Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Smuckers Skating Spectacular

Walking into the 2001 U.S. Figure Skating National Championships in Boston, MA at 7 years old with my parents holding my hands was such a cool feeling, and I remember loving every minute of being awestruck by the figure skaters, ice dancers, and pairs skaters as they ripped deep edges and flew through the air. Ten years later, walking into the competitors entrance at the 2011 AT&T U.S. National Championships in Greensboro, NC with my team by my side and an all access pass around my neck, I had a completely different feeling.

As we arrived the first night in Greensboro, we waited in the lobby of the official hotel and all eyes were on us. These eyes were not on us in quite the same way that they were during our exhibition at that 2011 Smuckers Skating Spectacular though. They were eyes of people staring at us and wondering what 20 girls dressed in identical clothing could possibly be doing at that hotel with all of the other very well known figure skaters. As people asked what type of group we were, we explained that we were a synchronized skating team and we would be skating in the exhibition following the competition on Sunday, but it was clear that they were still unsure of our ability and would not truly understand until they saw us skate.

Soon we arrived at the rink and were greeted with amazing southern hospitality. Walking through the underground world of the championships was something so interesting and so different from what we are used to at our synchro competitions. The atmosphere seemed much more tense as figure skaters walked around very focused and subdued with their headphones on pumping them up for their performance, as opposed to boom boxes blasting from each locker room as they are in synchro.

Heading upstairs more eyes were on us as we filled in the empty seats in time to watch the last two groups of the ladies free skate competition. A definite team favorite was the winner of the competition, Alissa Czisny, who skated a beautiful and emotion filled program. We all really admired the talent and confidence that all of the ladies had getting out on the ice by themselves.

We woke up early Sunday morning for a 6:30 am practice session on the official ice. Once we stepped on to the ice and looked up at the huge arena around us, the adrenaline kicked in immediately. We had a great practice and could not be more excited to skate on that same ice with the seats completely packed that night. We then spent the majority of the rest of the day relaxing and preparing for our performance.

Arriving at the rink for the mens competition, the attitude of the arena seemed to be a little bit different and more energetic. Watching the men skate was unbelievable. As the excitement built, the final skater in the competition, Ryan Bradley, took the ice and the crowd went wild. He skated an amazing program with expression that all of us admired and would love to put into our own programs as a team. As the scores came up and he had placed first, we went wild.

Soon it came time for us to get ready for our own performance. We treated this opportunity as we would any competition and completed our usual rituals in our locker room before lining up in the hallway. As we waited in the hallway across from the athlete lounge, we saw, waved to, and chatted with many of figure skating’s top stars including Ryan Bradley, Evan Lysacek, Mirai Nagasu, Rachel Flatt, John Coughlin, Jeremy Abbott, and Meryl Davis.

Finally it was our turn to take the ice. As we stood in our warm-up block they gave the audience our bio and explained that we would be performing our long program. As we skated our warm-up block the crowd was silent, but it gave me the chance to think what an amazing opportunity this was not only for myself and my team, but the sport of synchronized skating as a whole. When we skated our death spirals, 135’s, and our spread eagles, the crowd cheered loudly, very impressed. We skated a program full of emotion and hitting our ending pose, the crowd went wild and gave us a standing ovation. This was an overwhelming feeling for me as I realized that what we had just done was a step towards making synchronized skating a better known sport.

Walking back upstairs to watch the rest of the show, we were stopped by countless athletes and spectators to tell us what a great job we had done. I couldn’t help but smile when a few young girls asked all 20 of us for our autographs on a poster from the competition. This was a completely new experience for us all. Entering the hotel lobby, all eyes were on us once again in our matching Team USA warm-up suits, but this time it was with eyes of admiration and knowledge of exactly who we were and what we did.

Leaving North Carolina, I was filled with pride in myself, my team, and my sport. We had accomplished exactly what we had come here to do. We wanted to push synchronized skating further on to the scene and get it recognized by those who had never seen it before, and we had done just that. About 7,000 people had been in that arena Sunday night and 7,000 people had stood up and cheered not only for our performance, but to say that they enjoyed the sport of synchronized skating. For me personally, I was honored and extremely proud to be a part of that. I would like to take this chance to thank U.S. Figure Skating for this once in a lifetime opportunity and for helping us to promote synchronized skating.

Talk to you from Milan,


1 comment:

  1. Ashley- That is so well written. What a great piece! I can't remember your schedule, but I know you have some important and busy weeks coming up. Good luck from the Callahans!