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Wauwatosa East junior Samantha Snyder competes on a national level. But you might never have heard of her because her sport isn't sponsored by the WIAA.

If you are looking for Samantha, she works out five to six days a week at the Pettit National Ice Center. A competitive speed skater, she recently earned a spot on the World Junior Championship team and competed in China on March 11-13.

"For speed skaters, this is a highly coveted position," noted her mother, Jennifer Snyder. "(She has been) training for years in the hopes of making a World Cup team and, of course, an Olympic team."

What makes this achievement even more impressive is that Samantha went down in her first event at the U.S. Junior Championships and sustained a concussion last year, which took her out of contention for the remainder of the season.

Samantha recalled the accident.

"It happened on the first corner," she said. "I had a concussion and suffered whiplash and was out for two weeks. I was able to come back, but suffered more whiplash pain, and it was uncomfortable."

Jennifer pointed out Samantha had other physical problems to deal with, as well.

"She also had other health issues that would cause her legs to seriously cramp up during practice early on at the start of this season," Jennifer said. "We have since been able to get that under control, and it is no longer a concern. But it did affect her racing negatively as recently as early December."

Best event

Samantha's best event is the 3,000 meters. At the beginning of the season, she finished in just over 5 minutes, which is much slower than her previous personal best. She needed a 4:40.04 in order to qualify for the Junior World Cup team.

Because that seemed nearly impossible, Samantha and her coach, Eric Cepuran, took a different approach to the season, calling it a rebuilding year. But as the year went on, and her health improved and she trusted her coach's tactics, Samantha's time dropped each time she competed at events.

"During my summer training I was able to get back into shape," Samantha said, recalling the beginning of the long road back. "It tool about 2½ months to get my feet back under me. I was going really slow.

"It started to come together and paying off, from June to August, September to mid-November. I was making more progression, and I kept improving. Mentally, I could see all my hard work was paying off."

The weekend of Jan. 8-10 was the U.S. Long Track Championships, and she came within 3 seconds in the 3K to qualify for the Junior Worlds. Simply dropping so much time was already a big win for her, but she was then learned that if she dropped another three seconds the following weekend at the AmCup 2 — a series of three skating events throughout the season at three different venues in the states — she would earn a spot on the team.

Her time of reckoning came Jan. 17. With the crowd cheering her on as she skated her 71/2 laps, Samantha showed what she was made of and skated her best race ever, dropping more than 5 seconds to solidify her spot.

"It was amazing," Jennifer said. "Everyone was cheering and shouting. It made for an epic moment for her and her team (she will be joining three other members). To drop that much time in back-to-back racing events is huge."

The important thing for Samantha was believing she could do it.

"I felt amazing," she said. "Everything I had gone through the past year, the hard times. I told myself to keep working, trying to go for something that was possible to myself and some other people."

Her father, Jay Snyder, talked about his daughter's makeup.

"We were floored and impressed," he said of her qualifying. "You have to have a short memory. Whether you do good or do bad in an event, just forget it. She had a great level of determination. It doesn't matter if she is going for a gold medal. She just takes the bull by the horns and does it."

Sneaky dad

Yet none of this would have never happened if she didn't like playing the piano.

"I tricked her," Jay said. "She hated piano lessons. I told her if she would figure skate, she could get out of piano lessons, so she quickly quit piano."

Figure skating was better than piano for Samantha, who also tried ballet, but in the end it didn't fit her personality.

"Everything she did, she did really fast," Jay said. "Sam is like a bull in a china shop. She liked ice. Figure skating was nice for awhile, but it was not appealing to her. There was no aggression. It was more reserved."

When she was 10, Samantha joined the Wisconsin Speed Skating Club. Jay and Jenny knew Samantha would succeed.

"We knew she would do good at it," Jay said. "She was always powerful, always quick. In hindsight, we were only a mile away from the Pettit National Ice Center."

Samantha loves the thrill of speedskating.

"I really like the atmosphere," she said. "I love the speed, competition, the adrenaline. I enjoy the friends."

Goal-oriented

Jay said that speedskating fits his daughter's style because she is very goal-oriented.

"She sets the goals that she wanted to get," he said. "When she does, it's like a notch in her belt. Then she sets another goal. It's never good enough. She thrives in that environment. The mental atmosphere fits her need.

"She always was goal-oriented. If there was something she wanted, she put her mind to it."

So what's next on her agenda?

"I like to write them down," she said of her goals. "When I achieve one, I can go on to the other. One of my goals is to improve technically. You need to accomplish the little goals to reach the big ones."

When asked where she thinks she is currently at, she quickly, confidently responded: "I think I'm pretty good."

It's hard to argue with the results.