Skating to Success

Photo by Steve Squall.

Photo by Steve Squall.

Most of us slide onto the ice rink with our kids in winter, struggling to stay upright. The bruises on our behinds the next day tell a tale of woe that belies the sweet memories of our own childhoods.

But some aren’t content with that annual ritual, and take it to a level most of us would never dream – two-a-day practices, conditioning work, and grueling travel schedules. Ten local teens are seeing the benefit of that training schedule as they head to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City, Missouri, in January.

Louisville Skating Academy’s ice dance teams swept the novice podium at the U.S. Midwestern Sectional Skating Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with the brother-sister team of Christopher and Sophia Elder winning the gold medal, the sibling team of Luke and Claire Purnell finishing with the silver, and Will Shawver and Isabel Blahunka securing the bronze medal. In this year’s Juvenile Dance event, Emmett King and Sarah Dutton won the silver medal and will make their first trip to a U.S. Championships. Another silver medal for LSA came in the Juvenile Pairs event with the team of Evan Whitlow and Josephine Hagan.

“Skaters start very young and work long hours,” said Ingrid Whyte, a mom of two LSA skaters. “It’s a pretty disciplined sport,” she said. “The majority of the time they are on the ice six days a week with one day off.” In addition, they do strength and conditioning, Pilates, ballet and ballroom dance to keep other muscles toned. They skate year-round and go to school full-time, so they’re very busy, she said.

Teams compete in different skill levels, beginning with Juvenile then they move up the ladder to Novice, Juniors then Seniors. The Junior level is where skaters begin international competition, and the Senior level is when skaters can get to the Olympics.

All five advancing teams are coached by Kelley Morris-Adair and her husband, Donny Adair coaches the dance teams. The two have coached for more than 35 years.

“We are excited for these 10 skaters to represent Louisville Skating Academy and our city at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships,” said Becca Hatch-Purnell, LSA director of skating.  “All but one of these skaters started in our beginner classes. Our amazing organization has created top-notch training opportunities here in Louisville for local skaters to achieve their dreams. These young athletes and their coaches are dedicated, have worked hard and have made many sacrifices to get to this point. We all are very proud of them and are looking forward to their performances in Kansas City.”

Emmett King and Sarah Dutton. Photo by Steve Squall.

Emmett King and Sarah Dutton. Photo by Steve Squall.

Emmett King and Sarah Dutton, ice dancers

Emmett, 14, is a student at St. Francis of Assisi, and Sarah, 13, goes to St. Patrick. The team will compete in the Juvenile level.

“I like ice dancing because we specifically follow the music and the timing,” Emmett said. “We don’t do the big jumps, and we also skate together.”

Emmett came to ice skating all on his own.

“I always loved watching it on TV when I was little, and I came here (Iceland Sports Complex) for summer camp,” he said. “I did it once, and I loved it! I did it again when I was seven or eight, and I didn’t want to wait another year to skate again. So, we started lessons once a week and it just built up from there.”

Sarah discovered skating from a Girl Scouts skating trip. “I was five or six. We came here on a trip. I was all thinking I was good and stuff,” she said with a laugh. “My friend did a little lesson, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so cool! I wanna try that.’ So, I started doing that and I just kinda fell in love.”

The schedule is rough, though.

“It’s hardcore,” Emmett said. “There’s times, like, you just want to get off the ice, but you stay on because it all pays off in the end.”

Christopher and Sophia Elder. Photo by Steve Squall.

Christopher and Sophia Elder. Photo by Steve Squall.

Sophia and Christopher Elder, ice dancers

Sophia, 13, attends St. Margaret Mary, and Christopher, 15, goes to Trinity High School. The siblings compete in the Novice division.

The Elders were born into skating.

“My mom was a speed skater when she was little,” Sophia said. “She lived in Russia, and when she came to America she started figure skating more. Then, when I was two and a half, she got us into it.”

They admit there are benefits and challenges to being a brother-and-sister team.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Christopher said. “We obviously still fight like brother and sister — on and off the ice. We just have to keep working on it and keep trying to manage it.”

“But it also helps sometimes because we know each other more than other partners,” Sophia countered. “When we’re practicing, we don’t have to say where we’re going, we just automatically know. We also skate a lot in unison.”

It apparently works because they are five-time Midwestern Sectional Champions.

Christopher said the group of LSA ice dancers in the novice division compete against each other, which adds to the fun and motivation of competition.

“We’re all very close because we’ve been skating together so long,” Sophia added. “Sometimes there are fights because we’re together all the time. We’re like family. So, we love each other, and we’re so close.”

Isabel Blahunka and Will Shawver.

Isabel Blahunka and Will Shawver.

Isabel Blahunka and Will Shawver, ice dancers

Isabel, 14 attends online school at Indiana Connections Academy. Will, 15, goes to Ballard High School. They compete in the Novice division.

A movie got Isabel interested in the sport.

“I started skating when I was five-years- old,” she said. “It was because I watched the movie ‘Ice Princess,’ and I decided it would be really fun.”

She learned to skate, but because she’s from Carmel, Indiana, she had to start coming to Louisville to find an ice dancing partner. She skates Monday morning in Carmel, then she travels to Louisville to skate in the afternoon. She spends the night with Will’s family, then skates before and after school on Tuesdays, then goes home. On Thursdays, she does the same thing over again, and stays until Saturday afternoon when she goes back home.

“It really pays off when you see how all your efforts are worth it when you do well in competition,” she said.

“Most of our competitions are warmups for Sectionals or Nationals,” Will added. “So, if you do well at Sectionals then go to Nationals, it’s like your last chance to impress the judges, and you’re competing against everyone in the United States. So, it’s a really big deal.”

Luke and Claire Purnell

Luke and Claire Purnell

Claire and Luke Purnell, ice dancers

Claire, 16, attends online school at International Connections Academy, while Luke, 17, attends Kentucky Country Day. They compete in the novice division.

Their mother, Becca Hatch-Purnell, is the director of LSA, so they followed her into the rink.

The two are passionate about ice dancing. “I like how you get to become a character and really play on the beauty of the sport more than anything else,” Claire said.

“There’s just always something I’ve loved about it,” Luke added. “I love skating in front of people and trying to reach out to them with what I’m doing on the ice.”

“It’s beauty and athleticism combined,” Claire added.

Being a sibling pair is not a challenge for the Purnells. They’ve been skating together for five years.

“We’re really, really close,” Claire said. “I always look forward to getting on the ice with my brother. If I’m having a bad day or if school is bad, he always has the right thing to say. He can always make me laugh, even if I’m mad at him, I’m still gonna laugh at his jokes.”

The two have lofty goals.

“For me, I’d love to make it to the Olympics,” Luke said. “It’s a big dream of mine. It’s amazing to watch such amazing ice dancers on such a huge platform. Also to represent the United States in international competition would be such an honor.”

Claire said she just loves everything about skating and hopes to do it as long as possible.

“As a parent, I have watched this sport turn from a fun activity with friends to a major commitment that has meant giving up a lot,” said their mother, Hatch-Purnell “However, they also have learned many important life lessons, and it is rewarding to see their hard work pay off.”

Josephine Hagan and Evan Whitlow

Josephine Hagan and Evan Whitlow

Josephine Hagan and Evan Whitlow, pairs skaters

Josephine, 14, attends Crosby Middle School, and Evan, 15, goes to Christian Academy. The two compete in the juvenile division.

Josephine saw ice skating on TV when she was five and got excited about it. Her mom signed her up for lessons, and she’s been skating ever since. Evan’s mom is a coach, so instead of day care, he was at the rink all the time.

The jumps and side spins of pairs skating appeals to Josephine more than ice dancing. This is the first season of competition for them as a team. Both have competed individually, and Josephine has gone to Nationals before with a different partner.

The grueling work schedule doesn’t bother these two.

“I try to hang out with my school friends as much as possible, and I don’t do any school sports because I don’t have the time,” Josephine said. “But I try to stay involved in school.”

Evan has a different view: “For me it kind of works out perfectly since I’m not much of a social person. So, even when I have the opportunity, I don’t really do anything.”

Josephine said her goal is to skate her best at Nationals, and succeed at all the elements in the program.

Evan agreed: “I just want to do my best.” VT

For more information about Louisville Skating Academy, visit SkateLouisville.org

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