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Northbrook Speed Skating Club Celebrates 70 Years

by US Speedskating

Northbrook Speed Skating Club (NSSC) of Illinois is celebrating not just seven decades of existence, but 70 years of excellence.

The club has evolved from barrel jumpers and skating outdoors on the flooded center of a bicycle velodrome to become one of the country’s preeminent speed skating clubs, and home to more than 20 Olympians. In fact, a member of NSSC went on to compete in every Olympic Winter Games from 1952 through 2018. 

Founded in Northbrook, Illinois, in 1952 by
Ed Rudolph (who’d go on to coach U.S. teams at both world championships and Olympics), NSSC is one of a handful of speed skating clubs that US Speedskating Regional Development Coordinator Dave Tamburrino refers to as legacy clubs. 

These are clubs that are still around today after being in existence a very, very long time,” he said. “They have a rich history of athletes who have performed at the highest level, but yet have been able to cultivate talent on the grassroots level.

A northern Chicago suburb of 25,000 people, Northbrook is about 25 miles from downtown. Thanks to NSSC, in the 1970s the small town that covers 13 square miles was nicknamed “The Speedskating Capital of the World” after two skaters who trained with NSSC —
Dianne Holum and Anne Henning —won Gold medals in the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.

Dozens of current and former members of NSSC gathered recently for a banquet dinner and reunion. According to current Club President,
Dr. Cynthia Chou, every decade of Northbrook skating from 1950s to present day was represented. What was evident throughout the evening was the camaraderie and shared experience of the skaters, whether they were 9 or 91. 

What struck me the most, however, was the connection that ALL the skaters in the room, young and old, felt to each other — truly an unspoken lifelong bond that holds them together in a manner that is completely unique to this sport,” Chou said via email. 

The 91-year-old is
Chuck Burke, who is listed as a coach emeritus on NSSC’s website. When he returned to Chicago after skating in the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo, Norway, his home club was disbanding. He joined the fledgling NSSC, representing them in the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and he has been a commanding and nurturing presence around Northbrook ever since. 

He’s also the embodiment of the evolution of the sport of speed skating. In Cortina, he skated the 5,000m outside on a frozen lake, and those Games were not televised. In his heyday, Burke and his contemporaries jumped over barrels and even through flaming hoops to show their skill and ability.

Chuck was particularly interested in highlighting the differences between ‘then’ and ‘now,’ not just outdoor ice vs indoor, but also in the technology of the equipment — skates, blades, woolen jacket and pants vs skinsuits, and using mattresses for crash pads,” Chou said. 

Yet for all that has changed, the fundamentals of the sport have not, and Burke has a full lifetime of experience and knowledge about speed skating to share. He coached younger skaters well into the 21st century and is still known to share his wisdom when he stops by the rink. 

It is no surprise, then, that with such dedication, commitment and caring modeled for them, many of Northbrook’s most successful skaters have returned to the club as coaches for the newest generation of Northern Illinois speed skating hopefuls. 

What’s been amazing to me is how our current slate of coaches is entirely made up of Northbrook alumni giving back: Chuck Burke, Tom Anderson, Brian Hansen, Carl Buehler, Shani Davis, Eric Lapporte, Lydia Pappas and Carl Tatelli,” said Chou. 

For Tamburrino, that dedication shows not only the impact that NSSC has had in the past, but why it has been able to keep going through the changing landscape of youth sports, with increased costs of ice time, specializing in sports at a young age and even more recently, the pandemic putting a strain on the sport.

It’s hard when people retire from the sport and they move on and some of that institutional knowledge is lost,” Tamburrino said. “Northbrook exists because there have been enough people through the years that have remained engaged and contributed both their time, their knowledge and resources to make sure that the club remains vibrant.” 

NSSC runs as a non-profit. While Olympians and medals are what gain notoriety, the club has been sustained for so long through the dedication of volunteers, donors and parents. The reputation of the club keeps speed skating front and center as an option for kids in and around Northbrook and their “Learn to Speed Skate” classes regularly introduce the thrill of the sport to a new crop of skaters. 

Northbrook Speed Skating Club is celebrating all that it has achieved over the course of the past 70 years, but Chou and the rest of the NSSC board are always looking ahead to make sure more big milestones get to be celebrated in the future.

The club has a tremendous legacy in the shared experiences of the skaters and their families — which is far more important than the athletic achievements,” she said. “Recognizing that speed skating is a community, we are constantly developing new outreach programs and innovating ways to work together with other athletic organizations to elevate our athletes, while continuously working to bring new skaters into the Club. Above all, we strive to hold the highest standard of excellence in coaching so that proper technical instruction is given in order to pave the way for skaters to reach their best potential.

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