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Skaters ready with little wheels, big dreams

A regional competition gets under way at Spinnations in Port Richey.

By CARRIE RITCHIE
Published June 15, 2007


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As a blur of brightly colored velvet accented with sequins whizzed by Southern Region USA Roller Sports president Gloria Manning on Saturday night, she smiled contentedly.

"I see the world out there, and youth today doesn't seem to be motivated by anything but a computer, " she said. "When I look at this sport, kids have dedicated themselves to a higher level of achievement."

The first night of the Southern Regional Artistic and Speed Roller Skating Championships at Spinnations in Port Richey showed not only the dedication of youngsters but that of an older generation still passionate about the sport.

Skaters performed to everything from Frank Sinatra to Josh Groban, but all of the competitors were focused on their beloved craft. Some dreamed of a taste of regional victory, while others planned ahead for nationals in Omaha later this summer. And an elite few set their sights on worlds in Brisbane, Australia.

Ashley Hinton, an 18-year-old from Safety Harbor, qualified for nationals in International Junior World Class Solo Dance. She's defending national champion in figures, so she's automatically on to nationals in that division. She was satisfied with her performance Saturday night and is already preparing for worlds in hopes of making the U.S. team.

Hinton, who's been on skates since she was 9 months old, practices about 25 hours per week. She even gets up early to make it to a rink in Tampa by 3 a.m. on weekends.

"If there were an odometer on my skates, it'd say about 18-million miles, " she said.

She said she thought about quitting, especially since she'll be a freshman at the University of South Florida in the fall, but she hasn't quite reached her goal: winning worlds in the senior division.

Another local, Siobhan Boismier, is trying to get to worlds with her partner, Eric Hadley of Melbourne. The two skated their short program in the World Class Pairs division Saturday night and will automatically advance to nationals because they're the only world class pair in this regional.

The two placed fifth at nationals last year and hope to make the top three this year so they can join the world team.

The regional was the first competition of the year for the pair because Boismier fell during a lift in September and broke her knee. Boismier, a 27-year-old from Port Richey, also sprained her ankle during practice a week ago, but is still competing with it taped. Overall, they said they were happy with their performance, despite a fall they took together.

Boismier was particularly pleased because she was able to land her double jumps. Before, she could only land single jumps because of her knee.

"We have things where we want them to be, " she said. "It's the first competition of the year and we kind of got the nerves out."

Boismier also was the only competitor in the women's Junior Solo Dance, so she'll automatically move on to nationals in that category. However, it's not a worlds event, so nationals is as far as she'll go.

Though some events won't get competitors a ticket to Australia, they're still just as hard-fought.

Bill Johnson won the regional gold in the Premier Silver Men's Solo Dance, a new event. The 63-year-old Kissimmee resident has been skating since he was 20 and renewed his passion for the sport after retiring from the Navy in 1982.

He now skates team dance with his wife, Irene. The two met on figure circles at a rink and got engaged six months later. After 25 years of skating and marriage, the couple has won two gold medals, two silvers and five bronzes at nationals. And they have no intention of stopping.

"We plan to skate for a lot longer, " Bill Johnson said. "It's really fun. It's the only exercise we get."

Irene Johnson, 56, said skating tournaments have gradually created divisions for older enthusiasts over the years. The cutoff used to be 35 and up, but now there are categories for 55 and up. She said she's seen people in their 80s skating competitively.

"There are so many of us who want to keep skating, " she said.

It all boils down to that passion, which skaters say is ageless.

Jessica Gaudy and Joey Rodriguez, both 16, are defending national Junior World Class Team Dance champions. The pair from Melbourne placed third at worlds last year and performed an exhibition Saturday night. They're automatically on to nationals, but their passion keeps them hungry for another spot on the world team.

"It may be painful going through all the practice, " Rodriguez said. "But when you're up on the podium hearing people scream your name, there are no words to describe that feeling."

Carrie Ritchie can be reached at critchie@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 14, 2007, 22:04:27]


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