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For the love of roller skating

Two young ladies from the local area plan on proving themselves among the best in the U.S.
by: photo by Derrell Hewitt, Elyce Nollette of Milwaukie

LINCOLN, Neb. - Two very dedicated and talented young ladies from the local area will be in the running for a medal this coming weekend, as they vie in the sophomore solo dance classification of the USA Roller Sports National Championships.

The competition, which features the top competitive roller skaters in the nation, runs here through the middle of next month, with top athletes vying in speed events, as well as artistic roller skating.

The two talented young ladies from the local area are 20-year-old Tiffani Burson of Clackamas and 17-year-old Elyce Nollette of Milwaukie. They placed first and second respectively in sophomore solo dance at this year's Northwest Regionals, and they were the class of the field.

'It was real close between me and Tiffani [at regionals],' said Nollette. 'We knew it was going to be one of us, but it was so close you couldn't tell who won it until they made the announcement. We both skated well.'

'When I won [regionals] this year, tears came to my eyes,' said Burson. 'Everything I had put myself through, it all paid off. And now I'm shooting for the finals at nationals.'

It was the first regional title in dance for Burson, who placed second at regionals in solo dance and in solo figures last year.

Nollette won regional titles in less competitive levels of solo dance in 2002 and 2003, and in team dance in 2003 and 2004. Both girls have won regional titles in figures and both have been national qualifiers in at least one event every year they have been competitive skaters.

While Burson has never before been on the podium at nationals for the medal presentation, Nollette and partner Jason Imhof earned the third-place medal in 1-B team dance in 2004.

Earning a medal in solo dance at nationals is not easy. It requires the mastery of six dances on skates, which means hours and hours of practice.

They make

their coach smile

'Those two are a pleasure to coach,' said George Kolibaba, who coaches the two girls, along with Joan Dreyer. 'I leave here smiling [after working with them]. If their best isn't good enough, they'll do whatever it takes to fix it.'

'I told Tiffani that she'd skate better and have more endurance if she lost some weight,' said Dreyer. 'She lost 30 pounds in four months. She'll do whatever it takes to succeed.'

'I'm in the rink twice a day practicing, six days a week, and I'm really happy to be there,' said Burson. 'I also work out at home seven days a week (Bowflex, stationary bike, treadmill).'

Burson works at Oaks Park as a front-office secretary during the summer and she helps out with beginning skating lessons in the fall.

'I work my college schedule around skating,' said Burson. 'There's a joke here [at the Oaks rink] that I live in the back room. When you work your school schedule around skating, that's when you know skating is your life.'

Nollette has been practicing twice a day since qualifying for nationals, and she's practiced five days a week since last fall. She's maintained the practice schedule despite a very busy schedule as a student at St. Mary's Academy, where she officiates CYO volleyball, contributes to her school's literary magazine, is a Link leader, offering guidance to underclassmen; and is a member of the school's elite choir, a poverty awareness committee and science club. She's also been an alter server at St. John's the Baptist church in Milwaukie for eight years.

Burson's skating career began at age 7, with the beginner's classes at Gresham Skate World.

'When my class at school would go skating, I was always the one hanging onto the wall and falling,' Burson recalls. 'My mom said, 'Let's get you into a class.''

Club skating followed the next year, and Burson became a regular at nationals, qualifying for nationals in youth skating six straight seasons.

When she was in eighth grade, her grandfather passed away, her life kind of unraveled and she stopped skating.

'My grandfather was like a father figure and his death hit me hard,' said Burson.

Passion for skating

never goes away

Burson took up cheerleading in high school, but cheerleading came to an abrupt end when she was in an auto accident in December of her senior year.

'I dislocated my kneecap and the doctor said no more cheerleading,' said Burson. 'They didn't want me jumping.'

After rehabilitation, Burson returned to the rink, and she's been there ever since.

'Once you've skated and become a part of the skating family, you can never stay away,' Burson says. 'It's the atmosphere, being around people that I love. It gives me confidence that I can do anything when I put my mind to it.

'And there's that experience out there on that floor that gives you a rush when you're performing before a large crowd. I wish they'd put [roller skating] in the Olympics. I would love it!'

Burson says that her kneecap sometimes dislocates during practice, but she pops it back in and continues.

'I view pain as merely weakness leaving the body,' said Burson. 'I push myself as far as I can.'

'Tiffani has excelled beyond what was expected,' said Kolibaba. 'A lot of it was practice, getting her body to recall what she'd learned before. She's always been talented.

'She's got great support from her family, good talent, she listens well, and she'll try anything.

Drive, confidence

and determination

'When she can't do something she gets mad at herself and not someone else, and she'll keep working at it until she gets it. She knows she's not the best, but she strives to be the best.'

'I'm at the point where I never thought I'd get to,' said Burson. 'I believe in myself, and I'm able to push myself further and further. There's no end to how far I can go.

'I'd love to make finals in dance. I'd love to do that for my coaches and my mom [Merrilee Burson] and my fiancé [Jake Haas]. That would be my thanks for their being there for me.'

'Tiffani's really come a long way in a short amount of time,' said Dreyer. 'She [has the talent] to medal. It depends on what she puts out there. She's definitely top 10 [in the nation].'

'Elyce came to me six years ago right out of the Saturday [beginner] classes, and she's come a long way,' said Dreyer. 'She's moved up to a more competitive class now, but she has the ability [to make finals at nationals]. Her only disadvantage is her youth. If she can concentrate when she's on the floor, she'll do well.'

Dreyer says that endurance is a huge plus for Nollette:

'She's strong and she's got great endurance. In this event, you have to skate three minutes and not tire, and she can do that with no problem.'

This may be the last chance for Elyce Nollette to medal at the national level in solo dance.

'I hope to get on the podium this year,' said Nollette. 'It's going to be my senior year [at St. Mary's] and I'm going to really throw myself into my studies and get into the college scheme of things. I won't have time for skating practice.'

Nollette, who spent last school year in Venezuela, says she is looking forward to a career in international studies.

Burson, who is studying advertising and media relations at Portland State University, says she'd love someday to work at NIKE, and she'd like to someday become a skating coach.

With their drive and the confidence they've developed in skating, look for both Burson and Nollette to accomplish whatever goals they set their minds to. And you can be sure that roller skating will always be a part of their lives, even if it's only on the recreational level.

'They call [the Oaks Skating Club] a skating club,' said Nollette. 'But it's much more than that. Ever since I started skating, I've felt like we're family. We're all involved in each other's lives. We want to know what's going on in each others lives…. and if you need help, they are always there for you.'

'Once you're a part of it, you can never stay away,' said Burson.

Kolibaba earns another title

Burson and Nollette weren't the only local roller skaters to qualify for this year's USA Roller Sports National Championships.

Kelsey Kolibaba, 13, of Milwaukie earned a regional title at the 'B' level in elementary girls figures.

'It's a huge accomplishment,' said George Kolibaba, Kelsey's coach and grandfather. 'It's a lot more difficult than last year, because forward and backward turns have been added, and they're not that easy to execute when you're doing figures.'

Kelsey Kolibaba placed first in the region and 12th in the nation in 'C' elementary figures last year, her first season as a competitive skater.

'It was a lot harder [winning regionals this year],' Kelsey said. 'I had to work really hard.'

Sean McKinnon of Clackamas was another regional champion from the area. He earned first place and a trip to nationals in 'B' juvenile boys figures.

The local area had several regional runners-up, including Kit Duncan of Oregon City in veteran (55+) women's figures, veteran solo dance, and in veteran team dance - with husband Bill Duncan; Rachel Kelley of Milwaukie in freshmen solo dance; Fred McKinnon of Clackamas in esquire men's figures; and Courtney Richardson of Clackamas in elementary solo dance.

Also qualifying for nationals from the local area were: Kaylee Chavez of Clackamas in 'C' freshmen/sophomore solo dance; Bill Duncan in veteran solo dance; Rachel Kelley in freshman girls singles and freshman girls figures; Ryan McKinnon in 'B' juvenile boys figures; Courtney Richardson in elementary creative solo dance, and Caitlin Richardson in elementary creative solo dance.

The Oaks Skating Club won the regional championship meet for what is thought to be the 15th straight season.

Nineteen

champions

The club had 19 regional champions and 53 national qualifiers.

Northwest Regional champions from the club included: Burson, Kelsey Kolibaba, Sean McKinnon, Robert Behrendt (Tigard and Maui) in veteran solo dance; Kelsey Edwards (Salem) in open 'A' creative solo dance; Susan Heller (Beaverton) in premier women's figures; Aura Hernandez-Reed (Portland) in 'B' juvenile girls figures; Renee Koch (Portland) in 'B' esquire solo dance; Emily MacKay (Portland) in classic solo dance; Elaina Marrella (Gresham) in novice women's figures; Sally Miller (Sherwood) in novice solo dance;

Darly Reed (Gresham) in junior solo dance and junior women's figures; Eleanor Siebert (Portland) in 'C' freshmen/sophomore girls figures; Polly Smith (Vancouver) in masters women's figures; Christina Spry (Cornelius) in elementary creative solo dance; David Warren (Gresham) in esquire men's figures; Jerry Hutchison (Portland) in premier men's figures and with Cindy Armstead (Tigard) in esquire team dance; Spencer Swetnam (Gresham) in 'C' elementary boys figure, 'B' elementary solo dance and with Hannah Armstead (Tigard) in 'B' juvenile/elementary team dance.