KEY LARGO -- Two local girls have been selected to sail for Team USA in Holland this spring.
Emma Marsden, 12, and sister Ella, 10, will be representing their country at one of Europe's premier yachting events and they consider it a great homor.
"I can't believe just a couple years ago I didn't even know how to sail." said Ella, who attends Key Largo School with her older sister.
The pair were informed of their inclusion in the squad by the United States Optimist Dinghy Association International Selection Committee in December.
They first started sailing with their parents on voyages to the Bahamas and weekend trips through the Florida Keys.
"I don't remember much about my early sailing," said Emma, who was just a few days old the first time she went aboard a sailboat. "But I began racing after summer camp two years ago."
Both girls began sailing in earnest as members of the Mark Sorensen Youth Sailing Program at the Upper Keys Sailing Club.
Their enthusiasm has propelled them to success in local and national regattas where it's common to see more than 300 competitiors, ages 8 to 15, racing around ocean, lake and river courses.
"Sailing is challenging," Emma said. "It keeps you thinking, and you have to be very fit to keep the boat up when it's windy."
The sisters sail Optimist dinghies, the world's largest sailboat class where 85 percent of all Olympic sailors begin their dream.
"One day I want to sail in the Olympics," Emma said.
The girls, who live on Largo Sound, are currently coached by Team USA coaches at Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami.
"As a coach, I'm very proud of the work they are putting in," Enrique Quintero told the Free Press.
He said the girls will use this international event as an experience builder to get to the next level. To advance in the sport requires extensive training, including long workouts in the weight room and on the water, he said.
"They show up every Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5," Quintero said. "They never miss."
Quintero said the girls are setting themselves up to one day have the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics.
"It's a commitment to get these two to practice every day," said their mother, Karol Marsden. "But I think they would both agree it's been worth it. Often we're up before 6 and back to bed late. Homework is done on the road."
Both children are pre-qualified for Team USA Trials in Peewakee, Wisc. in May, but were surprised by an early call-up following two convincing performances at their Midwinter's Regatta in New Orleans.
Their father, Dominic Marsden, said he is very proud of his daughters' accomplishments.
"Ever since Emma took her first baby steps aboard our sailboat, we've been slowly moving toward this point," he said. "I am so happy that both children enjoy the sport I grew up with."
The girls will begin intensive training before traveling to join their teammates in Braasemermeer, near Amsterdam, for the Magic Marine Easter Regatta. Conditions can vary between wet and windy to cold with snow.
As the pair are more accustomed to flip flops and sunscreen, this trip may represent a first in their lives.
"We have never seen snow. I'm looking forward to it," said Emma.