Sports

Like Father, Like Son

Some fathers and sons play catch with a baseball in the front yard or throw the football around at the park. Others spend time playing basketball.

But J.R. Celski and his dad, Bob Celski, share something else: national inline speed skating championships.

The pair is getting back to practice at Pattison’s West Skating Center this month after finishing first in their divisions at the USA Roller Sports Inline Speedskating National Championships last August in Pensacola, Fla.

Inline speed skating is similar in form to the ice speed skating as seen in the Winter Olympics, but participants compete on a hardwood roller skating track.

J.R., now 11, won the gold medal in his division for the second time in his career. It was his first year in the Elite Elementary division for skaters age 10-12, so he has a chance to repeat in the same division next year.

“It feels very good,” said J.R., a sixth grader at Sherwood Forest Elementary School. “Just winning out of everyone in the country feels great.”

Bob, 45, won the gold in his first year competing in the Elite Veteran division for skaters 45 and older. He also set a new national record in the 1,000-meter race.

“It’s gratifying after working hard for it,” Bob said. “Then both of us winning — it’s incredible.”

The Celskis started skating in 1994 as a father-son activity. Mom Sue Celski works nights at Safeway.

“When I was at work one night I got a phone call,” Sue said. “Bob said, ‘Since you work at night, me and the boys found something to do. We’re going to start speed skating.’ ”

Bob and his three sons, Chris, who was 13 at the time, David who was 10, and J.R. joined Pattison’s Team Extreme. J.R. was only 4 at the time, although he had been on skates since he was 2.

Chris and David eventually fell out of the sport, but not before finding success on the national level. David won two gold medals at nationals when he was 12. The following year, he and Chris made it to nationals as a two-man relay team.

For Bob, inline skating was a way to stay active and competitive. He grew up playing hockey in Minnesota. The transition from ice skates to inline skates was natural.

“To compete at this age is no different than 20 years ago,” Bob said. “It’s a rush. You’re never to old for something you’re having fun at.”

In practice at Pattison’s, Bob races against high school age skaters.

“It’s hard to keep up here — I’m old enough to be some of their grandfathers,” Bob said. “But when I compete against guys my age, I’m more competitive.”

As far as role models in the sport, J.R. said he looks up to his dad.

“He’s always challenged me to do my technique, and that pays off at the bigger meets,” J.R. said.

Bob is equally impressed with the accomplishments of his son.

“It amazes me what he did,” Bob said of the national championships. “In the 10-12 age division, he’s 18 months younger than some of the competition. This year, some of the guys looked like men.”

Growing up with two older brothers, J.R. was used to competing against bigger skaters. He also practices at Pattison’s in the group of older skaters.

“At the national level, there are some big 12 year olds,” Sue said. “He wasn’t intimidated, but focused. He was able to compose himself. It doesn’t matter to him who’s on the line with him.”

J.R. did admit the larger athletes are somewhat intimidating to skate against.

“The bigger guys try to push you around,” J.R. said. “They try to show off all their gear and they think they’re fast, but they aren’t.”

The national championships are at different locations each year, which allows the family to travel and see the country. It also has given J.R. the opportunity to make friends from other parts of the nation. One of his biggest rivals — Eddie Alvarez from Miami, Fla. — is also one of his best friends. J.R. stayed with Eddie’s family in Miami for a week this past summer. At nationals last year, Eddie was first and J.R. was second. This year, it was J.R. who took first and Eddie who was second.

Through skating, J.R. has developed endurance. That pays off when he plays for his select soccer team and plays inline hockey for the YMCA.

“He works so hard in practice,” said Justin Williams, 16, who skates with Team Extreme. “You never see anybody work as hard as J.R. He keeps up with all us bigger guys step for step.”

J.R. is hoping to keep stride with one of Team Extreme’s more famous alums.

Federal Way native Apollo Ohno is training for the 2001 Olympics in Salt Lake City. He’s the favorite to win the gold medal in short track ice speed skating.

Until now, inline speed skating has not been an Olympic sport, but will be included as an exhibition sport in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Someday, J.R. hopes to be competing on that level.

“The Olympics are coming in 2008,” J.R. said. “I’ll be training for that.”

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