PORT RICHEY — Devon Magoulis is all heart.
"Debo" as he is known by nearly everyone in his life, started inline speed skating just a year ago, but has already risen to an elite level of competition in the freshman boys division for ages 12-14. On Saturday, the 12-year-old Marlowe Elementary School student qualified for this year's USA Roller Sports Speed Skating National Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.
"I can't wait for nationals because just going on the trip itself is exciting," Magoulis said. "Last year I got to go to Nebraska and it was great 'cause we stopped and saw the St. Louis arch, and I had never seen corn fields before, so it was a lot of fun. The competition is intense and that just adds to the excitement."
Over the years, Magoulis has been successful at a number of sports, but skating is in his blood. His father, Nick, is a former national champion himself, and the love of speed has transferred to his son. Nick still skates and can be seen rink side for every one of Debo's heats. His desire to coach is eased by the fact that his son is somewhat of a natural and is being coached by Joe Hansen, a fellow skater and lifelong friend of the Magoulis family.
"Skating is in our family," Nick Magoulis said. "It's one of the few sports you can actually go do with your kid. You can't really play football with your kid, you can't fight your kid in karate class, but you can go out and skate right alongside them. I've watched him just take to it over the last year and it's great to have Joe as his coach because his mom was my coach growing up. It's really like a big family around here."
Magoulis and Hansen group up at Spinnations in Port Richey, and like many of the skating teams that have formed around the country, Hansen's Team Florida has a tight-knit feel that gives the impression they are more than just a team.
Hansen has worked tirelessly with the New Port Richey youth on his stride and form, but said the youngster's biggest advantage is one quality that can't be taught: heart. Being one of the smallest competitors in a division could hold some skaters back, but not Debo. He finds ways to keep up with competitors far ahead of him in terms of body development.
"He's an awesome kid," Hansen said. "In terms of heart, he's the biggest kid out there. He's lining up against kids that look like giants next to him because he's competing against kids who are at that age where they start develop pretty quickly. The difference in size between a 12-year-old and 14-year-old is big, but little Debo gets up on the line and doesn't back down."
In his first trip to the national championships last year, Magoulis didn't make it to the final heats in the Novice division, but now as he prepares for the Elite competition by practicing four days a week at Spinnations, the excitement is building for the young skater.
"I'm just looking forward to making it to the finals this year," Magoulis said. "Ever since I tried it, I've really liked skating. I work at the rink as a floor guard and I just want to keep getting better. I skate outdoors or indoors, it doesn't matter. The other guys have bigger legs and are stronger, so they have an advantage, which means I have to work harder."