It has become an annual excursion for young Douglas Whealon and is becoming an annual trip for Cora Stafford, both of Olive Branch.
The past two years, the pair has traveled to compete collectively and individually at the USA Roller Sports National Championships as roller figure skaters. The event was held in late July into the early part of August in Lincoln, Nebraska.
And when they do, Whealon and Stafford typically are bringing home medals signifying them as among the best roller figure skaters for their age in the United States.
Whealon is a sixth grader and attends Sacred Heart School in Southaven. Stafford is a third-grade student of Chickasaw Elementary School in Olive Branch.
Under the tutelage of 88-year-old coach Caroline Mirelli, a roller skating legend in the Mid-South, the youngsters nearly daily practice and train at the East End Skating Center in Memphis.
Whealon has been roller skating for several years but for Stafford, it’s been a sport she has quickly picked up and excelled in just the last couple of years.
This year in Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital city and where the National Museum of Roller Skating is located, Whealon and Stafford won gold in pairs competition in the Juvenile/Elementary B division, which is for youngsters age 12 and under.
In addition, Whealon took silver in the inline freestyle and bronze in the Open A Inline Creative Solo Free Dance competition.
Stafford also won a gold medal in the Inline Girls Free Skating competition and a silver medal in the Open A Creative Solo Free Dance event.
Whealon has been skating since he was age two and said roller figure skating is something he enjoys doing.
“I get to go fast, jump and stuff,” Whealon said. “And I get to keep moving.”
The pair spend much of their time at the roller rink practicing in front of Mirelli when not involved in school work.
“In the summer we come out three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon,” Whealon said. “But with school starting, we get only three hours a day here after school.”
The days of practice and competition are long but Stafford enjoys roller skating, an option she embraced instead of ice skating.
“My last competition I woke up at 4 a.m. and had to stay up until midnight,” Cora said. “I was so tired.”
Mirelli said the discipline to continue the long hours of practice is something that has impressed her about them.
“They had to be at the rink at 5 a.m. every morning and practice,” Mirelli said. “They also have to practice before their event and practice after the event. The thing that motivated them and kept them going is that you don’t see every day what you see at nationals. They were inspired to get even better.”
Stafford added the freestyle part of the sport is what she enjoys the most.
“My inline freestyle, I’m not scared because I love my freestyle,” Cora said. “I get to have more fun with it.”
Mirelli said she has seen continued improvement from Whealon and Stafford together.
“I think they’ve improved in skating faster in the pairs and everything,” Mirelli said. “They’ve gotten stronger and in the spinning and jumping, because when they go faster they jump higher and go further.”
Mirelli said she looks for several things when Douglas and Cora skate.
“I’m looking for unison when they’re skating together and the perfection of pointing their toes and stretching out and creativity,” she said. “When they do something that’s a little bit different from anybody else, we put it in the routine.”
Whealon is the son of Teri Whealon of Olive Branch and Cora is the daughter of Amanda and Kelly Stafford of Olive Branch.
They had best be planning to bring home more medals at future roller figure skating national events. But, they’ll have to travel a little further next year, as the national finals move from Nebraska to Spokane, Washington.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.