SPRING HILL — Two years ago, Katie and Laura Sinsko began training in a sport that few would associate with Florida — figure skating.
Not only have the sisters continued to learn and practice at ice rinks in Oldsmar and Clearwater, they have excelled, joining the ranks of competitive teams that travel across the nation for tournaments against international competition.
Under the tutelage of their coach, Bill Coyle, a 37-year veteran of the craft, Katie, 11, and Laura, 7, have progressed in both precision and pace.
"They work very hard on and off the ice," Coyle said. "They're bypassing kids that I've taught two to three times as long as I've taught them."
Practicing four to five times a week during the summer, the Sinskos took advantage of their peak season. Because of the strain of their academics and the long trip to and from the rink from their home in Spring Hill, it is difficult to do much training during the school year.
"This summer, the girls had been practicing nearly every day," said their mother, Jacqueline Sinsko. "They have been progressing so quickly and doing so well, we don't want them to have a setback, so now we are trying to find a way to have them skate more during the school year, as well."
Athleticism has always come naturally for Katie and Laura. Taking dance classes at Suncoast School of Arts in Spring Hill and gymnastics classes at Top Contenders Gymnastics Academy in Spring Hill, the girls credit that training with helping them when working on figure skating routines.
Coyle also emphasizes Jacqueline's dedication, pointing to the time, money and effort that go into the classes and support.
"She'll do anything for her daughters," he said. "With how far practice is, this is no small task, driving these girls back and forth. But she's there every time for them."
When Coyle and a group of 15 Tampa Bay Skating Academy participants, including Katie and Laura, went to Blaine, Minn., for the Ice Skating Institute's World Ice Skating Competition in late July, it was the biggest challenge the duo had ever faced in the sport. They more than proved themselves, however, coming home with 15 total medals.
Katie took one first-place individual medal for light entertainment spotlight. She also earned four second-place medals — for rhythmic ribbon, solo compulsory, interpretive and freestyle. In addition, she grabbed a third-place finish and two fifth places.
Laura won four first-place medals for her performances in the following categories: surprise, artistic, rhythmic ribbon and interpretive. She added a second in freestyle, as well as a third and fourth in other events.
The sisters also won medals with their partners. Katie won a first place in jump and spin and third place in couples spotlight with Claudia Cannatelli; Laura won first-place medals in both jump and spin and couples spotlight with Julia Savaglio.
"These girls were three levels lower last season," Coyle said, "so I was a little skeptical about how they'd perform, but they surpassed my expectations and more."
With teams from China and Dublin, Ireland, among 84 in the competition, Tampa Bay Skating Academy came in ninth with help from Katie and Laura. Next July, the world competition will take place in Dallas, and Coyle expects the Sinskos to be that much better by then.
Jacqueline has no expectations for her daughters. Their love of the sport is what brought them to the ice and is what keeps them on it.
"I have no ambitions for my kids," she said. "I am in it for the long haul with them because they love it. As long as they want to be out there and have those smiles on their faces, I'll be there with them."