Jan. 30, 2012
BOSTON — It’s late afternoon at Starbucks in Brighton off Soldiers Field Road and Tyler Harris, a 24-year-old with an easy smile, greets regulars at the start of his shift.
Now, Harris knows quite a few people here by name, but they don't know his alter ego. Harris could be likened to a comic book super hero: a mild mannered Starbucks store manager at night … but when the sun comes up, he changes into a skin-tight costume and transforms into a world-class skater, gliding what seems effortlessly across the ice at the Skating Club of Boston.
Just about every day, Harris is here from early morning to 3:00 p.m. pursuing a dream. He and his skating partner Kloe Bautista have their sights on competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"Standing out in front of a stadium of people… there's no way of emulating that," he said. "It's a great feeling."
But making the U.S. team is tough. So their bright idea?"One day she just said to me, 'Hey, you know, we could represent the Philippines because I'm Filipino,'" Harris said.
Bautista explained, "I've always thought about skating for the Philippines because I am a dual citizen. With the Philippines we can get senior grand prix and we would be the only senior pair team." It would give them, she said, a "better chance of getting on the Olympic team."
So Tyler Harris, an Irish American kid from Indiana living in Massachusetts, is applying to become an honorary citizen of the Philippines.
"From what we've been seeing so far it would be a very viable and doable option" to get that honorary citizenship, he said. "If we get that I'm fairly confident that we will be at the Olympics."
"I wouldn't say it's not fair but it gives us a better opportunity," Bautista said.
It takes a team to become an Olympian. The skaters have three coaches, including Carrie Walls, who urged Harris and Bautista to take the Philippines route. The idea, she said, is to get them the team affiliation and then to "compete, hopefully, at the world championships next year."
If they make the team, Harris and Bautista won't be the first U.S. athletes to find a new country. Others have done it — and have been criticized.
Joe Blount, president of the Skating Club of Boston, said, "Any country can send a skater to the Olympics and the skill level can be up and down. You just don't know. It's a lot of pressure on them to do well and they take it to heart but they're good kids and they represent this club very well."
Harris and Bautista are not required to live in the Philippines to compete but they will have to earn a spot with the Philippines Olympic skating team. The trials will be held in the fall.
From there, "we have to place at a high enough scoring level at a qualifying event against other people in the world," Harris explained. "We would have to place higher than some teams from say Israel, higher than teams from Croatia or something like that in order to go to the Olympics. So if we're going, it's going to be rightfully earned."
On Jan. 29, Bautista and Harris finished 12th of the 13 senior pairs in this weekend's national skating championship. By this time next year the costumes they wear will likely sport the red, white and blue flag of … the Philippines.
Additional reporting by Danielle Dreilinger.