FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Fairfield native Kristen Santos is poised for the U.S. Olympic team trials in speedskating this weekend, despite suffering a devastating hand injury at the World Cup in China just weeks ago.
The 2012 Fairfield Warde High School graduate is training eight hours a day in Salt Lake City for her chance at joining the U.S. team in South Korea.
“It’s something I have to just work through,” said the 23-year-old. “I’m just happy to be able to skate at trials.”
Santos was in a race at the World Cup in November, when another skater accidentally fell on her, raking a skate across Santos’ left hand. Santos suffered cut tendons in her wrist and fingers, forcing her to wear a cast while the injuries heal.
Short track speedskaters use their left hands when they pivot around curves and Santos — a two-time Junior National Champion — has had to adjust to the change in her form.
But the injury hasn’t dampened the skater’s spirits or determination to succeed at her favorite sport.
“Honestly, it’s a really thrilling sport,” she said, noting top contenders reach speeds of 30 m.p.h. “I love the speed.”
Santos started figure skating at the tender age of three, taking lessons at Bridgeport’s Wonderland of Ice.
But a Disney ad extolling the merits of speedskating caught her eye when she was nine and her mother went on the hunt for places to try the sport near their Villa Avenue home.
She came up with Yale’s “The Whale,” all the way in New Haven.
“It was me and a ton of older people, people in their 40s and 50s trying to stay active,” Santos said, laughing. “My mom was, like, oh my god, she’s gonna hate this. But I ended up loving it.”
Santos started competing soon afterward and showed early promise. She traveled out to the University of Utah for college, hoping to juggle both studies and sports, but she’s since put school on hold while she makes her push for the Olympic squad.
Funding her grueling routine isn’t easy and Santos credits family for helping her reach for her dreams.
She’ also part of DICK’S Sporting Goods’ Contenders Program. As Team USA’s official sporting goods retail sponsor, the company has hired about 100 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, offering them flexible schedules and competitive wages while they train.
“Sometimes you can only work for a couple hours at a time,” Santos said. “They give us that ability. They understand our sport comes first.”
A typical day finds Santos at the rink at 8 a.m. to warm up for a two-hour ice session, followed by two more hours of running, biking or weight training. Then it’s off to lunch or work and a second four-hour training session in the afternoon.
On Dec. 15, she’ll join others — many of whom are friends — vying for only three spots on the U.S. women’s speed skating team.
What are her chances?
“It’s an unpredictable sport,” she said. “Anything can happen.”
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