EAST AURORA, N.Y. (WKBW) — For the first time in their ice dancing careers, Jean-Luc Baker and Kaitlin Hawayek will be representing the United States at the Winter Olympic Games.
"It's hard to put into words realistically because it's such an amazing feeling," Baker said about making the Olympics.
Baker and Hawayek became an ice dancing duo ten years ago, after a recommendation by the U.S. Skating Federation. It turned into the biggest blessing.
"It was very effortless," Hawayek said about their first time skating together. "We had similar skating styles and similar personalities, so it was just a quick fit for one another."
The two have since compiled seven top-10 finishes at either the U.S. or World Championships. They've grown closer than ever over the years, especially in the summer of 2020. The U.S.-Canada border restrictions made it hard to train in the first few months of the COVID-19 Pandemic so the two decided to quarantine together in Hawayek's hometown of East Aurora, N.Y.
"It brought us even closer because we now have a much deeper understanding of one another and our communication has gotten even better," Baker said. "I think it's a big attribute to our success."
While a lot of couples were sidelined because of COVID-19 restrictions and available venues, Hawayek and Baker lucked out. A twin rink in Lockport was deemed essential, with half of the rink being used as a daycare. The other half was available for Baker and Hawayek to use in the early morning.
"I look back at that time and I'm super fortunate and grateful that the Buffalo area was able to provide something for us when most people didn't have that access," Hawayek said.
Hawayek's skating career began in the Buffalo area with the Skating Club of Western New York. Her skating career then took her to the Detroit area where she continued to train and grow as a skater.
Her journey is now leading her to Beijing this weekend where she and Baker will compete in the biggest dances of their careers. Everyone dreams of winning a medal, but the two are focused on a performance they, their families, and Western New York can be proud of.
"Buffalo fans are behind their athletes like no other," Hawayek said. "Always knowing that they're following me and supporting me, it's a really special feeling to then carry that on to an Olympic stage."
The ice dancing competition is set for February 12th and 14th Beijing time.