Hooked on Synchro
By Bethany Alexander
GIC Competition Blogger
Bryant University Open Collegiate Team
Senior year was officially over. With diploma in hand and college in sight, a perfect summer lay ahead–spending time with hometown friends, working to save money for school, shopping for my first dorm room, and of course, skating. As excited as I was for college, my fall schedule looked blank. I had a course schedule and a housing assignment, but I had many lingering questions. Who will I befriend? How much homework will I have? What will weekends be like? And most importantly, will I have time to skate?
Entering freshman year I decided to take a break from skating. I thought I was getting old, or maybe I was a little bored with the sport. But after a few weeks of living the normal freshman life of sleep, class, snacks, homework, and more homework, I decided I needed skating back in my life.
I stumbled across the Bryant University open collegiate team that practiced at my home rink and decided to give it a shot. I had never been a synchronized skater before, but I knew about it from watching over the years. After one practice I was hooked. I loved everything about it.
While competing with a team I didn’t experience the pressure and nerves I did when competing solo. Having 12 girls by my side made skating so much fun, as well as my entire college experience. I enjoyed spending time with teammates outside of practice and looked forward to seeing a teammate’s friendly smile from across campus.
Joining the Bryant University synchro team rekindled my love for skating and began my addiction to the sport. From here on out I have no intentions of stopping, and I plan to skate on adult and masters teams in the future!
By Megan Romeo
GIC Competition Blogger
Miami University Junior Varsity SST
Growing up, my mom let me explore every sport on the planet. I tried ballet, but was bored by the soft music and felt it was far too serious for my taste. I moved on to karate, gymnastics and horseback riding, but nothing seemed to stick. That’s when my mom took me to Friday night skates with my family. To this day she still remembers the look on my face as I stepped on to the ice.
I started out as a freestyle skater. I loved performing at competitions, but I hated jumping. As the level of jumps increased, I found myself more and more frustrated.
One day my mom and I fought in the middle of the rink over how my skating career was going nowhere. She considered making me quit because she knew I would never give up skating on my own. She knew how much I loved it, and my coaches knew how in love I was with the feeling of speeding down the ice as though I was flying, but still touching the ground. They offered me a resolution: become part of the first synchronized skating team at our rink.
I started researching synchro by watching YouTube videos and scanning Skating Magazines for articles on the sport. It wasn’t long before I was utterly consumed by this new world I never knew existed.
We built our team from nothing. None of us had any idea what we were doing. I had never been a part of a team before. I never had that experience of working with others in such a cooperative manner. The IceBreakers gave me something to believe in, something to work for. It was learning something completely new with some of my closest friends that made the 7 a.m. practices at an outdoor rink in the middle of December worth it.
Over my three years with the Iceworks IceBreakers, I learned more about myself than I ever expected. In times of struggle I found strength I didn’t know I had. I found that I, the once quiet, independent child, was a leader. I had a voice . I could fight for what I believed in. The IceBreakers became my family, and I wanted nothing more than for them to exceed their own expectations.
Leaving my home team was one of the hardest things I had to do as I started a new chapter of my life in college, but I cannot thank those 58 girls and all of my coaches enough for everything they taught me in my time as an IceBreaker. If it weren’t for the IceBreakers I wouldn’t be where I am today. If my coach had not asked me that day to join the synchro team, I would have never discovered Miami University. Up until now, I have never had the satisfaction of finding a dream, working towards it, and having it all come true. This past September I made the Junior Varsity team at Miami University, and I know that because of synchro I am right where I belong.
The Synchro Experience
By Katie Spurgeon
I have been skating freestyle for many years, but it wasn’t until recently that I was asked to join a synchronized ice skating team. At first I declined; I had tried it once before, but pumps and three-turns just weren’t as fun to me as jumping and spinning. I loved a challenge, which is exactly what freestyle skating gave me – the excitement in learning new elements, the hard work in practice, and the thrill in success. Synchro? Not really my thing.
I agreed to audition for an Open Juvenile level synchronized skating team called Madison Energy, at the new rink where I skated. It was exactly the big challenge that I longed for. Except, I quickly learned that maybe this challenge I was now faced with was too big! I found myself struggling to keep up with any of the girls, and discovered that the moves I was expected to perform were ones that I had never even heard of, let alone practiced! Nevertheless, I had made a promise to my new team and though I could see it wouldn’t be easy, I was prepared to rise to the challenge. This decision to give synchro my best shot is the best decision I ever made.
That first year of synchro, I fell and fell (and fell) millions of times in my struggle to keep pace with the team, but through that, I learned to always keep going and keep trying. Freestyle allowed me the lenience to perform at my own pace and change anything that gave me difficulty. Not with synchro. This was the first time that I had people counting on me to do the steps correctly, and also in time, in position, and in synch. Staying within my comfort zone was not an option. It caused me to call on every ounce of drive and determination to get it right, and eventually, I could do it! But, it wasn’t without the help of my amazing teammates.
My teammates recognized that I was new to the sport, and were patient with me, taking extra time to help me learn and perfect the steps. Without them, I never would have learned the importance of teamwork, and working together. We were not just eight girls skating next to each other, we were one unified and cohesive team that strived to achieve. Through thick and thin, we worked hard and gave one-hundred percent for our team, knowing that win or lose, we were in it together. We fought through obstacles as one, and even in the face of frustration, were able to give each other positive encouragement.
I knew almost instantly, that I had made friends for life. I was no longer one skater in it alone; I always had my synchro friends to support me, encourage me, and bring out the best in me. This community became so important the day that tragedy struck our group.
We lost our dear friend and teammate Lacey Meinel to a drunken driver on her way home from our first synchro competition. In the face of such overwhelming sadness, it was comforting to know that I had my teammates at my side. We were there for each other, and always had someone to lean on. By helping and supporting each other, we were able to keep the dream and the team alive, and finish the season.
This current year marks my final season with Madison Energy, and I am amazed at not only the progress my synchro skills have made, but also my freestyle skating – making me stronger, more confident, more determined, more precise and more willing to try new things. I am excited to bring my determination, drive and all that I have learned from synchro to the Unversity of Wisconsin – Madison next year, where I hope to audition for the UW Collegiate Synchronized Skating Team. I know that though it will be a fun journey, it will not be an easy one, but I will never ever give up.
What Synchro Means To Me
By Brittany Bressler
University of New Hampshire Collegiate
Synchro. It is that one word that brings back so many memories and feelings of achievement that I have felt throughout my life. I started skating when I was two years old and now at age twenty, I realize that synchro means so much to me. Synchro means passion and perseverance. It is that feeling after the roughest practice, after being yelled at over and over again by your coach until you get it right, knowing that the bruise on your left hip from countless falls in practice was worth the perfect skate during your performance at Nationals. Skating is about finishing your program with no regrets, and looking over at your coach who is standing in the kiss-and-cry with tears in her eyes.
For the first twelve years of my skating career, I was strictly a “singles” skater. I competed by myself and I had a blast but there was always that aspect of teamwork and camaraderie that was missing from my sport that I never had. I tried out for a synchro team in the area and sure enough, I had the time of my life and I met so many friends. I knew the instant I stepped on the ice to skate synchro for the first time, that I had found my true passion. I have learned that synchro is about friendship and teamwork: pushing yourself because you know that each teammate in line next to you is working just as hard for you; trusting your best friends to work just as hard as you because you know that in the end, you are all working toward the same goal.
Because of synchro, I have had the opportunity to represent Team USA as my team traveled abroad to compete at international assignments and also the World Challenge Cup for Juniors in France and England.
I have been fortunate enough to travel internationally, pursuing something that I am so passionate about. To me, synchro means opening doors to such opportunities. Synchro is about being proud to represent my country as I skate at Worlds and other international assignments worldwide; synchro is about representing not only myself and my teammates, but also my country with pride. Synchro is about working your body to its limit, never once turning back. Those hours upon hours of practice time paying off, for that feeling of success. It is that feeling of accomplishment, knowing my team skated our absolute best and looking up at the American flag being raised at the awards ceremony in England, hearing the crowd chant, “USA! USA! USA!” These are the moments that make me truly grateful for what synchro has given me.
Synchro means perseverance. Synchro means commitment. Synchro means dedication and devotion. Synchro means working your body past its limit to achieve something you’ve always dreamed of. Synchro is about following your passion. Synchro is about pride. Synchro is about teamwork and friendship. Synchro is about knowing how much you’ve worked to achieve. Synchro is about that feeling of success when you know you’ve worked your hardest. Synchro is about traveling and new opportunities. Synchro is about testing your limits. Synchro is about reaching new heights. Synchro is everything to me.
Rebounding From Defeat
By Nicole Davies
I paced up and down the grassy hill inside the fence of the gym parking lot at school. I memorized the individual blades of grass in each patch of green and brown. Deep breath, inhale, exhale. I continued to pace. I had lacrosse practice, but I couldn’t bring myself to head down to the field until my mom showed up with my letter. The letter. Deep breath.
I needed to read the words “we are happy to inform you that you have been placed on the Junior roster for the 2004-2005 season.” One of my best friends read those words on her letter an hour earlier, and I was anxious to confirm the same good news for myself. My head was spinning; I couldn’t wait to be a member of Team USA, to represent my country internationally, to skate with the older girls, to paint my skates and compete two programs.
A few weeks earlier, I wasn’t thinking about the privileges, experiences and opportunities I would have on Junior, because I hadn’t planned on trying out until the following season. I was happy skating on Intermediate with all of my best friends, and I didn’t want our team dynamics to change or our team to get split up. When a number of my teammates, including four of my closest friends, decided they wanted to move up to Junior I didn’t want to be left out, so I showed up for Junior tryouts along with almost half of our Intermediate team.
I told myself I was there for the experience, with no expectation of actually making Junior, because I knew I didn’t have a chance. Even with that mentality I was shaking with nerves at the first tryout as my coach watched me perform my junior moves solo. Over the next few weeks of tryouts and “skate with the team” I got more comfortable and relaxed, I laughed with the girls, and I got attached to the idea of skating on Junior. Pacing the hill that afternoon after hearing one of my teammates made it, I believed the odds were in my favor.
I saw my mom’s car pull over the hill, so I ran over and jumped in the front seat. The butterflies fluttered in my stomach and I tried to control my breathing as my mom handed me the letter. Either I would get the opportunity to spend the next three years competing at the Junior level, or I would have to go through the nerves, the stress, the emotions and the anxious waiting of the tryout process again in a year. My envelope was fat, and a fat envelope meant only one thing—registration forms!
I pulled out the papers and began to read. “Dear Nicole, Thank you for participating in the tryout process. It is never easy to assess the right blend of new skaters. At this time we feel that you are not ready to join the Junior line…” I read it again. I didn’t move. “I didn’t make it.”
I didn’t cry. I made my mom drive around for a few minutes because I couldn’t face my friends at lacrosse practice without letting the information sink in. I called my skating teammates to break the news. Most people hadn’t received their letters yet, so they didn’t know how to react. After I called everyone I went to lacrosse practice and went through the motions, but everything was a blur and I didn’t absorb anything my coach said. When I got home I was still in a fog. I signed on the computer to figure out if the rest of my teammates made Junior. I found out from an alumni skater that my best friend did. A wave crashed over me and I felt physically sick. My heart broke. For some reason the thought that the two of us would be split up never crossed my mind. I knew some people would make it and some people wouldn’t, but I never pictured us divided.
I signed off the computer and turned off my phone to gather my thoughts and spend time alone. My emotions spun and shifted from disbelief, to disappointment, to anger, to sadness. The final count: three of my closest friends would be moving up to Junior, and they were leaving me behind.
Over the next few weeks our friendships changed. I wanted to be happy for the girls who moved up, but it was painful to hear about how much fun they were having on Junior when I couldn’t be a part of their new experiences. Each stage of the season brought a new ache of disappointment. I watched my friends get their international assignment, apply for their passports, get fitted for their Team USA jackets, wear fake eyelashes for competitions, compete their first junior short program—I wanted to be doing all those things for the first time at their side.
Although I didn’t think it possible the day I got my rejection letter, or even in the weeks following, as the year passed I was able to rally and gear up for Junior tryouts again both physically and emotionally. During my final season on Intermediate I developed leadership skills, strengthened my skating, and improved my understanding of what a team needs to be successful—all important characteristics of a strong international skater and a valuable team member.
The second time I tried out for Junior I made the team. I didn’t take anything for granted that season because I was thankful and honored to earn the privilege and opportunity to represent Team USA. The fact that not everyone gets the chance to compete at an elite level is something that I appreciated everyday. I have a distinct memory of warming up at Porter, looking around at my teammates in their navy blue Team USA warm-ups and getting the chills. I was proud and happy to be on my team, competing two programs, wearing red, white and blue, painting my skates and wearing fake eyelashes.
On Junior my friendships healed, and the pain of disappointment faded, but I never let myself forget what I learned from my last year on Intermediate. That year, the year I didn’t make Junior, was one of my most challenging, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Those experiences made me who I am. It taught me to fight when faced with disappointment, to never give up, and to take control of things in my power even in situations that seem out of my hands.
By Natalia Ashley
Coach, White Ice Open Collegiate
Starting, coaching and sustaining a small team of non-synchro skaters is the most arduous task I have ever taken on. Recruitment is difficult because you have to convince singles skaters who have been brought up hating synchro, thinking it’s only for mediocre skaters, that it is actually fun and extremely challenging. Getting the single skaters to come to a practice or skate with the team is a huge achievement in itself. Once the skaters are on the ice I am usually convinced that the majority of them will have a blast. And lets be honest—seeing elite level freestyle skaters struggle with a simple mohawk in a block can be quite entertaining.
In the beginning I had all my skaters do drills. I had to find a happy medium for the skaters who could do counters and rockers in their sleep, and the skaters who didn’t understand what a bracket was. The first half of our hour long practice was devoted to turns, the other half devoted to formations.
I had my returning skaters demonstrate skating together on the line. “Alright …and go!” I yelled once they were all in place, up in shoulder grip. Blank faces. Of course they had blank faces! I forgot that something as simple as skating in a line on a circle pattern is not natural for skaters without synchro experience.
I broke down the element for them, and still had girls flying off the end of the line, but we had to move on to the next element because we only had three months of one-hour practices a week to get competition ready. Next we tried a circle. Disaster. Then we tried some pinwheels. They were pretty good—they could actually go from a parallel into a back catch two spoke!
At that point I was giddy with excitement, thinking I was the best coach ever, teaching new synchro skaters how to transition from formation to formation in the wheel, but I was wrong. I decided the best plan of action was to give them the program and teach each element along the way. However, I was a young coach and choreographer with mega dreams, so I ran into some problems.
My first version of our three-minute program consisted of moves in isolation, moves in the field, block, parallel wheel into a two spoke, circle with a change of direction, intersection, interacting intersecting lines, a three-spoke, a pivoting line, and a box intersection…That didn’t work out so well. I ended up cutting the program down a lot.
After cutting the program down it was Election Day. One month left until Dr. Porter. Two weeks before our regional critique. On the inside I was dying—I had such high hopes for myself as a coach and choreographer, but we were still lagging behind the progress I hoped for. We scheduled a few extra practices and we finished the program. All of the skaters had bonded and rallied. The ones that weren’t already in love with the sport quickly fell in love with it. They wanted to do well, and the message I tried to convey throughout the season was, the harder you work, the easier it will be, so they did.
They performed a complete program at critique. It was complete, but still rough—it needed a lot of cleaning up. I met with the judges, and knew it was time to cut down more.
My coaching style relies on listening to the music and musical cues. A challenge I had with this coaching style was that every time we reviewed steps off ice, the timing was different. I needed to teach the team to listen when the music speaks and tells you what to do. At first when I tried to explain they stared at me with blank faces, but eventually they got it, and they were amazing! They made all the changes and corrections and improved a ton.
We actually had a cohesive program by Dr. Porter, but they placed last…by a lot. I was worried that they would be mad, and they would hate me, and they would fire me. They didn’t. Instead, they were all so invigorated by competing and skating the program that they were anxious to go back to D.C. and make changes. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing group of girls my first year coaching.
After Dr. Porter we had one practice before their long winter break. I completely changed their circle and their intersection in that last hour of practice, and then they were off to spend the holidays in their respective hometowns. They came back from vacation with three practices left before Easterns. The momentum picked up even from Porter. We had three practices with just run-throughs.
The Wednesday before Easterns, we had an ice storm, however, every single girl showed up to practice. I was stunned. They learned the most important lesson—everyone must show up to practice no matter what!
On Friday night the skaters arrived at Easterns for their official practice. We kept it nice and medium in the locker room and finally went out to have two amazing skates on our official practice ice. The season could have ended then and there for me. I went into the season wanting to showcase my choreography, and came out of it just being thrilled that these non-synchro skaters skated two complete, beautiful and synchronized skates. But, it wasn’t over. They had to skate the next day.
Competition day came, and I decided to stay relaxed and not to nag. They were at the point when all of them knew what they were doing, so I figured nagging them and giving them new things to concentrate on wouldn’t be helpful. We did a few off ice runs, and that was it. They went into the locker room relaxed and ready to compete. I watched their program from the stands with one of the skaters who had mono and couldn’t skate. I don’t think either of us breathed. It was a good skate, not as good as practice, but they were still elated once they got off the ice.
They wound up in a three-way tie for 4th and ended up 7th overall. Through this experience I learned that no matter what the level, or expectations you have for your team, there are always accomplishments. Whether they are world medals or doing a crossover on the same beat, they all matter, they are all accomplishments, and they are all something to be proud of.
By Erin Banco
University of Wisconsin Collegiate
I remember my first skating lesson. I was 3 years old, wore a pink ski suit and used a slightly broken milk crate for balance. I started skating for the same reasons other girls my age did – I wanted to go to the Olympics and compete in a packed arena. When I was 8, I tried synchronized skating. Before long, the sport and friends I made became an integral and pertinent part of my life.
I spent most of my competitive career with The Colonials synchronized skating team under the direction of Merita Mullen. Through my years there, I acquired a set of qualities that were beneficial throughout my high school and college careers. From long tumultuous hours of practice I learned discipline, hard work and dedication, and from competing, I learned how to focus.
Before every competition, my team and I cheered and mentally prepared for competition, but there was only one tradition that could fully suppress our nerves – hearing our coach’s infamous phrase, “Skate for the feeling in the pit of your stomach.”
I heard these words at the 2007 World Synchronized Skating Challenge Cup for Juniors in Nottingham, England – one of the most important competitions of my skating career.
It was that feeling my teammates and I strove for when we stepped on the ice for our free skate. It settled our nerves and focused our thoughts on executing the steps. After a nearly flawless performance, we had that feeling in our stomachs and finished fifth in the world.
Mullen’s advice helped me transition into skating in college. At my first practice with the University of Wisconsin Synchronized Skating Team, I held unfamiliar shoulders and listened to new direction, but I continued to skate for the feeling in the pit of my stomach.
The gap between high school and college is smaller than most graduating seniors realize. The same is true with skating. The steps, competitions and teams are the same. The most prominent difference is skating for a new club and a new mascot.
At college competitions, not only do I represent the University of Wisconsin Figure Skating Club, but I also represent 40,000 other Badger students on my campus. The responsibility of representing a world-class university only adds to the duty I feel as a student officer of the UW-Madison collegiate team.
In high school, I was not responsible for the organization of my team; at UW-Madison, the students manage the team. We make budgets to afford ice and costumes, organize social functions, book plane tickets, and communicate with officials while working to sustain overall team morale.
As co-captain, I am refining skills I will use after graduation and far beyond my synchronized skating career. It is important to have a connection with each individual on the team, regardless of my personal feelings. In order to promote cohesion, I reach out and support skaters who are experiencing stressors, whether related to skating and or other personal issues.
The main challenge of skating in college is balancing the academic rigor while also excelling as an athlete. In high school, I focused on academics along with skating, but in college the expectations are higher. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to receive the best education and to prepare for the looming real-world job market I will need to break into.
Despite my college workload, I know I can always rely on skating as a stress reliever. The hours I spend on the ice during the academic year are the most precious to me because they encompass my only time off from studying.
If I had one recommendation for aspiring synchronized skaters of any age it would be the advice Mullen passed on to me. It is my 12th season as a synchronized skater, and I still yearn for that feeling in the pit of my stomach. There is nothing sweeter than a successful performance and months of hard work paid off. Inevitably, there are many performances in which my team and I fall short, but that makes each flawless performance following even more fulfilling. Although I have more responsibilities as a college skater, my passion for the sport is the same as it was at my first competition. No matter how old I am or what team I skate for, the feeling will remain the same.