How Katelyn Kennedy became world class on eight wheels

By Sophie Carter
Photography by Josiah Nevell

Featured in Capital #87.
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Katelyn Kennedy is Upper Hutt’s resident high-roller.

It takes some people a lifetime to find their calling. Katelyn Kennedy found hers at age six. Donning her first pair of skates at her cousin’s roller-skating birthday party, she fell head over heels for the sport. “I realised I was quite good at it and begged my mum to let me start taking classes. And 16 years later I still love it as much as that very first day.”

In those 16 years Katelyn has reached world class, competing in all the artistic skating disciplines, including Dance, Figure, Free Skating, and Precision. Each is judged on a combination of choreography, accuracy, creativity, technical agility, and virtuosity.

She has represented Aotearoa at the Oceania Championships (between Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Taiwan) six times, receiving gold medals at five competitions. “One year I had an absolute blow-out and placed fourth in all my events – it happens!”

In 2017 she took to the world stage, jetting off to China for the World Roller Games, and then heading to France the following year for the Artistic Roller-Skating World Championships. “Being selected for these teams is not easy”, she says. “I was extremely happy to have placed 14th in the world at both these competitions.”

Recently Katelyn has stepped back from competing to focus on coaching. While she always envisioned a future as an athlete, teaching seemed to develop by itself, starting with her first assisting role aged 12.

With her calm teaching style and a mantra of “just keep trying,” coaching has grown into a full-time career, helping fearless children hone their techniques and adults look less like baby giraffes on wheels. “It’s special to give back to the sport.”

Coaching extends far beyond the rink. It involves choreographing routines, selecting and producing perfectly timed music, and even designing costumes. “Planning a new routine takes several hours, and when you have to do it for 22 kids you can imagine how long it takes.”

Each routine needs a show-stopping costume, and Katelyn sketches ideas for them, then works with a local maker to bring them to life. A favourite leotard was created for a Transformers-themed routine, featuring blue shoulder pads and embellished with a diamante robot.

Last year the 22-year-old’s career came full circle, when she became an assistant coach for New Zealand’s Oceania 2022 team, nine years after she competed in her first Oceania. The team of 44 skaters returned triumphant with 39 medals.

“Skating is still a very small and niche sport in New Zealand,” says Katelyn, who grew up close to Upper Hutt Roller Skating Club, one of the largest in the country. Now it’s where she trains and teaches her classes, six days a week.

The capital can be tricky for outdoor skating, but Katelyn makes a point of taking a skate around the waterfront each summer. “You just can’t beat Wellington on a good day, and when you combine it with roller-skating it’s the cherry on top!”


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