Last summer, Bellingham's Kalla Crawford and Lynden's Lucy Bivens both surprised themselves, their coaches and their parents by qualifying for the U.S. National Roller Sports Championships with impressive performances in regional competition.
But neither of them actually made the trip to nationals, because both were relatively inexperienced in the sport of artistic roller skating and not enough money had been saved up for the unexpected trip.
"We all made a promise after last year that we were going to go to nationals, no matter what," their coach, Terri Johnson said in a phone interview. "Even if they didn't qualify, we wanted to go so that they could watch and experience the whole thing."
Well, if you're making the trip anyway, you might as well compete.
And that's exactly what Crawford and Bivens, who both practice at the Lynden Skateway, did.
Crawford, 8, took first place in freestyle competition and second place in dance at a seven-state regional competition last month in Portland, Ore. Crawford qualified for nationals, which are being held this week in Lincoln, Neb., in the freestyle figures, loops and dance categories.
"It was really fun," Crawford said in a phone interview from Nebraska, where she will begin competition on Thursday, July 25. "It made me feel pretty happy."
Not to be outdone, Bivens finished third in freestyle and second in figures and loops to qualify for nationals. She will begin competing in those categories on Saturday, July 28.
"I practiced a lot, and I worked really hard at regionals," Bivens said in a phone interview before leaving for Nebraska. "Last time I wasn't ready to go to nationals. ... I'm really looking forward to it this time."
Crawford and Bivens will be joined in the national competition by one of their coaches. Brenda VanOrnum, who coaches the dancing, while Johnson handles the figures coaching, got second place in the Gold Ladies solo dancing at the regional to earn her place at the national competition. It marks the 10th straight year VanOrnum has qualified for nationals, and she "qualified quite a bit when I was a young girl," she said in a phone interview.
"You'll see some of the best skaters in the country there," VanOrnum said. "I can be pretty intimidating."
So how have VanOrnum and Johnson tried to prepare their young skaters for facing that type of pressure for the first time?
"The best way to do it is just practice and work as hard as you can," VanOrnum said. "That way, you're really prepared. The more prepared you are, the better you're going to do in front of the judges."
And one of the things they tried to prepare Crawford and Bivens for was a much rougher wooden floor than what they generally practice on at the Lynden Skateway, which is one of the smoothest skating surfaces in the state. They've pennies on the floor during practice sessions to roughen up the ride a little bit.
Apparently, that seems to have worked.
"It wasn't as rough as I expected," Crawford said after trying out the surface in Lincoln on Tuesday, July 24. "It was a little bumpy, but it was like a pattern. It was like whoosh, then bump, bump. I thought it was going to be bump, bump, bump, bump."
Crawford, who will be entering the third grade at Roosevelt Elementary School this fall, started skating when she was 6. Her mother, Roxann, has skated for the Bellingham Roller Betties for the past three years, and used to take her out to practice.
"People saw me skate and asked me if I wanted to try figure skating, and I said sure," Crawford said. "I really liked it. ... Skating is my passion. I just love skating. I do not like any other sports. All the other sports are really hard, like hitting a tennis ball or something."
Crawford works awfully hard to make skating look easy, practicing five to six days each week during three-hour practice sessions.
"She is so much fun to work with," Johnson said. "She is such a hard worker, and she listens to everything that I say."
Crawford actually got to perform at halftime of a Roller Betties' bout earlier this year, giving her a chance to skate in front of a large crowd, like she's likely to see in Nebraska.
But it doesn't matter how many people are watching, Crawford said she just loves to skate.
"It makes me feel happy," Crawford said. "When I'm spinning, I feel like I'm on a really fun roller coaster and powerful."
Bivens, who will be entering the fourth grade at Lynden Christian, said she's also drawn to the fun of skating and enjoys that it's athletic.
"Lucy is just a fun skater to work with," Johnson said. "She's been around for a long time, and she just likes to have fun."
Bivens, who has been on skates since she was 4, said she practices about four times a week, and plans to do her freestyle routine to "Cats."
"I'm doing a bunch of jumps and loops in my freestyle routine," she said. "The loops and freestyle are my favorite. They're just a lot of fun."
While she's in Nebraska, Bivens said she hopes to visit the National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln.
But both girls said they are focused on competing to the best of their abilities against some of the nation's best roller skaters.
"My goals for Nebraska are to do my best and enjoy the experience that I have to do this," Bivens said.
Crawford added, "I'm expecting to do great. I'm very excited to be going."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.