Have you ever had dreams of being a professional athlete or entertainer? Katie Ketchum, 26 and a native Western New Yorker, has the best of both worlds. Not only is she a professional in-line skater, but she is also a part of Wintuk, a branch of Cirque du Soleil in New York City.
So, when did she start in-line skating and how did she get started in the entertainment world? NeXt caught up with Ketchum, and even got to skate with her and see firsthand how hard it is to do what she does for a living.
No matter what age you are when you start working toward a goal, it is never too late. Ketchum first started Rollerblading when she was 16, a sophomore in high school. Her first time Rollerblading was with her stepbrother at a skate park in Springville. After skating there once, she loved it, and could not stop.
"It started out gradually," Ketchum said, "because I was a big soccer player growing up. I started out going [Rollerblading] once every few weeks, then once every week, and soon enough once everyday. I tried doing it as much as possible because I just loved doing it."
It wasn't until 2002, when she graduated from Hamburg High School, that Ketchum realized Rollerblading might be a possible career choice for her. She ended the summer well in the amateur competitive circuit for Rollerblading, and everyone pushed her to go for it. They encouraged Ketchum to go to the world championships, just so she could see what she could really do.
That was the year she turned pro, placing in the top three at the Amateur World Championships.
When she turned pro, she attended a lot of different competitions in many different parts of the world. What was it like being away from family and friends?
"Oh, they think it's great!" Ketchum said. "They are very supportive and are always pushing me to do the best that I can. Also, because of Rollerblading, I've even met a lot of people from around the world. So, I end up going to visit them, whether it's in Europe, Asia, South America, or even the United States. It's a great time because I get to still have friends supporting me in other countries, too."
When you think of the X-Games, and other serious competition, you usually tend to think of male skaters. So what is it like to be a female, competing in what is a male-dominated sport?
"No, the guys are great," she said. "They always support you to do the best you can, and it's a bit more challenging because, you know, you want to be at their level and sometimes it pushes you to do better at your sport. They help you out a lot, and it's a really good feeling. No hard feelings, no scary feelings ... it's a lot of fun."
One of her greatest personal successes was when Ketchum landed a 900. A 900 is two and a half flips in the air on in-line skates, and it was the first time a female had ever landed it. It was just something she had thought about trying a couple of years earlier. Soon it became easier and easier to learn, and it just started coming to her. For Ketchum, trying it out on ramps, with nothing soft to protect her, was the hardest part of attempting it. Despite its difficulty, Ketchum proved that success comes with hard work and dedication.
"I was more driven to do it," she said, "because I wanted it. I wanted that goal. I wanted that achievement, so I just worked toward it, got over my fear and just went for it. You have to at least try it."
Not only was landing a 900 a big accomplishment for her, but it was also big for the sport of in-line skating.
Being a professional athlete is quite different than being a professional entertainer. Being a professional athlete involves competing against others, while performing requires working with others. How did Ketchum become involved with the entertaining world?
Ketchum first heard about Cirque du Soleil in 2005, when they were looking for male skaters for their Beatles show called "LOVE" in Las Vegas. Although they were looking for male skaters, Ketchum decided to sign up, knowing that she was at the same level as the men who applied. Although she didn't get hired for that particular job, in 2006 she was called to skate for a branch of Cirque du Soleil in New York City called Wintuk. Ketchum has been with the show since it started.
How hard was it to adjust to performing on Rollerblades rather than competing on them?
"It was huge," Ketchum said. "In the competition world, you just have to worry about doing your routine for one minute, and landing all your tricks. With Cirque, you have to apply your tricks and adapt to the ramps set up on the stage. Along with doing that, you have to play a character as well. Over time it becomes very, very fun, but in the beginning it was challenging to create my character's movements and interactions with the other characters on stage, all while skating and not skating."
Finally, what advice would she give to those teens out there that someday would like to excel in a sport or performing art?
"I say go for it! If you have a sport or skill you are excelling in and love to do, you should just keep working hard and keep practicing a lot to become the best you can be in your sport/skill. When you feel ready, you should apply!"