Tia, Maile and Keira Hilbelink are a trio of elite skating sisters

By Gina Capellazzi, Team FSO website administrator
Photos by Robin Ritoss and Le Hilbelink

Throughout U.S. figure skating history, there have been a number of sisters competing together in the women’s discipline. From Michelle and Karen Kwan, to Sarah and Emily Hughes, to Alissa and Amber Czisny to Gracie and Carly Gold, to Mariah and Morgan Bell. The list goes on and on.

And now, meet Tia, Maile and Keira Hilbelink — three sisters all chasing after their own dreams out on the ice.

How it all started

The Hilbelinks, daughters of Le and Todd Hilbelink, grew up in Portland, Oregon. When her daughters were little, Le was working at the Lloyd Center shopping mall, which included an ice rink. One day, she brought her oldest daughter, then four-year-old Tia, to work with her and took her out on the ice.

“She put me in the Learn to Skate program and then I just started taking lessons after that,” Tia recalled of her first time on the ice.

A couple months later, then two-year-old Maile joined her sister out on the ice.

“My aunt just put me out on the ice one day randomly and said, ‘You’re gonna skate with your sister,’ Maile remembered.

It wasn’t long after that the youngest, Keira, was following her sisters out on the ice.

“She started (skating) right when she could walk,” said Maile, of Keira’s first time on the ice.

Changes for the sisters

The girls worked with coaches Diane Rawlinson and Shannon Damiano in Portland, but as they progressed in the sport and got more serious, they knew they needed a change.

“We all hit a level where we just needed more of an environment of being around higher level skaters,” Tia explained.

So in the spring of 2021, the Hilbelinks sent an email to 9-time senior U.S. nationals competitor Sean Rabbitt, seeking an opportunity to work with him for a couple of weeks in California. The Hilbelinks knew Rabbitt as Damiano trained with Tammy Gambill, Rabbitt’s coach, in Riverside, Calif. As Rabbitt recalls, the day the Hilbelinks emailed him was the day he was chatting with 2014 Olympian Polina Edmunds on her podcast about what his future held in the sport.

“It sounds kind of crazy, but it was meant to be,” Rabbitt said.

The girls came down to Irvine, Calif. and worked with Rabbitt for a couple of weeks at Great Park Ice. By the end of their last week there, Rabbitt said they really liked working with him, and Kelly and Junichi Takemura, and Garnet Fiordalisi, together known as Ten80 International Figure Skating Team.

So the girls, along with their mother, Le, moved down to California to start full-time training with Ten80, while dad, Todd, a nephrologist, stayed back in Portland for his practice. Todd flies to see Le and the girls almost every weekend.

“It’s not easy. I think the first year that we did this, I got teared up every time I told people what I had to do, but three years later, it’s a routine. I get used to it,” said Todd. “It’s hard to see these kids grow, but it’s the moments like this (the U.S. Championships) and you see your child out there doing amazing things in front of a massive crowd and they hold their composure and all those nerves still are there, yet she still succeeds. I think back on it at all and I’m like, it’s a sacrifice, right?”

Meet Tia

Tia said she started competing at a pretty young age. She competed at the juvenile level for a few seasons, culminating with winning the silver medal at the 2019 U.S. Championships in Detroit. The following season, she won the Pacific Coast Sectionals at the intermediate level. That year, in place of Nationals for the juvenile, intermediate and novice skaters, U.S. Figure Skating instituted a High Performance National Development Camp, which Tia qualified for.

Tia did not compete during the 2020-2021 season. She returned to competition as a novice skater competing at the Golden West Championships in Irvine, Calif., and the U.S. Championship Series in Henderson, where she won silver and gold respectively. She qualified again for the High Performance National Development Camp.

But then when she was about to start skating on the junior level, Tia suffered a foot injury. In the summer of 2022, because she was in the International Selection Pool at the time, Tia was invited by U.S. Figure Skating to compete in the U.S. Junior Team Cup, a Junior Grand Prix selection competition in Milwaukee. A week later, she made her senior debut at the Cactus Classic in Scottsdale, Arizona in the summer of 2022, but then was sidelined again with a back injury.

“As I kind of have been off the ice, I think I worked my way up into a senior competitor. So right now, I’m taking it pretty slow and trying to get back,” Tia, 17, explained, noting that she hopes to be able to compete in the 2024-2025 season.

Rabbitt describes the eldest Hilbelink sister as a powerful skater.

“She is a big jumper, her triples are ginormous,” he added. “It’s been really fun just to work with somebody that is fearless and powerful.”

“We were so close to peaking on her potential and she has had unfortunate injuries that were just untimely,” Rabbitt shared. “I think what’s nice for Tia is that she’s really found her reasoning in the sport again. With injuries and seeing Keira’s success, I can imagine it’s easy to feel out of place, and I think she’s really starting to find her own reason.”

When she’s not concentrating on her own skating, Tia is also a junior coach at Great Park Ice.

Meet Maile

When Tia was competing on the juvenile level, Maile was also competing at the same level. She finished 14th in 2018 and 5th in 2019 at the Northwest Pacific Regionals. In her last year as a juvenile skater, she competed at the 2020 Pacific Coast Sectionals where she finished 7th.

Like Tia, Maile also did not compete during the 2020-2021 season. She returned to competition as an intermediate skater competing at the Golden West Championships, an event that she won. She also participated in the U.S. Championship Series in Henderson and Spokane. She won gold in Spokane. As an intermediate skater, she also attended to two High Performance National Development Camps.

Maile debuted on the junior level in the 2022-2023 season. She competed at the National Qualifying Series events, Cactus Classic, Glacier Falls and Sherwood Invitational, along with the U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate (a domestic invitational held in conjunction with the U.S. International Classic). She finished 7th at the 2023 Pacific Coast Sectionals. Unfortunately, like Tia, Maile said she had her share of injuries as she moved up to juniors.

This past season, in her second season on the junior level, Maile competed at three National Qualifying Series events, including Sherwood Invitational, where she won the silver medal behind her sister, Keira; and at LA Autumn Classic, where she took home the bronze medal. At the Pacific Coast Sectionals, Maile finished 9th.

“It’s just been a rollercoaster the last few seasons,” Maile, 15, shared, noting she’s planning to continue on the junior level for the 2024-2025 season.

Though Maile is the only Hilbelink sister that has yet to qualify for a national championship, Rabbitt says she’s determined to be on Nationals ice next season.

“Maile is gorgeous on the ice. Her lines, her spins, the way she pushes across the ice,” Rabbitt described. “Her jumps are amazing and big. She is a very well-rounded skater so it’s been really fun to see her really develop.”

Meet Keira

Keira started competing around the same time as her sisters. In 2019, she finished third in juvenile at the 2020 Pacific Coast Sectionals and like her sister, Tia, qualified for the inaugural High Performance Development Camp. Like her older sisters, Keira did not compete during the 2020-2021 season. The following season, she won two silver medals on the intermediate level at the U.S. Championship Series events in Henderson and Spokane.

The 2022-2023 season marked Keira’s jump to the novice level. She also competed at the National Qualifying Series events, Cactus Classic, Glacier Falls and Sherwood Invitational, where she won gold at the three events. She also competed in the U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate, where she finished just off the podium in fourth place.

At the 2023 Pacific Coast Sectionals, Keira won the silver medal on the novice level and qualified for the High Performance Development Camp. However, since the top two total combined novice scores from each section are invited to compete in the junior event at the U.S. Championships, 12-year-old Keira also qualified for the 2023 U.S. Championships. As the youngest competitor in the junior women’s event, who had never competed on the junior level before, Keira surprised fans when she won the silver medal.

Keira made her international debut two months later, competing at the advanced novice level at the Coupe du Printemps in Luxembourg. She just missed the podium finishing in fourth place.

This season, though she was the reigning U.S. junior silver medalist, Keira was still too young to compete on the Junior Grand Prix Series. However, she did win her first international medal – gold in the advanced novice event at Tayside Trophy in Dundee, Scotland, Great Britain in October, just a few days before her 13th birthday. In November, Keira qualified for the U.S. Championships with a fourth place finish in the junior women’s event at the Pacific Coast Sectional Singles Final. In sixth after the short program at the U.S. Championships, Keira delivered the second best free skate of the event to climb up to second and win her second straight U.S. junior silver medal.

“It feels great actually. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the next season,” Keira said about winning the silver medal.

“Keira is very competitive and that’s what has really been fun in the developing stages with her,” Rabbitt described of the youngest Hilbelink sister, noting that Keira was nine and had just gotten her double Axel when she came to work with him.

“She watches her sisters and she’d be like, ‘I want to do that,’ Rabbitt added. “So it’s been really fun to have all three of them.”

A bond between sisters

Though Keira was the only Hilbelink sister on the ice at the U.S. Championships in Columbus in January, the three sisters tend to compete at the same competitions. It’s also not uncommon that there is more than one Hilbelink sister competing in the same event.

“It’s no different than competing against anybody else,” Maile said about competing against her sisters. ” I mean, actually, it’s a good thing because we get to be around each other more.”

It’s not just competitions, the Hilbelinks are on the same ice day after day. While Keira admits there was some competition amongst each other when they were younger, they now see each other as their support system.

“I think we have all similar struggles, so I think that not only do our days look similar, but if I have a hard time with something, she can help me out. She has a hard time, she can help her out,” Tia said while pointing to her sisters. “So it’s always been pretty supportive and positive.”

Even their parents see how the bond between the three sisters has helped them each pursue their goals on the ice.

“I think it is what has given them longevity. Without the three of them, I don’t think any one of them would have lasted this long. When they are out on the ice, there’s this electricity,” Todd said.

“If one of them is missing, you can see the low energy in that day on the ice,” added Le. “When the three of them are on ice, it feels complete. You can feel a positive energy when the three of them are on the ice.  So I think they need each other.”

The Hilbelinks are making plans for next season. Rabbitt said the Ten80 team is still figuring out which events the sisters will compete at for the 2024-2025 National Qualifying Series, which gets started in July.

But wherever they plan to compete next season, skaters, judges and the fans can expect that there will be more than one Hilbelink sister out on the ice.

“I don’t think you’ve ever seen a trio of elite sisters [in singles’] and so I think that’s really cool,” said Rabbitt.