- Associated Press - Friday, February 14, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - She has only 2½ years of skating under her belt and she’s only 7, but Fulton’s Mylee Hawkins already has her eyes set on the Olympics.

She’ll have to overcome long odds. And earning a spot on the podium is much tougher.

But Mylee, whose natural talent is matched only by her enthusiasm and optimism, isn’t dissuaded, the Jefferson City News Tribune (http://bit.ly/1hc8XBP ) reported.

“My parents think I can do it,” the young speedskater said, taking a break from practice at the Washington Park Ice Arena on Sunday evening. “I like to race. You get to push yourself.”

Mylee is one of about 20 members of the Jefferson City Speed Skating Club, which started in the early ‘70s.

“When we were kids, this was one of the places you’d come on a Friday night,” said Paul Rudder. He, along with Greg Weaver and Kirk Bonnot, were regular members back in the late ‘70s.

By the mid-‘80s, more kids were hanging out at places like Capital Mall. Interest in skating and speedskating dwindled, and the club disbanded.

A few years later, around 1993, it started back. That trio of regulars (Rudder, Weaver and Bonnot, now middle-aged men) took an active role in the club, and they’re now the club’s coaches.

The club has members ranging in age from 7 to their mid-50s.

“Some just do it for health benefits, while others are passionate about racing,” Rudder said.

The local club, which is affiliated with the Missouri Speed Skating Association, competes in short track races. The track length is 111 meters, compared with a 400-meter long track.

The fastest amateur speed skaters reach speeds of about 28 mph. At that speed, even the slightest imperfection in form can cause skaters to lose their balance and fall. With sharp, 17-inch blades on their feet, that can be dangerous to them and their competitors. Protective suits help prevent serious injuries, Bonnot said.

Between October and March, club members practice twice weekly, on Sundays and Tuesdays. There are no tryouts. Anyone with an interest is welcome. “If nothing else, just come and watch one of our practices,” said Bonnot, the club’s head coach.

“I think this is the best place to skate,” Mylee said. “They show you what you have to do rather than just tell you what you have to do.”

She and her coaches must be doing something right: Last year, she won the state championship in her age classification, and she’s won a total of eight races.

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