Paul Dyrud felt he had reached the end in 2010. After 16 winters on the long blades, life was calling him to pursuits other than speedskating: his new marriage, a baby on the way, a coaching job, preparing for medical school. “Honestly,’’ he said, “I would have been fine if I had never skated again.’’
Yet the Plymouth native was still gliding around in circles last week, practicing under the lights — and in the snow — at Roseville’s John Rose Oval. Dyrud’s wife, Abby, sensed that he had more to achieve after falling just short of making the U.S. team for the Vancouver Olympics. With her encouragement, Dyrud ended a two-year retirement and put off medical school to take one last shot at making the Olympic team, a father of two chasing his own childhood dream.
Dyrud, 28, resumed training in 2012 and competed in Europe last winter as part of the U.S. World Cup team. This weekend, he and other members of the Twin Cities-based Midway Speedskating Club will race in the American Cup meet at the Oval as they prepare for the Olympic trials later this month in Salt Lake City.
His quest has required considerable sacrifice. Dyrud gave up his job as coach of the Midway club to train full-time, and he has spent many weeks away from his family — including daughter Amelia, 3; son Paxton, 1; and Abby, a full-time mom — during training stints in Milwaukee and Salt Lake City. The bills have been paid through savings, a Midway grant and a small stipend from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
A maximum of 10 men will be named to the Olympic team. Dyrud’s best chance of qualifying is in the 5,000 meters, a fitting distance for a skater making a final push in a career that has lasted the long haul.
“Whether I make it or whether I don’t, I’ll never have to think about, ‘What if I hadn’t quit?’ ’’ Dyrud said. “I had a really good season in 2010, and Abby could tell that quitting when I was finally gaining some headway was bothering me a little bit. I became passionate about it again.’’
Abby Dyrud didn’t have to look hard to see it. “I knew the fire was still burning in him,’’ she said. “I felt like he needed to do this. And there was no reason not to try.’’
The Midway club, founded in 1945, has produced 18 Olympians in long- and short-track speedskating. Dyrud and three of his four sisters — Leah, Hannah and Rebekah — have contributed to its tally of 106 national championships.
When his parents, Peter and Judy, would not allow him to play hockey, Paul tried speedskating. He was not easily discouraged even then; he skated for five years before he won a race for the first time at age 13. Over the next five years, Dyrud developed into one of the top junior skaters in the U.S. and won multiple medals at the junior world championships.
He did not find as much success at the senior level until the 2009-10 season, when he finished in sixth place in the 1,500 at the Olympic trials — 1.12 seconds short of making the team — and placed fifth in both the 5,000 and 10,000. After just missing the cut for the world championships, Dyrud retired from competition and spent the next two years finishing his physiology degree at the U, coaching and enjoying life as a husband and dad.
Like his wife, his sister Rebekah did not think he was done with racing. As the Midway coach, Dyrud was helping to develop the club’s talented younger skaters — including Rebekah, 21 — and found himself thinking about competing again.
“You could see he still had a passion for it,’’ Rebekah said. “This has always been his dream. I was sad to see him leave [coaching], but I was happy he came back. He‘s definitely motivated, and he’s a very strong-willed, dedicated, determined person.’’
Dyrud returned to competition in October 2012. In his first season back, he finished fourth in both the 5,000 and 10,000 at the U.S. championships and competed in a pair of World Cup meets. As he prepares for the Olympic trials, he is training four to six hours per day, combining short-track and long-track skating with dryland training such as running and weightlifting.
He has received plenty of help along the way. His coach, Andrey Zhulkov, took over his coaching duties at Midway, and family friends have pitched in to help Abby when Paul is away. He spent most of the past three months training in Milwaukee or Salt Lake City, doing daily video chats with his kids, and they watch his races via computer.
“The kids know that Daddy’s skating is his work,’’ Abby said. “There are a lot of pressures on him, but he always gives 100 percent, no matter what the circumstances. If he makes the Olympic team, it would be a dream come true. But if he doesn’t, we’ll know he did everything possible — and it’s a great life lesson for our kids about putting your heart and soul into something.’’
Dyrud currently is ranked fourth among American men in the 5,000 with a season-best time of 6 minutes, 34.59 seconds, and his time of 1:47.97 ranks him fourth in the ultracompetitive 1,500.
Since he came out of retirement, he and his wife have joked that their daughter will start medical school before he does. Getting the chance for this final lap in his career, Dyrud said, made it worth the wait.
“Making the Olympic team is something I’ve been thinking about for the past 16 years,’’ he said. “For me, for my kids and for the kids I coach, it would be huge.’’