Thursday, February 26, 2015

My “Rhode” to the 2015 US Synchronized Skating Championships

The idea that all good things must come to an end is one that I refuse to believe is true… at least in this particular situation. As I sit here on the 13 hour bus ride with the Miami University Skating Organization, headed to my final National Championship, I am thinking about how my experience as a synchronized skater over the past 16 seasons has not just been a good thing, but an incredible life changing experience.  A long road came prior to this year’s National Championship.  A road that had some bumps and many hills to climb, but also some unbelievable views from the tops of those hills. Although this may be my final National Championship, I don’t see it as the end of the road, but just a veer in a new direction.

2004 Juvenile National Championships
It all started as a seemingly giant goal for a fairly small 9 year old attending her first Nationals at the juvenile level back in 2003. I had a dream of competing on a nationally ranked senior level team that would compete internationally as part of Team USA. Things really started three years before that when an even smaller 6 year old little girl, begged her mom to let her try this thing called precision skating. Year after year I became more and more in love with the sport, and thrived on the energy I received from performing and competing. The road to where I am now was not always a smooth sheet of ice, but it had some rocky starts, downfalls, and uphill battles.

The first several years that I competed at the U.S. Synchronized Skating National Championships, I was absolutely thrilled to be there and to experience it all. The outcome however, was not quite as exciting as the event itself, ending many times towards the bottom of the division. As the years went on, my teammates and I worked even harder, became more and more driven to succeed, and finally began to rise in the ranks. It wasn’t until 2006 that I finally earned my first national medal, the novice division pewter in Grand Rapids, MI. Moving into the junior division, we struggled to make it onto the podium, but it was those times of adversity that brought us together and made us fight even harder the next season. This perseverance through even the most devastating of performances afforded me 4 international competitions with Team USA at the junior level and 2 appearances on the Junior World Team as both Team USA 1 and Team USA 2.

2006 Novice Pewter Medalist
Starting a new chapter of my life and moving on to college, I could not be happier or luckier to be a part of the Miami University Varsity Synchronized Skating teams, where I have been given the best of both worlds. Competing on the senior team for the past 4 years has been a dream come true and the only place you can proudly say that you represent your university and your country each and every time you take the ice with your 19 best friends. While things haven’t always gone the exact way that I may have wanted them to, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined from each of these experiences. The synchronized skating world and culture as a whole have shaped me into the athlete and person that I am today. I have countless memories, lifelong friendships, and connections that I will hold close to me wherever the future may take me.

2011 U.S. Junior National Champions - Skyliners
I am beyond excited to compete at my final U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships as an athlete, alongside my 18 teammates. I truly could not think of a better group of girls to compete with. However, my Nationals road is not ending here, I look forward to returning to future U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in a new way that will keep me as close as possible to this sport that has given me so much, and that I will love forever.

Best of luck to all the skaters competing this weekend in the 2015 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in Providence, RI. Remember to fully enjoy each and every moment, cherish your teammates around you, and most of all have a blast!
Miami Senior Team ready to take on Providence and the 2015 US Synchronized Skating Championships
Photo Credit - Chandler Carroll

Love & Honor Forever and a Day,
Ashley Mulhern

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cross-Training Outside of Skating and Spring Cup

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work” - Vincent Lombardi,

As synchronized skaters, we dedicate countless hours skating on the ice and working off the ice as a team every week. The focus of these practices is usually functioning together as one unit to ultimately build and work towards that one common goal for the season. Outside of practicing with the team, it is always encouraged to be practicing individual skating skills that will benefit not only you but the team as well. While there are many other ways to improve your own skating skills such as working on in moves in the field, ice dancing, pairs, and freestyle elements, it is also important to incorporate cross training into your training program. 

This season, the Haydenettes have incorporated an off-ice conditioning program to our weekly practices with Kat Arbor at Ice Dynamics. Through Kat’s off-ice programs that features basic weight lifting and total body exercises, we have increased our strength, power, balance, flexibility, and cardio demands that match our on-ice needs as synchronized skaters.
There are many other ways you can incorporate cross training into your practice besides lifting weights and doing team works outs. I personally have found practicing yoga has helped with my flexibility, core strength, mental calmness, and total body relaxation. To support my cardio endurance and extra quad strength, I participate in indoor spinning classes at least once a week; or I will go for a run outdoors when the weather permits. All of these extracurricular activities outside of skating practice have added fun and variety into my daily life, in addition to providing a beneficial workout that targets my whole body. Changing up your training is also a great way to bond with your teammates outside of what you are used to doing at the skating rink.
DREAMmates Ashley, Devin, & Sharon with teammate Samm took Erin's SoulCycle class in the city. 

The Haydenettes were led through a private yoga class at lululemon athletica in the Burlington Mall. 
Listen to your body and know your limits. Do not try and push yourself into trying something you are not physically ready to do. I have taken my practice of yoga and incorporated a short vinyasa flow sequence into my warmup and stretching routine before I compete because I know that is what works for me. The benefits of cross training are endless when done properly and they will ensure a healthier, happier, and well-rounded skater out of you.  

The Haydenettes and Synchroettes just returned from Milan, Italy where we both competed at Spring Cup, the last international competition for Team USA leading up to Junior and Senior Worlds. It was a very quick trip for the Haydenettes, leaving snowy Boston on Friday and returning Monday evening. With all of the cross training we have participated in this season, we felt strong and ready to compete for the third weekend in a row. We skated two clean programs that produced our highest scores so far this season and are incredibly honored to have placed third in the Senior Division amongst Nexxice of Canada and Team Surprise of Sweden. Congratulations to the Synchroettes, who also skated two clean programs and placed sixth in the Junior Division. 
The Haydenettes & Synchroettes take a Team USA photo before dinner at Spring Cup 2015 

Best of luck to all of the teams that will be competing at the 2015 Synchronized Skating Championships in Providence, Rhode Island next weekend!

Devin Wang

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sisters in Synchro

Skating with a sibling on your team or on another team within your organization can be tricky but also rewarding. 

In the very beginning, all three of my sisters skated. It started with my older sister. Then I followed in her footsteps, and my two younger sisters followed in mine. In the end, only my younger sister Eliza and I stuck with it, and when I joined the Synchroettes, so did she. Because of our three year age difference we have never skated on a team together, but having a sibling in the organization, despite its occasional ups and downs, has been a very special experience.
Just some of the many Synchroettes sisters posing for a picture during Kickoff in August.

You could say that Eliza (or Liza as I always call her) and I have been each other’s sidekicks from the very beginning. We practice together, we workout together, and when things get tough or one of us gets frustrated, we have each other to give our encouragement and support. But this doesn’t mean that skating with a sister is always easy. Because we spend so much time together, it is not unusual that we sometimes get into arguments. But over the years we’ve learned how to “leave our baggage at the rink door.” When we step into the rink we clear our heads so we can have a productive practice session. And almost all of the time, after skating for a couple of hours with clear minds, we realize on the ride home that what we were fighting about was either unimportant or could be easily solved. 

These occasional arguments have made our relationship stronger, and it all becomes worth it when we can share exciting moments with each other. 

Eliza and I at the awards ceremony at the Eastern Section Championships.
Though Eliza is my biological sister, the 19 other girls on my team have also become like family to me. The things I have learned from my relationship with Eliza have applied to relationships within my team in ways I could never have imagined. The bond my team and I have has made us closer than ever before, allowing us to work past any differences we might have and work together towards our common goal of skating our very best this season.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Importance of Being There

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” right? Well, a huge part of being a member of a successful team and working together is being there for your teammates no matter what setback may come.  A major factor in keeping a team going is the support and motivation each member gives to one another.  Of course there are several important lessons we all learn from being on a team, but to me, this is one lesson that is so vital to an outstanding team. It is one that can be forgotten when we get wrapped up in everything else going on in our lives. 

Haydenettes celebrated great program debuts at the Boston Synchro Classic
No season can be described as “easy.”  Some are filled with more challenges than others and some are more successful than others.  Although we ultimately strive for the medals and trophies and spend our time, money, and energy working for them, there is something we can always take away from the time spent with our team.  It is knowing that our teammates were the ones who got us through the season’s ups and downs despite the outcomes at competitions. They are the people who keep us going during the tough times because they are the ones who can always have our trust and are able to make us feel better with some words of encouragement, smiles, and a hug.  

Teammates Jordan, Samm, &
me after our 1st competition with the Haydenettes
This past week at the French Cup was a very successful one for the Haydenettes, but not before going through a fair share of setbacks with many injuries, severe illnesses, major program changes, etc that have come our way this season.  Overcoming these obstacles has only made us stronger and more prepared than we would have ever been without them, as I am sure they do for every team that face similar setbacks.  As my fellow DREAMmate, Lindsey Maynard, talks about in her last blog post, overcoming these setbacks is part of any sport. They are just easier to get through with the support of your teammates.  It is so cliché to say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but the truth to that statement is incredible. It can also be hard to believe sometimes.  

Your teammates are the people that will be in your life for a long time and hopefully will still remain equally important to you after you retire as a competitive skater.  I am sure that we will all face many more setbacks, but knowing that my teammates have my back gives me peace of mind and allows me to enjoy the sport even more than I already do.  Appreciate and be thankful for your amazing teammates.  You wouldn't be there with them if you didn't love what you do, and all of the dedicated coaches who also love the sport would not put you on their team if they didn't believe in you one hundred percent. Be there for yourselves and for your teammates always.
Haydenettes at the Eiffel Tower on our way back to the USA after competing at the French Cup.  

On a quick side note, I would like to congratulate all those who qualified for the U.S.Synchronized Skating Championships over the last few weeks and wish the best of luck to those who are competing at the New England Challenge Cup for the Junior World Team selection. 

See you all soon!

Friday, January 30, 2015

The 2015 Mozart Cup in Salzburg, Austria

After a 9 hour flight to Munich, and an additional two hour bus ride, the Saint Louis Synergy Junior team arrived once again in the welcoming city of Salzburg, Austria! Despite everyone's exhaustion, all 19 of us were incredibly excited to be back at the 2015 Mozart Cup for the second time, representing Team USA. After settling into our rooms, we had dinner at our hotel, the Castellani, and then had an hour of stretching and yoga before going to bed after a very long day.
Our first day in Salzburg!
Our first full day started off with a strong and productive 2 hour unofficial practice at the Gmunden Rink, which is about an hour outside of Salzburg. May I mention, the winding drive through the mountains was absolutely breathtaking! The first practice at an international competition is the time that we, as well as most teams, like to get our feet under us after long hours of sitting on a plane. Later that day, we took some time to visit the competition rink as well, the Red Bull Eisarena. It was such a wonderful feeling being back at the rink of our international debut, and it got us even more excited to compete later that week. In the evening, we experienced a taste of authentic Austrian food in town at a restaurant called Zwettlers, which was the first restaurant we went to last year—and it is by far our favorite!

At the Gmunden Rink with one of our team leaders, Lois Long

Early on Thursday morning, he had a very successful second unofficial practice back at the Gmunden Rink. One of our team leaders, Lois Long, gave us a lot of helpful feedback after our first unofficial practice, which really motivated us to work even harder for our next 2 hours of on ice. That afternoon, we visited the Festung Hohensalzburg fortress, which is the iconic symbol of Salzburg, Austria, that looms high over the city. Sadly, the views were obscured by a thick fog that day, but that did not seem to dampen our spirits! We then headed into town for some shopping with our families.  Salzburg is famous for its wonderful sweets, specifically the Mozart Kugel, which is a delicious chocolate candy sold in nearly every souvenir shop and bakery in town. But we can’t ever get enough of them! They are named after Mozart because he was born in Salzburg—you can even visit his house, which is in the center of town. As we walked around town, we saw many other teams, as well, including members from Finland's Rockettes. It is amazing to have the opportunity to meet so many incredible teams from around the world at the Mozart Cup; it is one of my favorite highlights about international competitions. Though we may not all speak the same language, we all feel that sense of unification through our passion for synchronized skating.
Synergy Junior visiting the Festung Hohensalzburg fortress

During our stay in Salzburg, we also visited the Bridge of Locks, where the tradition is to lock a personal pad lock to the fence and toss the key into the Salzach River while making a wish. This way, the lock is locked forever. There are thousands of locks on the fence, which was quite the sight (and photo-opp!). Many of us brought locks of our own, and participated in this unique tradition.

The official short program draw was around 7:30pm that night, when we learned that we would skate 10th out of the 18 Junior teams the next day. The following morning, we had our first official practice at the Eisarena, followed by a lunch back at our hotel.  The Junior short program competition kicked off at 3:30pm, and we were pumped to skate our sassy “Too Darn Hot” and “Cool Cats” program. There is nothing quite like hearing the words "Representing the United States of America.” It is such a proud moment, and you can’t help but smile because all you can think about are the hours of hard work you put in just to get to that very moment. After a solid short program skate, we were in 5th place and ready to attack the long program the next day!

Saturday morning started early with another successful official practice; we felt strong and ready.  For the free skate, we skated in the last group, but unfortunately it was not the best performance of our "African Spirit" program.  We ended in 7th place overall out of 18 Junior teams.  Though we came to Austria with higher expectations, we have learned as a team that it is equally important to support each other in times of victory, as well as in times of disappointment.  We have also learned that it is what we make of our disappointments that determine our success. In the end, the experience and privilege of being a part of Team USA and the pride in representing our country at a major international competition outweighed the score. It was even more special sharing this opportunity with the Lexettes, Miami University Senior, and the Crystallettes. We were overwhelmed with pride as we stood to cheer for all Team USA teams. This is another one of my favorite highlights about international competitions; although we are competitors, we are also teammates when competing outside of the United States, and that bonding moment of cheering for your teammates as they compete is so special. In addition to that, we were so proud to have two Team USA teams on the podium! Something great about the Mozart Cup is that they allow for every team to get on the ice during the awards ceremony. This included all divisions from Novice through Mixed Age. It was indescribably moving to share that experience with so many faces from around the globe.

All smiles at the Mozart Cup awards ceremony
Lastly, we owe a great deal of thanks to our wonderful team leaders, Lois Long and Colette Nygren! Though some competition outcomes end up being better than others, my team is so proud of our hard work and dedication this season. We will never forget the time spent and experiences shared in the beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria.

Best of luck to all teams for a successful rest of the season, and go Team USA!

Mary Carnal

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Managing Injuries and the Leon Lurje Trophy

Synchronized Skating is preparing to become an Olympic sport, and with that, there comes injuries. All teams are raising the bar, performing new and high risk lifts, elements, transitions, etc. With this, injuries are common. Injuries can be tricky, frustrating, and painful. The recovery of an injury is vital for any athlete, especially synchronized skaters.

Personally, I have dealt with a few injuries myself. I first injured my back while skating in 2012. I fractured my tailbone, had a herniated disk, and some nerve damage. After physical therapy, I was back to skating after just a month. After re-injuring my back this December, I learned the importance of managing an injury; it is difficult, but it is possible! For any injury, it is so important to listen to your body. You must know where your limits are. Yes, you want to push yourself but if your body is saying no, then listen! With injuries, progress can take time. Stay positive and remember that injuries are something all athletes go through.

Hockettes short program official practice
Try to find something else that may need improvement in your skating that doesn't require you to be on the ice. During the time I was unable to skate, I would sit in front of a mirror during my team’s ballet classes and practice only my arms. It made my arms become muscle memory, so I could focus on other things when I was back on the ice. I asked my physical therapist to write a workout that would improve my injury, and help the transition from getting back on to the ice easier. I would do this workout at strength training with my team. While my team was on the ice, I made notes from each practice I missed and made sure I wrote down new changes, corrections, timing, etc. Just because you are unable to be on the ice, doesn't mean it can slow down your skating! Although some injuries are different than others, there is always something you can do to be proactive even if you aren't on the ice.

Being injured is a process, and it can be tricky. After recently re-injuring my back, I am recovering as well as many other skaters out there! With the competition season really picking up, rest, physical therapy, and positive thoughts are very important for my injury and my recovery. I was able to skate with my team at the Leon Lurje Trophy and I am thankful I was able to do so.      

This past weekend, my team and I were honored to compete at the Leon Lurje Trophy in Gothenburg, Sweden with Starlights senior. Representing Team USA was an unforgettable and extremely rewarding feeling. My team and I focused on staying in the moment and skating from our hearts. We were pleased with our performances in Sweden, and are excited to work hard in preparation for the upcoming competitions. Managing and competing with injuries are challenging, but with patience and positivity, it can be done.
Captains of Hockettes before the draw!

Wishing everyone good luck in the future competitions! Go Team USA!

Lindsey Maynad

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Competition Preparation and the 2015 Colonial Classic

As we dive into the peak of synchro season with international and qualifying competitions, the act of preparing oneself to compete both mentally and physically is becoming more and more relevant to our training. Competition preparation can be key to the quality of a performance, but is often easier said than done. As athletes, our bodies need to be in the best shape possible, but it is also expected of us to be completely focused on our team and the competition, no matter what happens outside of the “competition bubble.” Competition preparation is essential not only in the days leading up to a competition, but also in the weeks beforehand as well.

The 2015 Colonial Classic was held at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, MA

Competition time can get really hectic with turning in assignments for school, fitting in those last few hours of training, packing everything you need, and remembering to take care of your body. Balancing schoolwork and skating can be challenging which is why completing schoolwork beforehand is a key component to focused concentration during competition. In the weeks leading up to a competition, I’ve learned to get ahead by turning in large assignments beforehand, eliminating the impulse to worry about completing an important essay or studying for a test during the competition.  With this approach, I can alternate my focus between schoolwork and the competition.

Although it may not always appear as the top priority, I’ve learned that sleep is, hands down, the most important part of taking care of your body in preparation for a competition. Training can be both mentally and physically grueling, and sleep gives your muscles and mind a chance to restore themselves and recover. In the past, I have gone to some competitions averaging 6 hours of sleep per night, and others averaging 8 hours of sleep per night. The difference that just two hours can make in both performance quality and my own enjoyment of the competition is huge!

Haydenettes competing our short program to James Bond at the Colonial Classic

Taking care of your body also means paying attention to nutrition and hydration. This past weekend at the 2015 Colonial Classic, we had what’s become our classic last meal before getting ready to compete: sandwiches. I love this choice because it incorporates whole grains, vegetables, and protein, keeping us full without feeling like the food is just sitting in our stomachs while we skate.

A big part of competition preparation is just being prepared for anything. Rink conditions can be completely different from practice to competition. Last week we were practicing at the Rodman Arena wearing 4 jackets and earmuffs and then the next day we competed at the Tsongas Center for Colonial Classic where we were sweating and it was very dry. Hydration definitely played a big role this weekend to combat these conditions.

In the locker room after the freeskate with DREAMmate
Ashley Tomich and DREAM alum Tessa Hedges.

At the end of the day, it is the attitude that ultimately determines the quality of a performance. No matter what obstacle is thrown your way, a focused and determined attitude can get you through almost anything! Good luck to all teams in their qualifying and international competitions, and GO USA!!