Skating is all about pirouettes and speed, but he loves those three seconds he spends in the air.
Everyone stops talking, time freezes and the suspense takes over.
âI love to jump; it’s the thing I love the most about skating,â said Gene Kalmat, a skater from Livonia. “Humans aren’t meant to fly and that’s a fact. But those three seconds you’re in the air are amazing.”
The skates touch the wood, and the audience has their answer.
âYou don’t know what’s going to happen until they land,â he said.
Kalmat is Michigan’s only representative on United States Roller Sports’team for the 2021 World Figure Skating Championship in AsunciÃ³n, Paraguay. Kalmat qualified for the United States team by winning a silver medal and a bronze medal at a national competition in Iowa last month.
The world championship takes place between September 29 and October 9. The competition also serves as a qualification for the World Games, an Olympic-level competition that will take place next year.
When not competing, the 19-year-old trains at Riverside Arena in Livonia, an ice rink on Plymouth Road that has been open for 81 years. The staff say Kalmat has a kind heart, a humble mind and has devoted countless hours to being at his best.
Kalmat discovered his love of roller skating at the Riverside Arena. He was born with craniosynostosis, a condition that prevented him from playing high-contact sports, and roller skating ended up being the sporting outlet in which he found excitement. The sport is similar to figure skating, but requires more balance manipulation as it is played on four wheels instead of a blade.
âMy mom and I used to come to this rink on Wednesday nights just to bond with mom and son,â he said. “You know, you gotta hang out with your mom. It just became my thing. I skated, hit walls and had fun with it.”
Kalmat eventually asked for private lessons and began to participate in competitions. Her first international competition was the 2019 World Figure Skating Championship in Barcelona, ââSpain. There was no competition in 2020 because of the pandemic.
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âThe experience of being at the world championship has been incredible,â he said. “The crowd, the environment, the training was amazing. It was my first international competition and unfortunately I let my nerves get hold of me. But that’s part of the learning process.”
En route to Asuncion, Kalmat is more confident in his ability to handle the mental obstacles of being on the world stage.
“I have grown a lot and hope to do better this year,” he said. “I’m a lot more confident because it’s not my first time and I know what to expect.”
Kalmat raises funds through a GoFundMe called “Help Gene get to the 2021 Worlds” to alleviate some of the financial burden on his parents. Kalmat is a full-time financial economics student at the University of Detroit Mercy and has a part-time job. A few days before the championships started, his GoFundMe was within $ 200 of his goal of $ 6,000.
âIt’s very expensive to travel overseas and pay a lot of this stuff,â he said. “My parents work very hard to get me to where I am, and I fundraise so I don’t have to put a major financial strain on them.”