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.