Look inside Skateland, the roller rink on Washburn Way, and you'll see a world of sticky spots from spilled kid snacks, the sound of canned techno music and the blurred color of wheeled bodies scampering faster than they were intended to.
But when skater Kate Huntsman goes onto the floor, a new grace stands out. Her balance, form and control make dance on roller skates look easy, and quite lovely.
"I like to skate because it's fun and something I'm good at. When you fall, no matter how much the pain hurts, you want to get back up just so you can make the jump," she says with the clarity of a 15-year-old.
Huntsman has skated most of her life, competitively in the last five years. She attended the 2000 United States Roller Skating Championship in Lincoln, Neb., and took the silver medal in the girls freestyle event. Huntsman says she was doing really well in the creative skating competition, then fell.
She and Ben Pound, 19, placed fifth in pairs skating. "He got bronze in men's figure skating at the nationals his first year — I'm really proud of him," Huntsman says. They are training for the regional roller skating competition this June, which is held every year in Portland.
"I'll be doing pairs, team dance, creative, freestyle, figures and solo," Huntsman says. She is aiming for the National Championships this August in Tampa, Florida.
Her enthusiasm is organic, her athletic prowess a result of hard work and training, plus a dash of genetics. Her father Ryan Huntsman won the gold medal in men's figure skating at the 1998 and 1999 National Championships.
Donna Huntsman, Kate's mother and home-school instructor, was born and raised in Klamath Falls, a 1979 graduate of Henley High School. She was a horse trainer with the 1980 Olympic dressage team.
"Our whole family is sporty, right from the beginning," she says. "My father, Peter O'Neil, was a car and snowmobile racer. My grandmother, Sandy Barron, was into powderpuff car racing and women's all-star softball."
Peter and wife Esther O'Neil, affectionately called "Nanna," sponsor several children nationwide to attend sports competitions.
For Kate Huntsman, another element of success is passed on through teaching. She coaches children to skate, along with friends Crystal McLaughlin and Nichole Boorman. "We call ourselves coaches with training wheels," Huntsman says. Skateland owner Jim Caylor supervises their lessons.
"You learn from helping the kids. You see something they do and realize, ‘Oh, I do that too.' You try different techniques to fix it."
Huntsman is also coached by a professional skating couple who have taught for 43 years, Dale Sprague and Caroline Diewold. They are members of the National Roller-skating Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed by colleagues.
"We have had many students go on to become national champions. Kate is strong, outgoing and a neat person," Sprague says.
Huntsman prefers quads skating versus in-line skating. The four wheels are heavier than three, but "if you compete very long on in-line skates your legs and feet hurt. Most in-line skaters go to ice," she says. Most of the national competitors use quad skates.
She lives in Keno with her family. They have seven horses Huntsman rides for dressage and combined training.
Each year she travels to Canada for two weeks of training with renowned Olympic Equestrian Team Rider Nick Holmes-Smith.
"Klamath Falls is a special place," says her mother. "We travel a lot and Kate thinks home is good, unlike a lot of kids that haven't been out of the area much."
Huntsman remembers skating competitions across the country, especially Syracuse, NY. "It was the best. We'd walk across the catwalks between buildings and there were cafes. Our hotel elevator sounded like the Titanic sinking. It was very exciting."
She is on the roller hockey team, coached by Mark Reynolds. "It is a lot harder than it looks. We are trying to boost the artistic skating club, combined with hockey. We need more guys," Huntsman says.
National efforts are under way to establish roller hockey as an exhibition sport for the first time in the 2004 Summer Olympics. "With that foot in the door we hope roller skating will be next," Donna says.
Her daughter agrees, and adds, "My future goal is to be on the World Class Rollerskating team," which this year will hold international competitions in Italy.
Heather Vail, a resident of Klamath Falls, writes about local people in her column, which appears each Monday on the City/Region page. Respond or suggest future column topics by calling 885-4410, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.