PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — United States Figure Skating recently held its nationals competition in San Jose, where 12-year-old Portland native Keira Hilbelink competed at the juniors’ level, one step below the seniors’ level we typically see on television.
What she did there was open a bunch of eyes around the figure skating world.
“All I was really doing was trying to have fun,” recalled Hilbelink.
It’s safe to say that strategy worked out pretty well. In her first time competing at the juniors level — and at a much younger age than most of her competition — she placed second at nationals.
“After the short program, I wouldn’t say [it was] confidence, but I got a feeling that I didn’t have anything to lose because it was my first time being there,” Hilbelink said.
To put into perspective just how unlikely it was what Keira accomplished — all of the other girls who placed immediately after went to a camp to compete for spots at the international competition level.
Hilbelink was too young to attend.
“Keira is only 12, just turned 12 a couple months ago,” her coach Sean Rabbitt said. “So for her to be at the second-highest level, doing these jumps that many people take years and years to master, it’s like one in million. It takes a very special kind of person and athlete.”
However, Rabbitt says he’s in no rush to see her grow up too fast, saying it’s one of the things that makes her a such special talent.
“What’s great about her is that she’s very mature on the ice, but she also is still a kid on the ice. You know, when she finishes her program, she claps like this,” said Rabbit, imitating a child clapping. “You can really see the pure joy in her skating for her sport. I think that’s Keira on the ice, is just joy.”
That joy is certainly evident when you ask Keira about putting the figure skating world on notice down in San Jose.
“It feels great, honestly,” Hilbelink said with a big smile.
And it’s even evident when she talks about what she wants to accomplish in the future.
“We always want good expectations, but never put them too high. Then you’re going to feel like your pressured,” Hilbelink said. “My goals are just to have fun.”