WOODWARD — To become a champion, you need talent, work ethic and a strong support system.
Luckily, Johanny Velasquez has all of these.
The Woodward resident and State College High School senior put the complete package together on Feb. 8, taking the Red Bull Crashed Ice Junior World Championship at Boston's Fenway Park.
Crashed Ice, a downhill ice skating race with shoulder-to-shoulder action, exhilarating jumps and winding turns, began in 2001.
"I like to say that my whole life I've been training for a sport I didn't even know existed," Velasquez said.
The son of two professional rollerbladers, Velasquez has had the soul of action sport in him since infancy. He was just three years old when he first began to rollerblade.
"My dad put me on skates as soon as he could," he said.
After moving to Woodward from California, he transitioned into ice hockey, eventually becoming a member of the State College squad.
While he was expanding his athletic endeavors, he began to learn more about the opportunities in Crashed Ice.
"It was always something I was super interested in," he said.
His first attempt was a sign of success to come, as he came home with a second-place finish in a 2018 competition, held in St. Paul, Minn.
“I don’t think anyone would have ever thought that he would go in his first competition and take second,” his mother, Pam Velasquez, said.
While Johanny’s physical being was rounding into top form, the "mental game" of the sport was still a work in progress. Not only were the world's best junior skaters inches away, he felt the intimidation factor from thousands of eyes upon him.
"I had never been exposed to a crowd of that caliber before," he said. "So going to the start gate my first time, I felt like I was going to get sick."
Facing so many opposing factors, he went back to his support system for advice.
"One thing my dad taught me was just focus on what you need to do and nothing else," he said.
After a few more tries, he began to find his mental groove.
"I started adjusting, and I felt you actually build off the crowd, and it was one of the best feelings that I can't explain," he said. "It's truly amazing."
Before the world championships in Boston, he had one more unexpected hurdle on his path — a run-in with the tight judging of Crashed Ice competition.
At a race in Finland, Velasquez and an opponent were jockeying for position before both fell down, with the rising star disqualified for a grab.
An easy excuse to become frustrated, he took in the ordeal with a positive mindset.
“Instead of being angry, he said it was a learning experience,” Pam said. “I thought that showed a lot of maturity and growth for him as an athlete.”
Coming into Fenway, Johanny was prepared physically, mentally and emotionally.
Flying out of the gate, he took inside position over his three opponents on the first curve. After grabbing the positioning he needed, he continued to gain ground on the field with each leap.
By the time he crossed the finish line, it was no contest. Johanny was a deserving victor.
"(I felt) excitement, happiness, it was super awesome," he said.
Family, friends and even opponents were quick to come and shower the new champion with hugs.
“It’s a really proud moment for a parent when you know a kid who’s as passionate as (he) is, to see all the training he put into it … words can’t explain it.” Pam said.
The prodigy has a wide open future awaiting him since his victory.
After his upcoming graduation from high school, he will either have the chance to suit up for another Crashed Ice, or go into Cirque De Soleil’s new ice show, where he was personally recruited.
Whatever the future holds, Johanny will keep the same mentality that made him a champion.
“Whatever the results are, you’re just gonna roll with it and smile.”