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By Brad Spencer
Do you have some free time to read this feature story on Emery Lehman? Yeah? Great. Settle in, get comfortable, but note, spare time? It's overrated.
Chances are Lehman himself won't have the time to read his own feature story. Or maybe the 15-year-old sophomore at OPRF High School will pick up this article and read it on the way up to Milwaukee, where he goes three times a week. Maybe he'll find it on his phone in-between time trials, playing for his club team, or during dry-land training in his basement with his coach watching via Skype, or practicing with his hockey team. Maybe he'll whip out Wednesday Journal this week on his way to Obihoro, Japan. Who really knows for sure. Lehman has a schedule that could rival the CTA, although he's usually always on time.
Thanks to mom Marcia. Not only is she his mother, but she's Lehman's driver, personal assistant and publicist — although, he doesn't really need a publicist. Not with the way the 6-foot, 170-pound speed skater has been competing lately. His skating speaks for itself. He's the youngest on the U.S. Junior Speed Skating Team. He has skated against Olympic medalists Shani Davis, Jonathon Kuck and Brian Hansen. On Friday (Feb. 24.), he'll leave for Japan to spend 18 days competing in the Junior Worlds Speed Skating Championships and Junior World Cup Final.
"I'm pretty excited about that," he says. "I hope to get in the top 5 or better. I had good races last year. I know there are some guys faster than me but hopefully I can skate well."
Last year, at the age of 14 Lehman competed against 19 year olds at the same tournaments held in Finland. He finished 11th in the 5000-meter and 18th overall. Not too shabby for a newbie.
A newbie? Hey, he may be young, but he's not new to the sport. Heading into a hockey clinic at the age of 9, Lehman noticed a poster on the door. Speed skating could help with his hockey skills. "No, no, no," he told Mom. "Just try it; you can become a better hockey player," she said. Next thing you know that natural talent is on display. He likes zipping around the track, gracefully dipping into the turns and igniting the afterburners on the straight-aways. The engine is fired up, the drive is on.
It's off to Milwaukee three times a week. Marcia picks him up before school lets out. Emery does his homework in the car. The Pettit National Ice Center is a U.S. Olympic training site. That's where two-time Olympian Jeff Klaibar, Lehman's coach, puts his prodigy through some intense workouts — while mom goes to pick up dinner for the car ride home. Hey coach, what is the ultimate goal here?
"It's for every time one of my skaters steps on the ice they become a better skater," says Klaibar, who hails from Evanston and himself had to make the trek to Milwaukee early in his career. "Emery is profoundly driven, which is a characteristic that goes perfect with his exceptional ice feel, determination and work ethic. I see everything going in a good place. We're taking a very task focused approach."
Don't say the words Olympic hopeful, not yet. It's tens of thousands and thousands of meters of skating far off in the distance, which is what Lehman specializes in — distance speed skating. He's built perfectly for it — short legs, long torso. He towers over Apolo Ono.
But it's not the physiology of the speed skater that makes him good. It's the work put forth. It's more involved than just the trips to Milwaukee for training. Let's take you through an average week:
Monday — Lehman is picked up at school at 2:15 p.m. and gets to the ice rink in Milwaukee by 4 p.m., 97 miles door-to-door. He finishes long distance training at 6:25 p.m. Then he heads to Northbrook Ice Arena for his short track practice. He skates there until about 9 p.m.
Tuesday — After school it's dryland training in the basement of his home on N. Harvey via Skype with his coach. Slide board workouts, etc., for more than an hour. Then it's off to Franklin Park for short track practice. After that, there's hockey practice at Ridgeland Common.
Wednesday — Back to Milwaukee for long track training. Home by 8 p.m., but then usually hockey practice.
Thursday — Hockey from 8-9:30 p.m.
Friday — Blessed rest day, that is, if there's no hockey game.
Saturday — Up at 5 a.m. for time trials in Milwaukee. Home by 1 p.m.
Sunday — Hockey game.
Lehman spends more time on the ice than a Zamboni. "He loves to skate," says Marcia. "I always said he was born with blades on his feet."
In his rare spare time, Lehman says he "likes to be lazy" and hangout with his friends. He's holding a 3.6 grade-point average with some honor classes and admits he finds it difficult to do his homework when he's not in the car.
"I realize it's not the normal life of a 15-year-old, but I understand that and I wouldn't want it any other way. I like staying busy. I like what I'm doing. I like the direction I'm headed."
Lehman's aware that he wouldn't be lacing up his size 12 1/2, 18-inch bladed skates if it wasn't for the support of his family, especially his driver — oops, we mean Mom.
"Everything works out great because of her," he says.
He gets his driver's license in June and there's a 2003 Pontiac Aztec waiting for him. It's not flashy, but it is trusty, enough so for the trips to and from Milwaukee.
"I'll just have to find another way to get my homework done," he says.
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