Buffalo, NY – A Western New York couple is competing for spots on the Olympic Free-Style Ski Team.
The road to the Olympics in Salt Lake City is complete with jumps, flips and aerial rotations for Kelly Hilliman and Corey Hacker. They are vying for only a few openings on the free style US ski team.
Kelly is a 24-year-old from Tonawanda, Corey is 29 and grew up in the town of Boston. Ironically, these local athletes both began learning to free-style ski and train in the mid 1990s but didn't meet until training with the U.S. team at Lake Placid. Now they've been training and dating for the last six years.
Kelly's athletic abilities began as a young child, taking tap, jazz and ballet at her mother's dance studio. She then began to learn how to ski at the age of nine. Her first attempt at a free-style flip was in 1993.
"I just like the fun, the excitement and the challenge. It was hard. Once I learned to perfect one flip then I could take it a step further and try to do another, add a twist to it, or do another flip," Kelly said. "It was rewarding to have performed a good jump and I just wanted to continue it."
By 1997, Kelly was selected for the National Ski Team. For Corey, who grew up in ski country, he began skiing as a young boy.
"My family was all into skiing. They were members of the ski patrol in this area. I lived pretty close to Kissing Bridge and the school bus would drop me off there everyday after school and I would ski until 9 or 10 o'clock at night and my parents would pick me up," he explained. "So that's kind of how I got started -- first skiing, like Kelly -- then I went up to a camp at Lake Placid and starting learning to do flips".
The couple spends their days training together and watching one another perform tremendous aerials.
"We train together. There's a men's and women's team, but we do all our training together. We go to the same events, mostly the same events. So sometimes it's tough if she's right in front of me to go off the jump before. It's just another thing to worry about," Corey said.
"I don't know what it is. But with me, I can handle the pressure and the excitement and nervousness because it's me doing it. But when I sit back to watch him do it, I get so nervous and I can't even watch, because I get so excited and so nervous that I really want him to do well," Kelly added.
Corey says sharing the same commitments makes a big difference in coping with the daily training grind. Kelly and Corey won't know if they are selected for the Olympic team until about two weeks prior to the start of the Salt Lake Winter games.
As for their chances of winning those spots, both remain focused on the last round of events they must compete in this month before the final cuts.
The 2002 Olympic Winter Games are set to begin February 8th in Salt Lake City, Utah.