Cleveland figure skaters battle the odds and give everything in pursuit of Olympic dreams

LAKEWOOD, OH (WOIO) - She was one of the best, striking gold at the 1960 Winter Olympics in California.

"The ultimate goal for any amateur athlete in any sport is the Olympics. The Olympic gold,' explained figure skating legend Carol Heiss-Jenkins.

Heiss-Jenkins also earned five consecutive world titles and won four national championships.

She continues to lace up her skates at the Serpentini-Winterhurst Arena in Lakewood, coaching elite athletes at age 78.

"It still takes the training, the determination, the perseverance. the dedication and I think most of all the passion," said Heiss-Jenkins.

Times have changed over the decades, she says, as costs and expectations have surged upward.

"It's sort of the McDonald's syndrome, the Google syndrome. You want everything quicker because everything is at our fingertips," she described.

But, she says, one thing remains the same: those who succeed have the determination to work hard with hopes their dreams come true.

It's a dream I had at the age of 8 when I first took the ice, winning the bronze medal in the Junior Division at Nationals.

My skating partner, Frank Singley, and I became the first African-American ice dance team in the U.S.

But, the journey to get there didn't come cheap.

Skating at a highly competitive level can cost as much as $50,000 a year.

Depending where you train, ice time can cost up to $40 a day.

Custom skates for figure skaters run anywhere from $800 to $1,000, and that doesn't include the blade, which is an additional $1,000.

Some skaters go through two pairs of skates a year.

An elite coach can charge as much as $150 an hour. That doesn't include choreographers, which charge their own fee.

As for costumes, those can hit $10,000.

"You have to pay for travel. You have to pay for competitions and their off-ice classes," said national skater Nathaniel Chapple.

Matthew Nielsen's ultimate dream is to be an Olympian. The teen has already competed on the national level and says he'll do what it takes to win.

"It is a lot of hard work, a lot of stress, a lot of time and you miss a lot of things, but it's worth it," Nielsen expressed.

"It takes everybody who's part of the team onboard, not just the athlete, the coach, and also the parent," said Nielsen's coach Christian Martin.

Matthew's mom Christine says being involved in ice skating has meant complete involvement from their entire family.

"We travel a lot for training around the country. We go to competitions, maybe there's six or seven a year that he does," said Christine Nielsen.

"Sometimes I like to check out the parents first to see what kind of skating career they will have," said Sally Tasca who has been coaching for 38 years.

Tasca has been coaching Katie McBeath, a five-time national competitor for 12 years.

The 23-year-old Garfield Heights resident's dream is to represent the U.S. internationally.

If that doesn't happen, it would be disappointing, but, she says, life goes on.

"I've learned so much from skating that in itself is definitely a reward that I will be able to take with me into everything else that I do," said Katie McBeath.

Life lessons learned from a demanding sport. A sport that can sometimes turn Olympic dreams into gold.

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