Four hours after gliding to a 12th-place finish in the 5,000 meters at the ice speed skating world championships in Baselga di Pine, Italy, in February 1995, KC Boutiette took a train and then a plane to Orlando, where he got in some training before a photo shoot for Rollerblade, the company that sponsors his other career, as an in-line skater. The morning after the shoot he got back on a plane to Germany to resume training with the U.S. speed skating team. "I woke up the next day, and I had no idea where I was," says Boutiette, 25. "That's happened a couple of times."
Such are the hazards of traveling so far so fast. Since shocking the ice skating world in January 1994 by winning the U.S. Olympic Trials after just six weeks of training in the sport, Boutiette has challenged Deion Sanders for his unofficial title as the premier two-sport athlete. Boutiette finished 1995 as the third-ranked in-line skater on the National Points Circuit; in January he won the U.S. speed skating championships at 1,500 and 10,000 meters; and last month he finished fifth at the World Allround Championships. "It's hard to make somebody understand how difficult it is to do what he's done," says Olympic speed skating gold medalist Dan Jansen.
Four years ago Boutiette's only connection with competitive sports was watching an occasional college football game on television. He was living with friends and working in construction in Federal Way, Wash., 15 miles north of his hometown, Tacoma. "My biggest thrill was coming home from work, drinking beer with my buddies, waking up the next day and maybe playing Ping-Pong," he says.
At 5'10" and 160 pounds, with an earring in each ear and his head shaved to resemble Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber, Boutiette looks as if he belongs at a rave rather than in a race. And though he's the U.S. men's best hope for a speed skating medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, as well as one of the world's elite in-line distance skaters, he seems almost unaffected by his success. "I've been wanting to get a job at a Subway or something," he says. "There's a lot of little things like that I want to do, but I just don't have time."
Not that Boutiette regrets the direction his life has taken since he quit his job shoveling gravel in 1992 to try his luck as a professional in-line skater. Boutiette had raced on roller skates as a kid, but he hadn't skated competitively in five years when he tried out a friend's new in-line skates in December 1991. Two months later Boutiette flew to Florida for the Orlando Classic, which drew a top national field of quad and in-line skaters, and won the 5,000-meter indoor race. That prompted him to change his life. "I was sick of being a half-assed worker," Boutiette says. "I decided I wanted to be either a good worker or a good skater. I was still young, so I tried skating."
Boutiette moved to Southern California, the in-line hub, and devoted himself to training. In 1993 he signed with Rollerblade, and by October he had won the International In-line Skating Association Championship and the '93 Rollerblade America Tour, which was then the most competitive.
That summer, as part of his in-line training, Boutiette worked out on ice skates and liked it. So when the in-line season ended, Dave Smessaert, Geo/Rollerblade's team manager, invited Boutiette to stay at his place in Milwaukee, where Boutiette could continue training at the Pettit National Ice Center.
Boutiette didn't own ice skates, so he bought blades and mounted them on a pair of his in-line boots. To his surprise, he soon was turning out lap times good enough to qualify him for the Olympic speed skating trials, which would be held in Milwaukee in late December. Boutiette borrowed a video of Norway's gold medal skater, Johann Olav Koss, to learn technique, and he began to visualize winning races.
"I got a call from KC one afternoon, and he was screaming into the phone," says Boutiette's mother, Mickey, who still lives in Tacoma. "He said, 'Mom, I just won the 5,000-and 10,000-meter trials, and the press is all over me! I can't believe this is happening!' I thought, My god, I guess he's serious about this." He went to the Olympics and, even though his qualifying times weren't among the top 32 in the world, he got to make his debut in the 1,500 meters when Jansen pulled out to focus on the 1,000. Boutiette finished 39th.
He's always seeking challenges. Last April he and a friend tried biking from Milwaukee to Seattle, videotaping much of their journey, which included sleeping in abandoned barns and hitching a ride during a snowstorm with three Deadheads and a dog in a Volvo. "Cross-countrying was great," says Boutiette, who plans to bike from Milwaukee to Atlanta this summer to attend the Olympics. "It was like, anything you want to do, you can do. The one thing was I always had a credit card to fall back on, so next time we won't take it."