The road to becoming an Olympic athlete is not for the squeamish.
Figure skater Derek Wagner, who will be a freshman at Geneva High this fall, has pictured himself securing that very goal.
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"Yeah, I have," he said.
He's not talking out of school -- which, incidentally, is Geneva Middle School North and not the home-school route often taken by competitive skaters due to the grueling year-round practice schedule to faraway facilities and days-long competitions.
Wagner, whose older brother, Michael, is an ultimate Frisbee-playing sophomore at Geneva High, finished sixth nationally in the intermediate level at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships in January. At both the regional and sectional championships Derek received Special Achievement Awards for exceptional execution of elements in his routine.
Elements? There are many. Sit spins, luxes, axels, loops, something called a "triple-toe," overall nine components that comprise his freestyle routine. Swirling throughout these moves is his execution of choreography that itself is graded.
"We work with a couple choreographers," said Bob Wagner, Derek's father.
This sounds like big pressure on a young man who just turned 14.
"It's more like landing everything and doing everything the best you can," said Derek, now in his third year competing nationally.
Wagner starting skating before his fifth birthday. He still has Novice and Junior ranks to go through, not necessarily an annual elevation, before reaching the Senior status from which the Olympic pool is culled.
He spends about 15-18 hours a week on the ice, doing his homework in the car while Bob or Sandy Wagner drive him to practice in Buffalo Grove or even Kenosha, Wis., where Derek's primary coach is based. Fallback facilities, used mainly just to get ice time, are in Geneva and Naperville.
There are 4 a.m. weekend wake-up calls to hit the road. Strength and conditioning sessions. Ballet lessons to hone his form.
The big three of regional, sectional and national meets don't resume until the regional in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Oct. 19-22. Till then there's music, costumes, choreography, elements. And: practice, practice, practice.
"Typically you get a few months break from doing programs, and during that time you work on new jumps and new programs," Derek said.
That's a break?
"We sometimes question the sanity of it," said Bob Wagner, who with Sandy remains a stickler on academics and also has a baseball-playing fifth-grader, Brian. When Derek first said he'd like to try "skating," Bob figured hockey. Derek pointed to a figure skater.
"Neither Bob nor I knew anything about skating when we got into this," said Sandy, noting that as "a little guy even walking through the house" Derek would spin around. A natural.
"Like most other things," Bob said, "if your child has a passion for something you try and give that child every opportunity to pursue that passion."
To tone his short program and freestyle skates for the national meets, Derek attends competitions such as those May 16-18 in Ann Arbor, Mich. He goes way up there to seek greater competition than can be found locally. To reach the next level, he said, he needs to increase his speed and "skate out more" through the patterns that precede his jumps.
Bob and Sandy Wagner have repeatedly given their son chances to opt out of this demanding sport if he's not enjoying himself. But there is no burnout.
It's a kick when friends compliment him on his "mad skills"; when brother Mike posts performance videos on YouTube.
Particularly when, in the crucible of competition, Derek finds peace.
"I like jumping the best, he said. "It's kind of like you're floating and hanging in the air."
The perks of being a college golfer
The weather Tuesday in DeKalb, site of the Class 3A Northern Illinois University boys basketball supersectional, was fit for a yak. After a drive through snow showers, upon arrival strong winds bleached the wide-open spaces around the Convocation Center, plunging temperatures into the 20s.
Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Illinois State sophomore golfer Hayley Guyton, out of Kaneland High, had finished second-round play at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. Partly cloudy, temperature 78.
Oh, to be at Kaneohe.
Catching up with ... Allie Pospisil
Geneva senior Allie Pospisil, third child and only daughter of Andree and Scott Pospisil, is a co-captain and all-conference returner on coach Peter Raak's girls track team. As well as her brothers Scott and Nick, now in college, Allie's parents were both athletes, the senior Scott (Geneva Class of 1982) a wrestler and baseball player, Andree a softball player and cheerleader at Elgin Academy.
Elgin-born, Allie (full name Alexandra) arrived in Geneva at 3 and now has the goal of making it downstate in shot put. With a personal-record of 32 feet, 11½ inches she has a way to go, so working with Vikings throws specialist Gale Gross she's striving to gain at least a few feet before she heads to college -- where she may take up crew.
The cheerful Pospisil, who works as a hostess at a downtown Geneva restaurant on weekends while maintaining a 3.4 grade-point average, swam and played softball before paring it down to track after middle school.
Q: How did you get involved in track and field?
A: (Brother) Scott first joined track and he was saying how great it is, how much fun he had and how he met some of his best friends through it. I met, like, my best friends through track and I love them to death. I honestly don't know where I would be right now without track.
Q: What's the big deal?
A: The whole track team -- not just little subgroups -- but the whole team bonds together. It also helps each other out ... It's more like a community or family, not just like a one-person sport. You really have people there to support you.
Q: You focus more on shot put than discus, correct?
A: I'm definitely more shot. I just get it more. I just feel more comfortable throwing shot than the disc. I just do better overall at shot put than I do at discus.
Q: Which technique do you use, the glide or the spin?
A: I do the glide. Most of our guys, when they reach junior or senior year, they tend to go to the spin. I've tried to spin a couple times in practice and I don't throw nearly as far. To master it you have to do a lot of practicing, and if I were to switch to the spin and practice a lot more my distance would probably go down a little. And since it's my last year I don't want my distances to go down, I want them to keep going up and going up.
Q: What are your goals for the outdoor season?
A: I'd really love to make state but, you know, if I don't make state my goal would be to get to the high 35s or the low 36s.
Q: All right, time for the silly questions. Who's your favorite boy band?
A: I don't know. (Pause) I guess One Direction's OK. I'm more into country music.
Q: Do you have a most-embarrassing moment?
A: Oh, my gosh. I can't pick one out right now, but I'm really clumsy and I stumble and fall and I always do it in front of the wrong people. I don't do it in front of my friends or family, but I do it in front of people I'm trying to impress. I get so nervous, I guess I trip over my own feet. It always happens.
Q: If you could have a favorite dinner for your birthday, what would it be?
A: I love Mexican food, so I'd probably have to go with chicken enchiladas and, like, rice and black beans on the side.
Q: Not-so-silly question: What's been your parents' best advice?
A: Just do what you love, it doesn't matter what it is ...
Q: As you enter Friday's Upstate Eight Conference Indoor Championships. what does it feel like and you nail a throw?
A: Coach Gross always says your best throw is your throw that you don't feel anything. You feel like you're pushing nothing, you're lifting nothing, because everything just went right.
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