Skating towards their dreams

Ten years from now, the 2018 Winter Olympics might hold some familiar faces.

Helena resident Carolyn Diehl, 9, and Preston Culpepper, 14, from Pelham, are a pair skating duo that hopes to make it to the top of the winter sport — even though they’re from a state that’s sunny all year round.

Culpepper, who has skated since he was 5, said he was destined to be a skater almost from birth.

“My mom said I saw skating on TV when I was 2, and I said that was what I wanted to do,” he said.

However, it took him a while to get used to the ice, said their coach, Danny Tate.

“He kept falling on his face,” Tate said.

Diehl, who started when she was 4, had an easier time learning to skate.

“It just feels like it was something that was meant for me,” she said. “I could do it all day long.”

Tate has worked with Culpepper, a ninth-grader at Hope Christian Home School, since he was 5. He started working with Diehl a year ago after they decided to try pair skating. The pair made a good match because of their personalities and physical size: Diehl is an even 4 feet tall, and Culpepper is 5 feet 7 inches.

“She’s very small and petite, and he’s very strong,” Tate said. “They’re an even match.”

The two competed in their first pairs competition in Nashville in April. They competed against two other teams and captured first place.

Diehl, a fourth-grader at Helena Intermediate School, said her favorite part of ice skating is the competition.

“You’re there showing everyone what you have,” she said. “It gets you really excited.”

Next, the pair will travel to Texas to compete in sectional championships. If Diehl and Culpepper place in the top eight at sectionals, they will go on to the junior nationals.

Eventually, however, the goal is to make it to the Olympics. The pair is hoping to reach that milestone together.

“I want to go to the Olympics, but with Preston, mostly,” Diehl said.

Tate said the two actually have a shot at making it. Their decision to work as a pair benefits them, because pair skaters are much more rare than individual skaters.

“It’s a little easier to go as a team,” Tate said.

Both Diehl and Culpepper choose to get up before dawn to practice before school. Such dedication is unusual for two people so young.

“Normally people think I’m pretty different, but I think it’s because it’s such a unique thing that I can do,” Diehl said.

Tate, who has coached since 1994, said he thought both had the dedication and drive to go as far as they want.

“If she stays small and he stays healthy, they have a very good chance,” he said. “The energy they bring is wonderful.”