Juniors earn international victory

Derek Blunt, Staff Writer

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Junior Liza Birnbaum prepares to perform a Lutz while practicing for the upcoming season. Birnbaum has skated since she was 2 years old and hopes to continue skating in college and become a coach. Photo by Amy Glazer

As the American flag rose above their heads, juniors Liza Birnbaum and Sarah Noonan stood, proudly adorned with gold medals, in Zagreb, Croatia at their first international synchronized skating competition, the Zagreb Snowflakes Trophy.

“There are really no words to describe this feeling.

“When they say that you’re currently in first place, that’s what really shook us,” said Birnbaum. “It was just amazing. All of our hard work paid off.”

Noonan and Birnbaum, along with 14 other teammates, beat teams from around the world to win the competition. The program they skate for, Starlights, competed at the junior level in Croatia as Team USA.

Noonan said her team was not only ecstatic after they saw their score of 125.48 points, the highest in the competition, but were amused as well.

“It was funny because they announced everything in Croatian first, so we were just waiting to hear [the announcements] in English,” Noonan said.

Birnbaum said competing for Team USA was a lifetime goal that made her nervous despite her experience and preparation.

“Usually I don’t get nervous for competitions, but since this was my first ever international competition, I had some butterflies in my stomach,” said Birnbaum. “But, when you hear ‘U.S.A.’ chanting in the crowd, it gets rid of all the nerves.”

Noonan said she is lucky skating has allowed her to travel around the world and meet people who share the same interests as her.

“It was eye-opening to travel to Croatia and meet people from all over Europe and Australia because it showed me how large the synchronized skating community is,” Noonan said.

According to Birnbaum, her team’s success is due in part to their preparation. The team practices four times a week with each session lasting about four hours. In addition to skating during practice, they often go to a gym and work out or do Pilates as part of their off-ice exercises.

Noonan said that one Sunday in October, the team had to be fully ready to practice at 5:30 a.m. at Twin Rinks in Buffalo Grove, forcing her to wake up at 4 a.m..

“That whole day was really memorable because, even though it was super early, nobody [seemed tired] because we were all so excited for the day ahead,” said Noonan. “Ultimately, that session decided, pretty much, how the rest of our season would go.”

According to Heather Paige, Starlights junior head coach, their team placed in the top four out of around 11 teams at each of their six competitions this year.

Paige said both Noonan and Birnbaum are dedicated skaters and passionate about individual and synchronized skating.

“When our flights were canceled to our junior world selection event, we had to take a 14-hour bus ride to Connecticut, and neither of the girls complained one bit,” Paige said.

According to Noonan, the team had two different competitions just before going to Croatia which brought the team closer because they were together for 21 days straight.

Noonan said Paige has helped her become not only a better skater, but also a better person.

“She has enabled my team to achieve our goals and fulfill our dreams,” said Noonan. “But most importantly, she has taught me how to win and lose graciously, which is a lesson that will take me far in life.”

Birnbaum said because she has skated since she was 2 years old, her experiences have molded her into the person that she is today.

“It is a part of me, so I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if I didn’t have skating in my life,” said Birnbaum. “[Skating] has built my character, and it has built my drive.”

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Juniors earn international victory