Going for It: Rapid Reinvention

They want to be like Shani Davis

Eight years ago, some black parents in the Washington area saw an African American named Shani Davis take to the ice at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and decided that they wanted their children to have access to speed skating as a character building sport. They went searching for coach and an ice rink.

They found the Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast Washington, which agreed to add speed skating to its children's programs, and three-time Olympic speed skater Nathaniel Mills, who had once coached a tiny Shani at the Evanston Speed Skating Club near Chicago. Mills agreed to share with the children the knowledge he'd gleaned as a speed skater and instructor. He started an organization called D.C. Inner City Excitement (ICE) and the D.C. ICE Speed Skating Club was born.

On Wednesday night, members of the speed skating club watched from the lobby of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena as Davis took his second gold medal in the 1,000 meters. The original parents and their children weren't there, but the 75 or so families gathered included some kids who had been involved in the program for years, including Suliman Abdullah, 15, a sophomore at Wilson High School who was recruited into the program by Mills when he was only 7.

"My son asked Nathaniel what speed skating was like and he said, 'It's like running track, only with ice skates on,'" recalled Suliman's father, Muhammad Abdullah. "'Suliman said, 'I would like that.'"

Suliman was interviewed last night on NBC, which broadcast live from the arena. The camera panned the children as they celebrated Davis's stunning success. They had an inside track on last night's activities from Mills, who kept in touch from Vancouver via e-mails to the ice rink's executive director Kathy Cox. Mills was in Vancouver serving as a liaison between Davis, his former student, and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"The children were so excited," Cox said Thursday morning. "As Shani took to the ice, everybody was going crazy. When he won, I thought it was already loud, but everybody started jumping up and down and screaming. The whole room went crazy."

Davis has visited the Fort Dupont Ice Arena twice and skated with the children, Cox said. Another time, he attended an off-site activity with the skaters, she said.

"The first time he came was after the 2006 Olympics," Cox said. "He brought some of his Olympic gear to show the kids, including his Olympic watch. He did a clinic with them on the ice, coaching them on improving their skills. He and Nathaniel raced to demonstrate what it is like when you are going full speed."

Cox credited Davis with giving the young skaters life-changing experiences during his visits. 

"The excitement was palpable," she said. "The kids were so excited to be in the presence of a gold medal winner. They were so excited to be with someone who would take the time to encourage them the way he did. Shani is a wonderful encourager. He really reaches down to the up-and-coming skaters and tells them to pursue their Olympic dream. He was wonderful with the kids."

They certainly are grateful, if the noise they made during Wednesday night's watch party is any  indicator. Congratulations to Davis for being a champion on the ice and with children who want to be like him.



Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  February 18, 2010; 7:29 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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