Denton native and speedskater Jordan Malone is working long hours training to prepare for what he expects to be his last Olympic run for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
At 29 years old, Malone refers to himself as a grandfather in a sport where the average ages are in the lower to mid-20s.
“When you train as hard as I have, for as long as I have, your body begins to break down,” he said. “It’s rare for speedskaters to last this long.”
But Malone said he’s training because he has a dream to win, and he’s not ready to give that up yet.
Malone said he began inline skating when he was about 5 years old, inspired after a day care field trip to a local skating rink.
He didn’t pick up ice skates until about 2001. He has had a decorated career in both inline skating and speedskating, including the Olympic bronze medal he earned in Vancouver in 2010.
Malone’s mother, Peggy Aitken, said she had to learn early that there’s a difference between pushing your children and supporting them.
“I had to learn to be his pit crew,” she said. “I just help him with whatever he needs, and our relationship works.”
Aitken said she’s amazed at what skating has done for her son.
“Skating taught him things that I never could,” she said. “He’s a very positive kid who has goals and knows how to map out how to reach them. Skating gave him the confidence he needed to develop that.”
With this being his last year as an Olympic athlete, he said it’s important to keep his head clear of all distractions. But it isn’t easy.
About a year ago, a group of 14 American speedskaters, including Malone, boycotted the U.S. team, accusing the head coach at the time, Jae Su Chun, and his two assistants of vast and unchecked abuse.
The accusations led U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun to launch an investigation.
Though the investigation is over and the team has a new coach, Malone said the controversy caused a few rifts among some speedskaters. He said skaters who supported the ousted coach left to train with him and form a separate team.
Chun has denied claims of abuse and said he’s innocent, according to a statement by his spokesman, Hyonmyong Cho.
However, Chun lost his job because he failed to report knowing that U.S. skater Simon Cho had tampered with the blade of a Canadian rival at the 2011 World Team Championships, according to a U.S. Speedskating report.
Another distraction Malone says he tries not to think about is money. He said unless you’re the face of your sport, like two-time Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno, it’s hard to get the financial support you need.
The U.S. Olympic Committee pays Malone $500 a month, which he uses to support himself while he trains in Salt Lake City.
Malone said a few years ago, it was easier to live off $500 a month, because athletes trained in Colorado where they were provided with dorms and meals.
Now, Malone has to make his dollars stretch.
“It’s expensive to do this,” he said. “And based off what they pay me, it’s hard. I’m grateful for the $500 a month, because some athletes don’t even get that much.”
Malone said he has questioned whether or not it’s worth it to pursue his dreams.
After all, he’s had multiple season-ending injuries and setbacks, he has a fiancee who’s waiting for him to finish his speedskating career, he put college on hold, and he could possibly end his career in debt.
But Malone said he’s a speedskater and no one can stop being who they are.
“The skates, the ice, the competition — that’s all a part of me,” he said. “I have to see this all the way through because if I don’t, I know I’ll regret it.”
In an attempt to help her son reach his dream, Aitken has arranged rallies to help support her son. Malone hopes the rallies will generate enough money for him to make it to Russia and to bring his mother along, too.
The next rally will be at 5 p.m. Aug. 17 at the PourHouse Sports Grill, 3350 Unicorn Lake Blvd. More information can be found on Malone’s website, www.jordanmalone.com.
“I never thought he would be an Olympian,” Aitken said. “He was a skinny, asthmatic kid with dyslexia and ADHD. But skating changed him.”
She said she wants to garner support for her son because she said he’s very supportive and proud of the people he represents in Texas and in Denton.
“He’s going for gold,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll be happy with anything else. I want that for him.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.