BY SIGNE SAWYER | This essay was selected as the Honorable Mention in the youth category of the Awesome Sports Writing Contest.
If I tell someone that I skate, they ask “rollerblading or skateboarding?” Imagine their surprise when I tell them… synchronized ice skating! My name is Signe Sawyer, and this is the story of how a little girl became a strong skater and confident young woman.
When I was young, my parents worried I wouldn’t find an athletic activity that I liked. I tried almost every sport out there — swimming, archery, rock climbing, soccer, gymnastics, ballet, aikido, tap dancing, and many more. But nothing satisfied me. That is, until ice skating became a part of my life. The feeling of gliding across the hard slick surface makes me feel empowered. When I step onto the ice, I feel I can do anything I want, with no limitations.
“And then, we smile; it spreads from one to all of us. Then we hit our end pose, and finally remember to breathe.”
My first time ice skating was on a school trip when I was 8 years old. I told everyone that I hated ice skating, but the truth was I had never ever gone before and was terrified. When we got to the ice arena, someone helped me put on my skates. I was not a fan — they felt so weird and tight! I hesitantly stepped onto the ice and I clung to the wall for my life. My friend and I inched along the wall until John, a parent who was a former hockey player, offered to give me a “taxi ride”, which was a skate around the rink.
That ride with John changed everything. I loved going fast. While it was still scary, I also felt so brave. The next year, my school went again. I wanted to impress John, who had helped me the year before. But I wasn’t any better. So that year, I decided to start taking lessons.
That winter, I began basic skills group lessons. My parents were proud and happy for me because I was challenging myself and making new friends. The next year when I went skating on a school trip, I marched onto the ice with confidence and more experience. I loved the feeling of showing off.
Typically, an ice skater who wants to become competitive will shift from group lessons to private lessons. As they get better, they’ll get more coaches who help them individually with either jumps, spins, or choreography, or all of those things. A competitive skater will also take off-ice classes such as ballet, stretch, and conditioning. Then, if they want to compete, they have to take tests to compete in a division. Progressively, the tests get harder and harder. Finally, Elite Senior level skaters compete for the chance of going to the Olympics.
I became interested in skating more competitively, so I got a private coach, but I wasn’t the best student. I only went to the rink two times a week for group lessons and a private lesson. I never went to practice. I didn’t like the pressure of everyone watching and judging me. I wasn’t interested in solo performing either. The idea of being on the ice all by myself with everyone’s eyes on me was terrifying.
So when I heard about synchronized ice skating (skating with a team), I jumped on the idea. Synchronized ice skating is sport practiced all over the world where 8-20 skaters compete at varying levels with continuous precision, edge work, speed and synchronicity. Depending on the teams’ levels, they each have different requirements for their program or for the top elite teams, in their two programs a short and free skate. The teams are required to showcase different basic shapes and skills such as a wheel, circle, block, line, creative element and intersection. Variations on each of these elements add to the base value of a skill just like freestyle solo ice skating.
At long last, I finally got serious about my ice skating. I finally started to practice. I didn’t want to be the worst on the team, something I’d never felt in group lessons. Despite this new pressure, I loved being pushed beyond my limits. For us to succeed, we have to work together while being synchronized. The best feeling is looking down the line of skaters during a performance and seeing a clean, straight, connected line. When we skate, we all have to count the music together. We all have to have our blades carve the ice in unison. We all have to make the sharp sound of our arms slapping our thighs at the same time. And then, we smile; it spreads from one to all of us. Then we hit our end pose, and finally remember to breathe. I love being able to do what I am passionate about while sharing this passion with 16 other girls when I skate. We are a family, and it’s a sisterhood that will never be broken.
“When I step onto the ice, I feel I can do anything I want, with no limitations.”
Synchronized ice skating has taught me that you have to live fearlessly everyday, because if you don’t try you will never know what you can achieve. Us girls empower each other, we have to be louder than others if we want our voice to be heard. And if you want anything, you have to put in the work to get it. My life without ice skating is unimaginable and life without the girls on my team I wouldn’t be able to bear. I want every woman and girl to find what empowers them and makes them brave and to pursue it. Be the loudest, tallest, biggest you, and own your space.
I am proud to be a part of a synchronized ice skating team. I am honored to spend time with people that I love and improve my skating while doing so. I am fearless when I skate and I am determined to be a better skater and part of it starts with a great team to push me. I hope that the 2022 Olympics will recognize synchronized ice skating as an Olympic sport so our Olympic dream can be realized.
The Awesome Sports Writing Contest is an annual writing contest to inspire voices in girls’ and women’s sports. Our winners have been announced, and we will post them one-by-one over the next couple of months. Check them out and be sure to submit for the 2019 year!
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