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Roller rink has a new big wheel

Learning to believe in herself gave Teneah Rushen the edge to be a national speed skating contender


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Franklin High senior Teneah Rushen, who is student body president, takes a leadership role as a roller skating with her fast starts and high finishes on the track.Though the deafening sound of the initial gunshot strikes fear in roller skater Teneah Rushen’s heart, it triggers a beneficial reaction.

“I’m good at sprints because the gun scares me, so I just go,” she says.

Last year, at the indoor roller speed skating national championships in

Albuquerque, N.M., Rushen placed fifth in the 500-meter race, fourth at 1,000 meters and fourth overall in the junior division.

This year, she is determined to finish first overall in the senior division at the championships in Lincoln, Neb.

“I’m going back to become a national champion,” Rushen says.

“She definitely has a shot,” coach Troy Chambers says.

Rushen, student body president of Franklin High, also is a serious contender to qualify for the track and field state meet in the 200 and 400 meters.

However, before her days of elite speed skating and winning elections, fear didn’t ignite Rushen to burst forward. Instead, it kept her in a cocoon.

“I looked down on myself a lot,” she says. “I was scared because I never liked standing out in the crowd. I never thought I was as good as other people.”

Rushen, a Franklin senior, recalls having few friends in elementary and middle school.

“I was just the weird one,” she says. “I was like, ‘Why doesn’t anyone want to hang out with me? Why am I not making friends?’ I just felt like an outcast.”

by: COOPER MOUNTAIN PHOTOGRAPHY - Teneah Rushen, a senior at Franklin High, races ahead of the competition in speed skating events locally and around the country.In sixth grade, reluctant to join a school sport, she decided to lace up a pair of skates. Ever since, Rushen has raced for GSW Racing, a team that practices at Gresham Skate World and travels across the Northwest competing against other clubs under the

tutelage of Chambers.

Speed skating, which started as a conditioning practice for ice skaters, involves six competitors racing around a roller rink as fast as possible with the goal of crossing the finish line first.

GSW Racing members practice together, but all of the events at club meets, regionals and nationals are individual.

Chambers and Rushen agree she is best in the 500 because of her quick starts.

“She’s the best sprinter in the region, and I’m not saying that because she’s my skater,” Chambers says.

However, he says her penchant for fast starts can be detrimental in long races.

“In the long race, you don’t want a super fast start — leading takes it out of you,” he says. “We’re working on slower starts for her long race.”

At first, Rushen had difficulty remaining in control while flying by at a fast pace. Chambers remembers Rushen slamming into the wall face-first in her first event. However, she toughed it out and finished the race.

He says she sometimes would place her skate against the wall to slow down in the corners, due to the discomfort of turning while traveling 20 miles per hour.

“Skating is one of the most technical sports on Earth. The margin of victory at nationals between first and third is two-tenths of a second,” Chambers says.

Initially, Rushen couldn’t measure up with the advanced skaters from Washington, a hotbed for roller skating and the destination of most of her tournaments.

“Teams up north used to have Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski, and they have skaters who’re just as good,” she says.

For the first couple years, Rushen consistently finished close to last place against racers who typically picked up the sport when they were 4 years old.

But once Rushen replaced self-pity with self-confidence in the eighth grade, she thrived.

“They have two arms and two legs, just like me. What makes them any better?” she began to think. “I’m going to win races. I’m not going to lose anymore.”

Rushen won her first race in Spokane, Wash., in 2010.

“After that, she became even more determined to get better,” Chambers says.

Rushen became a first-class skater through hard work and dedication.

“I train about five or six days a week. I push myself really hard,” she says.

While the Washington kids had 60 or so teammates to encourage them, Rushen had to turn inward for motivation.

“For the first two years of skating, I was the only one on the team,” she says. “It really took a lot for me to stay. I would have to wake up at 6 a.m. Saturday and push myself to go.”

And the clock was her only competition in practice.

Now, she has four teammates to keep her company and motivate her.

“Besides my immediate family, they’re probably the strongest connections I’ve ever made,” she says. “I look forward to going to practice. Only about six of us compete, but we are just there for each other.”

Rushen says speed skating can be a safe haven for kids who are in need of a place to feel included.

“It’s a great sport if you feel like you aren’t fitting in at school. We have a really close community,” she says. “You aren’t just on a team, You are a part of a family.”

Chambers says Rushen is a strong leader who encourages and motivates her teammates.

“When they get an attitude, she says: ‘Hey, if you’re going to get good at this, you have to stick to it,’ ” Chambers says.

Once she reached high school, Rushen concentrated her newfound confidence and leadership skills toward becoming freshman class president.

“I won against the most popular kid, and I won by a landslide,” she says.

Now that she leads the Franklin student body, Rushen wants students to feel included and participate.

“My favorite thing about being president is getting people involved,” she says.

Because her races are rarely in Portland, her friends generally cannot watch her compete. However, she wants Franklin athletes to feel supported each and every game.

“I know if I had one friend out there watching me skate, I would skate 100 times better,” she says.

Last fall, Rushen and the rest of the student government cut out life-size heads of the football players and carried them around school all day, reminding people to attend the homecoming game. They also helped rent an Cadillac Escalade to escort students around the track for homecoming court. They’ve hosted dance-offs and blackouts, handed out fliers and used social media to remind people to support Quakers athletics.

She doesn’t want her classmates to feel isolated.

“If you really get to know people, you can find out that they are amazing,” she says.

On top of her rigorous training schedule, school and student government, Rushen is poised to help her 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams reach the Class 5A meet at Hayward Field in Eugene for the second year in a row. Individually, in just her second year on the track team, she hopes to place in the 200 and 400 at state. She has the fastest 200 time (27.01 seconds) this season among Portland Interscholastic League 5A competitors, and she ranks third in the 400 (61.51).

“I think it’s mental. If I tell myself I’m going to work hard and place, I’ll place,” she says.

While once she didn’t have the confidence to play a school sport, now she thinks an Olympic medal in ice speed skating and a job as a CEO of a fitness or nutrition company are

possibilities.

“I love fitness and nutrition. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll go train for the Olympics,” she says.

Though Chambers acknowledges that it’s difficult to learn the techniques involved in speed skating, there is great precedent in roller skaters becoming great speed skaters.

“That’s the way to get to the Olympics on the ice team,” he says. “The last two Olympics, 80 to 90 percent of skaters started out on wheels. It builds strength and conditioning.”

Rushen has received a scholarship and will attend Willamette University in Salem. That puts at least a temporary halt on her plans to speed skate on ice, “but that is still a long-term goal,” she says.

To stay sharp, she plans to commute regularly from Salem to Gresham.

“I’m still going to skate, that’s my goal, and also to run track there and still get a good education,” she says. “I’m not stopping. I’m still climbing up that hill.”

Rushen wants others — including her Franklin classmates and skating teammates — to believe in themselves.

“For people who ever feel like they can’t do it, I want to be like, you can,” she says. “Watch what I did.”