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Q&A with Joey Mantia

Joey Mantia
2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Q&A with Joey Mantia

The 2014 Olympic speed skater on training, sacrifices and why speed skating is the hardest sport on the planet. 

How influential were your parents in your athletic career and in what ways?

They were instrumental in helping me achieve my goals. My parents basically went broke supporting my dreams and I can never do enough to repay them for it. Traveling all over the country to compete in a non-Olympic sport, having absolutely no idea that it could one day be a means of income for me and ultimately become my livelihood, leading me to become an ice skater and compete in the Olympics was an incredibly selfless act of love on their part. How many parents would follow their child blindly down that sort of path, pouring every dime into what they could only perceive to be their child's happiness? I don't think many, and that's why I'm extremely lucky.

My parents always made sure that education was my number one priority when I was growing up; they had a rule that if I ever got a C in school I couldn't skate any more, which motivated me to have a good head on my shoulders, and that's probably what I'm most grateful for.

Neither of my parents went to college, so naturally they strongly encouraged me to do so, however when I graduated high school I was inline skating all over the world, racing for a pro team and making a living doing it. I chose to put college off so I could focus 100% of my time and effort into being the best in the world at what I was doing. Although it went against what they wanted, both of my parents stood behind my decision and supported me, just as they do today with everything I do.

Having them in my corner makes it so much easier to commit to big goals, knowing that whether I succeed or fail, they will always be proud of me. 

Do you have another full-time job or business? How do you balance work and training?

I own a coffee shop called Coffee Lab. It is located inside the College of Pharmacy at the University of Utah. I opened it about a year ago with a friend of mine who is an incredible barista from Portland, not because I have a love for coffee, but because I have a strong ambition to be my own boss and jumped on an opportunity when it presented itself.

I recognized my business partner's passion for making coffee by the way he talked about it, his love for it reminded me of how I am with speed skating. We are just a small shop, so for me it isn't a viable means of income yet, but more a great project to learn the business and have something to focus on after the Olympics. We have plans to open a new location, and my partner has even created a new filterless brew method that we are working on patenting.

When I first moved to Salt Lake City to become an ice skater and start down the path to seal my skating legacy with Olympic gold, I was living off of the money I saved from being an inline skater. I wanted to focus 100% of my time and effort into being as good as I could be, because I knew if the results started coming, then financial support from the USOC would also come, so I chose not to get a job. The first few years were a little tough, as it wasn't exactly a smooth transition for me. After a while, things started to come around and with some decent results I was able to qualify for performance funding. Now, I'm fortunate to be able to support myself with that funding.

Do you have any pets?

No, but I follow an embarrassing amount of dog accounts on Instagram. If I didn't travel so much I would definitely have a German Shepherd pup.

In your hometown, what are your favorite spots to relax, eat out, etc.?

Ocala [Florida] isn't a place I ever go back to, and to be honest I don't know if I could even name 3 must-see things. When I lived there, my life was pretty much eat, sleep, train, repeat. I hear it's growing and getting better, but the lack of stuff to do there when I was a kid is probably part of the reason I was able to be successful... no big distractions. Maybe a blessing in disguise.

What time do you wake up? How much, and when, do you sleep each day during training?

It varies. Sometimes 6 if I'm trying to get a bike ride in before practice. If not, usually wake up at 7 to eat and get to the rink by 8, on the ice at 9.

I don't usually nap unless training was outrageous that day, but when I do they're typically over 90 minutes. As far as total sleep goes, I perform really well when I get over 9 hours each night. Going to bed early is definitely one of my biggest challenges.

How much time do you spend training each day?

At least five hours.

What’s your typical training day/schedule?

Wake up with enough time to get some food in me and digested before I get on the ice. I get to the rink about an hour before ice starts to do a good warm-up with a little bit of spinning, jogging, and some dynamic mobility exercises.

Once on the ice, the workout will vary depending on where we are in the training cycle. The average duration on the ice is about 90 minutes. After ice is over I like to spend about 10 minutes on the bike and then about 30 minutes stretching, which is something I never did as a kid, but the older I get, the more it becomes a staple in my routine.

I then try to get some food in me to aid with recovery, usually protein with some high glycemic carbs. After that I try to go eat lunch, just to get a little more nutrition in me on top of the recovery food.

The afternoons usually consist of some sort of plyometrics or a bike ride. The same cool down and diet trend follows. Then I eat dinner, relax a bit, and head to bed. That's my life 5 days a week. 1 day a week is an easier day, which is usually just a long bike ride. The other day is off.

How do you work to achieve your daily goals?

Steven Prefontaine once said, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." That quote really resonates with me. I wake up each morning thinking about how fortunate I am to have been given such an incredible opportunity to do what I love to do and I how I owe to those who aren't as fortunate to take advantage of it.

What is your favorite workout or fitness trend?

I've always believed that the harder I work, the better I'll get. That being said, I really like the ideology behind HIIT. It's always been something that has worked for me and because of it, I never shy away from putting my body through some heavy punishment at practice.

What’s the most grueling work out you’ve ever done?

I once rode my bike up every major canyon in the Salt Lake City valley in one ride solo. It was a total of 8 hours and 53 minutes riding time, 16,060 vertical feet of climbing, and 147.3 miles. I did it without a support vehicle, and stopped just 2 times to eat. I burned 8166 calories in a single workout. Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood, Mill Creek, Emigration + Big Mountain, and City Creek Canyons.

I guess the best way to describe it would be a little like Forrest Gump when he started running, I got to the top of the first canyon and said, "I think I'll keep riding"... when I got the top of the last one I said, "I think I'll go home now."

What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?

Most of us are competing in sports that are extremely top heavy in terms of support. If you're the best in the world consistently, there's nothing to worry about in that regard, however most Olympians are working their way up through the ranks and have very little, if any, support while doing so. Most rely on family and/or balancing training with a part-time job.

It's sort of like loving your job so much that you do it for 4 years making just enough to pay your rent and food because you know you have what it takes to be the best in the world at what you do. The tricky part is, you CAN earn that support but you have to perform one time, on one particular day, and you have to be the best in the entire world at your job when you do. Don't be sick, because there are no make-up days for this performance. It's overwhelming sometimes, but I guess that's the vicious nature of sport.

Speed Skating

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Is there anything you do for training that’s out of the ordinary or experimental?

I rode my bike more than any speed skater on the planet last year I think, but that was more because I just love to ride than for actual training.

Have you ever been seriously injured? What did it take for you to come back from that injury?

Luckily for me, I don't have any crazy injury comeback stories.

What does a typical day of eating look like during training?

I go through spurts where I'm extreme with my diet, and then other times I'm very general with it, focusing just on eating enough to sustain a good level of training. Typically, if I'm trying to lose weight I will count calories, weighing every single thing that goes in my body, keeping track of it with My Fitness Pal.

I do this because trying to lost weight when you're under a strenuous training load can be really dangerous if you're in too much of a calorie deficit, so I keep a very close eye on the diet to make sure I'm not losing too much weight too quickly which could put me into a hole that would be hard to dig myself out of.

A normal day would be a breakfast consisting of something easy to digest, mostly a low glycemic carb with some sort of protein. For example, apple sauce with some egg whites. Immediately after training I would take in about 20 grams of protein and as many grams of high glycemic carbs, such as raisins, that I could handle to start replenishing the glycogen I depleted from the workout. Lunch would be pasta with salmon usually. After my second workout, I would follow the same routine as the first workout. Then dinner would be nutrient dense foods with no concern for ease of digestion.

If you are to indulge, what's your go-to snack or meal?

Pizza, sushi, a caveman burger from R&R BBQ, cookie, or cheesecake.

What is your earliest memory of doing or seeing skating?

When I was a kid, I really liked skating. I spent a lot of time at public skating sessions, whipping around, usually getting kicked off the floor for going too fast. I remember one day after the public session was finished I was walking my rental skates back to the skate counter to trade them in for my shoes when I noticed on the skate floor about 20 people skating around on what I probably would have described as really high tech looking roller blades. They were cruising around a track marked by 4 cones; I was in awe.

Until that moment, I had always had a thing for going fast on skates, but I never knew it was an actual sport. Needless to say, I had to give it a try. After my first practice with the team I was hooked. Going fast on skates and leaning into a turn is a feeling that I don't think many people ever have or will experience in their life, but it's one of the coolest things I've ever felt. That coupled with the adrenaline rush from racing is what propelled me to dedicate my life to becoming the best speed skater in the world.

What's your  earliest or favorite memory of watching the Olympics?

My earliest memory of the Olympics was watching Michael Johnson make history in Atlanta with his golden shoes. He was a machine and I remember being so inspired by what he did, even at a young age. I imagined that I could one day be the best in the world at my sport, but I never imagined it happening at the Olympics because my sport wasn't part of the Games.

Was there a specific “breakthough” moment/competition when you finally realized you could compete in your sport at a high enough level to reach the Olympics?

The first few years after I made the switch to long track were a little rough going. I just couldn't seem to break all the habits I created on inline skates and retrain my body and coordination to do new movements. I would have decent practices here and there, but I could never put it into racing.

In 2013, the final World Cup before the Olympics was in Berlin. My coach and I decided we would just train through the event and not really read into the results too much, as we were preparing for Olympic Trials coming up in a month. I don't know if it was the relieved stress of not caring or what, but I felt better in those races than I ever had before on the ice. I won the 1500m and it was at that exact moment that I said to myself, "Ok, we know we can do this, now let's do it." From that point I've still had ups and downs, but I always know in the back of my mind I'm capable of beating anyone I'm up against if I prepare correctly and my mind is in the right place.

What's something cool, weird intense about your sport that people don't normally see? What’s the hardest part of your sport?

I can only give my opinion about this because I haven't tried every other sport, but I think long track speed skating is the hardest sport on the planet. You need to have near flawless technique over the course of the entire race, even when your legs produce so much lactic acid you can barely see straight.

The race is a time trial, so you're all by yourself, having to judge exactly how much effort to give from the start to the finish, you cannot have a single ounce of doubt or you will crumble. Each distance has its own technique that you have to use, so if you skate more than one distance you have to be able to change the way you skate a little bit, because one style of skating will not work across the board.

The technique alone is enough to drive someone insane. For every fraction of a second that the timing of your stroke is off, your efficiency diminishes exponentially. It doesn't matter how good of shape you're in, if you skate poorly, you will struggle. If your nervous system is a little too tired, it can sometimes feel like you've never put on skates before. It really has the hardest aspects of the toughest sports all wrapped into one, which makes me often question why I made the switch haha.

Are there any misconceptions about your sport that you would like to clear up?

I would say there is a misconception about inline speed skating. We're not that guy weaving back and forth across the boardwalk on his rollerblades in SoCal with a leopard print thong and a Kenny G hair cut listening to George Michael on his gigantic headphones. Inline speed skating is a legitimate sport that really deserves more recognition than it gets and I think it's sort of cursed by the stigma of "roller blading."

Who is your coach? How long have you been working together and what’s your relationship like?

Matt Kooreman. 3 years. Great relationship.

Who do you socialize with most within your sport or any sport?

There are a lot of inliners that have come over, and I like to hang with them mostly because we've all known each other for a long time.

Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist? If so, how did it help you?

Yea. I can be a bit of a head case from time to time. Working with the psych definitely helps me keep my head on straight.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

When I was really struggling to figure out ice skating Joey Cheek told me to just let it happen. He told me that the harder I try to figure it out, the deeper I'm going to dig myself into a hole. Just relax and trust in my ability. It's really easy to overthink such a technical activity, so that advice was golden for me.

What's a big obstacle that you've overcome in your life?

I used to get bullied pretty badly in middle school. I remember some kids calling me names because I was a speed skater who wore spandex. I really struggled with that, feeling like an outcast and uncool... I just wanted to fit in and be part of the crew. I almost quit the sport numerous times because of it. I'm glad that my parents and coach were able to keep me in it, because it has given me pretty much every thing I have today.

What is your biggest fear when competing?

That I'm going to let myself down. Nobody sets higher expectations for me than I do for myself, so I get really disappointed and down on myself from time to time when I don't perform to the best of my ability.

Who is your Olympic role model?

I think Eric Heiden is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Despite being possibly the greatest Olympian in history and having accomplished so much with his life even after sport, he is a very humble and down to earth person. It reminds me that there's so much more to this than winning races, that the real inspiration comes from the kind of human you are.

Within your sport, who has been your greatest influence and why?

My teammate Brittany Bowe. Other than being just an incredible athlete, she's mentally stronger than anyone I've ever met in my life. She's missed an entire season more or less because of a concussion she got in summer training. It has caused her to have dizzy spells and often times pass out, which is incredibly scary. They have been working on a rehab plan for her, but no one is really sure what exactly is causing all of the issues. Despite all of that, I've never once heard her be negative about the situation. It's absolutely incredible and sets a precedent I think every athlete on the planet should aspire to.

What athlete in any sport has been your greatest source of inspiration?

I think I would have to say Steve Prefontaine. I first heard about him when I was running cross country in high school. I remember watching the movie “Without Limits” and being inspired by his mental toughness. He went into every race believing that nobody could touch him. It was a powerful gift he had.

What advice would you give to a young child just starting out in speed skating?

I would say embrace the suck. There are going to be so many days where you want to take your skates off and throw them in the garbage can—don't. Enjoy the ride, because one day it will be over and you'll look back and whether you achieved your goals or not, you'll appreciate how strong of a person you've become on your journey.

Who is your biggest rival? Is it friendly or contentious?

I think my biggest rival is myself. I have no doubt in my mind that my physical capability is enough to land me on the top of the podium if my mind is in the right place.

What was the best part of living in the Athletes’ Village during the Games?

Apart from the free McDonald's, which is an answer I'm assuming you're going to read a lot, the feeling of greatness. You're in a village with some of the most talented people on the face of the earth and to be a part of that community is really an honorable feeling.

Who was the most influential in helping you achieve your dreams?

I would say it's a close call between my parents, my inline coach growing up, and my inline team when I was a kid. My parents for always supporting me in my journey despite it costing them nearly every penny they earned working. My coach because she was incredibly passionate about teaching skating and most importantly she was very, very good at it. She had her eye on myself and Brittany Bowe winning Olympic gold medals long before we ever did. And finally, my team. Without having an incredible training group around me when I was up and coming, I don't know that I would have been as successful as I have been. It's nearly impossible to do it alone.

Did anyone ever tell you that you wouldn’t be able to succeed in your sport? How were you able to overcome that?

Not with inline skating. With ice, I definitely had some people tell me in the early years that I wouldn't be as good on ice as I was on inline. I just kept in mind that I'm the one putting everything on the line to pursue my dreams and the only opinion that matters is the one I have of myself.

If you have already won an Olympic medal, where do you keep it?

I have 12 junior and 28 senior world titles in inline skating, 1 world title in ice skating. All my medals are in a box in my closet.

What is your favorite perk of being an elite Olympic athlete?

Having earned the right to wear the rings. It's a symbol that everyone on the planet recognizes. It's prestigious. People respect how much hard work and dedication it takes to be an Olympian.

Do you have a nickname? Who calls you by it?

When I was younger and skating inline they used to call me Supermantia. I think a guy who worked for the company I was sponsored by at the time came up with it. Fans mostly.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I can wiggle my ears. I taught myself to play piano. I can kind of juggle.

What charities do you support? How did you become involved?

World Bicycle Relief. With my love of riding, I really like that they provide transportation to lesser developed villages who otherwise would have no way to reach food/water and education other than by walking. I found out about them through a friend who works for the bicycle company SRAM. The owner of SRAM actually started the organization.

If you were not an athlete, what would you be doing?

I'd like to think I'd be really rich haha. I've always been ambitious and I think that would have been a very useful trait over the past 10 years as an entrepreneur.

When you have time off, what would constitute a perfect day for you?

Sleep in. After I get up and moving, go to either Park Cafe or Roots, two of my favorite breakfast spots. Then head to the park and enjoy the weather, maybe pet some dogs. After that I'd round up the troops for some sports. Then we'd all get lunch at R&R BBQ. After that I'd head home and hop on the motorcycle for a cruise through the canyons going way too fast. Then I'd chill on the couch for a bit, thinking about where to eat for dinner. Probably some sushi. Then video games for a couple of hours and call it a night.

How do you unwind after a competition?

Learning new stuff on the piano takes my mind off of skating and helps me relax.

Do you have any fears?

Heights yes, spiders if it’s bigger than a quarter it will stop me dead in my tracks, but snakes no. I grew up with a pet snake. One time we lost him in the house for 3 months. He finally came out when he was hungry. We had to get rid of him when he got too big, about 10 feet long.

Do you like to travel?  What has been the most special place you have traveled to and why?

I like to visit different places, but getting there sucks. I like Italy for the food. Austria is the most beautiful place I've been in my life. Colombia has the best nightlife of any place I've visited.

What's something quirky about yourself that people would be amused to learn?

I talk to myself, probably a lot more than I should. Shower. Car. Anytime I'm alone and no one else is around I'll randomly have a short convo with myself. Not weird at all.

What's your personal motto?

Every Day Is Leg Day!

What are some of your hobbies?

Photography is my favorite. I love the way people react when you show them a beautiful photo, particularly of themselves. Trail running is something I really enjoy because it's outside and it’s also exercise. Piano is my favorite way to relax, plus people seem to really enjoy the sound of a piano. Riding the motorcycle is my favorite thing to do when I'm looking for a rush.

What is your music of choice while training?

I like to listen to anything that puts me in a good mood and I genre hop weekly. One day I could be listening to “Work It Out” by Netsky and the next it could be “Like A Wrecking Ball” by Eric Church, which is probably the Ocala in me calling out for some country. The week after it could be Billy Ocean (thanks Mom and Dad) and then on to Bush. I really just like music that reminds me of a good time in my life. If I'm in a good mood, I usually perform well.

Do you have any celebrity crushes?

Aubrey Plaza... I'm not sure what it is, but any time Parks and Rec would be on I'd stop just to see her.

Do you have an Olympic crush?

I don't know if I'd call it a crush, but I remember watching the Summer Games and seeing [U.S. diver] Kassidy Cook on TV, I think I literally said out loud, "whoa, who is that."

What are your favorite TV shows?

Lucky Number Sleven, Fight Club, The Prestige, Wedding Crashers, Step Brothers, Crazy Stupid Love

Are you a fan of K-Pop music?

I'm a fan of how ridiculous it is haha.

What are your personal care indulgences?

I definitely spend more on my hair cuts than any of my friends do.

Outside of training for your sport, what physical routine makes you feel your best?

Being outdoors, whether it's walking at the park or the mall. Just anything where I'm not sitting inside all day letting blood just pool in my legs.

What are five must-have items you always keep in your gym bag?

I don't have a gym bag but if I did, I would say: 1. My phone to take pictures of people who are taking pictures of themselves in the mirror at the gym... for snapchat. 2. One of those hand squeezy things that you use to make your grip stronger. I would walk into the middle of the gym fully suited in workout attire, including head and wrist sweat bands, whip that bad boy out, do about 20 reps where I'm groaning as if I'm squatting 500 lbs, put it back in my bag, and leave the gym. I can only think of 2 things. I don't actually lift weights so I don't usually find myself in a gym, ironically enough

Have you been to South Korea before? What are you most looking forward to about the Games being hosted in South Korea? Anything you want to see or do?

Yes many times, for both inline and ice skating. They are a country that really knows the sport of speed skating. The crowds at the world championships were awesome so I know it will be slammed packed and loud for racing at the Games.

Do you like kimchi or any other Korean foods?

Kimchi is okay, but Korean BBQ is what’s up.

Have you ever done karaoke? What’s your go-to karaoke song?

I'm the worst singer on the planet. One time my friends thought it would be funny to put my name in without me knowing. They called me up and of course I'm not going to back down so I went up and destroyed (in a bad way) “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. It was so much worse than they thought it could ever be. They never pulled that prank again.

What will success look like for you in PyeongChang? What are your goals?

Gold. The only thing I have left to add to my resume is being able to write the end of my skating legacy in gold ink.

Will you head home for the holidays prior to the Games? What do you most look forward to? If not, where will you celebrate and with whom?

I might go to Florida just to be at sea level after Olympic Trials. I'll still be in training mode, so I'll just be looking forward to some sunshine and warm weather.

What’s on your Christmas or holiday list this year?

I would ask Santa for some good Olympic karma. By then all the work has pretty much been done and it's just time to perform.

Speed Skating

Read more Q&A's with the U.S. speed skating team:

Heather Bergsma | Joey Mantia | Brittany Bowe | KC Boutiette | Mia Manganello | Mitch Whitmore | Sugar Todd | Emery Lehman | Brian Hansen

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