BRADENTON -- It's only a round piece of metal at the end of a blue, red or white ribbon.
But for 200 competitors in the first inline speedskating meet in Bradenton in a decade Sunday, it was a treasure.
That first-, second- or third-place medal is a payoff for hours of practice, sore muscles and bruised knees, a realized dream of placing on the podium after waking up at ungodly hours to get to the meet, many said.
Bradenton's 16-member black-clad team, ages 4 to 74, held its own in the South Florida Speed League meet before a crowd of 500 on the wood roller skating floor at Bradenton's Astro Skate & Fun Center, 3611 Third St. W,
Local athletes competed against oval racers in colorful uniforms from Pensacola, Vero Beach, Ft. Pierce, Tallahassee and other cities across the state.
By closing ceremonies at 2 p.m., ath
letes from opposing teams who had skated within a blade of each other in closely fought heats were hugging and snapping pictures.
Chris Maganias, owner of Astro Skate & Fun Center, supplied free cotton candy to all racers and set up a bounce house outside where the youngsters could play between heats.
"I feel we did a great job with our meet," said Bradenton coach George Dabbiero.
Walsh sisters create a stir
Bradenton's Jasmine Walsh, one of the top 13-year-old speedskaters in Florida, strengthened her reputation Sunday winning the Freshman Ladies Novice Division.
Her 16-year-old sister, Natasha, a lifelong skater, had never competed in a meet.
"I guess it was because it was our home meet and everyone kept saying: 'Are you going to do it?' " Natasha said.
Natasha pulled off a shocking first place in the Sophomore Ladies Rookie Division.
Parents Rich and Jenny Walsh were beaming after the girls got their medals.
"Since the Olympics, most people know what speedskating is," Rich Walsh said. "I played soccer, football and baseball. But this is a new age and I think it's healthy because all kids can do this. I am just happy that they do a sport they love and have so much fun."
The meet introduced local race fans to Torrie Weber of Pensacola, the fastest 6-year-old in the state and the second-fastest in the United States.
Although Torrie is usually in the Tiny Tot Division, she moved up to Primary Girls and had no trouble defeating 7-year-old rivals Sunday.
Bradenton's two state-ranked 7-year-olds, Amanda Dymond and Sophia Whightsel, couldn't quite catch Torrie the Tot.
"That is a fast girl," said Amanda, who claimed second place while Sophia finished third.
"Torrie runs nine miles a week with me," said Torrie's father, David Weber, who coaches the Emerald Coast speedskating team in Pensacola. "Some kids get it and some don't and Torrie is just a natural."
Ethan Cutchineal, 10, was a star Sunday for Bradenton, collecting gold medals in the Elementary Boys Division. Pete Cutchineal, a Bradenton roofer taking video of his son, said speedskating has brought them closer.
"He loves it and he's really good," said Pete Cutchineal, who is from Bucks County, Pa.
While Cutchineal is putting up roofs, his wife, Sue, the "Speedskating Mama," is taking Ethan to practice with snacks for all team members.
"They are like her kids," Dabbiero said.
Bradenton's Robyn Wilson, grandmother to two Bradenton speedskater brothers, Jonathon Kinkle, 6, and Caleb Kinkle, 5, says speedskating has been a blessing for her grandsons.
"It's given the boys discipline," said Wilson, who makes sure Jonathon and Caleb's dad, Jared Kinkle, who lives in Michigan, knows of his boys' accomplishments.
"Each boy is improving according to his own ability," Wilson said. "They are on a team but it isn't exactly a team sport. Jared was also a skater and Jonathon skates just like his dad."
LWR's tiny tot titan
Of the 16 competitors for Bradenton at the meet, no one was more excited to medal than Greenbrook/Lakewood Ranch athlete Arryn Mason , age 4. She took second place in the Tiny Tot Rookie Division.
"She was watching Olympic speedskating on the TV and said, 'I want to do that,'" said Arryn's father, Mike Mason, himself a speedskater on the Bradenton team. "When she got the medal in her first meet today, she just lit up and said, 'I got a medal! I got a medal!'"
The Bradenton Astro Skate team Sunday included: Ronnie Tarr, 74; Willi Epp, 62; Mike Mason, 36; Chris Johnson, 28; Natasha Walsh, 15; Natalie Charlton, 14; Jasmine Walsh, 13; Nautica Walters, 11; Ethan Cutchineal, 10; Faith Walters, 8; Amanda Dymond, Rolando Gonzales and Sophia Whightsel, 7; Jonathon Kinkle, 6; Caleb Kinkle, 5; and Arryn Mason, 4.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.