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Behind the grace, flashing costumes and freezing cold

Alan Islas Malanco, Staff Reporter

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Staring into the center of the rink, freshman Brittlyn Anderson stands at the edge ready to perform. There are no pads, helmets, or protection, just a skin tight costume and her skates. Each fall, each stumble, each jump at practice factors into her performance as she has to make pain and precision look effortless.

Usually when we think of rigorous training, sore muscles and enormous effort, a sport like football or basketball comes to mind. For Anderson, these three components are still present in every figure skating practice and competition she attends.

Currently, Anderson skates at the Extreme Ice Center for the Carolina Figure Skating club. She trains with Michele Sobehart, who is her main coach, and Matthew Gates, who trains with her to perfect her edge quality and power. Until a few months ago, she competed in the Beginner category. She has now moved up to the Intermediate category in which she competed in May of this year at a competition in Florida. She’s gotten far in the sport, however, her figure skating journey did not begin there.

“I started figure skating when a neighbor invited me to go ice skating. For Christmas that year, I got my first pair of skates and the opportunity to take group lessons,” Anderson said. “When I started skating, I noticed how all the competitive skaters trained so hard and were amazing, and I wanted to be just like them. When I got advanced enough, it was natural for me to start competing.”

Like in any other sport, parental support is always an integral part of an athlete’s success, especially in the beginning. Anderson’s father had this to say about his daughter’s development and growth within the sport.

“I was surprised at how quickly she picked it up, and I’m always amazed at the kind of tricks that she can do. I think she has a lot of courage to get out on the ice and to try difficult moves,” Anderson’s father, Paul Anderson, said. “Even when she first started she did really well. Her first teachers wanted us to move her up quickly to higher levels. Looking at her now she’s improved so much and has gotten so good that it’s just so much more amazing to watch.”

Right about now figure skating sounds pretty exciting. On the other hand, we have to remember that Anderson is an athlete who trains every day and whose practices not only exhaust her as she gets home late at night, but she’s also a Providence student and therefore she receives the famous Providence-level amount of homework.

“She works very hard, she figure skates every day. In middle school she was home schooled so she had more time for skating,” Anderson’s father said. “I was worried that when she got into high school she wouldn’t be able to handle it, but so far she’s been able to handle a rigorous course load as well as a demanding skating routine.”

You can watch figure skating on TV and during the Olympics, but behind the graceful movements and flashy costumes are a myriad of factors that most people don’t take into account. For example, the psychological strain that it can take on a competitor’s mind. “When I compete, it is very stressful, but exciting. Skating is a very individual sport, so when you go out to compete it’s only you out there. This makes it more rewarding when you succeed, but there’s nobody and nothing to blame when you lose except you,” Anderson said. Unlike other sports, in figure skating there is no weather to blame, and because Anderson competes solo, there are no teammates to hold accountable in the event of a poor performance.

Aside from the mental strain it can take on a skater, in figure skating there are no mats on the floor or protection for when you fall, there’s only the cold, hard ice. “The hardest part about skating is when you have an off day because not only does it make you mad that you can’t land a jump you could land perfectly the day before, but it also hurts a lot,” Anderson said.

However, with a higher risk also comes a higher reward. “I would say my favorite thing about ice skating is when you land a jump for the first time and all the painful practices and exhausting sessions finally pay off,” Anderson said. “I feel so many things when I skate. I feel excitement, frustration, fear, and joy. I also am bruised and beaten, but still strong.”

Figure skating may not look as rough or “athletic” as other sports, but when you consider that a skater’s job includes not only immense physical strain and concentration, but also having to look graceful and effortless, it’s arguable that it can be just as difficult, if not more, than any other sport.

“When you are a figure skater, your job is to perform and look effortless, but behind that graceful performance is a lot of hard work. We don’t just train on ice. We go to the gym and work on endurance and build strength off the ice,” Anderson said.

Many of the challenges other athletes face are also shared by figure skaters. I’m sure all of us have seen at least one athlete in a class who has a protein shake ready at the edge of his or her desk. Even in figure skating an athlete has to watch his or her diet and health. “Like any athlete, I always have to watch what I eat,” Anderson said. In truth, figure skating is just as difficult and rigorous as any other sport, and it has many of the same traditions and qualities too.

Similar to how basketball players look up to Michael Jordan, or how football players look up to Cam Newton, Anderson has her own figure skating idols. The difference between her and millions of other fans is that she actually got the opportunity to perform with a few of her idols: Paul Wylie, Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

“One of my favorite moments of ice skating would’ve had to be in 2015 when I skated in the opening ceremonies of the U.S Figure Skating Championships held in Greensboro, North Carolina,” Anderson said. “Not only did I get to skate on the same ice as past Olympians, but I also got to perform alongside silver medalist Paul Wylie and Olympic gold ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The whole experience was amazing, and I will never forget it.”

Figure skating stands as one of those sports that appear to be mindless and relaxed, but it’s never about how other people perceive the sport, rather, it’s about how much effort an athlete puts into it.

“What I would say to people who don’t think it’s as hard as football or rugby is with any sport it can be easy or hard. If you end each practice exhausted and in pain, but ready to get up the next day and do it again, then I think it qualifies as something difficult,” Anderson said. “Also, on game day, figure skaters can’t wear their practice gear.” A football player will always wear his pads and helmet at practice and in the game. An ice skater, however, doesn’t get to wear the protective pads they use at practice.

For the future, Brittlyn Anderson aspires to perform her senior performance in the field and in the free skate category and to continue to figure skate during her high school and college career and maybe someday become a skating coach.

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Behind the grace, flashing costumes and freezing cold