ROLLING TO THE CHAMPIONSHIPS
David Hamblin was 3 years old and Annie MacKay was 2 when they first roller figure skated together in competition.
Even then they had known each other for years.
"Inseparable since birth," Hamblin says. "Annie literally took her first steps toward me."
The kids of avid skating sisters, the cousins had been destined to roll on eight wheels as soon as they could walk on two feet. And it happened. MacKay, a sophomore at Cleveland High School, and Hamblin, a junior at Roosevelt High, teamed together then, grew up in the sport and team together now as national champion team dance partners. And, reaching the pinnacle, they'll be going to the Roller Skating World Championship in La Vendee, France, Oct. 3-14 for the first time as Team USA members.
Well, the pinnacle would be winning, but just to make roller figure skating worlds says much about the ability of the teenage members of the 200-strong Oaks Parks Skating Club. In recent years, Hamblin's brother, Charlie Hamblin, went three times to nationals — he placed fourth last year. And Charlie Hamblin's peer, Spencer Swetnam, has paired with a partner in team dance and finished third at worlds.
It's been a long road — 13 years since "they learned to skate holding on to each other," says Emily MacKay, Annie's mother and Oaks Park Association marketing and events director.
Quite a bond has developed. They both work at Oaks Amusement Park as well.
"They're each other's best friends, they love skating together," says Amy Hamblin, David's mother and the duo's coach, and a longtime coach at Oaks Park. "They're the kind of kids that finish each other's sentences. They're like brother and sister.
"In figure skating, and dancing especially, it's really important for each team member to have good body position and match. They have that. They don't have to think about it. They've done it so long."
MacKay remembers back to about age 4, skating with the older boy (a 5-year-old).
"I was just so happy to be skating, the feeling on skates excited me so much," she says. "And doing it with my best friend, it made me happy.
"Definitely growing up in this sport together has been amazing. I would not have asked for any different kind of childhood."
Says Hamblin: "You hear about twins having their own language. That was us. We had our mini language."
Maybe it's genetics. The mothers grew up as Robinson skating sisters, excelling on a national level as Oaks Park skaters in the 1980s and '90s. In fact, they still skate competitively. "Our skating club is multigenerational," Amy Hamblin says. "It's a bonding experience."
Roller figure skating is much like ice figure skating: "We pretty much do the same thing on roller skates and wood," Hamblin says. There are several categories, including singles, pairs, solo dance and team dance. It has similarities to ice figure skating with body position, artistic flavor and mechanical actions. You want to attract attention with artistry, ability and appearance.
There is a national governing body, USA Roller Sports Roller Figure Skating. And it's an accessible sport; one can roller figure skate anywhere.
It's not an Olympic sport, yet, but it's a sport with very good performers; it's recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the old Pan Am Games and Goodwill Games featured roller figure skating. The younger MacKay and Hamblin are two of them, now competing in a junior division.
"They're totally dedicated," Emily MacKay says.
"They showed themselves very well at nationals, and got good feedback as a first-year team," Amy Hamblin says.
The sisters will be going to France to watch their kids perform.
"It's going to be nothing like I've ever done before or experienced," David Hamblin says. "The roller skating world in the U.S. is small, but at international competition you're surrounded by people who love the sport as much as you do."
Hamblin has heard from his brother, who's serving a church mission in Japan.
"Mostly he's super proud of me," Hamblin says. They have a younger brother, another excellent skater, Bobby. MacKay has a younger sister who participates in roller figure skating.
Hamblin and MacKay also competed as solos for years, but they enjoy pairing on team dance.
At worlds, they'll skate two routines for style dance and free dance. The style dance is a grand ballroom theme, and they'll be dressed as Cinderella and Prince Charming.
The two admire Alex and Maia Shibutani, the 2018 Winter Olympics bronze medalists in ice dance.
MacKay and Hamblin have the tight bond, allowing them to match and synchronize well, and they also learned footwork together and not as singles. But it doesn't mean they don't need to work at their sport.
"We definitely still face difficulties," MacKay says. "The main thing we need to focus on is technique, matching and presentation. But we also like to focus on endurance; you want to out there knowing you can do eight routines if you need to. Then, presentation on top of that definitely is still a struggle. You have to play off each other, and you have to speak to the audience and judges.
"It takes a lot to please everybody in that room."
MacKay and Hamblin have grown up in the Oaks Park Skating Club. "I think of this as my rink family," MacKay says. "I've known most of the kids my entire life, and grown up together, it's definitely a very special friendship when training side by side with someone your entire life."
Indeed, she and her partner will be skating side by side in France, hoping for big things.
"We've been working toward this goal our entire lives," MacKay says. "I want us to do the best we can do."
To read more about roller figure skating, see the Team USA website, www.teamusa.org/USA-Roller-Sports, and the world championships website — www.worldskate.org/artistic/events-artistic/competitions.html.