As a young girl, Cesia Salan dreamed she would compete on behalf of the country she now calls home.
That was until the 19-year-old University of Florida student brought her lifelong passion for artistic roller skating to her native country, Guatemala.
Salan’s sport is a rare form of skating that is celebrated by few since its heyday in the disco era of the 1970s.
“It’s like ice figure skating, but on wheels,” said Salan, who has more than 10 years of experience in artistic roller skating.
This is the elevator pitch that Salan has perfected and used frequently this fall, explaining her journey to compete at the Artistic Skating World Championship (Worlds) from Sept. 14-27.
Salan finished her first Worlds competition at 23rd overall, cementing her place among all skaters across the globe.
The journey to what Salan describes as a “lifelong dream” doesn’t quite fit in her daily spiel.
The first time that the Miami-native ever put on a pair of skates was during her seventh birthday party at the Super Wheels Skating Center in the Kendall area.
Admitting that she had difficulty with the sport at first, Salan practiced hard to win gold at her first regional and national competition held in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2008.
“It was really unexpected,” she said. “No one had ever heard of me, and they were like, ‘who the hell is that girl?’”
Salan has been to every regional competition through 2014, where she’s qualified for nationals consistently.
“I was right there with the top [competitors] almost every year,” she said.
When Salan moved to Gainesville in the fall of 2014, the now second-year microbiology student decided to hang up her skates and take a break from competitions to focus on school.
Her break didn’t last long.
Salan first saw the Guatemalan skating delegation at the Pan American Championship in Orlando in January 2015.
Salan moved to the U.S. from her native country of Guatemala when she was five years old and makes regular visits to the country where most of her family remains. She was floored to see an artistic roller skating team from Guatemala, where the sport is even more unpopular than it is here, she said.
“It was their first competition ever,” she said. “They only had two skaters and they had never been to a competition before this one; they were just starting out.”
Salan remained in touch with the team and was invited to appear before the Guatemala Athletics Federation in March 2015. She performed for Guatemala’s Olympic Committee and the head of athletics at Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala.
“That was scary because in the U.S. there’s girls who are way better than me, having skated longer and training harder than I have,” Salan said. “But in Guatemala, they had never seen artistic roller skating at my level.”
Over the summer, Salan was invited to compete compete on Guatemala’s behalf as part of the first-ever Worlds delegation in Colombia later that fall.
While Salan had never imagined reaching this athletic milestone so quickly, she believes everything had worked out perfectly, she said.
“But, when they asked me, it clicked with me. This is my country and I want this,” she said.
Nicole Ogloza, Salan’s friend, classmate and skating peer, knew that Salan had made the right choice. Ogloza is a former USA Worlds competitor who placed in the junior team dance in 2013.
“It’s more about the natural ability to be able to skate and put your heart and time into this, and she has it,” said Ogloza, the 21-year-old UF business senior.
As a competitor, Ogloza said she knew exactly the feeling of pride and excitement Salan had when she received the email inviting her to Worlds.
“If you have a dream to go to Worlds, it was our life,” Ogloza said.
In August, weeks before the competition in Colombia, Salan returned to Gainesville to resume her studies as a sophomore.
“I don’t even know when I studied. I went to school, went to Ocala, came back and did more school,” she said. Salan said she spent most of her time at Skate A Way South.
Leaving school in the middle of the fall semester was another challenge.
“I sent the Dean an email and told everything about what I was doing, explaining to her what this meant to me,” Salan said. That email led to the Dean of Students tweeting about Salan to the UF community and the public at large.
While Salan couldn’t be excused from her academics as she wasn’t competing in a university-related capacity, she said professors did their best to accommodate her and “wished me the best.”
Touching down in Colombia on Sept. 16, the competition began for Salan as soon as she stepped off the plane.
“From the airport, I went immediately to the arena and the rink for my official practice,” she said.
It was there that the Guatemalan team’s coach saw her figure skate for the first time.
“She didn’t know my level of skating and she didn’t know anything about my division, about figures,” Salan said. “She had never even seen figures.”
Having two days to practice in Colombia, including the day she arrived, Salan said she was surprised at how well she had skated considering it was her first competition in over a year.
“The practices and warmups, I skated literally the best that I’ve ever skated in my entire life, which was crazy,” she said. “I thought I would be nervous and dying since I didn’t have half as much preparation as some others.”
The competition itself lasted just a single day.
“Everything that you’ve worked for in your whole life, it was just in one day,” she said.
Having placed 23rd overall, Salan has earned her spot among all artistic roller skaters across the globe. While artistic roller skating isn’t represented at the Olympic Games, Salan doesn’t feel her achievement isn’t any less important than those who do compete at the games.
“It was definitely my dream to compete at the Olympics, at first,” she said. “But this whole journey has made me realize that Artistic Skating World Championship is our olympics.”
Back in Gainesville, Salan has had time to reflect on what she’s learned from her journey to Worlds and accomplishing her personal goal in her skating career.
“I took my chance because it was an opportunity and it was there, and Mom always taught me to take every opportunity I get,” she said. “Now, I want to do good in school and get good grades to become a doctor.’
Despite studying medicine after graduation, Salan plans to be a cornerstone of the artistic roller skating sport for the rest of her life.
“One day when I’m super old and my bones can’t take it anymore, I definitely see myself being a coach or a judge in this sport,” she said.
Salan and Ogloza hope to raise awareness for the athletes who skate on wheels, rather than ice, and seem to miss out on popular public support.
“In the United States, [artistic roller skating] is definitely a dying sport, which is really sad,” Salan said.
Salan doesn’t compare her sport to the highly publicized ice figure skating and performance domain, where she believes competition gets the best of the competitor.
“I’ve met some of my best friends in competition,” she said. “Instead of hating each other, we pull each other up on the podium and take pictures together and congratulate each other when we are successful.”
Salan isn’t certain of competitions, but she remains a vibrant part of the Guatemala Athletics Federation.
And, for now, that’s good enough for her.
“I’m a big part of Guatemalan artistic skating now. They want me to go back and teach kids how to skate, coaches how to be a part of this sport,” she said. “I’m helping those on the same journey that I had myself.”