Yeosu, S. Korea
The age contrast from youngest to oldest on this team is 16 years! In this World's exclusive we meet one of the youngest and our two oldest competitors. No matter how you stack it up ---- they have come of age!
One of the youngest members of Team USA, Darian O'Neil turned 16 here in Yeosu, South Korea. Albeit a little bleary-eyed from our long travel, we celebrated with cake in the little cafe located right off the lobby of our hotel. We sang Happy Birthday (mostly off tune – so keep your day job guys!) and cut the cake.
A few days later I had a chance to catch up with Darien and get her impressions of a number of things including having her birthday while at Worlds.
BL: So, what was it like having your birthday while at Worlds?
D: It was cool. Not many people can say that they had their birthday out of the country.
BL: How long have you been skating/racing?
D: Fourteen years. I started skating at two and racing at three in tiny tots.
BL: Wow! What's your favorite part about skating?
D: Racing. I love the adrenaline of the race.
BL: How would you describe your racing style?
D: I like to control the race; I don't like to sit in the back.
BL: What's your favorite race?
D: The Points elimination because the pace is fast the whole time and you don't have people coming at you from the back.
BL: What word of advice would you offer to skating hopefuls?
D: It's never over until you give up. The mental aspect of the game is really important.
BL: What is your philosophy of Training?
D: You can't overtrain.
Annette Stapleton Haywood has a real come back story. She raced for 10 years in the eighties and nineties with famous skaters Cheryl Ezell, Vicky King, and Gypsy Lucas, then took ten years off to have two kids and decided to return to racing two years ago. She had two children during her hiatus from skating – 8yr old Jobe and 6 year old Kelly. One of her girls loves to skate and the other is a total book worm! Three different times (1996, 1997, and 1998) she was the first alternate to the World team, and when she finally made the top six in 1999, they changed how many skaters they took to three. So she decided to try again – ten years later. Annette is 32 years old.
BL: Congratulations on your place on the 2011 USA World Team. To what do you attribute your success?
A: I've worked really hard and trained hard, but I couldn't have accomplished this without the support of my home team – the Great Skate Wolverines. They have really been family to me, my sponsors to get her to Worlds. They are the best.
BL: Talk about your expectations at ODN (World Trials).
A: I really tried to keep a level head and give it my all. I was surprised that I took 6th place in the 300m on the track. But the first race I really felt good in was the 10k points race. (Annette came in second to Brianna Kramer in that race.)
BL: What are your impressions of South Korea?
A: The weather is a little muggy, but I like the heat. I would like to see more of the culture. We have to be so race-focused right now. I find the women very soft-spoken.
BL: What word of advice would you offer skating hopefuls?
A: Be ready for anything when you come to worlds. Things are always changing and can be difficult to to be flexible. I would say, “Listen to your heart” and “Stay positive.”
BL: What is your philosophy of training?
A: Leave NO doubt.
Jenny Steketee is our second oldest skater on the team at 31. She has been married 11 years to BJ (who also competed this year at ODN). Needless to say, he is very supportive of her dreams and goals for skating. They have four children, three girls and one boy ranging from 22 months to 10 years old. This is Jenny's first time away overnight from her children ever so she is going through mommy withdrawal. At the same time she is very excited and honored by the opportunity to be here with Team USA in South Korea.
BL: What were your expectations in coming to ODN (World Trials)?
J: I really didn't have any expectations. It was my first time ever skating Outdoor Nationals. This was my first full year back after having Eli, my youngest. It was also my first year training outdoors. I knew what times I needed to hit and also what I was capable of doing. If I was good enough to be on the team –great. Otherwise I would just chalk it up as a great year for experience.
BL: How important is the BJ factor in your success?
J: Extremely. He was on the Junior World Team and also an alternate in 1997, 1998, and 1999. He has been intricately involved in my training. There were plenty of times he had to drag me to practice and keep my goals in front of me. He is a great motivator and very positive person. He really made sure that I made training a priority.
BL: Describe your emotions when you found out that you were going to Korea as a team alternate.
J: Honestly, I didn't really believe it until we were on the flight to San Francisco. I felt it was touch and go before then. First I was up and then way down. It was a roller coaster of a couple days while all the alternates were being sorted out.
BL: What are your impressions of Korea?
J: I am really surprised by the mixed living situations. You'll see a really large brick home with beautiful landscaping next to a seeming shanty. That is shocking – something you wouldn't see in the US. I have a cousin who was adopted from Korea. We had the impression that she had been in a really poor situation. Areas of Yeosu feel really poor.
BL: What word of advice would you offer hopeful skaters?
J: Don't ever let go of your dreams/desires you have in your heart; with hard work and dedication you can get there. Our gifts and talents are there for a reason. Who would have thought that a mother of four could get here!
BL: What is your philosophy of training?
J: Go hard or go home --- everyday!