Shaye Taylor snugs her shoulders up around her earlobes. Her blue velvet skating dress with its rhinestone bodice is stunning, but it provides no warmth and Taylor is cold. She tries to warm up by skating faster around the Kent State University ice arena, practicing before compulsory figures [known as “moves in the field”] in the Special Olympics Ohio State Winter Games.
“Shaye, go put your sweater on! There’s no sense in trying to skate in the cold,” Kim Marshall, chief referee of the figure skating event, calls to her.
Shaye steps off the ice, and her twin sister, Sharita, is there with Shaye’s coat. The 27-year-olds have been skating together at Serpentini Arena [Winterhurst] since they were four. They are each other’s biggest fans.
Sharita watches her sister skate forward, backward, around the circles she has carved in the ice with her blades, time and again, changing direction, crossing ankle over ankle. Shaye successfully completes her figures and leaves the ice to applause, as Sharita enters for her compulsories.
Sharita looks a bit nervous, her lips clamped tightly together. She loosens up as she performs each move, guided by Marshall and U.S. Figure Skating judge Laura Murphy. Finishing to applause as well, she is wrapped in hugs, the first one from Shaye, as soon as she leaves the ice.
Skating has meant a lot to the two women, who are on the autism spectrum. They believe that their success on the ice has helped people to look past their “disability.”
Last year, Sharita was chosen to compete in the Special Olympics World Games in Austria. She earned a bronze medal in Ice Dancing and finished sixth in Freestyle Singles.
“My whole family got to go,” she says, smiling wide at the memory. “It was amazing. I had to stay with the team, and not with them, but that was OK,” she says, relaxed now that compulsories are over. “We got to tour a castle [Reigersburg in Styria state, perched near the top of a dormant volcano] and the owner was a real prince!” she says, her breathlessness having nothing at all to do with the exertion of skating. Sharita says she got to take a photo with Prince Josef-Emanuel of the Princely House of Liechtenstein.
“The next day at the tram stop, my brother saw my picture in an Austrian newspaper of me and the prince!” she says, still thrilled by the thought of it.
Another highlight of the Austrian trip: the women were interviewed by Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America.” The Taylors say they have long been fans of the co-anchor and former ESPN sportscaster, and were impressed by her warmth and kindness. Roberts even tweeted a photo of herself and the sisters, and gave a shout out to LeBron James, who answered the tweet “Love seeing Cleveland represented!! Good luck!! #StriveForGreatness.”
The women continue to strive. They practice every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon at Winterhurst. And they continue as athletes in the Special Olympics.
Although they are competitors, they offer each other support with no hint of sibling rivalry. Sharita had a big year in 2017, even winning an ESPY and being featured as one of Cleveland’s most interesting people in Cleveland Magazine.
“Shaye is my biggest cheerleader,” Sharita says, “and I’m hers.”