Skating her Hart to the Olympics

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Klynne Pearl Serrano
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
What started out as a means to pass time quickly turned into a passion when Erin Hart, a senior at Pleasant Hill High School, took on figure skating. Erin, who has mid-to-high functioning autism, started lessons approximately one year ago, and will be one of 11 athletes to compete in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeong Chang, South Korea scheduled for Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2013.

"When Erin and my wife, Kathy moved back to Illonois, we told Erin she could choose something she'd really like to do," said Air Force Master Sgt. Rawnald Hart, 58th Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III Loadmaster instructor at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. "Erin answered, 'figure skating'."

Kathy gave Erin the task of finding a rink nearby. So Erin, being the research guru her father described her as, got on her iPad and started her research right away.

After mentioning several places, Erin finally found the closest rink which is in Springfield, Ill.

"It's still an hour and a half from Pleasant Hill, but Kathy took her over to the rink," Rawnald said. "One of the coaches, Janet Icenogle, was watching Erin skate and she walked over to Kathy and asked her if she ever thought about letting [Erin] compete."

That caught Kathy off-guard.

"I mean Erin's been on the ice a couple times before and she could skate forward, but that was it," Rawnald said.

The coach invited Kathy and Erin back the next Saturday for a "Learn to Skate" program.

"She started doing that and she picked it up really quickly," Rawnald said. "She was just skating once a week for about two months when she went to Chicago for a figure skating competition and won second place in her level."

After around another two months, Erin competed in the Illinois Special Olympics Winter Games in January 2012 and took home a gold medal.

"Erin ended up beating the girl who won first place in the competition before that," Rawnald said. "And she had only been skating for three to four months while the girl she beat had been skating for five or six years."

But Erin's talent specifically caught the attention of one of the judges.

"While we were there, one of the judges told us that Illinois has the level 2 figure skating slot for the World Games in Korea and asked if Erin would be interested in going," Rawnald said. "They could not have picked a more perfect child to go to Korea."

Rawnald could not stress enough how big of an Asian culture fanatic Erin is.

"When we were looking at plane tickets to go to Korea, a lot of them stopped in Tokyo," Rawnald said. "My wife and I would love to stop over in Tokyo, but if we were to stop there without [Erin], we would probably never hear the end of it."

"Because of the autism, the good news didn't get to her like that the first time, but the closer we are to leaving for Korea, the more excited she gets," Rawnald said.

The family is holding bake sales, t-shirt sales and other fundraisers for the cost of their plane tickets to support Erin in Korea.

Rawnald and his family could not express enough how proud they are of Erin.

"When she's on the ice she's in her own little world--she's in the zone. I'd say she's most happy on the ice," Rawnald said. "Don't ever underestimate what your child can do, because they'll surprise you every time."