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Teen ice skaters in rural mid-Missouri excel — even with only 1 rink


Many young figure skaters dream of going to the Olympics. The many hours of training they need can be hard to get if the only rink they can use is small and crowded. Kassidy Arena from member station KBIA in Missouri reports.


KASSIDY ARENA, BYLINE: The Washington Park Ice Arena in Jefferson City is small and, this day, busy with skaters and their coaches. That's where you can often find 16-year-old Mylee Hawkins.

MYLEE HAWKINS: I've been skating since I was 3 years old.

ARENA: And 15-year-old Jessi Johnson is there, too.

JESSI JOHNSON: I think I started skating, like, a little bit before kindergarten, but then got serious with it around, like, maybe first or second grade.

ARENA: Hawkins and Johnson are best friends, and what brings them together is their devotion to landing the perfect double axel.

JESSI: Someday, Mylee and I are going to be doing side-by-side double axels out there on the ice.

MYLEE: Let's make that triple Sals (ph). I hate double axels.

ARENA: Hawkins and Johnson are competitive figure skaters, and they have to make the best of the time they have at the ice rink. It's the only one in the region. Another one is about two hours away, near St. Louis.

JESSI: You definitely have to make your schedule fit the rink schedule.

ARENA: Johnson says because the rink is only available to advanced skaters about an hour a day, she and Hawkins make all sorts of adjustments to get there in time for practice. And if you miss out on that freestyle hour?

JESSI: You're either waking up at, like, 5 in the morning to come skate every day, which I don't think is very fun, or you're just going to the public sessions that are super crowded and hard to skate at.

ARENA: Hawkins has trained out of state with a national program that prepares skaters for the USA skating team. And the skaters there weren't familiar with her local facility.

MYLEE: They're like, oh, my gosh, are you from a new rink? And I was like, nope. We've been here 50 years. We just have never sent someone this far.

ARENA: Brent Echols coaches Hawkins and Johnson. He knows many highly competitive skaters come from urban areas where there is more access to ice time. Skating clubs at big rinks also provide testing opportunities.

BRENT ECHOLS: We're a small town, so it's hard for people to - for children and students to understand the depth of figure skating and how aggressive it has to be for you to move up the levels.

ARENA: Hawkins knows about those levels, so she joined a larger club in Kansas City to get better access to testing. She says it was still tough to persevere and compete against skaters who had better facilities all along.

MYLEE: And it's how you take the hits you have. If you can work through having a rough rink where your rink floods all the time and still be the same skater as someone who had the easiest path possible, it shows how much tougher you are.

ARENA: Even so, Hawkins says she's gotten a little burnt out from skating at such high levels. But Johnson says she still has her eye on the horizon for future national titles and will continue to train at the small rink in Missouri.

JESSI: Knowing that we probably do have more struggles that we have to come across with our rink than other people, it makes me feel more fulfilled with what I've accomplished.

ARENA: Johnson and Hawkins say while it's not easy to train in a region not built for competitive skating, they are each other's support. And with that, they laughingly go off to try that double axel one more time.


MYLEE: Are you OK?

JESSI: No, I'm not OK.

ARENA: For NPR News, I'm Kassidy Arena in Jefferson City, Mo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kassidy Arena