Dano's career began when she was just 5 years old.
"My mom wanted to put me in something that would take my energy up," she said. She remembers watching the older skaters in awe as they whirled around the rink. "I was falling all over the place but I loved it."
Nowadays, at her home rink in Redwood City, all eyes are on Dano. She has come a long way since her first attempts at skating — a two-time regional champion, she has competed twice at Junior Nationals in addition to her recent win abroad.
On the ice, she looks much older than her 16 years. She lifts her arms gracefully while gliding across the rink, extending a leg into the air and elongating her tiny five-foot frame. Suddenly she is spinning rapidly, grabbing a foot and pulling it up and over her head — a Bielman spin, her favorite trick.
Dano is just getting warmed up after returning from the Philippines.
"I had no expectations," she said of her first trip to the national competition there. After her short program she was .6 points behind the leader. She secured the win with her long program, finishing 12 points ahead of the competition.
Her giddiness is still palpable: "I guess it was good, because I won!"
For the next two years, Dano will compete as a member of the Philippine national team — she has the opportunity to compete for the Philippines because her father is Filipino, and she has dual citizenship. She believes her chances of making it to Vancouver in 2010 are better if she competes outside the U.S.
"In America there are a lot of skaters," she explained. "I thought, maybe I can compete for the Philippines."
The road to the Olympics will be long and include grand prix events and national competitions. If she, and the Philippine team in general, does well, Dano could possibly receive an invitation to the Olympics.
"She's got some work to do," said Julie Lowndes, her coach of eight years. "She needs to get a couple triple jumps. She needs to bring her skating up to more of a championship level."
But Lowndes, who has been coaching skaters for 26 years, said that Katie may be her first to try for an Olympic run.
"She's definitely one of my better skaters," she said. "I've had [skaters achieve] national placement, but I've never had an Olympic competitor. It would be really fun to share that with her."
Lowndes said one of the factors will be getting enough training time in. During the summer months Dano practices three to four hours per day in Redwood City. When school starts, she will wake up at 4:30 a.m. to hit the ice before class. And then there's off-ice training: Pilates, cardio, weights.
Dano struggles to keep a balance between skating and school, but says her teachers are mostly supportive. Her coaches, on the other hand, are still having trouble letting her out of practice on time.
"I got so many tardies this year I almost had to go to Saturday school," she said.
For Dano, the balancing act is well worth the effort. Through skating she has become a seasoned traveler, competing in Europe three times. She recently made a fourth trip to celebrate her 16th birthday with her best friend, Eva, a skater from Belgium who competes for the Netherlands.
"I have the best experiences friends-wise," she said. "I have friends all over the world. We all have the same love for skating."
Friendly competition with skaters she's met both home and abroad keeps Dano keen on fine tuning her skating — that, and the possibility of a trip to Vancouver.
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