Club ice under the tutelage of five-time Olympic team member Amy PetersonPeck; National Skating Technical Advisor and speed skate maker Paul Marchesse; and Olympic coach Pat Maxwell. Paul Ripchik, current President of The Saratoga Winter Club for the last five years, has had his two children involved in the program for the last ten years.
“We have people coming from all over, one of the girls travels from Southern Connecticut twice a week, three hours each way,” he said in awe.
“Amy Peterson-Peck, when she came to train with Pat Maxwell back in the late 90’s, she stayed, she met a local guy. She now has a family, she has four boys, and she’s keeping it going. Amy carried the American flag into the Olympic games in Salt Lake City. So, over the course of the history of this club, we’ve had over 16 Olympians come out of Saratoga Springs, so every four years people get excited about it,” Ripchik laughed.
The club’s ice season is September through March and then after a little time off, the athletes start dry-land training.
“We try not to do year-round on the ice, especially with the younger kids. We don’t want them to burn out, so they cross-train with soccer or baseball or softball, just as long as they’re active,” he explained.
Ripchik’s two children, Ellie, 13, and Spencer, 15, started with the club at four and five years old.
“Their aunt, Erin Porter, was an Olympian so that’s sort of how I got involved, I married into it,” Ripchik said.
Jennifer Kirsch, from Long Island originally, began ice speedskating at the age of 17.
“I was an in-liner who found out that in-lining wasn’t going to become an Olympic sport, so I became a speedskater,” Kirsch explained.
Kirsch tried out for the 2002 Olympic team and placed twelfth resulting in her making some World Cup teams.
“It’s an honor to be the oldest skater at trials. That was great,” she explained.
Kirsch is only 38 years old.
“I don’t know if this is bias because he’s my coach, he’s my fiancé, he’s my business partner, and he’s my soulmate but Paul Marchese is definitely my role model. He has done it all and also started his own business and continued to skate. He’s the only person I know that actually loves the sport so much that he’s in it 24/7. He’s passionate about it, he’ll help anyone out. He’s a great coach, a great mentor, but I feel like he can just put everything on a small plate and he’ll be super happy with life,” Kirsch spoke of her coach.
Rebecca Simmons, a 28-year-old speedskater from Rochester originally and now living with her parents in Averill Park, began skating when she was nine. Simmons speed skated in her youth from age nine to thirteen, after that she continued with hockey until the end of college. During graduate school, she picked up her speedskating career again. Simmons also just competed in the Olympic trials.
“Speedskating was supposed to be my retirement and just a fun sport and then I moved home, and Saratoga has had so many people that are just really good and then before you know it, you’re sucked into training and you can’t stop, and now I’m here,” she laughed.
Aside from speedskating, Simmons works in the health field as a pediatrics floor tech in Albany Med and as a delivery room tech in St. Peter’s Hospital. She has a Masters in physiology. Simmons trains for “at least six hours a day. Most weeks it’s seven days a week, so it’s a lot every day.”
Paul Marchese has had a long and fulfilling skating career so far and he’s still going, in any way that he can. Between skating, refereeing, coaching (domestically and internationally), and owning a business that creates skates, he seems to live for the sport. Marchese is from the Catskill area and travels to Saratoga several times a week for The Saratoga Winter Club.
“I started late as a skater. Most of the guys that I had been racing against put on skates for the first time when they were like eight years old. I didn’t start speedskating until I was about 15, so when I was done with that, I felt like I still had things to offer. So that threw me into coaching,” he explained.
“As you grow and gain more experience and you start to hit some crossroads when you are high school age, it’s at that point where some further commitment is needed from them and then you have to manage the skaters more carefully from there to make sure that they don’t do too much but to make sure that they do enough to be competitive, because otherwise they lose interest; they’re not competitive anymore. So, it’s hard to strike that balance when they’re teenagers,” Marchese said of coaching.
When asked what it was like to coach his fiancé, his face began to beam, “she’s fantastic,” he said enthusiastically of Kirsch.
The Saratoga Winter Club will be hosting the US Speedskating Age Group Nationals and America Cup Final the weekend of March 23-25 at the Weibel Ice Rink. This is the second largest speed skating meet held in the US every year and there will be over 200 participants from around the country skating at this event.