Born one year and two days apart, siblings William and JoJo Hubbart share birthday celebrations, auburn hair, blue eyes — and a burning passion for figure skating.
Now, they're sharing the gold.
William, 15, and JoJo, 14, are the newly minted U.S. Figure Skating juvenile pairs champions.
On Jan. 25, JoJo's 14th birthday, the team won top honors during the national competition in Omaha, Neb. Skating to a selection from Riverdance, they nailed their thrown double flips, side-by-side double lutzes and synchronized spins.
Their score of 48.16 seemed to impress everyone, including their Russian coach Alex Vlassov, who works with them at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar. They also train with Vlassov's wife, Laura Amelina.
"To get above 40 in the juvenile level is unusual," said Vlassov, a former Olympic pair skater. "They had a lot of life in their program."
William was one of three out of more than 370 competitors to skate in multiple divisions at the nationals. Just 90 minutes prior to skating the juvenile pairs program, William skated the intermediate men's short program, placing tenth. Two days later, he turned in a solid intermediate men's long program to improve his standing to ninth place.
Not bad for someone who weighed 3 pounds, 10 ounces at birth and stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for a month.
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William came eight weeks prematurely. He was so small, his first bath was taken in a margarine tub.
But at three weeks, he was kicking the door to his hospital isolette open.
"They nicknamed him 'Fighter,' " said his mother, Carol Hubbart.
She speculated that the kicking may have been the precursor to his strong jumping skills.
Even with his strong little legs, William was often sick and had to be hospitalized twice for upper respiratory infections. The doctors advised the couple to find a sport to build his cardiovascular, respiratory and immune systems. So when he was 4, Carol took William to a Mommy and Me skating class.
"He just skated off and loved it," she said.
A year later, JoJo put on skates and a pair was born, though they didn't officially start training as a pair until two years ago.
Both strong individual skaters, there was one big obstacle to overcome. William, who had learned to jump clockwise, had to relearn all his jumps in the opposite direction.
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"I love competing more than practicing," said William, adding that he wasn't a bit nervous at the nationals.
Chalk it up to hard work, dedication and lots of preparation. The homeschooled Hubbarts, who live in Palm Harbor, train up to six hours a day, six days a week.
Brother Nick, 12, is also a competitive skater and siblings Chris, 10, and Jen, 8, are "thinking about it."
It all comes with a hefty price tag. The children's father, Kevin Hubbart, who works for Subway Development of Tampa Bay, said the family spent close to $100,000 this year alone in ice time, travel, gear, costumes and coaching fees. "It takes up a good chunk of our income," he said. "But it's something they really love. I've told them as long as they love doing it, I'll find a way to make it happen. But if I'm going to put this investment in it, I expect to see them put that much effort into it.
"They've exceeded me so far," he said.
Carol said she never nags.
"They are in charge of their own skating. They're very independent," she said. "I just watch, support, bring food."
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It's not unusual to see brother and sister pairs at the juvenile level. The ability to practice together as much as possible can be a real advantage, especially if they have similar goals and get along well.
"We basically never fight," said JoJo.
"We like to work on lifts at home," said William, who is 5-foot-4 and weighs 102 pounds. JoJo, who stands 4-foot-8 and weighs 60 pounds, said she loves to be tossed up into the air.
"As long as he does it right," she said.
Now the pair will advance to the next level, intermediate, where the lifts, jumps and throws can get pretty frightening, especially as they are being learned.
"Everyone wants to know if we're scared about pairs," said Carol. "I tell them that I trust (coaches) Alex and Laura and am confident they know how to teach so (William and JoJo) won't get injured."
Added Kevin, "We just tell Will he's not allowed to drop his sister."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]