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Sights set on the gold

Young Navajo skater plans for 2008 Olympics

PUYALLUP, Wash. - It's June 20 and the final heat of the Indoor Northwest
Regionals in Portland, Ore. Misha Yellowman Averill is on the starting line
with seven other inline speed skaters.

Yellowman Averill competed for three years and practiced twice a day, seven
days a week, before this race - a race that will take only 30 seconds.
Still, her mind is as clear and focused as any other time she's been on the
line: "I don't think about anything except what do I need to do to be in
the lead," she said.

Her discipline has paid off. In her career, she has won about 60 medals -
most of them gold and silver - and at the Northwest regionals won a gold in
the Freshman Girls' Division and a silver in the Sophomore Girls'
Two-Person Relay.

She is expected to win a place on the U.S. Junior World Team in May 2005.
She hopes to compete in inline speed skating at the 2008 Olympics in
Beijing, China (efforts are under way to make inline speed skating an
Olympic sport).

Yellowman Averill, Navajo, has time on her side: She is only 13.

"She is just so fast," said her coach, Dennis King. "She has the ability to
focus and execute on a high plane."

King is former chairman of the National Speed Coaches Association, owns the
largest indoor skating surface in Washington state and has coached four
skaters to world gold.

King said Yellowman Averill, his latest protege, has what it takes to be
his fifth.

Hard to imagine that nine years ago, her parents tried to enroll her in a
Tiny Tots skating program but she wasn't interested because she didn't like
the shoes.

"She eventually got over it," said Debbie Averill, Misha's mom.

In 2001, her first year of competition, Yellowman Averill was the top
Juvenile Division skater in the Northwest Region - which includes skaters
from Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Utah - and the
number two juvenile skater in the U.S. The next three years, she won golds
and silvers in regional and national standard competition.

But it was in 2004 that her mental and physical maturity as a skater shined
through. She raced in an upper-rank competition for the first time - in the
National Bank Track and Road Championships May 26 - June 1 at the Olympic
Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Yellowman Averill won the silver in the Freshman Girls' 300-meter, with a
time of 31.366 seconds; the silver in the Freshman Girls' 200-meter, with a
time of 21.094 seconds; and a bronze in the Freshman Girls' 500-meter.

She followed up three weeks later with a gold and silver at the Indoor
Northwest Regionals.

It was the Indoor Nationals July 17 - 24 in Lincoln, Neb., that challenged
her the most. The races were longer - up to 2,000 meters. The skaters were
older. "I was kind of the little one in there," she said. "The other
skaters were more experienced." And more aggressive. "The refs don't always
see it," she said of the bumps she got on the track. She finished in fifth
place.

Finishing fifth tested the gold medalist's maturity as well. Her mother
said she passed with flying colors.

"She handled it really well," Averill said. "She held herself really well
and went over the 'ands' and 'ifs' with her coach."

Coach King said Yellowman Averill has the mental attitude it takes to a
win. "Race strategy is 90 percent mental," he said. "She learns the
mechanics really fast and she's gifted with endurance. We're very proud of
her."

King said a successful skater has a good team - parents who can lighten up
when the skater is stressed, a coach that can stick with the skater for the
long term, a willingness to commit resources that come from the heart and
the pocketbook.

"There are going to be tears, outbreaks and owies," King said. "The
pressure on them is enormous. There can't be contention in the family. When
they are racing, they need to know their family is behind them."

By the time Yellowman Averill becomes a world-level athlete, her parents
will have spent between $50,000 to $200,000 on training and travel. "I do
not want parents taking out a second mortgage on an emotional moment," King
said.

And King will have invested $65,000 to $100,000 worth of coaching time. To
King, it's worth it. "I love kids and I love excellence. It's a wonderful
journey."

To say Yellowman Averill has a good coach may be an understatement. In
1995, King coached the U.S. World Team in Mexico City. He coached Olympic
speed-skaters Apollo Ohno and KC Boutiette at the U.S. Olympic Training
Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Of Yellowman Averill, King said, "I've been coaching 45 years. I think she
will win the gold. And she will be my last athlete."

Visit Yellowman Averill's home and ignore the homemade cases holding her
trophies and medals and you get the impression she is a "regular" junior
high school kid. She enjoys art, particularly origami, and collects
Barbies, Beanie Babies, stickers and coins. She likes hanging out with
friends.

She's devoted to her Navajo heritage. She and her parents and younger
brother, Darin, visit their family in Utah regularly, and she dances Jingle
Dress and Fancy Shawl at pow wows.

"It's kind of hard to be a normal kid. I try to have another life," she
said.

But she's also an overachiever, a straight-A student who plays trumpet in
the school band, runs cross-country, sings in the chorus, serves on the
Kalles Junior High School Senate and gave the dedication speech for her new
school.

"She's really an overachiever," Averill said. "She expects a lot from
herself. An A's not good enough for her. We don't push it on her. She does
this on her own."

"It's because I'm so competitive. I guess I'm really competitive,"
Yellowman Averill said.

Yellowman Averill would ultimately like to earn a college degree in
engineering and become a civil engineer, like her father, Richard, who
works for the City of Seattle. She got an early taste of engineering in
April 1998, when she worked with her dad on a bridge project for a contest
and won third place.

But first, skating. She attended a track clinic in September at the Olympic
Training Center and will compete in local and regional races through fall.

She is raising money to visit France in March to watch the U.S. World Team
compete (she was invited by team Coach Joe Cotter, who believes Yellowman
Averill could win one of the four positions on the U.S. Junior World Team
next year).

Then she will practice for the world team tryouts, scheduled for May in
Colorado.

You can follow Yellowman Averill's career at the USA Roller Sport
Association Web site: www.usarollersports.org.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at (360) 378-6289 or irishmex2000@yahoo.com.

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