Maryland Inline Speed Skaters Roll Into Italy’s World Games

Earlier this month, Timonium's Kenna Pfeiffer and Hagerstown native Piper Leazier made the U.S. National Team.

Though inline speed skater Kenna Pfeiffer did ride horses as a little girl, there aren’t athletic roots in her family. Her folks actually joke that her skating career resulted from poor parenting.

“They used to drop me off at the indoor skating rink all weekend, so it was like having a $20-an-hour babysitter,” says the Timonium native. “I’ve been in love with this since I started.”

Introduced to inline skating in her driveway at age 8 by a friend, the sport began as a “fun thing.” It remained so even when, on a dare, she joined Fast Forward Racing, a local club with worldly reach. Her involvement, and success, have blossomed ever since.

Fast Forward, which calls the indoor track at Turner’s Skate Palace in Hagerstown home, is where both Pfeiffer, 18, and Piper Leazier, 15, honed their skills.

This month, both became members of the U.S. National Team that will compete in the World Games in Vicenza, Italy Aug. 26 to Sept. 3. The two distance specialists qualified Aug. 9 after a weeklong tryout at the Brian Piccolo Sports Park & Velodrome in Cooper City, Florida. Pfeiffer is a senior team qualifier, and Leazier, the daughter of Fast Forward’s co-founder, Patty Leazier (whose family recently relocated to Florida), matched the feat in the junior division.

Pfeiffer, a graduate this spring from St. Paul’s School for Girls, made the junior team as a national champion last August, and competed in October 2022 at the World Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a sprinter specialist, she placed 25th in the one-lap race and 26th in the 100-meter drag in her first international exposure.

Pfeiffer skating with Fast Forward head coach Kelsey Rogers, an 11-time national team and world qualifier from Hagerstown. —Photography by Mark Russell
Piper Leazier, 15, is a junior U.S. National Team qualifier. —Photography by Cécile Hérault Vincent

Now, as a distance skater, she’s racing in events up to 15 kilometers that better suit her lanky 5-foot-9 body. She became a sprinter last year because it reduced wear and tear on her leg injuries, the result of an exercise-induced musculoskeletal condition called exertional compartment syndrome. She could live with the pain, but not race with it. And since she’s living to race, she endured three elective surgeries the past three years on an ankle and both shins, including one six-month recovery prolonged by an infection.

“It took me back further, but after that it really motivated me to make the team again this year,” Pfeiffer says. “I really wanted to show everyone. I had those surgeries so I could continue to compete.”

For her, progress beyond Fast Forward included hiring a new coach, three-time World Champion Jorge Andres Botero—a native of Colombia, South America—in February. She’s been training with him in Colombia on a parabolic bank track, as well as in Florida, where she’ll attend Seminole State College in the fall.

The U.S. was the world’s best team in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Colombia’s team has since become the sport’s epicenter. Its dominance makes a financial investment in a U.S. Olympic Team futile, so without U.S. Olympic Committee support, inline skating here is self-funded and expensive.

Fast Forward is helping to change that. Over the years, 10-plus local skaters have competed internationally. “It helps us as coaches to know that our program is working,” says Hagerstown’s Kelsey Rogers, a 11-year Team USA member who recently replaced Patty Leazier as the co-ed club’s head coach.

Almost 25 years ago, Fast Forward began when Patty partnered with Michael Hellman, her best friend at North High in Hagerstown and Rogers’ father. Rogers’ fraternal twin sister, Kirsten Becraft, also competed at an elite level until a knee injury. In 2014, both qualified for the World Games. Kirsten, who now competes in roller derby and coaches Fast Forward’s beginner’s class, made the senior team. Rogers remained a junior.

In qualifying for 11 straight World Games, Rogers accumulated 50-plus national medals. She won a world medal in a 2015 relay and a bronze medal in an individual 10K elimination race at the 2019 Pan American Games. “Now, I’m trying to bring that to the table to help our littles,” she says.

At 27, Rogers has competed since age 4, but is taking a break to focus on coaching and to sift through training programs that might help prolong her racing career. She tore all the ligaments in her right knee at the 2021 World Games.

She counts 20-plus mostly young skaters at team practices, including another with long-term potential, Sharpsburg’s 11-year-old McKenna Luther, already a national champion many times over. Skaters have to be 15 to compete for a spot on the Junior National Team. Still, establishing the sport’s identity remains an uphill climb.

“We keep trying to get the sport out there,” Rogers says. “We’re always trying to produce up-and-comers, but when I talk to people about my sport, they say, ‘Ice?’ ‘No. It’s the one with rollerblades,’ I have to explain.”