Smooth ice, sharp skates and close competition seem to bring out the best in Jenell Berhorst.
Quiet and shy off the rink, the 15-year-old Auburn girl turns quick and aggressive on it.
Such a stage is Berhorst’s sanctuary, the ideal spot for someone who loves to go fast and furious with a strategic purpose in mind – to grab an edge and be up front in congested, tight-turn races.
“I have more confidence and determination when I’m on the ice,” said Berhorst, a standout speedskater who was named to the U.S. Short Track Junior Development Team earlier this year. “I try to be a role model for all of the younger skaters. It makes me feel good knowing that many of them want to follow in my steps.”
Berhorst finds herself following her dreams and those blade marks left behind by locally-produced, international speedskaters.
A national-class speedskater, Berhorst has caught the attention of Team USA coaches – so much in fact that U.S. Speedskating recently nominated her as one of two American girls spots to compete at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland on Jan. 9-22.
Berhorst, the daughter of Joe and Jackie Berhorst, earned the bid after recently completing three days of intense competition at the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City. News of her nomination came Oct. 6.
“I didn’t expect to make the team,” said Berhorst, a sophomore at Auburn High School, “so when I actually made it, it was unbelievable.”
Berhorst will join Virginia’s Choi So on the trip to Switzerland. Berhorst will race at 500 and 1,000 meters.
In keeping true to tradition, the local area will showcase the latest generation of speedskating stars this winter and beyond. Federal Way’s Aaron Tran and Bonney Lake’s Corinne Stoddard made Team USA’s 2019-20 fall short track World Cup team.
For Berhorst, the chance to skate at the Youth Olympic Games represents a step to where she ultimately would like to go – the 2022 (Beijing, China) or 2026 (Milan-Cortina, Italy) Olympic Games.
“She definitely would like to get to the Olympics one day,” said her father, “but it’s a very tough road balancing athletics and education. Education is really important to her as well.”
Speedskating is play, but education is business.
Berhorst, a straight-A student, has a long list of goals, among them to graduate from a good university, possibly pursue a career in sports medicine, travel the world and become an independent woman.
Her persistence and work ethic make anything possible, according to her coaches and family.
“She’s a very hard worker,” said Berhorst’s coach, Chang Lee, who works with her and her Puget Sound Speed Skating Club teammates at Tacoma Twin Rinks. “She understands my orders, and she accomplishes them.”
A technically sound skater, Berhorst is learning more about race tactics and making adjustments based on how a race unfolds.
She got a peek at the Team USA’s Olympic training center in Salt Lake City, where she was introduced to many facets of the sport,such as learning about the psychology of racing, nutrition, and how to take care of yourself and your equipment. She also shared camaraderie.
“She got a taste of what it’s like to be on the world team, the facilities and living in Utah. It’s an honor,” her dad said. “It’s a great honor and opportunity for her to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games. It’s pretty cool.”
Berhorst began to compete as an inline roller skater at the Auburn rink and Federal Way’s Pattison’s West. She shed roller blades for ice skates about seven years ago and hasn’t looked back. She soon excelled at local and regional races in the Northwest and Canada before placing second at national competitions.
“Her personality really shines, and it’s a way for her to express herself out on the ice,” Joe Berhorst said. “She loves to go fast.”