Could an Indian American become Arkansas’ first ice skating champion?

Rising star Pooja Kaylan with her coach Robin Aprea on left.

Keep an eye out for 11-year-old Pooja Kaylan. When it comes to world-caliber ice skating, she may one day not only put Arkansas on the map, but the world’s second largest nation.

For the last six years, Kaylan has been training at the Ozark Figure Skating Club in Springdale while making regular training excursions to Tulsa and California – where is coached by the same coaching legend who has instructed Michelle Kwan and Gracie Gold. A dressmaker in Dallas designs for Kaylan custom-fit boots costing more than $1,000. A choreographer from Colorado creates her competition program. Her mother, a physician in Fayetteville, estimates she and her husband have spent $12,000 a year on Kaylan’s skating hobby.

But the returns are starting to come in.

Last year, Kaylan placed first at the Southwest Regionals of her U.S. Figure Skating competition track.* She then placed fifth in the Nationals. This year, at a higher division, she won regionals again, placed third in sectionals and 10th at nationals.

While she still isn’t among the very elite at a national level (e.g. she cannot yet land the triple axels her competitors can), she is enjoying her sport and may be the most promising young ice skater in Arkansas’ history. Kaylan is the state’s only skater to qualify for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in decades, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. If she one day wins a national title, some of the credit would likely go to flawless execution of her most impressive move – the Biellman spin.

In the move, Kaylan “grabs a blade and raises a leg over and behind her head, rotating quickly on her standing leg,” writes the Democrat-Gazette’s Cheree Franco. “But she also likes to do double lutzes, double loops, double toe jumps. (The lutz is basically a counter-rotated axel, and the “loop” and “toe” refer to takeoff and landing methods.)”

Even if Kaylan were to become a national sensation, don’t expect her to appear in the next Olympics. In 2018, she will still be too young to qualify, so her best bets are 2022 or 2026. There is a chance she would be become the first winter Olympian to spend a majority of her childhood in Arkansas.

Kimberly Derrick, who captured Bronze medal for the 3,000-meter relay in 2010, is the first U.S. Winter Olympian born in the state. But  she only lived in Arkansas for three years before moving to Ohio. (N.B. Thirty-five U.S. Summer Olympians have been born in Arkansas)

Kaylan’s ascendance would mean a lot for India as well. Based on her name, she appears to be ethnically Indian. As far as I can tell, no Indian American has ever earned a medal at a U.S. Figure Skating national competition. Traditionally, it has been east Asian Americans who have dominated the sport, not south Asian Americans. But in the last couple decades, the number of Asian Indians in the United States has spiked with northwest Arkansas at the forefront in terms of per capita population growth for that ethnicity. From 2000 to 2010, the number of Asian Indians there rose 157% (No. 1 nationally) to 8,000. It’s only natural to see some outstanding athletes emerge from this expanding pool of people.

*According to Franco, “U.S. Figure Skating has two general competition tracks, one for youth and one for adults. There’s also a “qualifying track,” open only to youth who have passed the first four levels of testing. Qualifying skaters who do well at Regionals may advance to Sectionals and then Nationals.”

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