Reutter is on the fast track to Vancouver

Reutter is on the fast track to Vancouver

CHAMPAIGN – Beth Reutter should have had her first clue when she enrolled her 4-year-old daughter in a Learn to Skate program at the University of Illinois in 1992.

"While everyone else was doing what they were told to do, Katherine was often seeing how fast she could skate around the group," Beth Reutter said.

What began as a lesson in figure skating soon evolved into a passionate interest in speedskating, thanks to the urging of a speed-skating parent, Becky Prather.

Interest in 20-year-old Katherine Reutter will intensify in the upcoming months. The 2006 Centennial High graduate is regarded as one of the country's top female prospects to make the United States Olympic speedskating team at the short-track Trials, held Sept. 8-12 in Marquette, Mich.

"By the time my first figure skating performance was over, I was ready to speedskate full time," Katherine Reutter said.

It wasn't a bad decision. She is a two-time United States Short-Track champion and a four-time American record-holder.

Former Champaign Olympian Erik Henriksen is aware of Reutter's vast potential.

"If she goes to the Trials healthy, she's going to the Olympics," Henriksen said, "and she's a medal threat. That's how good she is.

"Nothing would surprise me. The sky's the limit."

Moving out to move up

Reutter's commitment to the sport is in its 16th year. She didn't reach her elite status by hoping and dreaming. Her work ethic defines her now and has for most of the past decade.

"She's one of the hardest workers, if not the hardest worker, in that (Olympic development) program," Henriksen said. "She's had good coaching influences."

By age 9, Reutter was regularly lifting weights, and she did so eagerly.

"Her most unusual trait seemed to be that when I took her to the weight room to work out, she enjoyed that and felt very accomplished afterward," said her father, Jay Reutter.

By Katherine's junior year at Centennial, she was traveling to St. Louis every weekend to get more ice time than was available twice a week locally.

By her senior year of high school, she'd left the family home to further advance her training while living in a college dormitory at Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich.

"Skating is a lifestyle that I've chosen and that I love," Katherine Reutter said. "Everybody makes sacrifices, and living at home with my family and friends is something I have to give up in order to chase my dreams."

That didn't mean it was easy as a 16-year-old to pack up and relocate 10 hours and two states away.

"She had never been away from home for more than a week, had never had to share a room, went from being a big fish in a little pond in Champaign to being a little fish in a big pond at Marquette," Beth Reutter recalled. "She went from being a social butterfly to that of a lost puppy.

"She called home crying every single day that summer (2005). It was extremely hard on us as parents. We couldn't run up there on a whim, and it's hard to hug through a phone line."

Total commitment

In her youth, Katherine Reutter spent time with softball, cross-country, gymnastics, roller hockey, tae kwon do and inline skating.

"I don't know how good I was at other things," she said. "My focus was always skating, so whenever another sport got to the point where I had to make some sacrifices to really improve, I would give it up for skating."

The demands of speedskating are significant.

Now living in Salt Lake City, she routinely trains for eight hours each weekday, cutting back to a four-hour workout on Saturdays.

"You cannot succeed in this program if you don't enjoy physical training and understand how to use it to your advantage," Jay Reutter said. "Difficulties and sacrifices are challenges that we all must deal with. You adapt.

"I would equate it to the Marines commercial; she is challenged constantly and she is hardened and tempered like a piece of high-grade steel. She is tough as nails."

Katherine Reutter makes the commitment because she recognizes her window of opportunity is in the present.

"I plan to give it everything I can while I can because there are way more fun things to do than wake up too sore to move every morning," Katherine Reutter said. "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it 100 percent.

"I think that's my biggest strength. It can also be my biggest weakness because sometimes I don't know when to stop and I usually have some battle with overtraining every year.

"But my focus on nothing but training is what keeps me at the top of my game when it's time to perform. It's hard, and depressing sometimes, but skating is something I'll only have for a short time. I try to make skating the center of my life."

Helping hands

Jay Reutter acknowledges his daughter deserves unlimited credit for her accomplishments, which includes four silver medals in the recently completed World Cup series.

"Katherine is very detailed in working on every aspect of her program from balance to power to nutrition," he said. "She doesn't get discouraged easily and just gets better and smarter every day.

"She will outwork, out-think and outlast her opponent eventually. She is relentless."

Numerous individuals, however, have had an influence along her path in a fast-paced sport where speeds can reach 40 mph on the 111-meter oval.

"The list would go on forever," Jay Reutter said. "I think that Katherine was a very good piece of clay that many, many people have helped mold into something special.

"I can never thank the members of this community and the St. Louis skating group enough for helping to provide Katherine with the opportunity and tools to succeed."

A football coach and an Olympian in track and field are among the local people who've impacted Katherine Reutter's career.

Centennial football coach Mike McDonnell "was a godsend teaching Katherine the importance of visualization," Jay Reutter said.

While attending Centennial, the 5-foot-7, 132-pound Reutter took an independent study class under McDonnell's tutelage.

"Coach Mac helped me develop the mental side of my sport three days a week, and the other two days I would take that period and my lunch to go to the (UI) rink and put a few extra laps in," Katherine Reutter said. "Just this small amount really helped me prepare for that year's nationals."

McDonnell said his emphasis was on "the power of positive thinking."

"All the great ones have it and use it," he added. "It is part of the self-confidence factor every great performer must possess.

"She has worked extremely hard to develop her skills in these areas and it has paid off for her in a big way. It is just another part of the 'complete package' when you have to compete against the best."

Weight training helped Katherine Reutter hold a strength advantage over virtually all of her peers, and, Beth Reutter added, "Thanks to Coach Mac, she also learned to become the strongest mentally; both of those (aspects) playing a huge part in making her the skater she is today."

Instrumental influences

Former UI track and field coach Mike Shine – a former Olympic runner – taught Reutter the value and necessity of working hard to achieve her goals.

"The first time I met him," Reutter said, "he told me that 'every workout is like putting a deposit in the bank, and come race day you have to write a check and hope that it's bigger than everyone else's.' That has always stuck with me."

Reutter's first speedskating coach was the one who helped develop her fundamentals.

"Bruce Merrill is the one who taught me speedskating when I had the technique of a figure skater," she said. "He gave me many, many opportunities to train and compete while growing up."

Another person of major significance was Adam Riedy. When Reutter qualified for the intensive developmental program at Marquette in 2005, she almost wasn't accepted, she said, "because nobody knew my name."

A vote of confidence from Riedy enabled her to land a spot.

"He said he'd seen me skate and I didn't have the technique, but I had the work ethic. His belief in me is all I needed to start the real chase for my dreams.

"He will always be the coach that changed my life."

Her parents have done more for their only child than provide monetary support.

"They both push me to be great," Katherine Reutter said. "My dad teaches me to push my body while my mom encourages me to push the limits of my mind, to stay calm and smart no matter what issues I'm battling.

"My dad is all about technique, training and giving it your all where my mom is the reason I haven't had a mental breakdown yet. I'm very lucky and blessed to be where I am and I have to thank my parents for looking out for what's best for me, and going so far out of the way to give me the same advantages as other kids who get more ice time and better coaching."

Down the road

Katherine Reutter's travels have taken her to 15 states for competition or training as well as 11 foreign countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and Romania.

She is hoping to be in Vancouver, British Columbia, next February as a competitor in the Winter Olympics.

"Skating has caused a whole new lifestyle for me," she said. "I know it's worth it."

She has days, though, when she's overwhelmed.

"I'm always jealous of other kids my age who get to go out and have fun and meet new people while I wake up early, train all day long and eat fast food just a few times a season," Katherine Reutter added, "but the grass is always greener on the other side."

The Reutters estimate that it costs about $10,000 per year to cover Katherine's travel expenses and equipment. Blades, for example, are $600 per pair, and she goes through two sets annually.

Sponsors supply some of her workout gear. The U.S. Speedskating Association covers expenses to international meets only.

"All domestic competitions are the responsibility of the athlete," Katherine Reutter said. "That wouldn't be so bad, except that the national team is required to leave for a competition a week in advance and stay in the host hotel. Expenses add up quickly."

As a National Team member, Reutter receives a stipend, but her mother said it "barely covers living expenses."

The speedskater has secured some outside sponsorships, but Beth Reutter noted, "the current state of the economy has curtailed funding."

Reutter's plan includes more than skating competitively. She wants to complete her associate's degree in group fitness and earn her bachelor's degree in dietetics.

"I'm thinking about minoring in some type of broadcasting," she said, "because my dream would be to have my own show on Fit TV, but I think that I would enjoy any sort of involvement in the entertainment industry to promote a healthy and active lifestyle."

Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at fkroner@news-gazette.com.

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golfergurley wrote on April 28, 2009 at 7:04 am

Is Katherine the granddaughter of Donnie Prather, who was a terrific speed skater back in the fifties...if so, she had God given talent to begin with. Good article.