At age 12, Nykki Olejniczak is already an uncommon skater

Lake Oswego's Nykki Olejniczak completes a jump during a recent routine. She recently qualified for the Pacific Sectional Figure Skating Championships. There are several areas of scoring in figure skating, and Nykki Olejniczak does well in all of them.

The 12-year-old whiz kid from Lake Oswego recently took third place at the Northwest Pacific Regional Championship in Tacoma, a feat that qualified her to compete in the U.S. Pacific Sectional Figure Skating Championships in Oakland, Calif. It was a remarkable showing for the youngest girl in the 24-person field of top skaters from a nine-state region.

In the process she made a lot of people uncommonly happy.

"We weren't expecting it," said Heather Olejniczak, Nykki's mother. "What she has done is not very common. She is now landing all of her double jumps and combinations."

"It's not very common that a skater qualifies to move on to sectionals and even nationals in their first year of qualifying, so we are beyond excited!" said Tonya Zuehlke-Gustafson, Nykki's coach. "She has continually beaten her personal best at every single competition we have attended this year."

Nykki, herself, speaks largely in exclamation points. Getting to sectionals was a huge thrill for her, and she gave credit where credit was due.

"My parents are the best!" she said. "They make sure I get where I need to go regardless of the time or day. I couldn't do this without them!

"My coach Tonya is the best coach ever. I love her so much!"

Nykki even held first place for a while at regionals until a couple older girls moved her out of the top spot. Still, it was too bad the figure skating scoring does not include Nykki's greatest quality: Joy. When you watch Nykki soar, glide and whirl around an ice rink you are watching someone who nearly bursts with happiness at what she is doing.

Yet behind the smile, showmanship, skill and freckles, Nykki is a tremendously hard worker. Actually, work is the wrong word to use for what she does, since Nykki is such a happy little soul on ice. But she does spend an amazing amount of time practicing. With so much ahead of her, it seems Nykki has already had a career. She skates six days a week, getting up around 5 a.m. and starting her workout at 6 a.m., putting in two hours of work before she goes to Lakeridge Junior High School, where she is a seventh grader. She also skates on Thursday nights.

Appropriately, Nykki has improved by leaps and bounds.

"She is the type of girl who will not get off the ice until she reaches her goal," Zuehlke-Gustafson said. "Her training includes gymnastics, dancing, stretching and competitive cheer for the Lakeridge Junior High team. While most kids are in bed, Nykki is up every morning training. We make goals for her every day. She pushes herself, never makes excuses and is highly competitive.

"What I love most about teaching Nykki is that she is not afraid to be herself, she takes everything in, and always comes to the rink (at the Lloyd's Center in Portland) with a smile on her face ready to work hard. She is loved and respected by her peers and is notably considered a leader at our rink even though she is only 12 years old. I really can't express all the nice qualities this young lady possesses."

If Nykki sounds too good to be true, maybe she is.

The Nykki Olejniczak Skating Saga started when she was just 4 years old. She was one of those kids who seemed to bounce as soon as she could walk, and her parents soon noticed that she really, really loved ice skating. She knew what she wanted to do with her life after one lesson. Naturally, her mom and dad, Chris, soon signed on to helping Nykki pursue her dream, and the Olejniczak family was soon spending huge amounts of time in their car, driving her to practices and competitions and watching as her bedroom filled up with trophies.

"From the first day she put on skates and got on the ice she loved it," Heather Olejniczak said. "It was just it for her. She loves it."

"I look forward to waking up every morning and skating," Nykki said. "It's the best life ever."

The road ahead is bright for Nykki. Zuehlke-Gustafson cannot say enough good words about her protégé.

"I really adore her fun, genuine, no-nonsense personality," Zuehlke-Gustafson said. "Nykki is incredibly strong for her age, she has amazing drive, commitment, intelligence, and best of all a great attitude.

"Nykki has a very promising figure skating career ahead of her. I can't wait to see her blossom even more. You are going to be seeing a lot more of this young lady in the future."

Nykki Olejniczak took 11th place in her age division at Pacific Sectionals this past weekend in Oakland.

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