Ice Dreams

BY Abby Cavenaugh

There’s something about figure skating that captures the hearts of little girls. Maybe it’s the grownup sequined costumes or the grace with which the best skaters glide across the ice floating and twisting like butterflies above the clean white surface before landing effortlessly with a smile. Whatever the reason it’s clear that among the Wilmington area’s young girls the popularity of the sport is growing— and for many of them it’s become far more than an after-school hobby.


There are currently 85 girls of all ages in the figure-skating program at the Wilmington Ice House located near Ogden Park. And although the program is growing managing partner Bob Mocock says he doesn’t want the sport to grow too fast in Wilmington.


“What we don’t want to have happen is that we have the parents force them to come practice ” he says.


Although Russia native Julia Eskander now a resident of Lake Waccamaw in Columbus County admits it was her idea to bring her young daughters — Katherine 5 and Elizabeth 7 — to the Ice House to learn to figure skate she keeps it up only at her daughters’ insistence.


“With Elizabeth when I started bringing her it was my idea ” she explains “but when she landed her first jump that’s when she started to bring me here. ‘Mama when can we go skating?’ As soon as I felt like they’re developing their skills it became their thing.”


Nine-year-old Riley Das who lives on Summer Rest Road across from Wrightsville began skating as a way to avoid the heat and humidity during the steamy summer months when her family first moved here from near San Diego California.


“It was really hot so we were looking for some relief from the heat ” her mother Tracy says. She heard about the Wilmington Ice House’s Camp Keep Cool and brought her two daughters to play games and learn how to skate.


For Riley it was love at first sight. Tracy immediately enrolled her in Skate School at the Ice House where she learned the basics and after that private lessons with former professional ice dancer and figure skater Morgan Parkinson.


Although Tracy admits that Riley “was excited in the beginning about the pretty dresses ” it’s become clear that figure skating is now something Riley takes very seriously.


In her first competition the Dogwood Open in Raleigh in August Riley took home a gold medal in the freeskate for her age group as well as a silver in ice dancing.


Figure skating seems to appeal to Riley’s competitive side. “Any competition I’ll take it ” she says. “I love competition. Right before I get butterflies and I get so freaked out. But then I go out there and just forget about it.”


She practices at the Ice House two or three times a week with Parkinson. “I just learned how to do a layback spin ” she announces during a few rare minutes off the ice at the facility.


When asked what she loves about figure skating Riley launches into an explanation of her usual practice session with irrepressible enthusiasm. “First I have to stroke ” she explains referring to the fluid movement skaters use to gain speed on the ice. “Then I do the regular scratch spins. I like the waltz jumps. I want to learn to do the Axel jumps but I’m not doing that yet. I can do some jumps if I want or I can do a layback or whatever.”


Axels are the most difficult jumps for many figure skaters. Says 8-year-old Emily Eakins “It’s the hardest thing ever invented.” But that doesn’t stop the spunky Harbor Island resident from trying. She recently learned how to do waltz jumps and one-foot spins and says learning the Axel is next on her list.


Emily like many of the girls who train at the Ice House started skating because she wanted to learn to do spins on the ice.


“All little girls want to know how to spin ” says Parkinson who coaches both Emily and Riley.


Emily like Riley took home a gold medal at her first-ever competition also the Dogwood Open this summer and says she plans on taking first place again the next time she competes.


The competition was kind of a trial to gauge Emily’s dedication to the sport her mother Christy Eakins says. “Since then she seems to have more interest. She seems like she’s progressing faster now because she has that goal; she knows what she can accomplish now.”


Emily also practices with Parkinson two or three times a week and Parkinson has augmented the training program to meet Emily’s specific needs. Because Emily is younger her attention span is not like that of 12-year-old Kalin Goriup of Sneads Ferry who’s considered one of the best skaters at the Ice House or even Riley who’s only a year older Christy says.


Although just 8 Emily is far from the youngest skater Parkinson coaches. “I’ve seen kids as young as 18 months out there [on the ice] ” Parkinson says. At present her youngest student is 4 her oldest 72.


No matter the age level training to become a figure skater begins the same for everyone — off the ice.


Learning to skate begins with learning about the skates. Parkinson says she starts by explaining to her students about the different edges of the skate’s blade. There’s also the toe pick which along with a thinner blade differentiates a figure skate from a hockey skate. The toe pick allows figure skaters to spin and jump.


Parkinson also teaches where to distribute weight on the blades in order to move forward or backward. “If you’re going forward it would be predominantly on the back; and if you’re going backward it’s predominantly on the front of the blade ” Parkinson says.


Once a skater masters the art of moving forward and backward and turning on the ice Parkinson teaches them to spin and jump. But even those lessons sometimes take place off the ice.


“The types of things that we generally work on off the ice are balance-type exercises which help build strength and endurance and agility when they’re landing or spinning ” she explains. “We do things on a trampoline where we teach them correct rotation in the air. What we’re finding is that the more proper off-ice training that you have really helps them on the ice. It builds their confidence when they’re in different positions. They tend to fall less and be in the correct position to begin with.”


Emily has practiced off the ice using a piece of Parkinson’s equipment to help her learn to spin. She’s also taking dance classes. Riley has taken up yoga and has been known to practice scratch spins in Starbucks Tracy says. Kalin practices jumps at home on her trampoline.


The ice says Colleen Pecoraro is where she belongs. When the family — of which Colleen is one-third of a set of triplets — moved to Landfall Colleen says she had to settle for roller skating rather than her true love of ice skating before her mother found the Wilmington Ice House.


Now that Colleen is on the ice her mother Suzanne says she already sees a difference in her daughter also an 8-year-old. “Colleen is passionate about it ” Suzanne says. “She has grown so much in confidence in everything she’s done.”


That confidence probably stems from the fact that in seven competitions Colleen has racked up five gold medals one silver and one bronze.


Her sister Brittany also took up skating at the beginning of the summer. In her first competition she earned a bronze medal. As for the third portion of the triplets Adam Suzanne says he’s more content playing baseball and working on his homework in the Ice House snack bar while his sisters practice on the ice.


That’s not to say that Parkinson and others wouldn’t love to see some boys join the figure-skating club.


“It is not just a girl’s sport ” Parkinson says. “I know there’s a very unfortunate stigma attached and if we could just sort of emphasize that it is a healthy thing to do. It’s different. It’s exhilarating. It’s an independent sport. You can make it what you want to make it.”


Adds Tracy Das “Who wouldn’t want to skate with these pretty girls?”


Colleen and Brittany’s coach Kathie Kader has coached at figure skating’s top level a fact which is not lost on Colleen. “Colleen was fascinated by her because she coaches a girl that skates in the nationals and has coached her since she was 7 and she’s 21 now ” Suzanne says. “And Colleen started when she was 7 so I think she thinks that could be her in a couple of years.”


Kelsey Buskland has those same big dreams. Her mom Joanne accompanies the 10-year-old to practices at the Ice House almost every day. “We come four days a week sometimes five; if it’s competition time six ” Joanne says with a laugh.


Kelsey has been in four competitions with a resulting two golds and two bronzes. When the family moved to Hampstead from Montreal they quickly located the Ice House and Kelsey began taking private lessons.


Like all the other girls she says “The jumps and the spins are the best.”


Lately she adds she’s been trying the more challenging flying camels. “The flying camel is really hard ” she says. “I land on my butt a lot.”


Landing on your butt — or your knees tummy or even your head — is all part of the sport Parkinson points out.


“Actually a really big part of learning this sport is that it’s OK to fall ” she says. “After a while you really learn that it’s actually kind of fun to fall. You see a lot of kids out here take what you would think are some pretty hard spills and the ability to focus and deep breathe and get back on the ice I think is a great way to deal with adversity.”


In fact Kalin says that her first lesson with Parkinson focused on how to fall safely — and get right back up and keep going. “You just get used to it after a while ” she says. “At first it hurts but now I wear butt pads and that helps.”


Despite the falls the struggles to land the jumps the pressures of competition Wilmington’s ice princesses seem to take it all in stride. Despite occasional tears from the younger ones when they fall a hug from mom or one of the older skaters helps cheer them up and encourages them to keep going.


“It’s not always true but one of the things I dislike about figure skating is that it can become too much of an individual sport — the kids become too competitive the parents become too competitive ” Mocock says. “But I have not seen that at all here. Other parents at other rinks have said they met some folks from Wilmington and ‘they were out cheering our kids and we thought that was really weird but it’s also really nice.’”


Though they clearly thrive on competition and on the sense of accomplishment of landing first jumps and overcoming those hard falls perhaps Kalin best summarizes the reason all 85 girls keep skating: “When you’re on the ice you feel like you’re flying and I love that feeling. And it’s something different. It’s something you don’t normally see someone doing. You feel unique.”


Figure Skating Terms


Axel Jump


A skater takes off from the forward outside edge of the skate and lands on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. It is easily recognizable as it is the only jump that takes off from a forward position and is considered one of the most difficult. The jump was first performed by Axel Paulsen and is named for him.


Camel Spin


A spin performed on one leg. The free leg is extended in the air in a position parallel to the ice. The body remains in this “spiral” position while spinning.


Crossovers


A method of gaining speed and turning corners in which skaters cross one foot over the other. There are both forward and backward crossovers.


Edges


The two sides of the skate blade on either side of the grooved center. There is an inside edge — the edge on the inner side of the leg — and an outside edge — that on the outer side of the leg.


Flip Jump


A jump taken off from the back inside edge of one foot and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot.


Layback Spin


Generally performed by women the layback spin involves an upright spin position where the head and shoulders are dropped backwards and the back arches.


Loop Jump


An edge jump taken off from a back outside edge and landed on the same back outside edge.


Lutz Jump


A jump taken off from a back outside edge and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. The skater glides backward on a wide curve taps her toe pick into the ice and rotates in the opposite direction of the curve. The jump is named for its creator Alois Lutz.


Salchow


Another edge jump taken off from the back inside edge of one foot and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. Created by Ulrich Salchow.


Scratch Spin


Also known as an upright spin. After entering from a controlled forward outside edge the spin begins on a back inside edge. Gradual acceleration begins by moving and placing the free foot toward the top of the skating knee and drawing the arms close to the body. The spin exits into a backward outside edge.


Sit Spin


A spin done in a “sitting” position. The body is low to the ice with the skating (spinning) knee bent and the free leg extended beside it.


Spiral


A move in which a skater demonstrates flexibility and a fluid line by extending his or her non-skating leg behind them into the air during a long glide.


Stroking


Fluid movement used to gain speed in which a skater pushes off back and forth from the inside edge of one skate to the inside edge of the other skate.


Toe Loop


A toe-pick assisted jump that takes off and lands on the same back
outside edge.


Toe Picks


The teeth at the front of the blade used primarily for jumping and spinning.


Waltz Jump


A jump involving a half-turn in the air in which the skater takes off from a forward outside edge on one foot and lands on the backward outside edge of the other.


~ U.S. Figure Skating Association