[skate12]Fight! Fight! Rah, Team, Fight! Victory for MSU-u-U!
Dressed in all green and white, 22 MSU athletes huddle together, singing the MSU fight song to hype themselves up before they go out in front of the crowd. Nervous, but excited, the athletes wish each other good luck one final time before they prepare to face the competition.
These athletes aren’t wearing football helmets, baseball cleats or shin guards. There is no end zone, goal post or home base. And though they are dressed head to toe in green and white, they aren’t wearing jerseys of any kind. Instead their uniforms are skirts, and their field is cold, wet and frozen.
“Figure skating is so rewarding,” advertising senior Sarah Broxterman said. “You have to work really hard and push yourself. People always say figure skating isn’t a real sport, but it is. I don’t think people are very aware of how much we work we put into it.” For the girls on the MSU Intercollegiate Figure Skating Team, like Broxterman, the work sure pays off. The team qualified for the National Championships three years in a row, as well as placed well in several competitions throughout the country, including placing 4th at a competition at Western Michigan University on Jan. 26.
[box]The club participates in at least three competitions with other schools all over the country, said Kacey Dittmer, team president and communication senior. The top three teams then go onto nationals. “It is really fun going to nationals, nerve-racking though,” pre-medicine junior Kristen Whiteside said. “I always have to tell myself it’s no big deal and to not be nervous.” The girls compete in seven different skill levels, ranging from beginner to advanced. They skate individually and then depending on how they place, they get a certain amount of points that are totaled together to get a team score.
According to Whiteside, the team has a wide range of skill levels. “I started skating when I was really young and then stopped in about 7th grade,” Whiteside said. “But my older sister did it here and so when I came to college, I started skating again in the beginning level. You only compete against people in your level and so there are rules for each level on what you can and cannot do.”
Regardless of these limitations, Whiteside impressed the judges her freshman year when she won first place in the national competition. “The result list was posted and I always start reading at the bottom of the list and I kept going on and I didn’t see my name,” Whiteside said. “And then I got to the top and I realized I had won. I called my mom and she was so excited. She had the medal up in our house for a year.”
Broxterman has had her equal share of exciting skating accomplishments. She has attended numerous competitions in her four years on the skating team, and in 2006, she placed in the top 10 at nationals. According to Broxterman, her most exciting skating moment was an unexpected win at a competition in Bowling Green. “I hadn’t skated my program in a year and I went out a skated that program with no practice at all,” Broxterman said. “I was just doing it for fun and I ended up winning first place.” [dittmer]
The competitions also include an elements portion, where the skaters are broken down into three levels and perform one element – a specific jump, spin or type of footwork – as a group in front of a judge. Whiteside particularly enjoys this part of the competition because of the group aspect. “I really like that they do that because we get to be out there all together, which is something we don’t get to do very often,” Whiteside said. In March, the MSU skating team will get another chance to do something they rarely get to do: host their own competition. According to Dittmer, this is something MSU hasn’t done in more than six years. Because of hockey games, they were unable to get enough ice time at Munn Ice Arena, so the competition will be presented in Howell. But the change in location doesn’t mean the team is relieved of any of the prep duties. “It’s an all-day event; it’s a lot of work,” Broxterman said. “You have to get a ton of volunteers; you have to have judges, ice monitors and people to give out the medals.”
Participating in some competitions doesn’t come easy. Most of the girls dedicate a lot of sweat and pain to the sport, trying to squeeze two to three days of practice with school and work. For Whiteside, coming back to skating after years without doing it made training particularly difficult. “I had lost all my flexibility. It’s so much harder to start doing something once you’ve already grown,” Whiteside said. As figure skating takes a lot of flexibility and strength, most of the girls agreed that even a little time off can be taxing. Whiteside can’t keep up skating during the summers, which also hurts her performance. Broxterman also experienced difficulty coming back after an injury.
“[During ]freshman year, I did synchronized skating and we were doing footwork and I slipped and my knee went one way and my body went another,” Broxterman said. “I was on crutches and I couldn’t skate for three months. When I came back, I had lost so much muscle mass it was really hard to get back into shape.”
[team]Fitting skating around classes can also be a challenge because freestyle ice time, ice time designated for figure skating, is only available during times when most people have classes. For Whiteside, this forces her to go to public skating times, which can be a disadvantage. “I have to go public skating times, where I can’t play my music,” Whiteside said. “The first time I skated with my music this year was at the competition.” Broxterman also has similar trouble and usually switches between freestyle sessions and public. She said school always comes before skating, so sometimes she has to skip practice to study. Though they compete as a team, the skaters generally practice separately, so they have to stay extremely self-motivated. “Most of them don’t have coaches,” Dittmer said. “It can be challenging not to have set practices and someone there to motivate you.”
[whiteside] Though their girls don’t have coaches, they do have another strength: their teammates. “We all kind of help each other out,” Broxterman said. “I’ll go to one girl and ask her to help me and then I will watch her. It’s hard not to have the discipline of the coach, but it’s nice to have so many people watching over you and giving you advice.”
Broxterman feels that having good friends is one of the best parts of being on the skating team. “I made quite a few friends and reconnected with some old ones when I joined the MSU skating team,” Broxterman said. “Once you are on the team, you are all friends. We travel together, go out to dinner together.”
As friends and teammates, the athletes hope to once again attend nationals this year, which will be held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “We always want to beat U of M,” Whiteside said. “Last year we beat them, but this year they are hosting nationals and their girls have been doing really well at the competitions, so it’s going to be hard. But we are ready for the challenge.”
And ready they will be. As dozens of challengers whirl around the rink warming up for the national competition, the MSU skaters will be gathered one last time off the ice. “On the banks of the Red Cedar, there’s a school that’s known to all,” they’ll sing as their first teammate stretches for her routine. Though they aren’t as well known as their fellow athletes in jerseys and cleats, these girls have proven that shoes with blades and the ability to land gracefully on ice is what’s needed to make MSU stand out. And with freezing weather four months of out of the year, landing gracefully on ice might be the most useful ability an MSU athlete can have.