COLUMBIA — Three girls skate across the rink together one behind the other, carefully timing each turn and twist to match every beat of the music playing from the speakers that hang from the ceiling among balloons and lights.
This is the scene at Empire Roller Rink's Artistic Skate Club's mock judging before the club leaves Friday to compete in the national championships in Fort Wayne, Ind. The event will attract skaters from all over the country, but this team is one of the most recognizable because of its uniforms.
Each member wears a black silk uniform with the initials "KP" stitched into the upper left shoulder to honor the death of Kyle Peck, the son of John Peck, a world championship artistic skating coach who travels from Chicago to work with the team at Empire Roller Rink.
In 2005, Kyle Peck, who was 10 at the time, was watching his older brother compete* at the world championships in Italy. As they were leaving the rink, Kyle was struck by a car and killed.
Lisa Trent, Empire Roller Rink's owner, said the pain was unbearable for the family, and they quit skating. But they soon realized that Kyle Peck would want them to continue skating, and they returned to the sport.
At the national championships, the Empire Roller Rink team will be competing on a rink that is twice the size of the one they practice on in Columbia. Trent said a small rink can prevent her skaters from expressing themselves in the dancing event practices, but overall, it makes them better.
"Other competitors get used to the same pattern on the same size rink," she said.
Every Sunday, Trent's skaters travel to the Jefferson City rink, which is twice as big, the normal size for the national championships. She said she thinks the variety in rink sizes benefits the skaters because it prevents them from becoming accustomed to a single rink, making them more diverse skaters.
Georgia Ferguson, 63, the oldest member of the club, says competitors sometimes jokingly call them "small rink skaters."
Ferguson, who used to dance ballet in St. Louis before she moved to Columbia in 1983, got into the sport when she started bringing her granddaughter to the free half-hour sessions at the rink.
"One day I saw the artistic team right before one of those sessions, decided to try it, and I fell in love with it," she said.
Although her teammates are mostly 6 to 12 years old, she does not let the age gap bother her.
"I just get my friends at other places," she said.
Many adult artistic skaters compete at the national and world championships, but Ferguson said it is difficult to find interested adults in Columbia.
"We've tried to get adults out here, but I don't know what it is," she said. "Perhaps it's just because they don't know about it."
The national championships begin Sunday and run through Aug. 7. Live streaming video can be viewed at www.skatersplace.com.