Skaters glide to a first place finish in Switzerland

Jess Hoffen, Features Editor

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With the Stars and Stripes hanging overhead, sophomore Stephanie Domijan, senior Audrey Larsen and the other 18 members of the Chicago Jazz Junior Synchronized Skating team, stood in the center of an ice rink in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and sang the national anthem.

The team had become the champions of the Neuchatel Trophy Competition, beating eight other teams from around the world to do so.

“It was just really cool,” said Audrey. “They called out the first [place] team last so everyone applauded for us and then since we were in a foreign country they lifted up our flag and we sang the national anthem and everyone … supported us.”

For Stephanie, it was her most memorable moment in the sport. For Audrey it was the payoff for all the work she had put in.

For both girls that work began before they were even in kindergarten. Around the age of four both Stephanie and Audrey took their first skating classes.

In Stephanie’s case skating was a family activity and she was just the latest family member to step out on the ice.  Audrey also had family in the sport. However according to Audrey’s mom Anne Larsen, Audrey did not initially want to skate, but after seeing a local ice show she changed her mind.

“After seeing the beautiful costumes worn by the skaters, she asked me to sign her up for skating lessons,” Anne said.

Neither girl knew at the time that they would eventually be traveling to places like Switzerland and Germany as skaters representing the U.S..

“[Skating] was just something fun to do,” said Audrey. “I really really liked it so I just continued on when a lot of other people didn’t.”

The girls have now reached the highest level their club has to offer and the second highest level that exists in synchronized skating. On top of this, the Chicago Jazz Junior team placed fourth at the 2011 National Championships qualifying them for the United States Figure Skating National team and allowing them to represent the U.S. at the Neuchatel Trophy competition. They placed 4th again at the most recent National Championships in Worcester, Massachusetts re-qualifying them for the national team and for another international competition this year.

According to both girls, reaching this level has meant time spent away from home and school due to travel and an inability to do all the activities they may have wanted to do.

“I gave up gymnastics because when I tried out for [the school] team … [the coaches] said I would miss too much of the season,” Stephanie said.

However, Stephanie also thinks that there have been benefits to continuing the sport and says that it has taught her how to keep her schedule in order.

According to Anne Larsen the sport has also benefited Audrey by teaching her time management skills, discipline, perseverance and an ability to work well with others.

“I know that as she goes to college, those are the important benefits that she will carry forward for the rest of her life,” Anne said.

In addition to the benefits both girls said they enjoy the sport.

Senior Audrey Larson (above, center) and sophomore Stephanie Domijan (below, center) practice their synchronized skating routines on April 30. The girls are part of the Chicago Jazz Junior Synchronized Skating team which recently re-qualified for the USA National Figure Skating team. Photos by Jess Hoffen.

“I like what I get out of it,” said Audrey. “I like traveling [and] I like meeting new people. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.”

Stephanie also enjoys the travel, and added that she has made her best friends through being on the team.

“I will have these friends as lifelong friends,” Stephanie said.

For Audrey her time here with these friends and as a skater will end soon as she will start college in the fall.

“There are collegiate levels at different schools, but I’m not going to skate,” said Audrey. “I’ll miss practicing and all my friends, but … I’m excited to try different stuff and not have to worry about if skating conflicts.”

Though Audrey’s time in the sport will end soon, Stephanie’s will not. She plans to continue with the sport through college and says she hopes to eventually be part of a team that qualifies for the World Synchronized Skating Championships, the top synchronized skating competition in existence.

“I love the feel of the ice and freedom I feel while skating,” said Stephanie. “I love competing and listening to the crowd cheer me on.”

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Skaters glide to a first place finish in Switzerland