Detroit Mercy sophomore Jayanthesh Kalmat – he goes by Gene – is a very busy young man.
In addition to a full load of classes as he works toward his Financial Economics degree, the commuter student works at a gas station near his Livonia home. In between, he finds six hours a day to train and prepare to compete at the World Roller Figure Skating Championships in Asuncion, Paraguay later this month.
He qualified in two categories based on his performance in August at the National Figure Skating Championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He earned a bronze in figures – which test a skater’s technical prowess – and a silver in freestyle.
“Figures is pretty boring to watch,” he said. “You just have to do patterns, but freestyle is done with music and costumes and jumps.”
Kalmat understands that most people have never heard of roller figure skating and that he is an ambassador for the sport, which is not as popular in the United States as it is around the world.
“Between what we do in roller and what ice does, the jumps are the same,” Kalmat said. “What makes roller more difficult, I think, is that there are only two edges to a blade, but four on rollerskates – inside back, inside forward, outside back and outside forward. There are some spins we do that you can’t do on the ice.”
His big jump is a triple toe loop and his two hours a day in the gym are focused on making that and his other jumps more explosive. He also does a lot of stretching, because flexibility is important.
The world championship in Paraguay is not Kalmat’s first time on the world stage. He competed in the junior category at world’s in Barcelona in 2019 where “I choked,” he said. “It was my first international competition and I let my nerves get the better of me. I got 15th place out of 17.”
But he chalked that up as a learning experience and this year he feels he has the nerves under control.
“This year, I’ll be competing against a Spanish skater who is arguably the greatest skater of all time,” he said. “I’m a competitive person, but I’m not results based. I want to do my best.”
Kalmat found the sport accidentally. Born with craniosynostosis, a malformation of the skull, he had surgery early in his life to correct the condition. Because of that, the doctor told Kalmat he would never be able to play contact sports.
His mother, looking to give him an exercise outlet, started taking then 7-year-old Kalmat to Riverside Arena in Livonia where he learned to rollerskate and bonded with his mother.
“I couldn’t tell you what I liked about it so much,” Kalmat, 19, remembers. “It may have been the lights, the music, but the environment was fun and I loved it.”
But he couldn’t skate backward and he wanted to, bad.
So Kalmat’s parents found him a coach to teach him that skill he thought was so cool. That first coach introduced him to roller figure skating, but he said he wasn’t that interested. Just two years later, though, he began competing because “I thought ‘that’s so cool.’”
By the time he entered high school, he was training seriously and his friends understood skating was his priority.
Kalmat will miss two weeks of classes as he competes in Paraguay Sept. 27-Oct. 9, but COVID-19 restrictions limit his activities and traveling, so while there he will just “train, eat and do homework.” He’ll be there with his parents, he said, who have been supportive all the way along.
Kalmat understands he’s at a disadvantage because the sport is so little known in the United States. Europe has a more organized and better funded skating federation that pays for trainers, coaches and choreographers.
“I have to work, too,” he said, in addition to his classes and training. “They don’t.” His job at a Speedway basically covers the gas money to get to school and practice.
But that’s not a complaint; Kalmat says he loves what he does.
And he knows that if the sport is to grow in popularity – its heyday was in the 1980s and ’90s – that it is up to him to introduce it to the next generation, which he does at roller skating rinks throughout metro Detroit.
“I’d like to be world champion one day, sure, but I rollerskate simply because I think it’s fun,” he said. “If was all about how I do in competition, it would not be fun and feel like a chore. I don’t want that.”
Gene Kalmat has set up a GoFundMe page to help offset the expected $6,000 cost of competing in Paraguay. You can also watch his silver-medal winning performance from Iowa by visiting the site.