Dec. 7, 2009, 12:30 p.m.
Roughly 90 minutes after their alarm clocks buzz every Saturday morning around 6 a.m., Canton siblings Evan and Sydney Wheeler are propelling their bodies around a sheet of ice in Hazel Park.
While most middle-schoolers would be tempted to hit the snooze button, the Wheelers hit the cruise button.
The Central Middle School students are competitive speed skaters, a rare breed in this part of the state.
"When Evan told us he wanted to try the sport about five years ago, it took me three weeks to find a place that offered speed-skating around here," said Brian Wheeler, the speedy skaters' dad. "I finally found a guy in Grand Rapids, who hooked us up with the Wolverine Sports Club in Hazel Park."
Evan Wheeler got hooked on the sport during the 2006 Winter Olympics as he watched the United States' Apollo Ono earned medal after medal.
A short time later, his parents purchased all the necessary equipment -- specially made skates, shin guards, knee pads, a neck guard, elbow pads, helmet -- and they started making the weekly trek to Hazel Park for one-hour lessons with coach Dave Rondot.
"I like the feeling of going as fast as you can in circles and pushing my body as fast as it will go," said Evan, when asked about speed skating's appeal. "The key is not to go all out right away. You have to pace yourself."
Sydney picked up the sport this year and, like her younger brother, enjoys the adrenaline rush the activity offers.
"My friends wonder why I want to get up so early on Saturdays," Sydney said, smiling. "But it's fun. I like it a lot."
During the winter months, the Wheelers attend competitions approximately every two months, driving as far as Rochester, NY. Evan has earned several medals in state and regional meets that draw the fastest skaters around.
"It's probably a little cheaper than travel hockey, but more expensive than soccer or baseball," Brian Wheeler noted. "It's a low-volume sport, so all of the equipment is hand-made. You can't just go into Dunham's and pick up a pair of speed-skating skates. There's only one manufacturer in the United States, so everything has to be ordered over the Internet."
The sport is extremely competitive, but at the same time there is a unique and warming camaraderie among the athletes, Brian Wheeler said.
"Like any sport, everybody trains hard and wants to win," he said. "But once the race is over, the kids are all playing games together off the ice.
"Sydney was kind of upset when she didn't do really well the first time she raced, even though she was going up against girls that had been speed skating for years. But the other girls, who were fabulous skaters, encouraged her to keep trying. It was really neat to see."
In the spring, the Wheelers' weekly drive will be cut in half when they begin training at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor.
If your child is interested in trying speed skating visit http://www.wolverinesportsclub.com and click on the speed-skating link.
And make sure your alarm clock has a fresh battery.
Ed Wright can be reached at (734) 453-1980 or email@example.com