At only 16, Royal Highlands resident Dustin Hebson is already a high school graduate and a national champion. Soon, he'll add world traveler to his resume.
From Aug. 22-31, Hebson will compete in Oostende, Belgium at the 2013 World Championships Roller Speed Skating as part of Team USA.
"I feel like I'm on top of the world. I feel like I can do anything right now," Hebson said. "To go race on the world level, it's incredible to me. I've never left (the country), so leaving just amazes me."
Roller speed skating, or inline speed skating, is similar to rollerblading, "but a lot faster," Hebson said. "It's more intense, a lot more exciting."
Hebson, who was home-schooled prior to his recent graduation, has raced competitively for 10 years, having taken part in his first national event in 2004.
It all started with a birthday party, when he observed some other children speeding along on their skates and fell in love with the sport. He had played soccer for two years but was admittedly "horrible," so he had definitely found his athletic niche in skating.
"The competitiveness of it is just crazy," Hebson said. "It's just exciting to watch, exciting to be around. I love it."
He currently skates for Team Florida, training out of Rainbow Rollerland in Brooksville, as well as Bont Skates.
Over the years at national events he has collected five gold medals, seven silvers, and four bronzes.
In 2012, he had a hand in setting two national indoor records, in sophomore (ages 14-15) men with a 43.799 in the 500 meter, and in sophomore two man (ages 12-15) with a 4:35.210 teaming with Thomas Goff in the 3,000-meter relay.
"It's pretty much a job," Hebson said. "I'm at the trail every day for 2-3 hours, and indoor skating; I skate 6-7 days a week, sometimes 2-3 times a day.
"I love it. I love the feeling of going fast. I love winning."
???In June, Hebson traveled to Colorado Springs for the Outdoor Speed Skating National Championships.
On the road, in the Junior World Class Men division, he came second in the 200 meter, sixth in the 20,000-meter elimination race and fifth in the 10,000-meter points race.
As for on the track, he was eighth in 1,000 meter and fourth in the finals of the 500-meter sprint.
He was named road champion and finished fifth overall, an improvement from 12th a year ago, and earning him a spot on the national team.
"I was going crazy," Hebson said of when he heard the news. "I was jumping up and down, jumping on my bed, calling my mom, calling my dad, calling my coaches. It was crazy."
Hebson attributes his road success to the fact that he mostly trains outdoors. Staying in better shape and falling back on his past experience helped him progress from last year's showing at the national trials. Now he can look forward to competing on a global stage.
He does have plans to start attending college in January, working toward a job as a radiation therapist, though he hasn't decided on a school. So the focus is currently on adding to his skating accomplishments, and building for his future in the sport.
"I just want to get at least one medal this year. My goal is to get top three in anything," Hebson said. "I want to be a senior world champion and have won every race at worlds. I want to win all nine."
Hebson is accepting donations for his trip at www.gofundme.com/3fw7v8.