Petaluman Michael Zitkovich went to his first National Inline Speed Skating championships in 1989; 28 years later, he won his first medal.
Overall, Zitkovich has been to the Nationals seven times, but until a year ago he had pretty much given up competitive skating. As he neared his 60th birthday, speed skating enthusiast Melody Schall, a coach at Cal Skate in Rohnert Park, noticed the Petaluman’s drive and willingness to skate against younger skaters. She encouraged him to return to competition.
Zitkovich’s hyper-competivenenss made convincing easy. The results were more than satisfying, they were exceptional. The 61-year-old zipped through regional competition and then had his best Nationals showing ever.
He finished fourth overall in the Grand Esquire Men’s Division for men 60 and older, and, fulfilling a goal sought for more than 20 years, he won a medal, taking third in the 1,000-meter final. He was also sixth in the 500-meter finals.
Zitkovich says much of his success is due to the work and encouragement of Schall. “She talked me into coming back and worked with me all the way,” he explains.
Schall says Zitkovich won his medal the old fashioned way — he worked for it.
“He is a good athlete, but he also has a good work ethic,” she says. “When he puts his mind to it, he pretty much does it. He is in really good condition for a 60-year-old man.”
“It really is a lot of work,” the skater acknowledges. “At Nationals, the skaters, even those in my age group, are really fast. You have to be prepared.”
In the Nationals, skaters are broken into age groups, but in regular competitions leading up to the championships, Zitkovich skates against all age groups, and, as he explains, “I beat most of the teenagers.”
Both Zitkovich and Schall are hoping the skater’s success will help spark renewed interest in the sport.
“The sport is not very well known,” says Schall, “but almost all the speed skaters in the last Olympics started skating on wheels.”
“It is a great sport,” says Zitkovich. “The problem is that when people try it, they find out how hard it is and they don’t stay with it.”
In addition to being one of the best inline skaters in the nation, Zitkovich is one of the most avid collectors in the area. Not only has he collected a bundle of trophies, medals and ribbons during his skating career, he has a huge collection of sports memorabilia, including a one-of-a-kind autographed Gayle Sayers poster, an English 5-pound bill autographed by Jack Nicklaus and a poster advertising an All-Star basketball exhibition autographed by Wilt Chamberlain.
His latest passion is Star Wars memorabilia. He has action figures, storm trooper helmets, light sabers, models and autographs of many of the main actors.
“I’m a collector,” he says simply.
Right, and he’s also just a inline speed skater.