Skater earns spot on Team USA through video contest
By Diana Bean '81
Why would a 31-year-old medical student want to skate down a 430-meter-long track, tackling step-ups, rollers, wallrides and tabletops at speeds approaching 40 mph?
"I want to show the world that there are no limits other than what you set for yourself," says John Roufaiel '05, who trained to compete against 127 other downhill ice-cross racers for 64 slots in the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition in St. Paul, Minn., in late February.
Turns out that his skates were the limiting factor; he broke one blade during his second practice run and was forced to skate in someone else's equipment.
Roufaiel, who earned a bachelor's in Middle Eastern studies and Arabic plus two minors in chemistry and biology at Binghamton, was a wild-card pick for Team USA by way of a video contest. He was one of six skaters selected from among 80 video submissions, he says. In his video, the second-year medical student details his losses — floor hockey titles, med-school tests, a broken back and his friend and fellow alumnus, Cenzig Emre Ergun '05, who died in of leukemia in 2010. He was 26.
"We have a memorial in his honor and tree and plaque in front of it on campus at Binghamton near the entrance to the Nature Preserve," Roufaiel says.
Roufaiel learned in early February that he made the team. He flew from the Caribbean, where he attends med school, into St. Paul, Minn., for preliminary time trials the weekend of the event. Each heat starts with four skaters bursting out of a chute at the top of what looks like a bobsled run. They race down the course — a 40-meter vertical drop — negotiating curves and moguls and hills. The finalists moved on to compete on Saturday.
After his skate broke, he was able to borrow a pair, but skating at fast speeds over obstacles on unfamiliar skates caused him to fall too many times to stay in the competition; he was four seconds shy of making it to the next round.
The next day Roufaiel was invited to join a team that needed a third member. He got his skate fixed, but with a different-sized blade. He crashed hard.
Despite his bad luck, Roufaiel has a winning attitude. "I guess finishing as the 87th-ranked American is not bad for a 31-year-old Caribbean medical student who only skated on the ice for one month out of the whole year and with someone else's skates," he says.
As he was preparing to fly back to Antigua and back to school, Roufaiel sent a letter to Binghamton University. In it, he says, "I know medical school is no easy task, especially with the board exams coming up soon. I want to continue studying, working on producing my anatomy and physiology apps for the app stores and training for Crashed Ice. I know these seem like hard goals to do together, but I believe in myself. Some people tell me I'm crazy, others say I'm unrealistic and others don't know what to say.
"I don't fear the long hours or pain it may take. I don't worry about being judged while I grind or having to stand alone at times in the dark, not knowing when and where the light will shine. I understand there will be sacrifices that must be made. I know who I am and I believe in what I can do, and so should everyone else."
Roufaiel says people can still contribute to his efforts to keep training and competing. "Any extra money raised will be donated to starting Emre's Mission, to help battle cancer, and to children with disabilities at the Amazing Grace Foundation in Antigua, where I go to medical school. Your company will be thanked as a supporter as well," he adds.
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