Nearly three years ago, the Akana family spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon at Skate Plaza in Coeur d’Alene, rolling around the rink for a family outing.
Afterward, a team of inline speed skaters took the floor. They whirred along on bagel-sized wheels, whipping by the spectators.
One of Stacy and Roni Akana’s 11 children was intrigued: “Dad, what’s that?” asked Xion, now 16. It was a moment that changed the lives of the entire Post Falls family.
Three years later, six of the children inline speed skate competitively. Five have made it to national contests. Throughout the year, the family’s “Team X” crisscrosses the country in search of the next competition.
And they have their sights set on the Olympics.
“It totally consumed us,” said Stacy Akana.
At the beginning, the family bought used gear and skated for a mere three months before entering a race. Parents of other inline skaters advised the family that the kids wouldn’t be competitive for at least three years, Stacy Akana said.
But at the first race, the kids proved them wrong. All four who participated placed at the event.
The Akana kids had never been involved in organized sports before, the family said. Yet during their startup season, four of the children made it to the national competition. The year after, five placed at nationals.
Hard work and determination have speeded their success, Stacy Akana said.
“Skating is their world,” said Akana, who owns Boat Werkes, a custom watercraft business in Post Falls.
Now the racers, ranging from 4 to 16, are beginning their third season, which runs from January through July. Last year, the family formed Team X, which now has roughly 20 members, the Akanas said.
Inline speed skating packs an adrenaline punch, combining strategy, quickness and stamina, the Akanas said. Athletes can race indoors or outdoors in noncontact events.
Outdoor racing takes place on a track or road. Indoor skating uses a 100-meter oval track for individual and relay events in various distances. The pint-sized kids make one to three laps per race. The teenagers’ races range from three to 10 laps, the Akanas said.
The Akana clan specializes in distance and in sprinting. The older girls, Xion and Zephaneah, who are 16 and 14, respectively, can cruise a 100-meter lap in 9 seconds, they said. In longer distances, they cover 30 miles in an hour, coasting at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour going downhill, they said.
But it’s not just about speed. Jockeying for position and judging when to pass are vital to success, Stacy Akana said.
“It’s a lot of technique,” he said.
The sport is a family affair for the Akanas, whose 11 children range from 7 months to 20 years old. They all skate, except for the baby. But Stacy Akana already is scheming a way to build skates when his infant begins walking.
“We found the younger we start them, the better chance they have,” Stacy Akana said.
Seven months ago, Stacy Akana began skating, beefing up his skills to better coach his children. When the kids needed more gear a year ago, he added another business to his pallet: Skate Werkes, which now boasts the largest inline skating inventory in the region, said Stacy Akana, who also designs gear for his children.
The kids practice several times a week, renting out Skate Plaza in Coeur d’Alene, as well as other facilities in the area. Each weekend, they pile into the family’s van in the wee hours of Sunday morning and drive to Seattle for a practice with two other teams.
“It takes a lot to keep them organized and ready for races,” Stacy Akana said.
Roni Akana home-schools the children, giving them freedom to practice and flexibility to travel to races.
“It’s something the whole family can do together,” Roni Akana said. “We’re very proud of them.”
When asked about what motivates them to work so hard, the kids shrugged shyly.
“The awards,” said Zephaneah, with a grin.
“Speed,” chimed in Xion.
Soon, the kids plan to swap inline skates for ice skates – giving them a chance to compete at future Olympic Games. Inline speed skating hasn’t qualified as an Olympic sport.
Stacy Akana’s family, originally from Hawaii, has a legacy of Olympic swimmers, he said. The kids also inherited Stacy Akana’s love of speed; he formerly raced cars and motorcycles. Roni Akana, who is from Spokane, competed locally as a gymnast.
The sport hasn’t been without hard work – and pain. Xion got off course once during practice, knocking into an exit door and breaking her arm. The doctor advised staying off skates for six weeks; Xion was back after two.
When racing, they wear helmets and one-piece spandex suits, to cut down on air resistance. Xion has broken several helmets in crashes, the Akanas said. And 6-year-old Neahmiah has shattered his.
“Every sport has its dangers. They come home and show me their battle scars,” Roni Akana said.
But she’s pleased with their success – and the joy the sport gives the family, Roni Akana said.
“When they’re smiling when they win, it’s so good to see.”
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